‘Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…’
Reading ‘Brave New World’ has been one of the strangest reading experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve never been so confused about how I’ve felt about a book. At it’s core, this book is a futuristic dystopian novel much like ‘1984‘. But the main difference is that instead of Orwell’s Party ruling through fear, hate and obedience, Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ is ruled by industry, social conditioning and happiness.
It’s a strange concept, running a society where everyone has their place and no one questions is because they’re happy. We’re so used to the idea that totalitarian governments stay in power through propaganda, conditioning and fear but Huxley’s society is so different. There’s no secret faction of rebels working together to free themselves, no war, no hate week or extreme and unquestionable patriotism. Just sex, drugs, and people who know nothing out of there own jobs and lives and have no desire to find out anything they don’t need to know. The people in Huxley’s soma driven world are so blissfully unaware of what it’s like to live a life that’s not just about instant gratification that they have no wish to live in any other way.
Even when they are shown the way John lives and views the world they view him with the morbid curiosity crowds show to circus freak shows. They are horrified at the base way he was born and find his mother Linda repulsive. To give birth to a child and be a mother is grotesque enough for a society where relationships are prohibited and ‘everyone belongs to everyone else’, but to grow old and fat is inexcusable. Linda is cast out and John becomes a sideshow for the entertainment of the “civilised”.
For me, that’s the one major point in the book that really gave me pause. I was so in awe of the world that I couldn’t get enough of the book until Huxley took us to the “savage reservation” to meet John. Therein lies the issue. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable when I read about ‘John the Savage’ and electric fences, the gas bombs and the confined reservations where there is no escape. The way the novel discussed John and the world he comes from, although a product of 1931 when it was written, is still highly toxic and shows an arrogant, racist attitude. Even epsilons who are deprived of enough oxygen at birth to stunt growth and cognitive development are fit to live and serve in a “civilised” world, and yet the native “savages” in America are forced to live and die apart on reservations and to tolerate the odd visit from white people who come to gawk at their customs and make themselves feel grateful they live in the “civilised” society.
All in all, this book is a strange ride. The world is vivid and fascinating and you can’t help but feel completely immersed by his descriptions of this fantastic place. But it’s problematic (to say the least) dealings of John and his upbringing and life make for uncomfortable reading. The last chapter where John is plagued by journalists and curious people who flock to him like flies on a carcass emphasise the cruelty in a world where there is no guilt and no shame, only soma. John’s plight can’t fail to tug at your humanity and empathy and, although everyone in the book leads a life and holds views so different to our own, you can’t help but be on John’s side. His wish to be somewhere where he can be himself, away from the overwhelming consumerist society he’s been taken to, is something that I think we can all identify with.
I did love the book though, for all its faults, and I do think it’s certainly worth a read, even if it’s just so I can have someone to discuss it with. Anyway, maybe Huxley was on to something with the casual attitudes towards women’s sex lives and the state providing free health care and education about womens bodies and contraception. That was all positive, until you get to John and his condemnation of Lenina’s strumpet like behaviour. But those sort of views will flourish in a man whose only real education comes from Shakespeare.
I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re someone who likes a book that really makes you think about societal and behavioural norms.