“Bernard considered that Electro-magnetic Golf was a waste of time. ‘Then what’s time for?’ asked Lenina in some astonishment.”
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
Hello blogosphere! I finally finished the great novel Brave New World, the seventh book on my list, and what can I say, it kind of blew my mind. There’s so much to go over here so let’s hop right to it!
Plot & Narration
Brave New World takes place in the not-so-distant future and is about a new world order in which everyone is born into a certain position in the reigning caste system. The caste system comprises Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. If you are born an Alpha that means you are a smart person and you were born from a unique sperm-egg pairing. If you were born an Epsilon then you have little to no capacity for intellectual thinking and are probably one of 1,000 (or more) twins. Alphas have the most important and intellectually demanding jobs, while the Epsilons have the menial labor-type jobs. You get the picture. Furthermore, in this world everybody is the product of heavy conditioning throughout their childhood and no one wishes to be anything more or less than what they are.
In other words, everyone is happy where they are. And that’s the goal of the World Controllers: to create a happy, stable civilization.
“‘And that,’ put in the Director sententiously, ‘that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.'”
So naturally there are one or two Alphas, since they can actually think, who don’t really like this social situation and want to break free. Through the course of the story one of them goes on vacation to a “savage reservation” (because that’s a thing) and meets a rather smart “savage” there. And the rest, well I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s really interesting.
The story is told in classic third-person narration, past tense. I’ll hazard a guess that we’ll be seeing more of this now that we’re out of the 1800s.
One of the really great aspects of Brave New World is Huxley’s detailed world-building. For example, he goes into a lot of detail describing the process by which embryos are created and the resulting children are conditioned. He also puts a lot of effort into the physical description of the environment, by which I mean the spaces the characters inhabit. Here’s just one example:
“In the Bottling Room all was harmonious bustles and ordered activity. Flaps of fresh sow’s peritoneum ready cut to the proper size came shooting up in little lifts from the Organ Store in the sub-basement. Whizz and then, click! the lift-hatches flew open; the Bottle Liner had only to reach out a hand, take the flap, insert, smooth-down, and before the lined bottle had had time to travel out of reach along the endless band, whizz, click! another flap of peritoneum had shot up from the depths.”
There’s a lot of this type of very technical description in the novel. It’s really quite amazing and I applaud the imagination of Mr. Huxley. The only drawback I’d say is that I found a few of these passages a bit hard to understand. In a few places I couldn’t really visualize what was going on because I just didn’t understand the description fully. This is something to keep in mind with any genre: over-description can lead to confusion for the reader.
This is one of the main themes of Brave New World. The population is engineered to be Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, or Epsilons. Alpha embryos receive favourable treatment and are conditioned to be tall, well-built, beautiful, smart, etc., while Epsilon embryos are given alcohol so that they turn out to be intellectually incapable (just one example-read the book for more!). The World State, or people in charge, or whatever you want to call them believe that only in this way can society remain stable. Stability means no war or poverty or illness or divorce, or even emotion. Everyone is just content all the time and goes about their lives. And that’s pretty much it.
I find this an extremely interesting idea to ponder. At first it seems horrendous to condition some to become Alphas and some to be Epsilons. It just seems freaky and doesn’t sit well with me. I think this is because I don’t like the idea that these people can’t choose their own destiny, and, in many cases, are deliberately engineered to be intellectually disadvantaged so that they aren’t even capable of that idea.
It just seems mean to me.
Then I remember that, in theory, everyone in the Brave New World society is happy, no matter what caste they are in. So it can’t be all that bad can it? Imagine not having to worry about how to spend your life. Everything is laid out for you. Never having to worry about making money, having enough food to eat, where to live, whom to marry. You just do what you’re supposed to do, which is the only thing you know how to do, and everything’s dandy. Sounds great.
Also sounds quite empty.
“Well, I’d rather be unhappy than have the sort of false, lying happiness you were having here.”
But the World Controllers know this and are totally willing to sacrifice a meaningful life for a stable one.
Theme: Stability & Civilization
This is the other main theme of Brave New World and it ties in with the eugenics theme. Society is set up so as to prevent any and every kind of instability, from war to family dysfunction. The result, as mentioned above, is an empty, superficial life. Every day people wake up, go to work, then after work go to the movies or maybe to play a sport, then go home with a new partner (wink wink) and go to sleep. Again, at first glance this sounds pretty okay.
And again, the only drawback is that everyone is basically an automaton doing what he or she has been conditioned to do in his or her caste and that’s it. So maybe that kind of life does sound nice, but it still feels, well, creepy and unnatural and empty to me.
And you know, no free will.
But the question remains: Is such a completely stable society worth the trade-off? In the story, it is! And despite what I’ve just said and opined, maybe I would make that trade, too.
If I could guarantee that no one would ever be mentally, physically, or sexually abused; or starve to death; or be trafficked; or suffer any other of a number of very real horrors that millions face today, I would make the trade. But I would, at the same time, be very sad to make this trade because I’d be giving up all the things that make the world beautiful: culture, art, literature, poetry, love, free will.
That’s right, in Brave New World none of these things exist, all for the sake of stability.
So even though this would seem like a win, well, it wouldn’t really feel like a win to me.
There’s got to be a way to have our cake and eat it too–end the suffering and keep all our beautiful art! And, of course, not partake in eugenics.
So as you can see, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to Brave New World, which is what makes it one of the best sci-fi stories ever and a total classic.
And let me leave you with this. I think we need all those beautiful things to end the suffering, especially love. I disagree with the World Controllers that it needs to be axed in order for stability to prevail.
Love always wins and is always a win.
Stay tuned for the next book Lost Horizon: A Novel of Shangri-La.
Ciao for now!
Quotations: Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World + Brave New World Revisited. Toronto: New Canadian Library, 2014. Kindle Edition.