First I have to apologize for the length of the post, it definitely got away from me. I planned on discussing the condition of the book when I bought it used (covered in ink writing, highlights, penciled notes, underlines, etc.) but will save that for another post. If you’re interested in the points I found most interesting click here. If you’re interested in quotes click here. If you want to know whether I think you should read it click here.
As pertinent today as when first written in 1931. The question though is when you read the novel whether you read it as a utopic or dystopic (anti-utopic novel). Having written a paper on these type of novels (A Handmaid’s Tale and Woman on the Edge of Time) I determined, and supported by many reference works that you can’t have one without the other.
This is the story of the future, of what happens when science and religion no longer exist or are whitewashed into a non-existent form. There were various things that intrigued me about the novel and I’ve included them below. It’s hard to write about each one when there were so many things that went (and could go) wrong in a future world such as this.
- I found the combination of Henry Ford’s assembly line and Sigmund Freud’s various hypotheses on human growth and sexualization highly amusing. At one point a character even says, “Our Ford, who wrote as Freud for some reason when he spoke about psychology…” and it made me giggle to no end. From the indoctrination of hyper-commercialization to the encouraged sexploration and promiscuity, Huxley created a society of ageless infants obsessed only with who they would sleep with next, what sport they would play and where they could go/what they could buy.
- I found the Bokanovsky Process, genetic manipulation and sleep hypnopædia incredibly unnerving. We are in a world where ‘designer babies’ and genetic manipulation are a very real possibility and if taken to the same extreme as in this novel it’s a terrifying thought. And the sheer idea that repetition(millions of repetitions throughout the developmental stage) while sleeping can so indoctrinate a population is incredibly disturbing.
- I thought Huxley handled the Reservation and the Savage portion of the novel beautifully without completely eradicating all previous history and reducing those inhabitants to mere bestial representations of humans. If there was a drawback, it was the strange amalgamation of religions and societies. I thought it was a bit reductionist to reduce everyone down to one society with myriad gods from various religions.
- The removal of science and religion was fascinating. In removing both these explorations of genius, Huxley further homogenized the world and made the dystopic future bleaker. This is only mentioned towards the end of the novel after the savage confronts the infantile masses and their addictions to consumerism, but I feel could’ve comprised an entire novel on its own. There is at least one great quote at the bottom.
- What I found most intriguing, from a queer theorists perspective, was the freedom of sex and the removal of marriage and the family unit. Whereas in Woman on the Edge of Time does this in a uniquely beautiful way, three parents, male or female provides nourishment through breast milk, and the communally raised children, Brave New World manufactures children and there are no parents or families. The terms father and mother are humorous and disgustingly inappropriate, and the act of birth itself is vile. Although again heterosexuality whitewashes the world and flippancy towards non-normative sexuality, I have to expect that if Huxley wrote this novel 60 or 70 years later, the sexuality and sexploration of the characters would have been radically more inclusive as long as sex was still only for a past-time and not for reproduction.
- However, in concerns to my last point, I did have an issue with the encroachment on women’s rights. It’s interesting how most (I won’t say every, because I’ve only read a small selection) utopia/dystopia fiction somehow concerns the reproductive rights of women. Perhaps I have only read those which include this form of societal control, but in this novel, not only is women’s place as mother dirtied and shamed, but the physical act of birth is removed from their control and put into a factory and yet women are still indoctrinated and forced to perform the most elaborate (seemingly) routines of birth control with little mention of the men’s contribution to preventative measures. There are also women who have their ability to reproduce removed before they are even born, thus raising other issues about a society even further divided than the classes created in the processing plant.
I could go on and on about this novel as there are so many interesting aspects, but I’m going to leave it as it is. I’m definitely adding this to my shelf of books to re-read. I’m also interested in reading Brave New World Revisited in which Huxley writes 30 years later on comparing where the world is to where he thought it would be and how much closer (if at all) to his vision.
Quotes from Brave New World
“Inevitably so; for the immediate future is likely to resemble the immediate past, and in the immediate past rapid technological changes, taking place in a mass-producing economy and among a population predominantly propertyless, have always tended to produce economic and social confusion.” (xiii-xiv)
“(Round pegs in square holes tend to have dangerous thoughts about the social system and to infect others with their discontents.)” (xvi)
“For particulars, as every one knows, make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Not philosophers but fretsawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society.” (4)
“Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” (70)
“If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely. They’re beastly to one.” (137)
“The greater a man’s talents, the greater his power to lead astray. It is better that one should suffer than that many should be corrupted. Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offense is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behavior.” (148)
“One of the principle functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies.” (179)
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow of passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.” (221)
“Besides, we have our stability to think of. We don’t want to change. Every change is a menace to stability. That’s another reason why we’re so chary of applying new inventions. Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy. Yes, even science.” (224-225)
“Knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value; all the rest was secondary and subordinate. True, ideas were beginning to change even then. Our Ford himself did a great deal to shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness…And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered.” (228)”
“They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; for now that all that gave to the world of sensations its life and charms has begun to leak away from us, now that phenomenal existence is no more bolstered up by impressions from within or from without, we feel the need to lean on something that abides, something that will never play us false—a reality, an absolute and everlasting truth.” (232-233)