Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Banned Books Week)

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Brave New World
A sudden noise of shrill voices made him open his eyes and, after hastily brushing away the tears, look round. What seemed an interminable stream of identical eight-year-old male twins was pouring into the room. Twin after twin, twin after twin, they came–a nightmare. Their faces, their repeated face–for there was only one between the lot of them–puggishly stared, all nostrils and pale goggling eyes. Their uniform was khaki. All their mouths hung open. Squealing and chattering they entered. In a moment, it seemed, the ward was maggoty with them.

In Huxley's utopian (or dystopian, depending on how you look at it) future, a capitalist civilization has been carefully constructed on the principles of stability. New life is literally manufactured in an assembly line process where the fertilized eggs of to-be-top citizens (called Alphas and Betas) are cultured without much treatment, while those of to-be-the-dregs-of-the-society (such as Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons) go through a lot of processing to make them stunted and intellectually challenged. A lot of these low-class citizens are twins. As in, one fertilized egg made to divide so many times, that you have 40-80 identical people staring at you. Creepy? Through the growing years, all the citizens are conditioned (or brainwashed in their sleep) to believe a bunch of tenets that the government has drawn up. Nobody questions their existence or revolts against what they do. Everyone grows up knowing what they will become when they are old enough. They are trained not to fall in love or have any sort of emotional connection with anyone. Since no one is conceived in the traditional manner, the idea of a mother or father is repulsive. Worse, people have sex on a regular basis with different people and even encourage their friends to "have" this woman that they slept with last night, because she is fabulous in bed.

Repulsive? I nearly puked my way through the pages.

In trying to create a utopia that has no violence, no negative sentiments, no conflicts, no individual above a group, no poverty, no famine, and no dearth of anything, Huxley invents a world that has no humanity either. The ideas for his utopia are derived from the world as he knew it in the 1930s - the increasing dependence on machines, the industrial revolution, the wars, the arrival of capitalism. Of course, there are no computers in his book, because computers weren't invented then.

Most of the characters in the book are conditioned into the new world way of thinking - "Dating" the same person for long was considered improper, the act of birthing a child is a very obscene act that when they have their controlled "history" lessons, people cringe at the mention of the words "mother" or "father", and when people wanted a break, they took a drug called "soma" to get them high and take them on a dream-holiday. You can say that soma is something like pot, except the government encourages its citizens to have it, but in limited quantities. However, a man named Bernard isn't entirely in agreement with the system, but only because even though he is an Alpha, he doesn't look like one, probably because something messed up his cells during his fabrication, as I like to call it. When he goes with his current "girlfriend" to a Savage reservation, which houses the few natives who aren't yet civilized, he comes across a boy named John born of a once-civilized-woman. Bernard then proceeds to bring John to the civilization.

I thought Huxley did a fabulous job of creating a world that stood on its own, all just for stability. All through the book, I had my arguments against a lot of things that are done, but they are all from the humane perspective. In one chapter, the World Controller (something like a President) manages to dismiss all my questions. Despite what I thought about the book having been written well, I didn't really like Brave New World. In creating a world as different as possible from the one we live in, Huxley spends a big part of the book talking about sex and his characters' fascination with it. Young kids were even encouraged to play erotic games - all part of their conditioning. All of it makes the reader uncomfortable - that is definitely his intention, but there were a lot of other aspects of the world that he could focus on than just on individual characters recommending their date of last night to their best friend because she is "pneumatic" or having curves, and how the kids playing those games kept popping up on every other scene.

Then there is the fact that a lot of the low-status citizens are Negros or Senegalese or Dravidians - again meant to make the reader uncomfortable, but I couldn't see the point of explicitly mentioning certain races, especially races that are traditionally biased against. I also found this book a mashup of a Shakespearean novel and the arrival of capitalism. The ending is almost entirely inspired by Shakespeare, and I found it very comic rather than tragic. I went in expecting something huge and moving to happen at the end - I wanted to feel inspired to not let the world we live in get to that end, but I only felt disappointed by what happened. Of course, I should note that this book was written in 1932, and the themes were probably more relevant then - with all the uncertainty about where the world was heading, still the ending felt to be from a totally different book, and not fitting in with the rest of the story. I found the writing very hard to get through occasionally - that meant I had to read past the first page before I could get myself invested in the story. Sometimes, he stated the same thing so often that I wanted to say, alright, let's move on, please. But there were also times when the book made for wonderful reading.

So that's a lot of whines, but I was disappointed. I did expect a lot, and while I enjoyed the book at some level, I found more issues with it than things to praise. I do not however think that this book should be kept away from young adults, because there are a lot of things to learn from this book, most importantly whether stability is more important than humanity. I know many of you have read this (and loved it), so I would love to hear what you thought of it!


I borrowed this book from my library. I have to say that both the "banned" books I read this week - Brave New World and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian were shelved in the YA shelves in my local library, as they should be. Yay!


29 comments:

softdrink said...

Yes! Especially to the puking.

I just finished it this evening and won't manage to post about it til next week, but we had similar reactions to the book. At times I felt like he was being deliberately offensive just for the shock value, and it was all a bit clinical for my taste, but it wasn't as bad as the first 20 pages led me to believe it would be!

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

Wow, that is a messed up society.  I think my sister had to read this in high school, but I missed it somehow.

celawerd said...

I have not read it, but a friend of my has and I remember that they have a very similar reaction to you.

Athira / Aths said...

That's just what I felt - he focused so much more on the more horrible aspects than on the other things  in the book, making me feel all throughout that this wasn't a much balanced book. But I was glad too that it was better than what the first few pages seemed to indicate.

Athira / Aths said...

If you ever choose to read it, I will be interested in hearing what you thought. I didn't get to read it in high school either, so I'm glad that I finally got to it.

Athira / Aths said...

I felt weird initially that maybe I'm one of the few who didn't like it, but seems like many others didn't as well. It's a really hard book to digest and like. 

Stephanie said...

I hated this book.  I normally enjoy dystopian fiction, but this one was so difficult to sludge through for me.

zibilee said...

I read this in high school, and remember very little about it. I think that your synopsis and reactions to this book make it sound like something that I could really be intrigued by. It does sound a little repulsive and difficult, but sometimes those are the books that really make me think. I wonder about the heavy emphasis on sexuality though. At the time that must have gone over like a lead balloon. Great analysis on this one, Aths. I am going to have to read this one and see what I make of it after all these years.

Helen Murdoch said...

It's been so long since I read this book, but I remember it being intense and fascinating and done so well

Marie said...

I was disappointed by this book too- I felt it was long on style and ideas but came up short for me on plot and characterization. I think it's an important book because of its ideas and the influence it's had on science fiction and dystopia, but it was kind of unsatisfying. I can see why the sexual content especially would be troublesome to some but I think at a senior level or so of high school it would be fine.

Chrisbookarama said...

I just started reading this so I'll let you know how it goes. It does feel uncomfortable but I think that's the intention.

Bibliophilebythesea said...

Both great books. I don't read much YA, but liked these 2 when I read them.

Brandt Hardin said...

Nice post on Banned Book Week- I was introduced to Huxley's work through my High School
teacher in a very rural town.  It was
controversial for her to teach such works as A Brave New World but these are
very powerful and insightful works.  Such
literature is very important to society along with books like 1984 and A
Clockwork Orange which are frequently banned. 
See my visual commentary and portrait of Huxley on my artist's blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2010/07/aldous-huxley-rolls-in-his-grave.html

Athira / Aths said...

I'm actually glad to hear that - weird of me to say it. I came pretty close to admitting that too.

Athira / Aths said...

One other person commented that the sex thing wasn't a big issue for young readers as I took it to be, and maybe that's right - I'm probably over-reacting. Still, sometimes it's hard to imagine what even I would have felt years ago.

Athira / Aths said...

I wonder if I would have appreciated it better, had I read it as a teen. It definitely is fascinating, and a work I'm glad I read. 

Athira / Aths said...

I agree with you that this book is important - I'm glad I read it, even if it didn't sync that well with me. I did get a sense of so many big ideas floating around and the ending felt very anti-climactic for me. So, it was certainly unsatisfying in the end. 

Athira / Aths said...

I can't wait to hear your thoughts! It definitely made me very uncomfortable.

Athira / Aths said...

Glad to hear that you liked both the books, Diane!

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks for the link, Brandt! I'm heading over to check your post. This definitely would be a controversial book to teach. But it's one I would love to see in high schools - despite my issues with it, there are a lot to learn from it! 

Lenasledgeblog.com said...

I love your reviews. They are so in depth and specific. I hadn't read the book but I can understand from reviews the significance of it and it's relation to world views. I don't think any book should be banned. Great job.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.... said...

I haven't read this yet, so I had to skim your review. But I must admit you've made me want to read it even more.

Kim @ Sophisticated Dorkiness said...

Interesting response! I've never read this book, but I'm not sure if it's for me or not. 

Athira / Aths said...

Thanks! This book definitely made an impact on me and I loved the narrator's perspective.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you read it, Juju! I will be looking forward to your thoughts.

Athira / Aths said...

There are some aspects of the book that didn't impress me all that much, but I can see how this book was way ahead of its time when it was published in 1932. Still, I think it could have benefited from some diversification of focus.

Jason (erisian23) said...

this is one of my favorite books :)
i liked reading your reaction though, aths.
now i need to read this again!

Athira / Aths said...

I'm glad my review makes you feel like rereading this book, Jason! :)

Kayla said...

I just finished reading this in school for a "banned book" assignment. And let me tell you, it was odd. I wasn't expecting the book to end the way it did, like you said, or bounce around from person to person like it did. It was not for me, but to the right person I'm sure it would be fantastic.