The classic dystopian novel often clubbed with Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World is best viewed through the lens of what any ‘civilized’, technologically advanced society could ultimately become. Brimming with innovative ideas, this explores a future where programmable test tube babies are the only expected means of reproduction, the term ‘mother’ is an abuse, and carnal pleasure is the norm rather than a commitment. Babies are produced artificially off an assembly line, with batches conditioned genetically and by processing them through different sections into different castes. This is done to ensure that each caste is happy with their assigned line of work and do not aspire to any further purpose or disruption in this well-mannered world. There are World Controllers who take care of city affairs and Alpha’s who are at the top of the hierarchy chain. Sex with multiple partners is considered normal and proper, with even kids partaking in its curious pleasures in the playground, while a desire to monogamy and commitment is considered vulgar.
But Bernard Marx feels the stirrings of discontent in this manufactured happiness, and in his strong desire for Lenina. He decides to set out to explore the settlements outside city limits with her, and meets John the Savage. Here the tribes do not conform to any of the city’s conventions and live life with primitive values like monogamy. John is initially enticed by Bernard’s description of the city and comes back with them there, where he becomes an object of intense scrutiny and celebrity. Slowly though, he realizes that this world may not be what he wants, beyond the gleaming facades and shallow pleasantry.
Like I said, the ideas are brilliant and the initial portions of the book are captivating. The genius here is Huxley’s making us wonder at times at the advantages of this new sanitized world, from which all sense of uncertainty, insecurity and sadness has been taken away. And the age old question returns: Would we prefer a life of conditioned goodness and calm or one of uncertain pleasures and desires which can inspire despair as much as pleasure? Even the tribe of John the Savage is not portrayed as some noble rebels living away from Capitalism’s excess. Instead, they suffer from the age old problems of superstitions, ostracizing those who are different, and bursts of violence. Though written at times as a biting satire of modern Consumer culture, what Huxley does is provide a great template from which to reason out the advantages/disadvantages of both.
Where I was underwhelmed a bit was the latter portions of the book, which seemed quite rushed at times. After building up such a fascinating world, I would have loved to have a longer, drawn out exposition of it and some more depth and understanding of the characters. It was probably more fastpaced and shorter than it needed to be. However, it is still a very worthwhile classic read.