Review: Brave New World

Behold!  The first book I’ve read as part of my self-imposed challenge!  A friend of mine is doing this with me also and, if you are interested in doing so as well, then please speak up and friend me on facebook where we decide what comes next!  [In this particular instance the next up is Lady Chatterley’s Lover – already started, tyvm.]

This book, should you not be familiar with it, is a futuristic tale in which people are created based upon the optimum measurements of what society needs for people to be happy.  The caste system is engineered for certain degrees of intellect through genetic controls resulting in these types (I’m only mentioning a few): Alpha plus, Alphas, Beta minuses, Gammas and the ever low men on the totem pole the Epsilons.  The most supreme intellects are, of course, the Alphas (pluses and double pluses, etc) and these only occur in a certain minority.  Each caste is raised to fill certain needs in society – there is no choice.  Each child is formed without parents, the upbringing is solely based upon group conditioning and a ritual of subconscious hypnotic suggestion.  This goes to understanding that as an individual your worth is nothing, you belong not to yourself, but to everyone; the suggestions talk about being materialistically compliant in the manner that most benefits society (get the newest and the best, discard the rest); if you ever feel down for any reason simply take your government provided soma (you get a daily ration of it).

It’s taken me almost a whole day to figure out how I feel about this book.  The structure is pretty simple, the language only a bit strange at times, and the world is artfully constructed.  Those who “grow up” [there are techniques for forced and rapidly completed maturation process, can’t recall if the main characters went through it] in this advanced society do so with the knowledge that they as individuals mean nothing.  Identities are communist (the overarching political system, while present, is not the focus) and therefor joint property in all people’s minds; something in order to be maintained is demonstrated in actions such as no long term and exclusive relationships promoting a sort of promiscuity  [Note:  In order for promiscuity to be an applicable word here there needs to be a notion of monogamy, a limitation in the sexual relationships between people, but since that is not the case in this world the word only acts to demonstrate something to us who aren’t a part of it.]; and possessions are revered and sought after.

It’s an interesting and unique notion, to be sure.  Personalities, bodies and minds, are not limited to the confines of the self; alone time is so sneered upon and was sure to link you with Bernard Marx in discussions of the masses – someone must have put alcohol in your test tube during your development.  Physical property is not really addressed beyond the fact that everyone is encouraged to be a consumer of the highest order, therefor the notion of self is present in relation to that role in society whereas in every other capacity it is shunned.  Children even go through death conditioning so it is no big deal when exposed to it and, in combination of the societal shunning of even the hint of a committed relationship, there is no grieving.  For grief to occur a person has to be acknowledged as unique and meaningful which goes against the indoctrination of the masses.

The first time this truly gets brought home to us is when we meet a man born and raised in a place called “The Savage Reservation”.  John [Savage] has a mother (this is a thing of horror to those in new world London)  with whom, despite all the atrocities of their disturbing relationship, feels an emotional bond.  Although he is an outcast in his own home due to his ethnic heritage (he’s Caucasian, the reservation is comprised of native Americans) it is the only home he’s ever known.  For him, each person matters, one has to work for their food, deal with the miseries of life as well as prove one’s self if there is a woman you’re interested in marrying.  The notion of communal partners is something he abhors just as much as the notion of chemical dependency his former- soma-taking- now- mescal- imbibing- mother so championed. But this is the world he finds himself in now thanks to an Alpha male outcast psychologist named Bernard Marx who marketed this new place as better.  His mother also wanted to “go back home”.  And so they went.

There are so many facets of this relatively short work that warrants conversation (about 230 pages).  The first that came to mind for me was the issues that arise when one feels unique.  In a society where everyone is a certain class, prejudices being hard wired within each person, every little abnormality stands out.  Certainly with the lack of parenting and the group conditioning that occurs there are few examples we see of this occurring.  Bernard, for example, stands out because he looks different than all other Alphas; short and thin instead of tall and well-built.  This difference makes him a pariah of sorts thus changing how he interacts with his environment and how he actually wants to do something different.  He fluctuates as many people in our society now do – a flux between wanting/needing approval and viewing the society from whom he wants acceptance with derision.  And still there’s that crutch available, even to him, that if he doesn’t feel well, if he feels too different, he partakes of soma.  This is a government issue medication that just makes one feel good and, while it might shorten life, it’s viewed as a wonderful thing.

Soma, the drug one can take when you’re feeling awkward or insecure, is what I liken to as self anesthetization and annihilation.  These aren’t terms used in Brave New World of course as they require an identification of the self.  There are no coping mechanisms as, well, there’s nothing really to cope with.  You don’t like something you take soma (turn the TV on), you feel weird you take soma (have a drink/do a line, take a puff), if you are confronted by anything you take soma (turn the TV/computer/internet on).  And if you feel outcast you take soma and do your best to join in any of the activities you’re supposed to in order to be considered a good citizen.  If you don’t you’re still outcast and treated with derision.

This book speaks to me on so many levels and all of them feel uncomfortably akin to now.  Soma is the easiest link, I think, to grasp but the one that still resonates the most is the black sheep situation.  As a piece of literature it feels strangely sterile.  Emotions are not felt in the story which is unsettling on its own, but when the opportunity presents itself via John to communicate feelings Huxley opts to not do so.  Overall it’s a very cerebral work that lends itself to thoughts, philosphical analysis as well as an emotional experience that just might sneak up on you long after you set the book down.  I hope you have the opportunity to check this one out if you have not done so yet.

So, what say you?  Have you read it?  Interested in reading it?


10 responses to “Review: Brave New World

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  • Teresa

    I love stories like this. I will have to add it to my huge TBR pile.

  • Helen Ginger

    I think I would have to save this one for when I had a long stretch of time. It doesn’t sound like one I could comprehend with the ten minutes here, half an hour a week later schedule of reading. It does sound interesting, though.

  • laurelrainsnow

    I read this one a long time ago….probably in high school or early college. I recall thinking that this was a world to fear and one I hoped would never happen, since I’m a fan of uniqueness.

    Nowadays, it seems like something that could actually happen.

    I don’t know if I want to read it again, though. I know that the concept was disturbing….

  • Arlee Bird

    I read this when I was in high school and recall liking it a great deal. That was over 40 years ago and one day I should read it again to see how I feel about the book now. When I read Brave New World it was in the late 1960s and it seemed particularly relevant to those times.

    Tossing It Out

  • Jillian

    Brave New World is on my 250 List. I can’t say that it sounds particularly good… 😦

    I finished Lady Chatterley’s Lover a couple months ago. I really liked it. I was surprised. 🙂

  • mywordlyobsessions

    I read this simultaneously with ‘1984’; therefore the plots always end up mingling together. I think I’m going to have to revisit it someday.

    I’m also going to start reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It’s on my TBR shelf.

  • litlove

    A few weeks ago I read 1984, and my husband told me Brave New World was better. What always intrigues me about the dystopian fiction of the 20th century is how emotion-less it all is. I figure that this is because the Idea behind the society dominates, and also because if normal human emotion were allowed, the fictional society would collapse. Most seem to discount the possibility of love, which is interesting philosophically, but most unlikely, I feel, realistically. Love messes up all forms of reason, discipline, order and control. And just as well, usually!

  • Viv

    I once stage managed a production of this book and it was also a set text the year I sat my ‘O’ levels(the exam people sat at 16 in England, now replaced with the GCSE)and so I not only read it bu studied it extensively at the time. It still has an effect on me today, to constantly question everything that society takes for granted. These days, the soma of the people is TV like Xfactor, soap operas and Facebook.

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