Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was published in 1932, but yet is considered a modern classic. When it came out, critics tore it apart and called Huxley weak and his plot ridiculous. However, I think that happened simply because the book scared the crap out of them. Keep in mind that in 1932, the world was war weary, Fascism was on the rise, America’s Imperialist period had drawn to a close, and the Great Depression was in full swing. It was not a happy period in America, hell, Prohibition was still in effect and folks couldn’t even get a drink. Meh.
Anyway, due it BNW’s sexual context and rejection of family and religion, this book was NOT one of those high school required reading lists you would have come across. BNW made the Banned Books list in 1980, and that alone should have, at some point, called it to your attention as a “must read.”
Set in London in the vaguely distant future of 632 A.F. (After Ford, referring to Henry Ford making the new year system after the day the 1st Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908, making the year 2540 A.D.), the world had been torn apart by war after war after war and finally the powers that be came up with a solution and a new world order emerged. People were no longer born, but decanted in laboratories. Each embryo was put into a different caste, graduating from the most attractive and intelligent Alphas to the most lowly Gammas. Genetic engeneering gave each embryo the exact ammount of chemicals to keep the caste system in check. Each child was submitted to conditioning as they grew. Everyone had their place, and due to conditioning, they were happy in their place. After all, it was good for Society.
No more family structure existed. The words “Mother” and “Father” became taboo. The very idea of being attached to another human being was not only distasteful, but discouraged. The mantra “Everyone belongs to everybody.” was one of the messages that played repeatedly to children in their sleep conditioning. Sickness and old age had been conquered through science. A person stayed young until they died, usually around 60. And if the world ever got tough or sad, there was government issued soma, a strong antidepressant and hallucinogenic that every citizen had a ready supply of. Everyone was happy, except a very few.
Alpha Bernard Marx is one of the unhappy. He has unorthodox views, which constantly get him in trouble. Rummors say he had too much alcohol put into his decanter and that is why he is (gasp) short and ugly like a Gamma. But being an Alpha, he has his job and privileges, so when he offers to take the beautiful Lenina on vacation to the New Mexico Savage Reservation, she accepts. As Bernard goes to get his paperwork in order, the Director of the Hatcheries (the big boss guy) lets slip that he visited there in the past (which is a big deal because the past is never talked about in the new society) and on his trip, his female traveling companion disappeared and he returned without her.
Brenard and Lenina go to the Reservation and are shocked at the Savages, but come across a young, white man. Bernard puts two and two together and figures out that John is the Director’s son, a true scandal. John knows nothing about the outside world, except what his mother has told him and what he has read out of a thick tome of Shakespeare, which he quotes constantly throughout the rest of the book. John’s mother, Linda spills her story about falling down a ravine and being left there, pregnant, and how ashamed she is that she birthed a child.
Bernard takes the Savage, which John is called for the rest of the book, back to the civilized world. The Director resigns in disgrace and the Savage becomes a media sensation. John hates the civilized world and cannot relate to anything, although he made one friend, another dissatisfied Alpha named Helmholtz. His mother immediately goes on a permanent soma holiday, which makes John hate soma. John and Lenina begin to have feelings for each other. But of course, Lenina only knows a relationship as casual sex and John wants to marry her. When she throws herself at him, John recoils, calls her a whore and slaps her. Mid-fight, John gets a call that his mother is dying and rushes to her side at the clinic.
No one there understands why he is having any kind of emotion and when Linda dies, John flips out, scaring a bunch of Gamma children who are there for Death Conditioning. His friends Bernard and Helmholtz show up right as John starts screaming about liberty and throwing the day’s to be distributed soma rations out the window. A fight ensues and all three are brought before the World Director.
The World Director and John have a long philosophical discussion about the new world and John demands his right to be unhappy and have emotions. Bernard and Helmholtz are to be sent to an island, designated islands for those whose ideas are a danger to society. This is more like an artist colony than a prison, so they are happy. John is told he must stay for observation and experimentation.
John is unhappy and runs away to an uninhabited area and sets up shop in a lighthouse to try to live alone. However, the world finds John and descends on him with cameras. People begin to show up, demanding John entertain them. He loses his temper and attacks a girl in the crowd that reminds him of Lenina, and the preconditioned crowd follows suit, attacking each other like it was a game. John can take no more and hangs himself. The End.
In 1962, Huxley wrote a follow up to Brave New World called The Island. I will let you know what happens in a following post. Now get off the internet and go read a book.