As promised…Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is all kinds of cray-cray.
Basically it starts out with an average guy named Bernard who is unhappy in the hedonistic, manufactured, drugged-up society he lives in. Unlike Orwell’s 1984, conformity in this world means a continual stream of carnal self-indulgence, and if you don’t fall in line, you get weird looks (or horrors, banished to Iceland to live with other nonconformists). Nobody has a family; instead, every baby has been designed in a lab to serve a particular purpose, resulting in a caste system where the “lower” humans are purposefully restricted in size, appearance, and intelligence, while the Alphas are designed to develop into “superior” beings. In spite of the science, however, discontentment still lingers in hearts like Bernard’s, so he sets out to find a way to break out of the mold.
From there, the book takes a bizarre turn when it abandons Bernard as the protagonist and takes up the story of John. John is a so-called “Savage” who lives on a reservation in the southwestern U.S. An outcast in his tribe, he grew up memorizing a tattered copy of Shakespeare, which has instilled in him a sense of morality and order, as well as curiosity about the outside world. Bernard sees John as an opportunity to gain personal media attention and aplomb, so he brings him back to England as a kind of exhibit. The culture shock, however, turns out to be too much for John, and disaster ensues.
I had rather mixed feelings about this book. Stylistically, it’s insanely clever—a facade of charming, Wodehousian Britain overlayed onto a sick totalitarian state where monstrosities and immorality are normalized and nobody really cares. Orwell did something of the same kind in 1984, with his very British “hullo, chaps” flavor of communism, but Huxley is better at dark humor and constructing a fictional culture that is disturbingly believable. On the other hand, at times his zesty writing comes off as kitsch, especially the scenes on the reservation and the bizarre ending. I will say, I wasn’t bored!
Overall… creepy, weird book, somewhat better than 1984, in my opinion. I may do a more in-depth comparison video about the two novels, since there’s more that could be unpacked about their futuristic worlds.
This is truly a brilliant work of imagination. I think that the dangers that Huxley warned about were real. With that, I also think that the positive cultural trends of the past hundred years have been more then enough to counterbalance the bad stuff.
There is something to that…the cyclical nature of history means the pendulum usually swings before it gets too extreme (with some exceptions, like North Korea).
When I taught the book, I tried without success to contextualize it … I.e., study it in the author’s worldview and experiences … I applaud your review …
Thanks, Tim! Though it was a strange book, I do want to read more by Huxley, perhaps The Island. He certainly had a lot of insights well ahead of his time.
I would totally enjoy your video comparison of the two. I like both stories in their own way; however, I lean more toward Brave New World, given that I see similarities (at least) in American culture than I do a 1984-forced military-kind-of-society. I think Huxley is closer to reality today than Orwell. But, yeah, Brave New World was so wacky, and the ending was even stranger!
Agreed, I noticed a good 3 or 4 scenarios in the book that were chillingly comparable to things happening today. 😛
And without giving too much away here – I was really having Lord of the Flies flashbacks at the ending!