[Note: This weekly meme will feature a literary classic, most of which I enjoyed, but some which I found lacking]
Rating: 4 out of 5
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932, begins by describing the World State, an alternative universe set in London A.F. 632 (meaning 2540 C.E., 632 years “After Ford” created the first Model T). Ford has replaced God as a holy figure in this dystopian society dominated by mass production and consumption.
Beware: this novel is quite disturbing at first. The early chapters take you on a tour of the World State’s genetic engineering facilities, in which people are bred, not born, into one of five castes: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. Each caste is trained for specific tasks, as well as brainwashed into believing that they are happy in life, so as not to envy the other groups.
What’s disturbing is how the World State achieves stability–by sleep hypnosis and electroshock therapy. Also, because all women are on birth control (known as Malthusian belts), promiscuity is encouraged from a very young age. (Do NOT read if you cannot stomach the thought of 7-year-olds having sex). Sleeping around ensures that no one becomes monogamous, and thus more concerned with the individual rather than the whole.
Later in the novel, we’re introduced to the main characters Bernard Marx, an abnormally short, ugly Alpha, and Lenina Crowne, an Alpha often described as “pneumatic” for both her empty brain and bouncy body. In order for Bernard to return to the good graces of the World State after his unorthodox behavior, he and Lenina travel to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico. There they meet Linda, a civilized woman ostracized from society after becoming pregnant with her son John. The rest of the novel follows the four characters’ return to London and how John reacts to what he calls the “Brave New World.”
The novel is extremely inventive: even the characters’ names are derived from historical figures (ex. Bernard Marx = George Bernard Shaw + Karl Marx). Although published almost 80 years ago, the science fictional elements are timeless, since the World State never seems too out of the realm of possibility. The themes are provocative, and Huxley makes the reader as disgusted with the World State as it is with our own society. The juxtaposition between civilized and savage makes you both scorn and appreciate each perspective.
Other than the initial shock over the controversial subject matter, I loved how this novel forced me to re-evaluate societal norms and decide for myself whether ignorance or bliss was more important. The ending is not a happy one, but it fits the overall message. I would highly recommend this book to readers who enjoy thinking critically and can handle disconcerting and often offensive notions.
Favorite Quote: “Stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” (Ch. 16)