(This review of Aldous Huxley’s classic dystopia Brave New World is edited from the review I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site, probably around 2004.)
I like this book so much I’ve so far read it thrice, twice for school and the most recent time just for fun. I plowed through it, finishing it well before the rest of the class the first time. If a book is that good, why read only the assigned chapters for that particular week?
A lot of my classmates hated chapter three in particular. It gradually goes from normal-length scenes to shorter and shorter scenes, switching back and forth from a lot of different scenes, going from pages to paragraphs, then to just one paragraph per each scene, then just a few sentences apiece, and finally only one sentence each. The first two chapters are also kind of hard to get into, since there’s a lot of science, psychology, and history. But it’s not really that boring, and after the famous third chapter ends, you’re home-free and it becomes a regular story.
There are a lot of parallels and similarities between this book and We; in fact, We was the inspiration for this book. These characters can’t believe people used to live together as families; the average age of first sexual experience was over twenty; parents used to love their children; people got married and were monogamous; sex play between children was looked on as horrible; women used to be pregnant; even the fact that there were mothers and fathers. The words mother and father are regarded as obscenities and aren’t even written out in full, though “father” is considered merely smutty, not as vulgar as “mother.”
The people in this world are divided up into five different castes, the Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. One of the heroes, Bernard Marx, is an Alpha Plus, while the lowest of the low are the Epsilon Semi-Morons, who are very stunted in growth, intellectually immature, and sensitive to light hitting their eyes. They were deliberately underdeveloped while they were growing in bottles prenatally. Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are fertilised from an egg that’s split into a monster multiple birth. It’s called Bokanovsky’s Process, after the man who invented it. Deltas wear khaki, Epsilons wear black, Gammas wear green, Betas wear blue, and Alphas wear grey.
People are sleep-trained through hypnopaedia to learn their places as members of their particular castes, and also have slogans and propaganda drilled into them. In such a fashion, they learn the history of the world as the ten World Controllers tell it; to throw away clothes in need of mending so they can buy new ones; to hate people of lower castes; to sleep around with as many people as possible; etc.
Electric shocks condition babies to hate and be afraid of nature and reading. Old age doesn’t exist, and children are conditioned to accept instead of fear death, and to not mourn for friends who have died. If they feel depressed or question any of this, they take the drug soma.
Things start cooking when Bernard and Lenina, the girl he’s “having” at the moment, go on holiday to a large Native American reservation (the “savage” reservation), in the American Southwest. Bernard discovers a white man there, John. His mother, Linda, got pregnant by Thomas, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning in London. She was unable to go to the emergency abortion clinic because she got lost and hit her head during a thunderstorm, and Thomas gave up looking for her and went home.
John makes quite a stir when Bernard takes him to London, but John quickly feels ill at ease in this brave new world. He’s always quoting Shakespeare and whipping himself. And if that weren’t bizarre enough, he doesn’t understand why monogamy and marriage are considered anathema; that great literature and poetry are locked away and considered dangerous; that drugs are considered beneficial instead of enslaving; and that sex is just a game done for pleasure. He also doesn’t understand why they keep religion locked away like a dangerous secret. Bernard and his friend Helmholtz get off easy for their nonconformist views and activities compared to what happens to poor John.
This is one of those great books you can view in a whole new way each time you read it.