You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brave New World

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

First, a note on form. The story starts in civilization (London), then two characters go to the wilds (a reservation in New Mexico), then travel back to civilization with a lost civilized person and her son who grew up “uncivilized”. The “savage” struggles to get along in the civilized world. Finally, we hear a long explanation of how things work and why they are better now. The structure sets up a strong tension between the individual and society.

The story starts in a center where babies are manufactured. We follow a tour of students being shown the artificial wombs as they travel along a track. We learn about how babies are created (not conceived and born), and how children are conditioned to believe things one way or another. There are several different classes, from Alphas to Epsilons, each from a plus to a minus. The Alphas are trained for mental work and to believe they are better than the Epsilons, who can barely take care of themselves. The Deltas and Epsilons, etc, are trained for grunt work and conditioned to believe that they have it better than the Alphas or Betas, who have to do difficult work. This serves as an introduction to the world of the book (several hundred years into the future), and frames the rest of the narrative.

We meet Bernard, an Alpha who is not happy with his life. He is shorter than most Alphas (and everyone is conditioned to treat taller people as authority figures). People find him disagreeable and strange. Sometimes he prefers to be alone, which is almost criminal. He decides to take a holiday at the native reservation in North America, and takes his friend Lenina. There they observe bizarre rituals of the natives, and find a woman from civilization, Linda, who has been stranded for years, and her son, John, raised without the benefit of civilization. Bernard gets the idea to take Linda and John back to society, mostly because he has figured out the Linda is the missing girlfriend of his boss.

They travel back to London, creating quite a stir. Babies are only known at the centers, and have no parents, only siblings (sometimes hundreds of identical twins at a time). So when John starts talking about his mother and long lost father, everyone is horrified. Bernard’s boss is shamed. Linda ends up dying in a death center. John finds things more and more unappealing in society. He tries to woo Lenina, who he adores, but it goes terribly awry. Since sex is not taboo anymore and is expected of everyone (a popular saying is “Everyone lives for everyone else”), Lenina doesn’t mind taking on another lover. But this shocks John’s sensibilities. He lived his life with his mother sleeping with the men of the reservation, and listening to the taunts of the women and children. He calls Lenina a whore, which she doesn’t understand at all.

The world controller comes to see the “Savage.” The two of them and Bernard and one of his friends have a discussion about society and how it is structured and what they have lost. Bernard and his friend end up going to Iceland, where there are more people who are not satisfied with the conformist society. The savage tries to live by himself in a hermitage, but after throngs of people come to watch him and taunt him, he ends up killing himself.

The basic themes of the novel are the individual and society. All individual desires and needs are subjugated to the needs of society. Not only are there no mothers, fathers, or children, but people are discouraged from creating personal relationships. Thus everyone should sleep with many different people, and not feel like any of them are particularly special. Religion is gone, replaced by a civil faith in “Ford”, essentially the founder of the society. Every once in a while they get together to worship or pray together for Ford’s Day. The society decides what one’s job is going to be, and you are conditioned and trained for it. Society decides what art and sports are available. Birth is not particularly noteworthy, and death occurs anonymously in death centers. It is rare for anyone to visit a death center to visit someone that they know. Most books are banned, and only approved reading is available. People rely on soma, a relaxing drug, to deal with any extreme emotions. People are encouraged to consume a lot, to keep the economy going, so they must throw away a torn garment instead of mending it.

Bernard is the classic individual in the repressive society. He hasn’t had sex with many women. Sometimes he prefers to be alone. He harbors anti-society thoughts. He is the typical person to visit the free society of natives. He does feel for Linda and John. In many ways, Bernard and John are very similar. Bernard is the product of the society who is not satisfied with his part of it. John is the man who comes from a life closer to our own, and we can see the new society through his eyes. He speaks for us. John inability to accept the new world mirrors our distaste for it. He cannot understand why people are not allowed to do any work they want. He doesn’t understand the lack of mothers or fathers. And his experience with his mother and his own society’s treatment of her behavior has left him unable to deal with the free love of civilization.

The last chapters, where the world controller discusses society and its changes, provide a good explanation of the society and its reasons for why it has changed. Plot wise, it’s basically the author providing commentary and exposition, filling in the gaps. We find out that not everyone can be Alpha pluses, or else none would be happy doing low-level jobs. We also find out that society has chosen happiness over the truth. (I would also argue that they have chosen happiness over freedom.) So it is enough that everyone is happy and content, not knowing what freedom is, or unhappiness, or what having a choice in life is. The society chooses what a person’s assigned occupation is before they even choose to create him.

The book is generally science fiction, since it takes place centuries in the future and deals with a “what if” question: what if society grew to a point where it takes over all individuality, so that there are no families, no choices, everyone puts the good of society over any individual need. It’s taken more of an aura, becoming a serious classic. This is a great look at the philosophical questions of society and individual. A solid A.


Post a Comment

<< Home