Originally published 2/27/2016. Lead image via Wikipedia.
You may have heard the phrase “Brave New World” before. It’s from Shakespeare. And a character in Brave New World doesn’t just happen to say it; he actually quotes Shakespeare all the time.
This was, once again, a book I was required to read in English class (though I had the luxury to choose from a list). However, this is now one of my favorite books of all time. That’s right; it’s going on the Favorites shelf!
Of course you’d like to know why. That’s why you’re reading a book review.
What I Like
This book is what I strive for in many of my books. It uses romantic language without sacrificing clarity. It teaches a lesson without sacrificing plot. It’s funny without using pop-culture references or potty-humor. Really, it’s everything you could want in a classic novel.
As I’ve mentioned, the descriptions are wonderful. Huxley uses such creative language, metaphors, idioms, and phrases; I often paused in my reading to appreciate them! And while there are some words that my teenage 21th century mind doesn’t know, I never had trouble understanding what Huxley was saying or what was going on.
Just like Candide (but more subtle), I find Huxley’s novel masterful in its lesson. The plot honestly invests the reader, revealing just the right amount of information at the right time, all the while exploring a dystopian future with lessons to take note of.
My favorite line from the book: “Cleanliness if close to Fordliness”. I love all the little details Huxley throws in, like the time Lenina forgot to put the vaccine in the embryo, and the constant references to Ford in place of Lord. I love a book that can be funny without breaking the fourth wall, and without breaking character.
What I’m Ambivalent About
There is one thing about the writing style that bugged me around the beginning: the constant flipping between perspectives. It gets less annoying later on, and it actually does do a good job of juxtaposing important scenes, but it can be a bit excessive sometimes.
The constant references to Shakespeare, and the insistence on his greatness. Personally, I don’t like Shakespeare’s works very much. Huxley makes it sound as if Shakespeare’s poetry is so powerful, it can make your heart beat along to its rhythm. He makes it seem like Shakespeare can drive people to daring feats, and that he realized things that no one else on earth could possibly imagine. I disagree. Heavily. BUT I do agree that John the Savage needed to quote some kind of book and embrace some kind of art (preferably writing), so Shakespeare might as well fill the role.
The Only Two Things I Don’t Like
This first one is very specific: consumerism is still there. The entire place works like a communist society, yet somehow they still use consumerist lingo regularly. Maybe it’s just left over from the good old Ford days, but I never see any indication that money still exists. Someone mentions a “salary”, and Bernard gets fussy about leaving the tap running, but we only ever see soma rations being handed out. And, if everything is provided, why would anyone need a salary?
Poor character development. Really, no one in this book changes much. That’s typical of “educational” books with built-in morals, but couldn’t a single person have learned a single lesson? Helmholtz did, maybe. In the end, I really didn’t like any single character. No one is charming, funny, or surprising in any way.
The Book’s Meaning To Me
Like most dystopian novels, this book comes with a purpose. But that’s where the similarities end. In Brave New World, the futuristic society seems to be everything but miserable, and while the book features many futuristic technologies to be abused, the message of the book does not focus on them. The technology is, of course, the ability to assign humans traits, condition them, and control every aspect of their environment from birth/”decanting”. But while there is some commotion about these, the main conflict seems to be the classic story of the Wolf and the Dog: would you rather be a well-fed slave, or starving yet free? Would you give up your freedom for comfort/safety? To what extent have we done that already?
That is what the message of this book is to me. In fact, it’s not much of a message; Huxley himself doesn’t even seem to know! It seems almost as if he’s exploring the up-sides and down-sides of this dilemma, as well as questioning how effective the controlling technologies could really be. Bernard and Helmholtz, for instance, differ from those around them, so obviously their upbringing was flawed. Additionally, Linda becomes pregnant and finds herself trapped on the reservation, exposing another flaw in the system. The story isn’t even resolved, per say. I’m still unsure of what became of several characters at the end of the novel. But that will be for you all to find out on your own.
I do think that I have an answer to Huxley’s inquiry. He makes it sound like humanity is ultimately doomed to the fate seen in the book if we follow our self-indulgence. But from what I’ve seen, read, and learned from history class, humanity would likely never reach the point of contentment it does in the novel (and if it did, the situation wouldn’t last long). Even in the novel itself, humans from different regions of the world still compete with each other: their ambition has not been completely lost. Some people are still sexually frustrated. My opinion is that human greed and ambition has absolutely no limit. We are motivated by not just fear (basic animal survival instincts. This is why your dog is lazy when it’s well-fed) but also by joy. We seek thrills even when it threatens our own health. We throw away everything to pursue art and higher levels of science. We enjoy adventure and danger and getting new things, as well as the prestige we gain from discovering. Huxley’s civilization does not even explore space! What human society would never think of the stars? Supposedly the totalitarian regime has bred out most human curiosity and excess greed, but the World Controllers and Alphas (as the book states) need to retain those qualities in order to keep humanity on top of the food chain.
My other support for this theory is that humans cannot possibly control everything forever. We can control each other, in theory. But the book mentions nothing about the environmental effects of human consumption. Does the place just eventually turn into Soylent Green, with the earth infertile and animals extinct? And what about space? With no space program, how do they prevent meteors from striking their factories? What about solar flares or aliens? Disease? What about global warming or earthquakes? An emergency will pop up eventually, and holes will be made in their tight net of control. It has happened to many societies that controlled their people in the past: Egypt, India’s caste system, Japan’s patriarchy, the Aztecs, the Soviet Union. Some of these lasted over a thousand years (many thousands in Egypt’s case), yet Huxley seems to think that his 600-year-old Fordist society is impressive and inescapable!
I’ve recently read <i>Brave New World: Revisited</i>, in which Huxley reviews his own book in the context of the state of the world 27 years later.
Take a moment to think of how cool it is that an author critiqued his own predictions a quarter of a century after his book’s publication.
In Revisited, Huxley underscores issues that he left out of his original book (such as atomic bombs) and finishes by lamenting how close some societies (especially the Soviets) come to his idea of Dystopia. <i>Revisited</i> highly disappointed me, because very few of the topics discussed actually turned into anything that could be called a revolution or apocalypse. And how could he have known about the Internet, or the fall of the USSR, or anything like that? Huxley seemed to be incredibly frightened, and was intent on frightening his audience over issues that bore no fruits. He did, however, do a very good job of citing the evidence for his interpretation of the future. In terms of governmental control, he delved deeply into Hitler’s strategies. In terms of population expansion, he cited very specific statistics and studies. The only problem with the actual research he did was when he put too much bias in certain data; he completely dismissed some studies while praising others like gospel, without any apparent reason.
So I think it suffices to say that we all see the future differently, and not a single one of us will be correct.
And, as some food for thought: in the case of <i>Brave New World</i>, I have to separate in my mind the high quality of the art from the low appeal of the author. I like the book but dislike the author’s attitude. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
I would definitely like to hear ya’ll’s thoughts on my theory as well as the book. Feel obligated to respond with any questions, comments, or concerns.