, May 05, 2010
Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World is essentially a cartoon about society. What this novel shares with Mickey Mouse, Popeye, and Elmer Fud is the constant exaggerations that make kids shows impossible. From the personalities of the characters to the ridiculousness of the plot; every aspect is taken to an extreme. However, this is Huxley’s genius. His purpose in taking the possibilities of science and a totalitarian state to an extreme is to comment on the direction in which society is headed. His book makes one question, just because we can do something should we? If we choose to do so, are the benefits worth the losses? With the advancements made in genetic engineering and the growth of government, these questions are more applicable today than they were in Huxley’s time.
Huxley was greatly influenced by the world around him, the ever-changing early twentieth century, when he wrote his novel. The world was in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, a time that brought machines along with entirely new ways of life. One of the leading figures in this era was Henry Ford and his innovative assembly line. These events and personalities inspired the technology in the novel, but the pessimism toward this technology is directly due to the role that technology played in World War I. The ideas toward sexuality seen in Brave New World are most likely influenced by Sigmund Freud, a pioneer in the ideas of sexuality and psychoanalysis. These events and people inspired, or frightened, Huxley enough for him to write a novel in response to the world he saw around him.
His story takes place six hundred years in the future in a seemingly perfect society that preaches, “Community, Identity, [and] Stability”. In order for this machine of a society to exist, there need to be workers to maintain it. People in this society are made, not born. The mere thought of a family is preposterous because the government has assumed this role, creating and raising children. At the top of the social pyramid rest the alphas, the leaders and most perfect people in society. From there the classes descend down the Greek alphabet all the way to epsilon. Each class getting more stupid and of less importance than the last. The lowest classes are the workers of society and thus mass produced by a budding process that creates ninety six clones at a time. All members of society enjoy a life of pure happiness, partially because they are “conditioned” to do so and if that fails they can turn to the soma. This drug has, “all of the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects”(54). Soma, along with peoples ignorance of the past, their sexual freedom, and the regulation of ideas, is what keeps the world in a constant state of happiness. This deceptively perfect society serves as Huxley’s vision of a mad world absent of traditional morals. One he believed our society is headed toward.
The central idea that Huxley conveys with a Brave New World is the abuse or mishandling of power. In the novel, this power is both scientific knowledge, such as cloning, genetics, and conditioning, and the absolute power of the state. Huxley Uses these ideas as a road to guide the reader to the conclusion that just because we, as a society, have the capabilities to do something, such as genetic engineering, it does not mean that we should act. Doing so may carry consequences that outweigh the benefits, draining us of our humanity. In the novel, society has exchanged free will, art, progress, and even definitive human emotions in exchange for shallow happiness. Mustapha Mond explains this situation when he says, “that's the price we have to pay for stability. You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art”(220). Huxley does a great job of getting his point across, but this was attained with sacrifice.
Brave New World lacks character and plot depth and believability. Since his story is more of a commentary on society, the world Huxley created is more of a character than the actual characters of the novel. The characters serve the same purpose that puzzle pieces do; they are individual pieces that bring their own weight to complete the work as a whole. Bernard Marx, Lenina Crowne, and John are of secondary importance to the story. They are shadowed by the world itself and are therefore stripped to archetypical characters with basic, yet extreme, personalities and emotions. The plot seems to have fallen behind the importance of the commentary that the book makes as well. Details, such as John’s ability to maneuver through and adapt to a modern world despite living in a primitive reservation his entire life, are highly unbelievable. These sacrifices are made in order to get to the larger meaning of the work, and Huxley does this very well.
In conclusion, Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World is a great book. He took in what he observed in the world around him and used it as inspirations to create a novel that makes an intelligent commentary on the direction that the world is headed. However, this point was made by sacrificing the depth of the characters and plot within the book.