Jonathan's Reviews > Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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I have now concluded another of the grand pantheon of the classics of the dystopian genre. It is no mere clone of the other works, although incidentally it does feature cloning within its story. I would place this on the same level as 1984 in terms of the ideas conveyed within. However I would also say that it completely stands alone as its own creation. It perhaps has less solidity and depth and the words are less lyrical and poetic than Orwell's. That said I was blown away at several key moments in this book. As far as my journeys in the dystopian genre go if you're trying it out 1984 and Brave New World are your first stops. Closely accompanied by Fahrenheit 451.

"'Human beings used to be...' he hesitated; the blood rushed to his cheeks. 'Well they used to be viviparous.'"

The plot follows Bernard Marx originally in a world where everything from people to lifestyle has become a product of the government. Children are no longer born (except in the few refuges where savages or Indians live - is this Huxley's way of making reference to the racial tensions of his era?) they are produced and they are brainwashed by the government in every inch of their lives. From being told that "everyone is everyone else's" to being told about their privilege as a member of their particular caste individuals undergo hypnopaedia or sleep teaching at an early age to condition them to fit into this manufactured society.

"'Talking about her as if she were a bit of meat.' Bernard ground his teeth. 'Have her here, have her there. Like mutton. Degrading her to so much mutton..."

Bernard Marx is one individual who recognises his conditioning and as such does not feel at ease in his falsified world. In this way he reminds in a way of Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby as a man also trapped by the expectations of his strange environment. Yet Marx (interesting choice of a name considering the rise of Marxist principles at the time) feels that he can do little about it. Instead he falls into line with the debauchery of life as it stands. For when sex no longer is about reproduction in this society it becomes instead a careless act for these people. They 'have' who they want as everyone belongs to everyone else (a creed reminiscent of the rules of the Party in 1984) and this eroticism is encouraged from the age of childhood an idea appalling to any sensible individual.

"No, the real problem is: How is it that I can't, or rather - because, after all, I know quite well why I can't - what would it be like if I could, if I were free - not enslaved by my conditioning."

Into this environment Bernard brings a 'savage' (a young man taught the ideal of commitment in marriage and of family through mother and father). From then on the reader is left to observe what happens as he with his limited understanding of the world - seen though the forbidden works of Shakespeare - tries to understand what life holds for him in such a gluttonously lustful culture. (view spoiler)

"Nay but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty..."

The writing of Huxley may not match the poetic lyricism of George Orwell - and Brave New World may not be the best written novel of all time - but it is still solid writing. My favourite chapter was probably the third when Huxley chose to use a variety of quick, short, sharp sentences and phrases as paragraphs to create a flow of thoughts. It read very much like an onslaught of clashing advertising ideas and really struck home the idea of conditioning for me. Normally such use of words proves gimmicky but somehow Huxley succeeded in channelling meaning through such a barrage of confusing statements.

"'But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

The real power of Huxley's work is not in his choice of words but in how he manages to convey so many ideas in such a brief amount of time (only a little over 200 pages). There are so many themes resonant within this book from: the need of humans to manipulate environments to the idea of how morality, commitment and sexuality are linked. Then there is the desire of humans to escape the natural programming we live under and the controversial topic of genetic manipulation and whether we as humans really have the right to mess with life at the level of embryos and foetuses. And that is only a handful of the ideas within this novel. Like Franz Kafka in The Metamorphosis Huxley creates a novel full of ambiguity and obvious ideas which enables the reader to take away what they wish. It is truly a powerful classic in that regard.

"'O Brave new world that has such people in it."

Again as with 1984, the story of Brave New World is linked to other events and textual ideas. The title was itself taken from The Tempest (one of the classic Shakespeare plays I am yet to read but may soon). The title was as such a curious foreshadowing of how Shakespearian texts are used intertextually in Brave New World. Where 1984 was linked to the 'threat' of Communism however, Brave New World is Fordism taken to its most extreme level along with the ideas of Freud. There was an almost religious connection to those two figures where they were called Our Ford or Our Freud. The thought was that the commercialisation techniques created by Ford could be taken too far and be applied to human lives. The other thought was that the psychological techniques of Freud and in particular his idea that human beings are carnal creatures could be taken too far. Considering that he was writing when these were new and now wholly trusted ideas his work is profound and also almost reads as a judgement against the 'immorality' of the rolling 20s when lifestyles were more carefree. It was this era which led to the Great Depression in many ways and perhaps Huxley was writing an indictment of the selfish lifestyles which triggered such a catastrophe.

Ultimately for a book that is designed to be uncomfortable and dark Brave New World is a fascinating novel. Its links with history, psychology and philosophy lift it from fascinating to insightful and its message raises it further again. This is a true classic: dark and profoundly inspired. In many ways its message is prophetic reaching out across time to make us question how we are conditioned by our world and how we turn life into a consumer's market.
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Reading Progress

06/28/2012 page 13
6.0% "It's time to see whether Huxley can beat Orwell's control of using the idea of dystopia as a social commentary." 5 comments
05/02/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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Gigi S. I'm really excited to read this. Do you think it was better then 1984?

Jonathan I liked it similar and differently. I'm writing a review now so I'm trying to express how it compares. I like it on a similar level to 1984. It has the same type of profundity but it's more scarce in amount of words and less focus is applied to creating the world. But the ideas within it are superb.

Gigi S. Awesome It'll be interesting to read the review

s.penkevich Really good stuff here!

Jonathan s.penkevich wrote: "Really good stuff here!"

Thanks your reviews are pretty awesome also I think.

s.penkevich Thank you.
Does your edition of this have the letter from Huxley about why his book is more relavant than Orwells? It makes some good points, but is rather, well, arrogant in a way. I think it mostly can be summed up as Orwell had a world where books were banned, Huxley's world didn't need to ban books because nobody would want to read them anyways.

Jonathan Not that I can see. It has an introduction from Margaret Atwood and some other fellow literary critic. There is a foreword about the relevance of Brave New World and how it is like our world not too distant but it makes no direct mention to 1984.

Either way each book was written for different reasons. Huxley's is about Fordism and psychoanalysis being applied to produce an overt mass consumer society. Those were modern issues of the interwar era. Orwell's book is about the threat of a political ideology.

s.penkevich Good point. I think that's why I always liked Orwell a little better, the political ideology made it appear, to me at least, as being something more immedietly plausable.
Ah, the ideas I presented wasn't in that letter, it was from Neil Postman. This is from the wiki article about his book:

Social critic Neil Postman contrasts the worlds of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He writes:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

Journalist Christopher Hitchens, who himself published several articles on Huxley and a book on Orwell, noted the difference between the two texts in the introduction to his 1999 article "Why Americans Are Not Taught History":

We dwell in a present-tense culture that somehow, significantly, decided to employ the telling expression "You're history" as a choice reprobation or insult, and thus elected to speak forgotten volumes about itself. By that standard, the forbidding dystopia of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four already belongs, both as a text and as a date, with Ur and Mycenae, while the hedonist nihilism of Huxley still beckons toward a painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus. Orwell's was a house of horrors. He seemed to strain credulity because he posited a regime that would go to any lengths to own and possess history, to rewrite and construct it, and to inculcate it by means of coercion. Whereas Huxley ... rightly foresaw that any such regime could break but could not bend. In 1988, four years after 1984, the Soviet Union scrapped its official history curriculum and announced that a newly authorized version was somewhere in the works. This was the precise moment when the regime conceded its own extinction. For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.[22]

Jonathan I consider it a little differently. I see Orwell as presenting the fear that books would be altered (the whole idea of the Ministry of Truth) so that 'facts' would suit what the government wanted. And to a degree that does happen in reality. Huxley does present the idea that no one wants to read anymore because they're caught up in their hedonistic lifestyles. I guess his thought was that books provide a revelation on what is moral and what is immoral. Then you have Fahrenheit 451 with its idea that books would be replaced with simplistic televised stories so that people could not read the great literature and think for themselves. I find it fascinating that many dystopian novels focus on the idea of the destruction of books. Perhaps it is because books represent the one great treasure of humanity - and the reason why the story of the burning of the library of Alexandria still resonates today. And that treasure is the knowledge found in stories. Stories provide identity and when we alter stories we can alter the very fabric of identity. Its one idea in literature that has fascinated me recently. Think about what would happen to Sherlock Holmes if you altered his story and removed say John Watson. His identity would be affected.

Mike (the Paladin) Oops. LOL, sorry. I asked if you'd read this...I guess you have. :)

Jonathan True enough, Gatsby did embrace his societies values. I guess I felt that Marx in the end, settled for acceptance of his place in life.

I want to read 'We' thanks for mentioning it! I've heard that it is one of the greats of dystopian fiction but that few people have read it. I just need to find a good copy...

Dolors Amazing, introspective review! You manage to link Huxley's work together with such literary masterpieces in a very elegant way, bravo!
Allow me to recommend you a book which could appeal to you, having read your thoughts on this one: Never Let Me Go.

Jonathan Dolors wrote: "Amazing, introspective review! You manage to link Huxley's work together with such literary masterpieces in a very elegant way, bravo!
Allow me to recommend you a book which could appeal to you, h..."

Thanks for the recommendation and comments. I really enjoyed this work and thought of it as a dystopian masterpiece.

message 14: by Jocelyn (new)

Jocelyn Wow, this is a really good review, Jonathan. I'd shrugged this off to the bottom of my to-read list, but now thanks to you it's a higher priority. Well done!

Jonathan Jocelyn wrote: "Wow, this is a really good review, Jonathan. I'd shrugged this off to the bottom of my to-read list, but now thanks to you it's a higher priority. Well done!"

Thanks Jocelyn. I like to think it's one of my better reviews with the quotes being nicely incorporated. But I think a lot of that is to do with how much I loved this book. It's a quick read too (unlike the equally brilliant 1984).

message 16: by Jocelyn (new)

Jocelyn Yes, I loved the quotes part, it gave a nice impression of Huxley's writing.

And now I'm off to read your 1984 review, which has somehow slipped past my notice for whatever annoying reason.

Anthony  Stone I 100% agree with your review. Brave new world and 1984 are two of my most favorite books in the world!! But come to think of it I think 1984 scared me more lol XD

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