This is one of those books that will produce a different interpretation from every single person who reads it, which only makes giving my thoughts on it more fun. I’m a massive fan of debate, which is apparently a risky thing to say in this day and age especially considering the current political climate. So if anyone wants to discuss alternating views on this please feel free to message me.
Now, you may wonder why I started this off with a small wink towards the current political climate and that is because this novel is one of those that consistently remains relevant throughout the ages. It is labeled as a classic for a reason. This particular edition of the book has a forward written by Margaret Atwood in 2007. Within her mini-essay (that suffers from her flippant use of punctuation, like her novels) she compares the cultural parallels of this book alongside those of 1984, a book that recently saw a spike in sales due to the apparent future we are all currently heading towards under the watchful gaze of Theresa May, Donald Trump, and Kim Jong Un.
Often remarked as the ‘utopia’ side of the coin that features 1984’s ‘dystopia’ on its other face, Brave New World is no less frightening, at least in my interpretation of it. Throughout the novel we are treated to a wonderfully created vision of the future which, despite having been written in 1932, shares far too many instances with events in the modern day. Huxley is a wondrous wordsmith, offering a fully fleshed out worldview that is both perverse and yet, seemingly, our ultimate destination.
In Atwood’s forward she remarks on how the book is “All surface; there is no depth”. Taken out of context this could be seen as a dislike towards the novel, yet what I believe she means here is that Huxley chose not to be subtle in his interpretation of the future. He had recently come back from a visit to America and was terrified by the over-commercialisation of the place, the apparent soullessness of it all. This feeling was almost perfectly transcribed into the character of the Savage, an outsider who comes into this supposed ‘utopia’ and is equally as disgusted with what he finds there.
In one of the final chapters of the book, Huxley has the Savage converse with one of the leaders of this new world, outrightly questioning the choices that had been made to lead them to that instance. If anyone was confused about what the book was about up until that point, this dialogue should open your eyes. By removing pain, the fear of death, the idea of God, goals, inhibitions, the idea of ageing, art, creativity, and worries over our place in existence, the world leader has helped create this ‘utopia’ where everyone is happy. Yet, as the Savage argues, at the sacrifice of the soul.
Reading this chapter brought to mind a certain scene from (and this may be sacrilege to use in comparison to Brave New World but the idea fits my point) an episode of South Park, where the character of Butters was recently dumped by a girl but refused to join the goth kids in repressing his feelings.
Butters: Uh, uhm no thanks. I love life.
Stan: Huh? But you just got dumped.
Butters: Well yeah, and I’m sad, but at the same time I’m really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It’s like, it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt somethin’ really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I’m feelin’ is like a, beautiful sadness. I guess that sounds stupid.
What I took from this small scene, as-well as what I took away from the book as a whole, was that bad things happen. We can try and repress the feelings, bury our head in the sand, create a totalitarian state the worships the inventor of the conveyor belt and decides what your life is going to be before you are even born, or you can accept the feelings because these experiences are what it means to be human, to be alive, to have a soul. Life is hard, but if everything you ever desired was given to you then what would be the point? Would life be worthwhile? or just something to squander getting high on Soma and playing Obstacle Golf.
Even with all this going on Huxley presents the Savage, the individual who sees the horrors of this new way of life and tried to return to what he knows, as an equally repressed individual. Having grown up in the wilderness with little more than the complete works of Shakespeare, the Savage’s world view becomes equally skewed, just in the opposite direction. His unworthiness of owning a soul leads him to self flagellation as well as beating the woman he desires due to her flagrant sexuality, something that is seen as the norm within the books setting.
Standing on the precipice of World War II, as Huxley was during the creation of this book, the past and future must have seen the fault with humanity and, as Atwood stated, he placed everything he saw into his book, choosing not to hide his feelings under subtext and subtleties. Years after writing his book Huxley confessed that he was sad he only offered the two versions of reality – although there is a third minor version that exists within the country of Iceland, an academics haven of sorts – yet I believe that, at the time of writing, these were the only things he could see happening.
Our current political climate is worrying to say the least, we may well be on the verge of a third World War, or it may turn out to be nothing. Either way the futures presented in this book, despite being written about 86 years ago, still offer a terrifying look at how this world may become in the next few decades. So, to all those who rushed out to buy 1984 because it was the ‘in’ thing to do. Go back to the store and purchase Brave New World to, because I am having trouble not seeing how the events within this book are where the human race is going to end up.