Why Brave New World?
Isaac Asimov once said, “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.” First published in 1932, Brave New World has a long history of being banned. Brave New World depicts a totalitarian and somber future where the world has been taken over by a few and transgressions and disobedience has no space. However, the fundamental question the book raises is who decides the virtue and qualities of this new utopian world.
Prophetic, prescient and apocalyptic, Brave New World is all the more relevant in the present times where humanity is lulled and subdued into false sense of security and passive obedience by means of consumerism, utilitarianism, indulgence and pleasure.
To begin with, Brave New World is a portrait of dystopian world set in London in A.F. 632, that is, 632 years after Henry Ford first produced the Model T. In contrast to the 19th century which was full of hope and stability, the 20th century especially the latter half saw great upheavals in form of the First World War, the Second World War along with the advancement in modern technology, means of communication, nuclear technology and thus, a feeling of stability gave way to uncertainty, confusion, doubt, anxiety and above all, instability. A world as known is changing, traditional morality is questioned and debunked and this turmoil is also reflected in literature of the period. Whereas, the 18th and 19th century produced the variations of utopia in Swift’s society of Houyhnhnms, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, The War of the World; the 20th century saw some great works of dystopia or anti-utopia such as Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and the like.
Huxley’s Futuristic Vision
Huxley’s vision of future is bleak, dark and grim as opposed to the exuberance and idealism reflected in Wells’ works. Often cited as a satire of Wells’ vision, Brave New World depicts a totalitarian world whose motto is “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY”. A society where homogeneity and stability is achieved and maintained through genetic engineering, endless conditioning, mindless consumption, defined social roles, mind altering drugs et cetera. A society which is engineered around a strict division of castes, Alphas, the most intelligent beings, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons; where everybody has a predestined social role; where babies are hatched in a bottle instead of being born and citizens are conditioned into servility and compliance, material consumption, promiscuity, debauchery and sexual orgies through hypnopaedia or sleep-teaching and drug like ‘soma’ is dispersed by the government to maintain the illusion of happiness and stability.
In the very opening scene, the readers’ are plunged into the world which puts emphasis on control and happiness engineered by control and conditioning. The world where progress is achieved through Bokanovsky’s Process, “One egg, one embryo, one adult – normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress”. Social stability, the motto underlying every action is achieved through Bokanovsky’s Process, “Standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg. Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines.” The society which places reliance upon homogeneity, identity and similitude and where difference or heterogeneity is perceived as a threat to stability and hence, every caste is predestined and preconditioned in the Hatchery itself, “We also predestine and condition. We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage works or future…” As happiness is the ultimate virtue, emotions are contemplated as a menace to stability, relationships among the members of the family group is labelled as obscene and thus, words like mother, father are expunged from the memory of the community as a whole, “The world was full of fathers – was therefore full of misery; full of mothers – therefore of every kind of perversion from sadism to chastity; full of brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts – full of madness and suicide”, “…nobody had ever heard of a father.” As “everyone belongs to everyone else”, children are encouraged to involve in hedonism and erotic play and monogamy is seen as an evil.
Is civilization better than savagery?
Although no effort is spared to program the individuals into servility, everything is not well. Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, Alpha Plus males’ starts nurturing transgressive tendencies. Bernard, small and ugly pines for something more than a cell in the social body, for freedom, “…I want to know what passion is… I want to feel something strongly.” On the periphery of this so called utopian and civilized world still exists the old world where babies are not hatched but born, where illnesses and diseases have not been eliminated, where human body does not retain the youth forever, where emotions run deep, where marriages still take place, “nobody’s supposed to belong to more than one person” and death of the dear one is mourned. Bernard brings back John, the savage from this world into civilization; who unable to grasp the futility of such existence adorns the role of the savior. Probing the virtues of such existence, he bellows,
“’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.’
…’I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.
‘Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’
…’I claim them all…’”
Self-exiling himself to a deserted island, John is yet again discovered by the society and his acts of atonement ultimately becomes an act of entertainment for others. In a new Foreword to Brave New World written in 1946, Huxley stated that “If I were now to rewrite the book, I would offer the Savage a third alternative. Between the utopian and the primitive horns of his dilemma would lie the possibility of sanity…” As prophesied by Huxley, this brave new world is already upon us. With this masterpiece set in future, Huxley shocks the readers out of their false sense of security, reveals the nightmares that the near future holds for us.
Brave New World has been classified as a classic for a reason and despite some structural weaknesses and flaws which perturbs the reader for a little while, the book is a must, must read.
Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
About the Author:
Aldous Leonard Huxley was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. He spent the latter part of his life in the United States, living in Los Angeles from 1937 until his death in 1963. Best known for his novels and wide-ranging output of essays, he also published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts. Through his novels and essays Huxley functioned as an examiner and sometimes critic of social mores, norms and ideals. Huxley was a humanist but was also interested towards the end of his life in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism. By the end of his life, Huxley was widely acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of his time. (Courtesy: Goodreads)
To quote Huxley:
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you mad.”
“Maybe this world is another planet’s hell.”
“That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”
“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”
“…most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”