Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
In the Year of Our Ford 632, people are decanted from bottles instead of born, undergo regular class consciousness conditioning so as to unquestioningly accept the divisive social hierarchy, and live a life that hinges on the satisfaction of wants. Despite the ability to fulfill any desire he might have, Bernard Marx finds himself disenchanted with the systematic status quo, which makes him sullen, prone to outbursts, and a potential threat to the carefully crafted social stability. Bernard goes on a vacation to a reservation, one of the last vestiges in the world untouched by Fordian technology, and returns with two additions to his travel party: a woman who had been stranded on the reservation for years when she was left behind on her own vacation, and the son she gave birth to while there. Upon return, Linda seeks the immediate gratification of civilized society by continuously consuming soma, but John reels with shock and disgust at the behaviors he encounters. Seeking only to be left alone, John becomes a spectacle, and Bernard basks in the glory of John’s celebrity until, that is, John’s deviance from the norm becomes too much of a threat to stability, at which point the regional Controller steps in to address the problem.
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley is one of the classic dystopian novels, depicting a future devastated not by greed or power, but by the satisfaction of any and all desires so as to suppress all other aspects of human functioning. Huxley masterfully creates a world so structured that it even accounts for the possibility of exceptions and threats to that structure (and offers to deal with threats by sending them to Samoa, heeeey!). The brief reprieve provided by the vacation to the reservation offers just enough of a glimpse of authentic, rather than mechanic, interactions to instill both a longing for and appreciation of subversive action. Huxley deepens this appreciation by placing John directly in opposition to the standardized society, where he calls out problematic behaviors and represents the universal hope (regardless of the era) that the negative outcomes of the status quo might not be the only option. However, questioning of authority is not a strong enough action in Huxley’s dystopia, where authority maintains power not by being oppressive, but suppressive. Despite the futuristic setting, the themes of the novel resonate with any era, any location, and any context.
This book is mind-blowing. For every behavior described by Huxley, I can draw some parallel to a similar behavior in our current society. This is still true, even though Huxley wrote this novel decades ago. I enjoyed the constant, critical reflection as I drew these comparisons throughout the novel. The one nit-picky thing that I didn’t like (OK, maybe it’s not so nit-picky) is that Bernard’s character seemed inconsistent. At the beginning of the novel, he seems to have no desire to engage in society, but after he returns with John, he revels in the status quo. Other than that, and the dated language, I have no reservations about recommending this book. I enjoy anything that makes me think.