As a general rule, I would say that I am rather fond of the dystopian genre. Some say it is because I am a Millenial; I say it is because I like allegory. Whatever the case, I stepped into Brave New World with the expectation that it would be something like other dystopian books I have read, especially 1984 and Animal Farm. It may be that I simply like Orwell’s writing better than Huxley’s, but I found this novel to be something of a disappointment. This is not to say that people should not read it or that it doesn’t technically accomplish its goal, but I don’t think it is entirely on the same level as other great works in its genre. Perhaps it would be better to say that I think it fell short of what it could be as the message of warning Huxley presents is both worthwhile and frightening.
The overarching idea is good, and it is reminiscent of that found in 1984. There is an overpowerful totalitarian government with classically obvious names that mark its status as the antagonist of the story. The main antagonist is this being called “Society.” It is their god, their goal, their center of being. In this world, like other real-world attempts at “utopia” and other fictional dystopias, Huxley creates a world with no God. And yet, he realizes, either consciously or not, that people are designed to worship something. Here, they worship “Ford,” and yet, that is not what they actually worship. Rather, they worship Society, themselves. There is no such thing as individuality, creativity, advancement, of living. “Everybody is happy now,” but no one has any real joy or sense of meaning. They exist merely to please themselves and serve the purpose of functionality. These people have less worth than most animals do today, but because all knowledge has been taken from them, along with all choice and freedom, they remain in blissful ignorance until the point of death, at which time they still serve their utilitarian purpose for Society.
This book must have been a shock to read in the decade it was written. The main shock would be the graphic descriptions of sex. It is quite debase, and if it is not something you are used to reading and aren’t expecting it in such a book, it will shock you, so be forewarned. But, this book must have been shocking not only because of the graphic descriptions of sex but also because of the means by which Society is made to function. By this, I mean that everything is controlled in a top-down manner. Literally everything is controlled by the Predestinators and the Controllers. This is a society, a government, a way of life never seen before. The Controllers make the children, then indoctrinate those children from the time they are conceived, and every moment of their life is molded to serve “Society” in some predesigned order. To do otherwise is heresy.
Yet, it is a shock to read even in this decade. I saw this book as a consequence of the world of 1984; my husband saw it as the precursor. Whatever the case, I can see the possibility of this Brave New World becoming something of a reality. This is a world where the state runs education and the rearing of children, a world where there is no freedom of thought, let alone freedom of speech. The past is destroyed, and there is no real progress. There is only stability, sameness, and sterility. This is a world where “everyone belongs to everybody”; all are happy simply to serve Society. There is no individuality, just the perfected communal hive of slaves to self and government. Perhaps it is best to say they are slaves to Society, the god who is both the body that rules then and themselves.
While I thought the message of warning was, in its own way, good, I found the overarching story to be lacking, especially in character development. However, I’m not sure if there could have been any character development for such flat people. Perhaps the optimist in me simply thinks there should be. But how can there be development when all you are and can be is what you’ve been created to be? This world made people who are enslaved to their sinful desires and the whims of Society. There can’t be character growth because growth in human character and mind would result in the destruction of Society.
While the “Savage” plot did help shake up their world a little, I felt that instead of giving us a compelling story, Huxley simply wanted to shock us with a world that could be, but shouldn’t. He never fleshed it out beyond giving us a snapshot of such a world. In this case, there is no plot because, in that type of life, you would be living someone else’s forced “stability” and sameness. There can’t be plot or development or change or anything interesting because that would upset the goal of this world’s Society. Perhaps that makes it perfect?
In addition to the plot, or lack thereof, I found Huxley’s writing offputting. He jumps around a lot, and his style is clunky at best. Although I think he was something of a visionary with his inventions, he often writes in something of a stream of consciousness style. I would compare it to parts of As I Lay Dying, an intolerable book that I hope I never again have the misfortune of reading. However, I don’t think that should be the reason you don’t read this book.
I think Huxley’s disturbing message gives Brave New World worth enough to make the reading worthwhile. If you can get past his style and the absurdity of it all, you can understand something of the message he is trying to convey. Orwell does it better, but Huxley still has a message, a warning: this isn’t the world we want. Yes, everyone is happy, and everyone belongs to everyone else. Yes, we all have a job to do and seemingly endless ways to entertain ourselves. In a way, this is a world that, to us, seems to be without rules. This world seems like all fun and games. And, that is how it feels to basically everyone living in Society. But in this world, there is no truth, no love, no creativity, no meaning, no value, no freedom, no life. You have no identity because if you did, you might become something more, something great and unique and valuable beyond your utilitarian purpose for Society.
There is little wonder why the “Savage” makes the choice that he does. What sort of world is this? Who would choose to remain in such a place? You become nothing more than a cog in the being of “Society,” and for what? A drugged happiness throughout your meaningless, empty life devoid of anything worthwhile? How does a society allow such an atrocity to happen? And yet, that is the sort of world we face today. Trading freedom for safety, creativity for sameness, love for sensuality, truth for nihilism, value for classism, life for death. Despite the seeming absurdity of this Brave New World Huxley creates for us, one can only wonder if we are watching such steps progressing us towards that unreachable “utopia,” that dystopia in disguise, waiting to devour us and all we could be.