Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Opening sentence: “A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys.”
I know I might be a little late to the party reading this classic, but I have to say – this is a fantastic book! When you put it in historical context and realise it was published in 1932, before many of the ideas that Huxley explores were even developed as they are today, it makes it even more of an astounding read.
Set in a dystopian future, the notion of parents and family has been abolished as all people are made on an embryo production line. As they grow, they are conditioned and educated as is appropriate for the social class they are destined to be part of. This way, no one is dissatisfied with life as it is exactly what they expect it to be, no more, no less. And if anything in life does upset them, there’s Soma, a drug that elevates your mood (or even knocks you out if you take enough) with no side effects or negative consequences. Every single member of society knows their place and has no original thought. “Everyone belongs to everyone else” is a mantra that is drummed into them – monogamous relationships are unheard of and promiscuity is the norm, to both satisfy urges and keep people from getting too close.
There is no disease, there is no war, there is no poverty, but there is no such thing as the individual either. Family, art, religion and culture have all been sacrificed to create this harmonious world, as Mustapha Mond, the World Controller for Western Europe explains, “You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art.”
Although programmed, there are of course some free-thinkers, as is the way of human nature. We are introduced to Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, who are both dissatisfied with the way they are told to live their lives, this leads them to question their situation, but not go as far as to completely rebel. By contrast, Lenina Crowne is almost perfect, she shows us how a good member of society ought to behave.
Outside of this perfect world lie the Savage Reservations – areas where humans have been left to live in the old way – in family units and doing as they please. On a trip to one of these Reservations, Bernard and Lenina meet John, a Savage, and bring him back with them into civilised society. It is he gives the book its title as he quotes Shakespeare when anticipating seeing this new world for the first time, “O Brave new world, that has such people in’t!”
It is the merging of these wildly different characters and the mixing of these two types of worlds that makes this such a thought provoking book. Would I want to trade free-thinking, the family unit and culture to live in a harmonious society free from disease, where everyone is happy but essentially a glorified robot? Also, when you look at certain societies around the world, is this dystopian vision already happening in some form right now? If, like me of last week, you have not yet gotten around to reading this book, then I implore you to make sure it’s added to your TBR list.
Published: Penguin Random House, 1932 (originally published by Chatto & Windus)