Good morning, dear reader(s),
I have finished reading one of the classic dystopian novels: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Now, before I go into any details, I will warn you: SPOILERS AHEAD! (Just in case you might not have read it, yet)
I’ll give a short summary first, before any details that struck me. So, the novel is set the far future, where the so-called World Controllers have created the perfect society, based on brainwashing, genetic engineering and recreational sex and drug use. Everyone is happy. Everyone? No, a guy called Bernard Marx (yes, the people are all named after Revolutionaries from both science, politics, capitalism, such as Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Ford, Freud, etc) feels like an outsider. He feels empty and devoid of purpose. All he wants is to be free from everything and break out from the perfect society. After he visits one of the remaining ‘Savage Reservation’ and brings one of the Savages into his perfect society, his life takes a whole different turn.
So much for the summary, now come the details which made me think about our own possible future.
This society is, first of all, divided into various classes. Nothing unusual, one might think, but Huxley takes it to a whole new level. The children are not born naturally, as this is heavily frowned upon. Instead, they are literally mass-produced in labs and split into groups, ranging from Alpha to Epsilon. As the brainwashing machine explains:
“Alpha children wear grey.They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m Beta, because I don’t work so hard.And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. […] And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to…”
You get the picture. Children are trained to believe that some are to be treated as inferiors, others should be respected because they are superior. They are pushed into their future purposes by constant brainwashing and eventually believe it. An Epsilon could never do the same work an Alpha does, since he wouldn’t know how to do it nor feel the need to. He is, after all, been told to be happy about the job he has to do. It is scary to think about it. Are we also not told that we have our own free will, but are constantly bombarded by the media on how we should behave, what we should buy, where we should go to, etc. It leaves the question about Free Will unanswered. Are we really free? Or is it just an illusion?
Another bit which caught me off guard is how women are presented. As mentioned in the summary, recreational sex is used as a method to keep everyone happy and satisfied. (I do not, in any way, condemn the idea as such, by the way). Huxley, however, shows with the women’s behavior, how far the brainwashing actually goes. Lenina, who is interested in Bernard, sees herself as a ‘piece of meat’, as Bernard notices. She enjoys sleeping with a lot of men, and is proud of her numbers. However, that is her sole interest. When Bernard takes her out on a date and simply wants to enjoy watching the sea at night, she becomes lost. Lenina does not know how to react and starts sobbing violently. She doesn’t understand that Bernard might be interested in more than just sex. Same goes for when she tries to seduce John, the ‘Savage’. He rejects her attempts of sexual approaches and leaves her broken. Out of helplessness and frustration, she takes drugs to forget about it. Lenina is simply a product of the human mass-production and the brainwashing, and doesn’t know about anything more than being available for any man who wants her. If you start thinking about it, how many people (men and women) count their own worth in simply being an object of desire? They might only feel worthy by their one-night stands and do not understand that love includes more than just the exchange of bodily fluids.
Now, to the final point: the clash of the ‘Savage’ and the perfect society. John, the ‘Savage’ comes from the Reservation and thus outside of ‘civilization’. He was born and raised by his biological mother, a woman who actually comes from Bernard’s society. However, as a white young man, he faces serious bullying from the Natives, who call him and his mother names, throw stones at him, exclude him from everything, etc. John, of course, resigns to this life and tries somewhat to fit in. Bernard is fascinated by the young man and decides to take him and his old mother out of the Reservation and into ‘civilization’. This, of course, causes a massive uproar. John is treated as an abnormality. He does not take drugs, does not sleep around, has other emotions apart from happiness and has not been born in a laboratory. People flock to Bernard to finally have a look at this human being. While Bernard profits from his sudden success, John wants to get rid of all the unwanted attention. He eventually decided to move into a lighthouse in the countryside, but cannot escape the people’s attention. When he punches a journalist out of affect, the flocks of helicopters really swarm onto him. John breaks under the pressure and ends up hanging himself. The character of John is a pendant to Bernard’s. He allows the reader to see how the perfect society actually works and make up his mind about whether or not it really is a utopia. From all the drug induced happiness and brainwashing, John offers a massive contrast by reacting in a humane way. He wants to be alone to grieve his mother’s death, but is constantly interrupted by a group of children who are being ‘death trained’. Of course, he becomes frustrated and lets out his anger, shocking everyone around him. John, with his wide range of emotions, shows how cold the utopian society is. He is seen as insane and uncontrollable, while in fact, he is the only ‘real’ human being with all his imperfections. Mind you, the idea of genetic perfection is terrifying to me. Imagine being able to create the perfect human beings without any inheritable illnesses or other imperfections. Now, getting rid of Alzheimer’s, for example, would be nice, but how far would we go? How long would it last until there will be perfect and almost immortal soldiers? Would we start separating people according to their birth certificates and decide who is better than the other, just because the womb has been replaced by a glass container?
In conclusion, this novel makes you really think about such topics and ethics. It becomes scary, when you take the thoughts too far (as I have a tendency to do). Then again, I suppose that this was Huxley’s intention. So, if you’re up to get your mind working, read the novel.