Review: Brave New World

Have you ever been in a situation where you pretended that you read a certain book? Maybe you were at a party and wanted to fit in. Maybe you wanted to act like you knew something that the other person didn’t. Or maybe you were surrounded by other English Literature majors who acted like everyone should have read the book ages ago. It’s possible I fit into that last category when it comes to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Good news! I no longer have to pretend. Although, the bad news is that now I may have to pretend I liked it.

Spoilers begin (skip down if you want to read the book).

Summary: It is the far future where babies are literally made, recreational drug use is highly encouraged, and sex is open and free. We enter the novel in a London Hatchery and Conditioning Center. Young adults are receiving a tour of the facility in order to better understand the processes. Children are produced in decanting bottles and conditioned depending on which caste they will belong.The lower caste’s development is adjusted in order to make them happy and content with their lower status, while the Alpha caste gets free reign. Not to mention the fact that all of the lower castes are “decanted” in batches of up to 96 identical children. Soma is the drug of choice, and it is given often to elicit “holidays” from anything remotely stressful or different. Sex is often and with everyone; they share. Everyone is happy and enjoys life, other than the few strange ducks, like Bernard, who enjoy being alone.

Bernard really likes Lenina, and while Lenina is happy to have sex with him, he has this strange idea of having her to himself. No shares-ies. In order to impress her, he takes Lenina to the Savage reservation. They witness a whipping and encounter a woman named Linda, who is from their society but got lost on a visiting trip. Linda has a son, John, who grew up on the reservation, but has always longed to see the “brave new world.” John returns with Bernard and Lenina only to become a sideshow. After a while, John becomes fed up with the way society is run and is disgusted when Lenina tries to bed him. To top it all off, his mother dies after being in a soma-induced coma. In the end, he tries to stay isolated, whipping himself for atonement, only to become a form of entertainment. In the frenzy that ensues, he participates in a soma-filled orgy and eventually hangs himself from shame. The end.

Spoilers end.

Thoughts: What a doozy. I normally hate to give away everything, just in case someone who reads this would like to pick up the novel, but my issues with this book all stem from the end. I was really enjoying Huxley’s 1930’s vision of the future. It really made you ask yourself, “Would this be good or bad?” In some ways, this future would be bleak. No love. No family. No freedom, at least not for the lower castes. There was a quote I really liked, although it can be a little sad when you think about how it speaks of the world today.

“The optimum population,” said Mustapha Mond, “is modelled on the iceberg — eight-ninths below the water line, one-ninth above.”

Children are programmed from birth to think and act a certain way. Their lives predetermined, their minds literally poisoned. Looking at it this way, Huxley’s new world is a horrible future. One we would hope to never see.

Then, they visit the Savage reservation, and this world seems bleaker. And as we experience life with John, he seems the more worse for wear. He is stressed, lonely, depressed, confused, lost, angry. After the incident with his mother, he is distraught. The people in the society do not fear death. They do not feel lonely since they are always together. Soma takes the confusion and stress away. No crime or violence. Emotions associated with jealousy and anger are non-existent since “everyone belongs to everyone else.” After seeing what John goes through, and the choice he makes in the end, you have to wonder if the society was all that bad.

I really enjoyed the debate this sparked within me. It got me thinking. Then, Huxley threw religion into the mix. A lot of it at the end. I think it hit the peak when John was whipping himself for thinking about Lenina. I think this is what left a sour taste in my mouth. It also really bothered me that John was pretty cool with being called “Mr. Savage.”

Review: I like the concept a lot. I enjoyed his detail of a new and “utopian” society. I especially reveled in the controversy of what is really utopian. But it seemed more of a book that was condemning science or religion, or maybe even both. And the ending left me disenchanted. I debated for a long time on what score to give this book, and I settled on a 6.5 out of 10. A co-worker told me she had to re-read it and then she fell in love. Maybe I could try that, since I wanted to like this book and was a little disheartened when it didn’t live up to my expectations. But a good book shouldn’t require a re-reading, it should make you desire to read it again. I have no desire to read this book a second time around, and the only thing that makes me happy about having read this book is that I will no longer have to worry about being a fraud.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Brave New World

  1. Very honest. Yeah, I feel like I’m supposed to have read that one, along with many others, that I never have.

    About this time last year I was at the library. Somehow an older volunteer and I struck up a conversation. Charming and erudite, he was obviously well educated and comfortable with himself. He commented on the copy “Absolom, Absolom!” I’d picked up, and I began telling him something very similar to what you wrote at the beginning of your post. Naturally he’d read all of Faulkner’s stuff. He assured me it was a waste of time and said “let me show you where some good books are”. He got me started on Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. I’m glad he did.

    At a social function a few months later some people were talking about “Ulysses”. I just smiled.

  2. I really enjoyed Brave New World. I’d heard of it but never had it thrown at me in a literary conversation (but having finished it – I’ve awkwardly asked people if they’ve read it. There were some issues I had, but mostly I enjoyed it’s unique perspective as a 1930s utopic/dystopic fiction. I love the required duality and the necessity of choice in the reader.

    • *I love the required duality and the necessity of choice in the reader.

      In ALL utopic/dystopic fiction. I think it’s one of the reasons those novels are the ones which stay with me.

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