I recently just finished Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Amazingly, I had not read it until now, which is quite surprising considering I love books that examine dystopian future societies, like Geroge Orwell’s 1984. First, a couple of fun facts about Huxley, then a review of the book.
So, something that is super interesting is that Huxley came from a family of biologists. In fact, his grandfather was T.H. Huxley, a.k.a. Darwin’s Bulldog, and two of his brothers were biologists. Also, Aldous Huxley had a brief bought of blindness caused by keratitis punctuta, an eye disease where the cornea can become inflamed. He was actually blind for about 2-3 years because of it. It actually prevented him from serving in World War I. He kept working on his degree despite his blindness and got a B.A. in English in 1916. He published several novels, most of which were social satires, but he most well known novel is Brave New World.
The book opens with a set of people touring a human hatchery and conditioning center located in futuristic London. Humans are raised in decanting bottles, and receive treatments in the bottle, including ones that help distinguish classes of individuals. For example, lower classes are given alcohol to basically impair their brain functioning. Also, lower classes are derived as clones. Later in the book, you come across groups of clones who work together to perform some task. Older children are raised with recordings being chanted in their ears at night, basically imprinting on their minds that their particular social status is good and that the society can’t function properly without them playing that particular role. Other interesting aspects of this society includes the free distribution of what is called soma, a mind altering and calming drug that is constantly consumed. Lastly, since sex is not meant to produce children, it becomes a recreational activity. One last thing to note, Henry Ford is revered as a deity.
The plot continues and focuses on one of the main characters, Bernard. Bernard is a psychologist and a member of the upper class of society, an Alpha Plus, but is considered odd by all of those around him. People claim it is because he was accidentally administered some alcohol in his decanting bottle as an embryo. Bernard feels like he doesn’t fully fit in and doesn’t like using soma to suppress his feelings and just be himself. Bernard is friends with a fellow Alpha Plus named Helmholtz. They are drawn to each other because they both feel lonely in the society in which they reside. A third character that plays a major role in the book is Lenina, a hatchery worker who is the sexually desired by several men, including Bernard.
Bernard decides to take a vacation to what is known as “The Reservation”. This is an area located in New Mexico where humans live basically as natives. They live off the land, they still believe in religion, and still reproduce by natural means. Bernard brings Lenina with him as his companion on the trip. They are taken to the village on The Reservation called Malpais. There they encounter the natives, and Lenina is appalled. They come across some light skinned natives and learn that the woman, Linda, had been a companion to a man on holiday years ago. She had gotten separated from him and ended up being taken in and cared for by the people of the village. It also happened to be that she was pregnant with her son John. Long story short, Linda longs to be back in the society she once knew and she and John head back to London with Bernard and Lenina.
Linda basically sends herself into a soma coma when she gets back. Bernard parades John around as “The Savage” and gains fame. John finds this way of life appalling and empty, and soon refuses to attend any more parties. John, who initially fancied Lenina, finds himself disgusted with her and her sexual advances. He was looking for a real human connection with her and realized he would not be able to obtain it.
Eventually, John isolates himself from the society that he can’t tolerate. I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but all I will say is that the ending is unfortunate.
The novel is a quite enjoyable, especially if you enjoy other dystopian novels, as I mentioned previously. It is also interesting to ponder this thought about being conditioned by society to behave and act one way and how that can leave one very lonely and disenchanted. It is certainly applicable to today’s society, and indeed this book was ahead of it’s time.