Saturday, October 06, 2012

Fiction Review: Brave New World

When I decided to read a book for Banned Book Week, it was easy to choose which one.  My son’s World Lit class his senior year of high school last year read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and I’ve been wanting to read it ever since.  I read George Orwell’s 1984 in 9th grade but never had a chance to read this classic satiric novel that launched the entire dystopian genre.

Brave New World takes place roughly six centuries in the future, in a world quite unrecognizable from our own.  In this fictional future, Henry Ford sparked a new era when he invented mass production and assembly lines; in fact, the world began an entirely new timeline, naming years AF for After Ford.  This futuristic world has taken the concepts of mass production and, to some degree, communism and applied them to people.  Passion – and anything that might inspire passion – has been abolished so that the world works in a very efficient and effective way.

Here, one of the leaders explains how their world works, in a rare honest moment:

“The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave.  And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma.”

Soma is a feel-good drug that is widely distributed to every citizen, after work, when they want to relax, or anytime they feel the slightest bit stressed.  On the surface, from this description, they’ve created a sort of utopia where everyone’s life is pleasant all the time.  Of course, that lack of distress comes at a price, but most of the world’s citizens are blissfully unaware of what they are missing.

The intricacies of this future world are explored through several main characters.  There is Lenina, an attractive, happy, perfect citizen, and Bernard, an associate of Lenina’s at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre and her sometime lover, who is seen as strange and aloof by his colleagues.  Secretly, Bernard is unhappy with his life – a condition almost unheard of in his world – and he questions things that are not supposed to be questioned.

Lenina and Bernard take a trip to New Mexico to visit a Savage Reservation, a rare experience in this new world.  A Savage Reservation is, as you might expect, a wild preserve separate from the rest of the world, where Native Americans live as they have lived for centuries.  There, the couple meets John, a young white man who was brought up among the Indians.  The intersection of their very different lives allows the reader even more insight into the conflicts between the old world and the new.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Brave New World; it is incredibly clever, even funny, with a fascinating look into one possible future.  I was continually amazed that Huxley wrote this novel in 1931.  Some of his prophecies are surprisingly accurate, especially in terms of the progression of biological science.  Though we have not yet (and hopefully never will) advanced to the point where children are born out of bottles rather than wombs, he wasn’t too far off in terms of the science that now allows in-vitro fertilization and other modern miracles. 

His world is also populated by the usual futuristic technologies in terms of enormous skyscrapers and personal helicopters instead of cars; it seems a common futuristic theme that we will abandon the roads and take to the skies at some point.  His clever, satirical insight is also apparent in the influence of big corporations and marketing. This new world is thriving because it is driven by consumerism; for instance, the only sports allowed are those that require expensive equipment, like Obstacle Golf.

In other ways, Huxley’s prophecies are way off.  Writing this novel in 1931, he couldn’t have possibly predicted the role that computers and digital technology would play in the future, since they had not been invented yet.  And, his novel is largely a warning against some of the tenets of communism since that was seen as a threat at the time.  Interestingly, he wrote a commentary on his novel called Brave New World Revisited in 1958 that was included in my copy of the book (I haven’t finished that section yet).  Of course, in 1958, communism was seen as even more of a threat to democracy and freedom, and tiny, computerized devices inserted into every aspect of our society were still a long way off.

I have gotten so engrossed in discussing this fascinating, funny novel that I completely forgot to mention its status as a frequently banned book.  It’s easy to see why the censors of our society want to ban this book.  In this efficient future society, love and passion have been eliminated, but casual sex is not only encouraged but required (though there is nothing graphic in the book).  Quite logically, the founders of this society recognized that normal human sex drive is something that could create passion, and, therefore, instability, so they dealt with that hazard by making sex something very ordinary and a conventional part of daily life.  They removed the taboo of sex (and also its procreational aspect) so that it could no longer cause any disturbance in society.

Not only did I enjoy reading Brave New World, but, as you can see from my lengthy review, I was dying to discuss it with other people!  I do wish I had read it for a high school class, since I was one of those freaks who loved discussing novels in my English classes!  This is such a clever and thought-provoking book that it begs to be discussed and analyzed.  I’m so glad I finally got around to reading this dystopian classic!  Hmm….maybe it’s time to go back and re-read 1984 now.

199 words, Harper Perennial



  1. Hi Sue - I just left a comment for you on my post :) I didn't forget this one, I didn't see it when I was linking the posts this morning and had to leave the house shortly after posting. I will grab it now.

    Brave New World is a book I have but have not red myself yet. I want to though.

    Thank you for your contributions to banned book week this week! I love your thoughts on the books.

  2. I loved discussing novels in high school, too. I still love it, of course. I enjoyed Brave New World as a teenager, but I've been seeing a lot of reviews for it lately and have been thinking that maybe it's time for an adult re-read!

  3. This was a book I read in high school that stuck with me. Thanks for sharing your Banned Book review

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd out

  4. I read this in high school and again recently and it's actually better and more poignant than I had remembered.

  5. Anonymous2:46 AM

    It´s a very good book. I shudder to think that technology is progressing to the point where we will be able to grow people in bottles soon. I think that that is a crime right up there with genocide and slavery.

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