Fiction: “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley

holy shit my copy was published in 1958 this book is almost as old as my dadOoh, WCYY decided to play “Bound for the Floor” just as I sat down to write my review.  How apropos of the situation.

Sample lyric:

And you just don’t get
You keep it copacetic
And you learn to accept it
You know you’re so pathetic

What is with all the 90s nostalgia lately?  My Friend Sarah was busting out the Cranberries the other day, I dug out a CD by a one-somewhat-hit wonder today to be the soundtrack to my cleaning (the super-obscure Jude; go ahead, tell me you’ve heard of him.  BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T), and now CYY is helping me with this review.

Because I don’t know which angle to tackle.  There’s a lot of things to discuss when it comes to Brave New World, but the discussion – as proven by Saturday’s Tweetversation between myself and Erica of NYC Bookworm – can become contentious.

PS – BEFORE I FORGET LIKE A HORRIBLE COLLABORATOR — Check out Erica’s review on Brave New World by clicking this link: CLICK.

Note From the Future: As I proofread this before posting it, I realize that I never actually talk about this contentious part of our Tweetversation.  And I’ve already written too much.  And so, the world will never know …

Brave New World was written in 1932 by Aldous Huxley, a British scholar.  This novel predates both 1984 and Animal Farm.  I don’t remember much of 1984, but I know it’s supposed to be against the futuristic society where government knows everything you do.  As for Animal Farm, I know that *that’s* an allegorical novella about Stalinism, by George Orwell, and spoiler alert, IT SUCKS!

That PSA was brought to you by the surprisingly-literate Sterling Malory Archer.  Seriously, read a book, people.

ANYWAY.  In the society described by Brave New World – and I’m going to refer to it as a society and not a government, because I don’t really sense a ruling body in this society.  Sure, there’s a Controller, but … I don’t know.  I mean, I know he’s in charge of stuff, like controlling what people can read and write, and I know that there are laws because policemen show up at one point, but … I get the sense that government — any government – exists to provide structure to a larger body of homogeneous people, and that structure constantly evolves because we constantly evolve.  The society of Brave New World stops evolving because it no longer has to; it has reached stasis.

Reproduction of the species is now controlled by science and machines.  Sex is no longer related to reproduction – instead, children are conditioned to have sex without consequences.  No, I’m not kidding, there is a part where children are encouraged to have ‘erotic play.’  I don’t really want the To Catch a Predator guy to come to my house, so I’m going to refrain from making the joke about erotic play and myself, and instead go DO NOT WANT.  I mean, again, I’m looking at this book through 21st-Century eyes and while I get that Huxley is using an extreme example to support his point, I still get an ick factor from thinking about it.

And Huxley’s point is this: he felt, back in 1932 (or whatever I said up above I’M NOT SCROLLING BACK UP THERE TO GET IT), he was afraid that humans would come to rely on science and materialism so much that it would take away everything from our daily lives.  Religion no longer worships deities; it has instead deified Henry Ford and his assembly line.  Think about it – in this society, life is created using an assembly line.  Everything is perfectly regulated, down to the last gram of alcohol someone is going to inject into a fetus in order to get it to the correct IQ level.  Society breeds into its progeny its potential: it will assign someone to be graded an Alpha-Plus; that person will be given advantages over someone that is graded to be an Epsilon.  The Epsilon will, to borrow a phrase from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, do all of Society’s Charlie Work.  An Epsilon will not write the Great American Novel (even if novels weren’t banned), and an Epsilon will not discover a new way to streamline the reproduction process.  Epsilons are made to sweep garbage.

This society has brought back a caste system.  And this caste system has, in effect, created a very stable environment.  I mean, let’s pretend that you were created as a Gamma in this society.  Your future is predetermined; it is known since your decanting what you will learn, how much you will learn, and what your responsibilities will be.  There is no need to dream big because your life is plotted out perfectly.  When you are five you will begin your conditioning, along with a whole ‘nother bunch of five-year-olds.  There are no parents; just ward watchers, giving you your meals and your teachings.  You never know that there are books, and art; you just know what you’re told.  And when your body reaches maturity (not necessarily your mind), you are assigned a job – much like Fry in Futurama! – you are not given a chance to strive.

So because you never, essentially, have to live with disappointment, you are always happy.  I mean, I struggle daily with the fact that I have incurred thousands of dollars in student loan debt to receive a piece of paper that has gotten me exactly zero percent farther ahead in life than if I didn’t have it.  In the seven years since I graduated, I have been a department manager and a store manager, but now I am a temp production administrator and a part-time bakery Jack-of-almost-all-trades.  The knowledge that my very expensive piece of paper is practically useless, coupled with the debt I’ve incurred, causes me to be unhappy at times.  If I lived in Brave New World‘s society, I wouldn’t have either of those and still be in the same spot.  I would be happier.

But would my life be more fulfilling?  No.  Because if I hadn’t gone to college, I wouldn’t have met the wonderful people I call my friends today.  If I hadn’t started working at that first retail job, there are even more people I wouldn’t know.  I wouldn’t have the experiences and memories that I cherish today.  But in that society, experiences and memories aren’t cherished because daily life is so society-driven instead of individually-driven.

So everyone has their own place in society, and because everyone worships the same modernity and stability, there are no wars.  There is little to no violence.  For when brief moments of doubt set in, everyone is programmed to take a drug known as soma [Huxley’s italics], which, as far as I can tell, would be some kind of mixture of Prozac and Valium, and it makes the happiness come back.  Or something.  Everyone’s on drugs, is what I’m saying.

Until Society is introduced to John Savage.  John is the illegitimate son of one of the Directors and a woman named Linda, whose birth control failed when she was on vacation with the Director.  She got lost and separated, the Director searched for her and then left her for dead, and she lived on this “savage” reservation in what was once New Mexico to raise her son.  Eighteen years later, two characters from this Society – Bernard and Lenina – discover Linda and John, and manage to bring them both back to Britain.

John does not understand the ways of this heavily-regulated society.  He is proud that he was given a mother, even though he regrets how he treated her.  He doesn’t understand why people would retreat into a soma-induced haze when atonement and repentance would return happiness to someone through greater means.  He is a stranger in a strange land, and does not know how to “When in Rome.”

Uh, I just realized that any entrepreneurial kid looking to get out of writing an essay on Brave New World would strike a goldmine when they find my website, so maybe I should shut up about this for a while.  DO YOUR OWN WORK, YOU DOUCHEBAG KIDS!  AND GET OFF MY LAWN!  (Or contact me directly and we can set up a payment plan.)  (Just kidding, teachers!)  (No but seriously, kids, DM me.)

So this society sucks for outsiders, and John tragically suffers for it.  He falls in lust with Lenina, and there’s a whole ‘nother tangent I could get into there, but it’s 11 p.m. on Tuesday and I have to be at my desk in eight hours, and I’ve downed ¾ of a bottle of this awesome stuff called “NeuroSleep,” and holy shit I’m getting tired, so I’m going to let the John/Lenina relationship stand by saying that Mr. Huxley clearly created a parallel between them and Romeo and Juliet, and I probably didn’t like that aspect of the novel because I do not like Romeo and Juliet.

But this leads me into a brief discussion on Shakespeare.  John’s primary font of knowledge is the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which I think is amazing.  I am a self-admitted heathen, and I personally consider Shakespeare’s Complete Works to be the equivalent of a holy work.  It has everything – comedy! Tragedy! Humor! Pathos! Cannibalism! Nunneries! Music! Fairies! Did I mention cannibalism?  BECAUSE IT’S ALL THERE IN TITUS ANDRONICUS!

Anyway, the novel takes its name from a line Miranda says in The Tempest.  Some background: Miranda has lived on an island for her entire life with her sorcerer father, Prospero, and sprites and weirdos (Ariel and Caliban).  She first meets Ferdinand, a prince who literally washed up on shore, and then the rest of Ferdinand’s posse shows up – Ferdie’s dad, Alonso, and the two shitheel alcoholic would-be usurpers Sebastian and Gonzalo.  And upon the sight of literally-washed-up alcoholism, she says:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t! [The Tempest, 5.i]

John quotes the same line exuberantly when he learns he’s being brought back to London.  We learn that his original perception is completely wrong, and John suffers tragically at the hands of society.  We do not know what happens to Miranda, but I imagine that she too learns that the world is not the nicest place.

I am now very tired, so I’m going to leave you with this: a song I won’t ever be able to listen to again in the same way.

Grade for Brave New World: 3 stars

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