Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brave New World

There are many things I would like to blame for my lack of regular posts lately. Chief amongst them is work, which has been running me ragged recently. Also, that nebulous thing I like to refer to as “life” has reared its ugly head as of late, which isn’t helping either the reading or the posting. That being said, I have 3 books finished and ready to be posted about – and a lot to say on all of them – so I better get back to work!

With that in mind, the 12th book of Project 84 is:

Brave New World

Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley

Yes, yes, I know: “You hadn’t read Brave New World?? How is that possible?!”

The truth is, I’m not sure. I also hadn’t read 1984 until last year, so I’m wondering if it just wasn’t a time period/genre that I covered in my literature classes through the years? It was always one of those books I meant to read, always something I intended to get to…and then I was 26, and hadn’t read it, so I figured Project 84 was the perfect time.

I just wish I had liked it more.

The plot, for those who also never got around to reading Brave New World, is a bit convoluted, but bear with me. (Side note: writing this plot synopsis was by far the most difficult part of this review, and the part I was dreading). The book takes place in London in a dystopian future – 2495 – where the social classes have been separated into 5 distinct parts (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon), and are genetically engineered to stay that way. In this future, children are conditioned to stay in their social class, and to discourage them from seeking out any sort of intellectual, artistic, or emotional pursuit. Sex is prevalent and humans are promiscuous, taught to seek out physical and not emotional connection. Any sort of discontent or desire to have more/different is medicated with ‘soma’, a drug that creates artificial contentment.

Our central characters are Bernard and Lenina, who travel to a “Savage Reservation” in America and become acquainted with people who live similarly to how we, in 2014, live. They bring two of the savages – Linda and her son, John – back to London, and Bernard attempts to use them as a demonstration of the horrors that are being perpetrated against the public.

I’m not even sure if that summary makes sense – if anyone wants to comment and try to do a better job, or point out anything I missed, feel free! I can edit :)

I always feel strangely when I don’t enjoy a book that has been universally accepted as a classic…but I just couldn’t get into Brave New World. I found it clunky, and the prose rudimentary. It was confusing until it wasn’t, because the characters spent the last few chapters directly describing the ‘point’ of the novel. I spent 200 pages saying “I don’t know what they’re getting at,” and then the last 59 feeling like I was being hit over the head with description.

I fear I have fallen victim to living in the future. In 1932, when this book was written, I have no doubt that it was a revelation. People weren’t saying what Huxley does in 1932. People weren’t questioning technological advancement, weren’t questioning where the ‘happiness’ they all strived for could lead. They were in the heart of the Great Depression, and everyone just wanted better. Huxley was one of the few at that time saying “this might not be a great thing.”

But here’s the problem…it’s 82 years later, and the dystopian future ideal is no longer a new concept. I’ve seen it perfected time and time again, and butchered more often than not (Mockingjay, anyone?). I saw it done more subtly in 1984, and more eloquently in A Scanner Darkly and Never Let Me Go. So much of the literature available to me comes from a post-Brave New World literary society, so it’s tough to go back in time.

I compared this sensation a bit to how I feel about the song I Want to Hold Your Hand. Disclaimer: I love The Beatles, but I remember being young, and my father telling me that when they sang I Want to Hold Your Hand on the Ed Sullivan Show, it blew everyone away. No one had heard anything like that. But, to me? It sounded simple, it sounded basic – because I live in a world where so much of music has built off of that theme, perfected that theme, butchered that theme…to me, it was basic: because it was the first.

Now, I may not have responded to aspects of Brave New World, I may have found it clunky, but the overall thesis of the novel is one I didtake to heart. The point is introduced early on (even if it took me a little while to figure out exactly where they were going with it). When referring to some of the lower classes doing work in a fertilizing plant, the director states:

“For of course some sort of general idea they must have, if they were to do their work intelligently – though as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible.” – Page 4

It took me a bit of time, but this is what I ultimately decided about what Brave New Worl is trying to say: you can have intelligence, artistic appreciation, emotions in general, or you can have ‘happiness’, you cannot have both. In other words:

“Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t.” – Page 228

Strong emotion, intellectual pursuits, and even religion (as Huxley describes it) work directly against our generally accepted view of ‘happiness’ – a satisfied, content feeling that does not waver. The confusion, the emotion, the ups and downs that come with those pursuits are antithetical to contentment. So we have to choose – which would we prefer?

And for some of us, choosing isn’t so easy.


I had put off writing this post for a while, and now I’m not sure why. I wrote more about this than I have about most books, and it came out easily. Hopefully the next few will be the same and I’ll be back on track with Project 84!

Next Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (Estimated Posting Date: Friday, April 4th)

**All quotes and annotations refer to this version of Brave New World, published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2006**

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