‘We prefer to do things comfortably.’
‘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.’
‘In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.’
‘All right, then,’ said the Savage defiantly, ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.’
Holy moley you guys, I need to pick up the pace. It’s been a busy week for me. I’ll save you the stories of poetry slams and re-done flooring; let’s just jump right into the review, shall we?
I finished Brave New World on my lunch break on Friday, and it’s taken me this long to write the review because I’m at such a loss to talk about it. I want to spend a week with this book; I want to sit down in a classroom and have lengthy debates about this book. Is that an English major thing?
Like 1984 (which I read but never got around to reviewing for Bookstravaganza 2013), Brave New World is a book so many of us think we know before we read it. It’s a cultural touchstone, constantly referenced. But, much like with 1984, I found that the common cultural knowledge of Brave New World did not prepare me for the book itself, which has so much more to say.
Brave New World shows us a future where individuality has been sacrificed for the good of Society. The family unit no longer exists; in fact, the idea of families and motherhood is considered pornographic. The entire breeding, birthing, and child-rearing process is carried out in factories, often in twin groups of 72-97 identical people. They are created and conditioned within a rigid caste system, according to their Social Predestination. Everyone is happy all of the time: nothing in life is ever withheld from them, nothing is challenging. They are concerned with nothing beyond their jobs (which they are conditioned to enjoy) and recreation (which is bountiful and idiotic). They are happy, empty husks, identity-less cogs in a perpetual motion machine of mindless consumption, a perfect version of Capitalism.
Huxley’s worst possible future is one where our constant search for happiness has led us to a brainless, blissful ignorance. What’s interesting to me is trying to figure out what Brave New World sees as the solution to this terrifying future vision. It seems to be tied up in the character John, a man born in to a civilized woman who was accidentally left behind in a Savage Reservation. While John doesn’t fit in with the other Savages thanks to his mother’s influence, he is also an outsider in the city. He hasn’t been conditioned to accept this strange world, and everything is horrifying to him.
In the second-to-last chapter, John is discussing with Mostapha Mond, the Resident World Controller for Western Europe, everything that civilization has given up to reach this blissed-out happiness. They talk about art and meaning, they talk about scientific curiosity. But mostly, they talk about God and religion. In a perfect, unchanging world where nothing means anything, there is no place for suffering, and, therefore, no place for God. Huxley seems to be saying that we need to embrace what John calls “living dangerously”, which for him is somewhat tied up in religion.
But in the last chapter (and here I will be getting vaguely spolier-ish, so read on at your own risk), John is given a chance to live on his own, to embrace suffering as a way to atone for the sins he believes he has committed. And the world of conditioning doesn’t allow it. They find him, they hound him, and, in the end, it destroys John. I’m not sure what that means.
I know no one is going to read this long a review, but there is one more thing I want to touch on. It interests me that in a world where sex is completely removed from the reproductive context and is instead looked upon as a healthy and normal form of recreation (“everyone belongs to everyone”, as they say), there is absolutely no mention of homosexuality. They’ve removed religion from the equation, they’ve removed reproduction, so what is left to stigmatize queer relationships? But the idea never comes up. There’s no hint whatsoever as to this future world’s view of gay sex, as though it simply doesn’t exist. That seems so disingenuous to me. There’s no way this world wouldn’t be a queer person’s paradise, at least in that one respect.
Anyway, that’s Brave New World. Has anyone else read this? Want to chat about it?
Books read: 2