I have now concluded another of the grand pantheon of the classics of the dystopian genre. It is no mere clone of the other works, although incidentally it does feature cloning within its story. I would place this on the same level as 1984 in terms of the ideas conveyed within. However I would also say that it completely stands alone as its own creation. It perhaps has less solidity and depth and the words are less lyrical and poetic than Orwell's. That said I was blown away at several key moments in this book. As far as my journeys in the dystopian genre go if you're trying it out 1984
and Brave New World
are your first stops. Closely accompanied by Fahrenheit 451."'Human beings used to be...' he hesitated; the blood rushed to his cheeks. 'Well they used to be viviparous.'"
The plot follows Bernard Marx originally in a world where everything from people to lifestyle has become a product of the government. Children are no longer born (except in the few refuges where savages or Indians live - is this Huxley's way of making reference to the racial tensions of his era?) they are produced and they are brainwashed by the government in every inch of their lives. From being told that "everyone is everyone else's" to being told about their privilege as a member of their particular caste individuals undergo hypnopaedia or sleep teaching at an early age to condition them to fit into this manufactured society. "'Talking about her as if she were a bit of meat.' Bernard ground his teeth. 'Have her here, have her there. Like mutton. Degrading her to so much mutton..."
Bernard Marx is one individual who recognises his conditioning and as such does not feel at ease in his falsified world. In this way he reminds in a way of Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby as a man also trapped by the expectations of his strange environment. Yet Marx (interesting choice of a name considering the rise of Marxist principles at the time) feels that he can do little about it. Instead he falls into line with the debauchery of life as it stands. For when sex no longer is about reproduction in this society it becomes instead a careless act for these people. They 'have' who they want as everyone belongs to everyone else
(a creed reminiscent of the rules of the Party in 1984) and this eroticism is encouraged from the age of childhood an idea appalling to any sensible individual."No, the real problem is: How is it that I can't, or rather - because, after all, I know quite well why I can't - what would it be like if I could, if I were free - not enslaved by my conditioning."
Into this environment Bernard brings a 'savage' (a young man taught the ideal of commitment in marriage and of family through mother and father). From then on the reader is left to observe what happens as he with his limited understanding of the world - seen though the forbidden works of Shakespeare - tries to understand what life holds for him in such a gluttonously lustful culture. Ultimately he does find the world hopelessly depressing and we are left to witness his sad ending when the Controller of this industrial world tells him the truth in a truly memorable and moving scene. "Nay but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty..."
The writing of Huxley may not match the poetic lyricism of George Orwell - and Brave New World may not be the best written novel of all time - but it is still solid writing. My favourite chapter was probably the third when Huxley chose to use a variety of quick, short, sharp sentences and phrases as paragraphs to create a flow of thoughts. It read very much like an onslaught of clashing advertising ideas and really struck home the idea of conditioning for me. Normally such use of words proves gimmicky but somehow Huxley succeeded in channelling meaning through such a barrage of confusing statements."'But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
The real power of Huxley's work is not in his choice of words but in how he manages to convey so many ideas in such a brief amount of time (only a little over 200 pages). There are so many themes resonant within this book from: the need of humans to manipulate environments to the idea of how morality, commitment and sexuality are linked. Then there is the desire of humans to escape the natural programming we live under and the controversial topic of genetic manipulation and whether we as humans really have the right to mess with life at the level of embryos and foetuses. And that is only a handful of the ideas within this novel. Like Franz Kafka in The Metamorphosis Huxley creates a novel full of ambiguity and obvious ideas which enables the reader to take away what they wish. It is truly a powerful classic in that regard."'O Brave new world that has such people in it."
Again as with 1984
, the story of Brave New World is linked to other events and textual ideas. The title was itself taken from The Tempest (one of the classic Shakespeare plays I am yet to read but may soon). The title was as such a curious foreshadowing of how Shakespearian texts are used intertextually in Brave New World
. Where 1984
was linked to the 'threat' of Communism however, Brave New World
is Fordism taken to its most extreme level along with the ideas of Freud. There was an almost religious connection to those two figures where they were called Our Ford or Our Freud. The thought was that the commercialisation techniques created by Ford could be taken too far and be applied to human lives. The other thought was that the psychological techniques of Freud and in particular his idea that human beings are carnal creatures could be taken too far. Considering that he was writing when these were new and now wholly trusted ideas his work is profound and also almost reads as a judgement against the 'immorality' of the rolling 20s when lifestyles were more carefree. It was this era which led to the Great Depression in many ways and perhaps Huxley was writing an indictment of the selfish lifestyles which triggered such a catastrophe.
Ultimately for a book that is designed to be uncomfortable and dark Brave New World
is a fascinating novel. Its links with history, psychology and philosophy lift it from fascinating to insightful and its message raises it further again. This is a true classic: dark and profoundly inspired. In many ways its message is prophetic reaching out across time to make us question how we are conditioned by our world and how we turn life into a consumer's market.