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?