Aldous Huxley – Brave New World (Chatto and Windus, 1932)
I had wanted to read Brave New World for some time and the pouring rain on the weekend provided the perfect opportunity to lie back on the couch with the book and a packet of wasabi peas.
The brave new world presented in the novel is a totalitarian society where the dictators (‘Directors’) have created what they believe is utopian. It is a future that has achieved the eradication of poverty, war and, with some exceptions, unhappiness. But in doing so it has also removed all personal freedom, culture, joy, love and morality. Humans are mass-produced in factories where their genes are altered to suit their predetermined castes. So, the lowest caste (Epsilons), who do only menial labour, are given only enough intellectual capacity to fulfil their role. Once people are ‘decanted’ (born) they are brainwashed into accepting the society and their place in it. As such they will never need to face discontentment with their lot in life. If they do ever feel discontented they can escape with the opiate drug soma.
Although he is a good writer, Huxley strikes me as more of a non-fiction writer. The scene that introduces the reader to the brave new world is essentially a lecture being given to a group of students explaining the cloning system. In comparison, Kazuo Ishiguro’s fantastic dystopian tale Never Let Me Go is far more novel and more of a novel in how events slowly expose the reader to the facts, leaving them to piece together the different parts. In Brave New World, the characters are never really credible and the events always feel distant. But, really this isn’t Huxley main concern – his intention is primarily a social commentary on issues like propaganda, capitalism, education, happiness, religion and eugenics. Creating a story is secondary to this aim.
Huxley seems to have an ambivalent view of Christianity. It is referred to along with liberalism and democracy as foundational to Western society and Huxley appears to admire Christian morality and the value of faith for individuals. However he derides religious institutions and rituals. The church is satirised in Brave New World in a religion devoted to the worship of Henry Ford. The obscurantism of the church, the pomposity of clergy and the farce of rituals such as the Eucharist are highlighted, but his greatest criticism is of its tendency towards groupthink. Perhaps the greatest virtue in Brave New World is independent thought, and when Christianity preserved this it is praised, but when it impedes this it becomes an object of scorn.
I found the novel both enjoyable and thought-provoking and its legacy is clear in works like 1984, Gattaca and Never Let Me Go.