Monday, January 17, 2011

"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

Summary: Bernard is a bit different in a world where social castes are determined before one is even born and social conditioning ensures stability and order.  He likes Lenina, and although "everybody belongs to everybody else" and multiple sexual partners are encouraged, he finds himself nervous to approach her.  He does eventually ask for a date, and they visit the reservation, a place separate and unconditioned, where they meet John, a "savage" born to a mother from Bernard's world.  This encounter leads to questions about the nature of happiness and stability.

Musings: I've done one of the most terrible jobs I think I've ever done summarizing the book above, but I think it's hard to describe the world of Brave New World accurately.  Although it takes place in a somewhat typical dystopian setting, the novel is especially compelling because of the way in which Huxley makes all of the world's structures logical--though still terrifying.  Happiness, or perhaps more accurately, contentedness, is the goal of Brave New World's society, and such happiness is created through the elimination of want and desire.  It's a world of immediate gratification, where everyone is given anything he/she wants at a moment's notice and any desire that can't be granted is conditioned away at a young age.  The concept that the world will be stable when everyone has what he/she wants is unassailable, and it makes some of the more outrageous practices in the novel, such as the lack of love relationships and the encouragement of promiscuity, also reasonable.

Brave New World really has two protagonists: Bernard and John.  Neither is content, and although Bernard seems the weaker of the two (he bemoans his alienation from others but also eagerly milks his later popularity), John "the savage" is really no better.  He demonizes Bernard and Lenina's existence and sees self-deprivation as a way to pureness, but he helps no one, including himself.

Huxley has created a world with no "good" options--the mindless acceptance of the majority of the people is obviously not desirable, but the "savage" land John comes from is given little attention and is not particularly praised either.  The lack of options is especially evident in the treatment of women.  In Bernard's world, bodies are simply objects for sexual consumption, but this seems especially true of women.  Women are described in terms of their physical attractiveness and are "had" by any man who wants.  On the other hand, John divides women completely into virgins and whores and uses their existence only as a means for his own self-deprivation.

I've read Brave New World a number of times now, and I still find it a compelling piece.  This time I did get a bit bored about half-way through, but I put it to the side and enjoyed finishing it a week or two later.  Even today I think it offers relevant commentary about the price of happiness and the pleasure of discontent.

***This book qualifies for the Back to the Classics Challenge (reread from high school/college category).

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