Johannes's Reviews > Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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May 24, 08

bookshelves: literature
Read in May, 2008

This book presents a futuristic dystopia of an unusual kind. Unlike in Orwell's 1984, Huxley's dystopia is one in which everyone is happy. However, they are happy in only the most trivial sense: they lead lives of simple pleasures, but lives without science, art, philosophy or religion. In short, lives without deeper meaning. Although people are expected to work hard and efficiently during working hours, during off hours people live in an infantile way, never engaging their minds, and satisfying themselves with sex and drugs.

The premise of the book I find quite interesting. However, the execution is lacking. The characters are not particularly endearing, and indeed they are quite flat. Worse, Huxley fails to explain why this future of controlled contentment is wrong. The reader will intuit that the this indeed a dystopia posing as a utopia, but Huxley's reliance on this feeling is a philosophical failure. It is the burden of the author to present us not with an account of something we know is bad, but to explain the source of the knowledge.

Huxley attempts something akin to an explanation in the second-to-last chapter, a discussion between "the Savage" who grew up outside civilization and Mustalpha Mond, a World Controller. However, the attempt falls short, as Mond has concise answers to all of the Savage's questions, and the Savage lacks the education and/or intellectual power to find reason behind his feelings.

During the conversation, Mond refers to philosopher Francis Bradley and credits him with the idea that philosophy is "the finding of bad reason for what one believes by instinct." Perhaps this inclusion is intended to convey that Huxley agrees and will make no attempt to manufacture a "bad reason" why the world he created is evil. However, I find this deeply unsatisfying. Why write a book to tell people what they already know? Moreover, a single reference to Bradley is not sufficient to convince me that this definition of philosophy is correct. If Huxley's novel relies heavily on this idea, he should have supported it with more than a solitary statement of Mond. Indeed, Mond promptly refutes the statement by denying instinct as separate from conditioning, and as the civilized population of the world seems to be controlled largely by conditioning, it would seem that in Huxley's world, Mond is correct!

In summary, Huxley crafts an interesting future world where people are blithely content without knowing passion or pain. Unfortunately, he fails both to craft an interesting story to set in this world and to write a strong philosophical argument why such a world would be harmful for mankind. He relies on the obvious faults of the world and the intuitive reaction of the reader, and thus provides no deeper insights.

As a social message, as a novel, and as a statement on the way in which mankind should behave, I find Brave New World inferior in almost every way to 1984. The one word of praise I will give to Huxley's novel is that his dystopia is more unusual and more intriguing than Orwell's. If only he had dome something more with it.
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Ruth What Ginnie said.

Matt This is a really good review, though I think you can make an even stronger criticism of the book. Huxley fails to explain why this future of controlled contentment is wrong, in no small part because he's not convinced that it is. A great many of the aspects of the Brave New World society - the use of drugs, the complete absence of traditional sexual mores - were things Huxley himself would advocate. The cynical answer is that Huxley doesn't reject the 'Brave New World' because of its brainwashing, enslavement of the lower classes, lack of morality, or anything of that sort - but because he sees its culture as being too American (watching movies, chewing gum, using disposable goods, etc.) I think that a good argument can be made that the sole problem Huxley has with the Brave New World is that it doesn't produce art that he approves of.

When it seems that Mond is correct at the end of the story, I think it is because Huxley largely agrees that he is correct. The Brave New World simply lacks appropriate intellectual activities for the philosopher kings at its top, and they've allowed themselves to become trapped in a world geared for lower intellects. But other than that, you'd have a hard time figuring out what part of the society Huxley really dislikes.

I think you can find similar irony in the book that 'Brave New World' is a respond to, 'Men Like Gods'. The political philosophy expounded by Wells is in many ways close kin to that expounded by the Nazi's. If you look at it's aims of progress, a new man, and rejection of democracy, its quite similar. Yet Wells and the Nazi's mutually hated one another, not because they were that far apart but because I think they were that close. Nazi Germany was the 'negative utopia' of the Wells vision, in as much as it had most of the features he desired, but in Wells opinion it had rejected the central tenent of scientific rationalism in favor of a charismatic irrationalism. The hatred wasn't as two strangers for another, but as two members of the same religion where each considered the other a heretic.

The cynic in me thanks that Huxley sees the Brave New World as a negative utopia only in as much as there isn't a comfortable spot for an intellectual like Huxley in it.

Kelly I completely agree with your assessment of the book. Having never read it in school, I felt that I should familiarize myself with it. What I felt was, well, nothing.

The characters were unforgivably flat and while, at first, I discounted this as merely their "conditioning" rendering them so, it became clear that even when presented with life changing events, they became no different than they were at the beginning. I feel that even the Savage had no real arc and when his resolution was revealed, the most emotion I could muster was something akin to a shrug and an "Oh well."

Like you, I could never be sure if Huxley was condemning the dystopia he created or if he was, in some way, reveling in it. I felt that the final conversation between the Savage and the World Controller did nothing more than wax poetic about the many ways that this controlled society was better than freedom.

Overall, I felt that the book was lacking in any one character that would guide me through the concrete world of Huxley's dystopia (or perhaps, he considered it a utopia). As the book ended, I couldn't have cared less if every one of them had met a fatal end before the last page.

Brian Hodges It's comforting to find somebody else who felt the same way about this book. Maybe I just didn't "get it" but I saw nothing inherently wrong with Huxley's future. If everyone is truly sublimely happy with their caste, no matter how artificial, where's the harm? And yeah, the characters just gave me no reason to feel compelled one way or the other.

message 5: by Ca (new) - added it

Ca You said everything I wanted to say, so much more clearly. The book does such a lukewarm job of presenting the ideas for which it became famous.

Seth You hit the nail right on the head.

message 7: by Hal (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hal @Matt: I very much agree with Johannes' initial review. Re your suggestion that Huxley rather liked his new world: In the essays he published more than twenty years later (bundled as "Brave New World Revisited" in some newer editions of the book), it becomes clear that he is not a proponent of the utopia/dystopia he paints. He criticises in particular the lack of freedom as rendering worthless whatever comfort and pleasantness an "over-organised society" (as he calls it) might bring.

Besides, I can recommend these "Brave New World Revisited" essays even for those who disliked BNW as I did, both because I find it most enlightening to read what people in the 1950s thought the future might bring, and because the essays are actually very readable (if a tad repetitive overall): Either Huxley had made considerable progress in his writing since BNW, or the essay format just suits him more than a novel's story-telling.

Kathryn Yeah, I agree with what you're saying. Ultimately, kind of underwhelming. Disappointing considering its reputation. You put it in much better terms. :)

Colleen Browne Do you not think that the characters were not endearing by design? Was that not the result of the dystopian world in which they were bred and lived?

Hobbeldehoy i think it could've been better. i was a bit disappointed with it.

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