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.
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!