review: brave new world

02 June 2013

Print Giveaway Coming Soon
book info:
on sale: now
copy from: book trade at school library
pages: 259
review written: 24/5/13--2/6/13
edition read: Harper Perennial Modern Classics
originally published: 1932

Far in the future, the World Controllers have finally created the ideal society. In laboratories worldwide, genetic science has brought the human race to perfection. From the Alpha-Plus mandarin class to the Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons, designed to perform menial tasks, man is bred and educated to be blissfully content with his pre-destined role.

But, in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, Bernard Marx is unhappy. Harbouring an unnatural desire for solitude, feeling only distaste for the endless pleasures of compulsory promiscuity, Bernard has an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) was born in the upper-middle class of English society in Surrey, England. He attended Eton College (where he lost sight for two years) and then moved on to study at Balliol College where he receiveBd a BA in English He is the writer of Crome Yellow, The Doors of Perception, and Island. Initial reactions to his book Brave New World were negative. One of the worst was "[He] has money, social position, talent, friends, prestige, and he is effectively insulated frm the misery of the masses. Of course he wants something to worry about--even if he has to go a long, long way to find it...Mr Huxley must have his chance to suffer and be brave" This may have come from the fact that Huxley did not fight in World War II, but nonetheless was a cruel remark. "With the rise of Facism in western Europe and a world shaken by massive economic depression, perhaps the novel hit too close to bone"

my thoughts:
Brave New World is a modern classic, a fiction work intended to warn readers of a possible but "unimaginable" future. The title is quite interesting, and comes from a bit of dialogue that a character says in wonder "O brave new world...O brave new world that has such people in it" when he "falls in love" with another character. I think he must have meant a new world in that love changes his perception of the world, or more obviously the "utopia" (or "dystopia") that the whole book depicts. There's an interesting epigraph before the book starts that was originally in Russian, but translated in the book to French, of which I got translated to English.

Les utopies apparaissent bien plus réalisables qu'on ne le croyait autrefois. Et nous nous trouvons actuellement devant une question bien autrement angoissante : comment éviter leur réalisation définitive ?… Les utopies sont réalisables. La vie marche vers les utopies. Et peut-être un siècle nouveau commence-t-il, un siècle où les intellectuels et la classe cultivée rêveront aux moyens d'éviter les utopies et de retourner à une société non utopique moins "parfaite" et plus libre.
"Utopias seem to be much more achievable than we formerly believed them to be. Now we find ourselves presented with another alarming question: how do we prevent utopias from coming into existence? …Utopias are possible. Life tends towards the formation of utopias. Perhaps a new century will begin, a century in which intellectuals and the privileged will dream of ways to eliminate utopias and return to a non-utopic society less “perfect” and more free.”
– Nicholas Berdiaeff, translated from the French by Shmoop
Epigraphs are key in knowing what a book is about, and unfortunately, I didn't translate it before I read. If I had, I think I would have read the book differently. If Brave New World was an essay, then that quote would be the thesis. Now the cover of the book, the one shown next to the summary, is my favourite. It shows pale, vague forms of humans in marching position, imitating soldiers, which go with the time period this was written in, with the rise of Facist Italy and Socialist/Nazi Germany. I thought of Nazi Germany when I saw this cover (I read the book with the cover as a man in a suit with a machine contraption on his head) because in this book, there are massive numbers of "twins" synthetically produced to create the perfect "work-force" and large amounts of people look exactly alike. This could be similar to what Hitler attempted to do by creating the "perfect Aryan race" of blonde and blue-eyed Germans. At the time of its publication, it's understandable why people didn't like his book.

Taking place in modern-day London, the book begins with a tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. The tour takes the reader through how humans are mass-produced and conditioned to believe the same things, following the saying "If a lie is told enough times, it becomes the truth". After that really interesting introduction, the characters are introduced. First, Lenina Crowne, a beautiful and popular girl who has slept with hundreds of men. Then Bernard Marx, the outlier, and lastly the most important character: John the Savage, the "uncivilised" outsider who to us would appear the most civilised.

Some of the minor characters include Fanny, Lenina's friend to whom she blabbers to about men and clothing ("He's so ugly!"). There's Helmholtz, Bernard's fellow social outcast. And there's Linda, John the Savage's mother. Now humans are artificially produced, and the family unit is a taboo occurrence of the past. John having a mother is shocking, and equally shocking is that Linda, who grew up in this utopia of London, is the mother. All these supporting characters are crucial to understanding the main ones. There's a term for them that I forgot that means "a character that brings the good or bad out of another character". They're all foil characters.

There's one thing about this book that makes me not like it. I don't think I can blame Huxley for it, but the role of women in this novel is degrading. Is it so impossible to imagine, I asked myself, that in the future (the utopia) that gender equality could exist? Lenina's role in this book is like all wimpy, supporting-actress, damsel-in-distress, "oh dear, oh my! how positively horrid!" kind of women that existed back in the 1920s, The Roaring Twenties, the age of flappers. Lenina is depicted in one scene as a "whore" but there isn't one where the men are depicted as say "man-whores" and there isn't anything explicitly degrading them for sleeping with tons of women. In fact, in this society, that's still considered a level of one's status: number of girls a man has slept with = popularity.

Apart from the blaring issue of gender inequality, the "warning" of the story was clear, but a bit wasted, I think. Mass production today is certainly de-humanising the world, ever since the 1970s I think (or way back to 1800s (Industrial Revolutions). French graduate students protested not being able to find jobs after getting out of university, shouting "Métro, boulot, dodo" or "train commute, mindless work, sleep" highlighting the new age. Though we haven't come to the point of artificially "birthing" human babies large scale, advances in science can definitely do just that.

Overall, I think Brave New World was a so-so book. I liked it enough, but I don't recommend this. If you've read this, what do you think?

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