“A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. “
Brave New World wasn’t a book I expected I would like. Partly, because it was one of those books that bandied about by the really ‘cool’ teenage boys.
Partly, because I didn’t like books with sad endings, and I had decided that this was one would have a sad ending.
Anyhow, now well in my twenties, I’ve been through several antiutopian classics 1984, The Handmaiden’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451– and I thought it was time to read this one.
I am glad I did.
Though the Brave New World was written in 1932, its unashamed dualism feels eerily contemporary. Human beings must embrace the world of science and complacency, or live like a savage in an empty desert.
Huxley imagines a world in which all form of governance has been taken over by the World State. Its primary consideration is its citizens’ happiness.
“There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that is seriously unpleasant. (…) industrial civilization is only possible when there’s no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics.(…) In a proper society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic.”
To that aim, society is divided into four castes, and each caste is bred from appropriate clones who are given intelligence and looks according to their station in the world. Each caste is indoctrinated according to their future purpose – and even though this is a futuristic anti-utopia, there is enough here to make the reader very uncomfortable indeed.
Everyone is allowed to have sex with everyone ( although I have some issues with Huxley’s female characters- but that’s a separate story). All senses are satisfied through monthly orgies (Violent Passion Surrogates) and visits to the ‘feelies’ (a sort of cinema, but for all the senses).
There is no old age. People are simply kept young till their early sixties and then allowed to die. For any remaining anxieties, humans can self-medicate with soma – a magical drug without unpleasant side-effects.
And yet, amid all this happiness, Bernard Marx feels uneasy. Desperate to get the attention of the ‘pneumatic’ Lenina, he takes her on a trip to a Savage reservation, one of the few remaining places where humans still have the right to grow old and unhappy. There he meets the Savage – and brings him back to the World State, with unintended consequences. The Savage does not believe happiness is the ultimate human good. “I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”
Brave New World does not spare its punches. It was born of despair – of a human being torn apart by the opposing instincts of hedonism and asceticism.
In his Preface, Huxley says that, though he grew more optimistic later in his life he forbore making any changes to the novel “resisting the temptation to wallow in artistic remorse” – and thank goodness for that.
The eerie strengths of Brave New World lie in its rampant pessimism and its despair over human fate. These remain as relevant as ever.