Book Talk: Brave New World8:30:00 PM
Written in 1932, well before Orwell's 1984 or Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World is a terrifyingly familiar portrayal of the evolution of modern society into a world where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.
Huxley predicts the evolution of science and technology that allows us to perfect society, while essentially destroying humanity in the process. Everything runs flawlessly and without effort, at least superficially. And that is really the key - constant socialization, stimulation, sex, and drugs are used to ensure people are satisfied with the superficial and look no deeper.
Huxley asks the same questions that people have asked for centuries - can you feel pleasure without pain? Happiness without sadness? Height without depth? Passion without despair? Everyone in this new world is even-keeled, to a disturbing degree, conditioned to feel the bare minimum of emotions, and given drugs that offer a "holiday" from any undue emotional stress. Understanding is compartmentalized so citizens only know what they need to to complete their responsibilities. Instant gratification and fulfillment of desires keep people satisfied, but as with everything, it comes with a price. The price of happiness is the absence not only of depth of feeling, but the absence of the pillars of civilized society: art, science, and religion.
When (ironically named) Savage leaves his old life to join the new world he quickly discovers, to no one's surprise, that perfection isn't all it's cracked up to be, leading to this oft-quoted realization:
“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.”
Brave New World is truly science fiction, conceived during a time when this was unheard of, which makes it all the more impressive. Make no mistake - it's an erudite novel. There are lengthy passages in which the author dedicates himself to explaining the science at work or to world building so that readers may better understand his vision. It was written so long ago that it should feel archaic, but it doesn't. Instead it rings true in a way that is terrifying. Brave New World feels similar to contemporary works like The Handmaid's Tale and The Hunger Games, which are similarly explore society's desire to create a "better" world, no matter the cost. The premise of this novel is what has allowed it to endure - but it's not without its problems.
Huxley's writing style is unconventional at best, and it can be taxing to decipher. I felt as though I had to reread passages multiple times to decipher them, and while that can sometimes be a good thing, it's not the easiest read. Savage is a problematic character - this is something that even Huxley acknowledged. He is sheltered and uneducated, but still manages to teach himself Shakespeare and hold lengthy philosophical debates with other characters about a society he knows very little about.
Problematic as Savage may be, Huxley is able to address a powerful cultural clash by bringing him into the fray, exploring the nature of colonization and the idea that every culture looks at another and sees something foreign and unexplainable. It was during these moments in the novel that I wanted to burst into Pocahontas' "Colors of the Wind."
HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING? Perhaps it is Huxley's intention to point out that regardless of the scientific and medical advancements that are made, we will remain primitive so long as we limit our perception of the world and those who live in it. In Huxley's vision of a utopian society, it is a cultural divide that creates conflict, ultimately ending one of the character's lives. It's dark, and depressing, and it's a powerful warning. Even in a perfect world - one with no famine, no war, no disease - we still find a way to destroy each other.
Way to be a buzzkill, Huxley.