Commentary: Brave New World

First edition cover,    artist: Leslie Holland

A novel on almost every “must read” list and on many banned book lists as well, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley proved to be educational if not particularly enjoyable. Written in 1931, writer and social satirist Huxley penned this short book in opposition to optimist utopian novels of the time. He referred to Brave New World as a “negative” utopia, and that is an accurate description. There is no Katniss Everdeen heroine to give society hope in this dystopia.

So why must it be read? As time goes on, I think that its significance will dwindle for the general reader though it may continue for the historical scholars. Its status as a banned book should not be discounted. Many readers, myself included, find that status to be a compelling reason to read a book. 

Set in the year AD 2540, the populations of the world are divided into 10 world states. In those states, people are divided into 5 castes, Alpha to Epsilon, with the Alphas being the leaders. Humans are no longer borne of humans, but rather incubate in hatcheries. Fetuses are chemically altered. No one lives past the age of 60. The conflict begins when an “Alpha” character, Bernard Marx, goes on holiday to a New Mexican reservation to see the “savages” in their habitat and he brings one back as a lab specimen, John “Savage”. (Albeit, this savage is borne of a “Beta” woman, impregnated on an own expedition to the reservation by the Director of Hatcheries. Linda’s pregnancy dooms her to remain on the reservation as an outcast of society.)

What is there to offend?  

  1. The sexual promiscuity of society. No longer do people have personal relationships. Rather they are encouraged to have as many sexual partners as possible without any emotional attachment. Birth control is mandatory. There are no graphic sexual scenes.
  2. The rampant and sanctioned drug use. A hallucinogenic drug, soma, is used by all, and given to the lower castes especially, to keep them in control. Critical thinking is discouraged, and this drug helps to insure that no one thinks. Being numb is the accepted way of life, and people look forward to their “soma holidays”.
  3. The derision of Native Americans. Referred to as “savages”, this particular group is not part of any world states and are apparently left to remain “uncivilized”.

I am against censorship, so read this or don’t. The things that offend are meant to offend, and to make one think. Is society really headed in this direction? If you are interested in early 20th century history, you will be familiar with many of the names in the book. Huxley uses a mashup of real names for his characters. For example, Benito Hoover is named for Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy, and Herbert Hoover, then-president of the United States. Other names you might recognize: Marx, Ford, Trotsky, Darwin and Bonaparte. For a more complete list, refer to the wikipedia article that was my primary reference.

Bottom line: Brave New World lacks humanity and hope.

On a scale of 1 (the negative end) to 5 (it depends) to 10 (the positive end), my conclusion:

Readable: 10 (short – 177 pages)

Enjoyable: 2

Does it deserve to be on “must read” reading lists: 5 (I suppose)

Am I glad I read it: 6.5

Would I read it again: 1

Would I recommend it: 4

Does a low recommendation and presence on a list of banned books make one curious: 8

Score: 5.2

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