Reviewer: Tall, Short, Tiny & a Pickle
Brave New World joins 1984 (George Orwell) and We (Yevgeny Zamyatin) on this list as three of the most influential dystopian (or, anti-utopian) novels of the twentieth century. I haven’t read We, but of the other two, Brave New World is easily my favourite.
Set in A.F 632, ‘this year of stability’ is 632 years after the advent of car king Henry Ford. Huxley has cleverly chosen Ford as his “deity”; the Model T was the first car to be manufactured using mass-production methods and specialised labour. In Brave New World, the World State is maintained through biological engineering and excessive conditioning; its citizens have been “hatched” to fill pre-destined social roles, and throughout infancy, they are taught (through hypnotism and sleep-teaching) the “virtues” of passive obedience, promiscuity and mindless materialism. As adults, they are encouraged to take (and freely given) a government-approved drug (similar to marijuana), and to engage in orgies, all to further instil the virtues of Community, Identity, and Stability.
Every member of society in the World State seems to be happy with their life, except for Bernard Marx. Bernard alone seems to find the situation unbearable, and longs to escape from the brainwashed idealism. He visits a Savage Reservation, where there are people living the old way; by the end of the novel, he is resigned to the way of life in the World State and has accepted his role in this world.
I really enjoyed this book, with its moments of pure comic gold (hopefully intentional!) interwoven with seemingly prophetic passages. I think Huxley was trying to make the point that at some stage, humanity is going to lose some of its spontaneity, individualism and uniqueness in its quest for a society where everything is seemingly perfect. The idea that possessions will soon become more important than people is something not far off the way of the world now (and just before Christmas, it might be quite timely that I’m thinking this way?!).
I liked Huxley’s style, and his characterisations – they were still human, and still real in their “created” personalities, and their interactions were quite normal. Obviously, some of the ideas and reactions were rather different, but they were believable.
The other big plus for me was that this was an easy, quick read; I didn’t struggle to get through it the way I did with 1984 (which I still enjoyed; it just took me a while), and I didn’t find it depressing as I did with Orwell’s dystopia.