Archive for the ‘Aldous Huxley: Brave New World’ Category

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

November 1, 2009

When I started reading

It was never my intention reading THIS book and write my blog about. It was just that I had no idea what to read and when I talked to my father about it, a friend of his gave me the advice to read Brave New World. Why? – It’s great and your English teacher will love you for choosing it. Well, I don’t if she does, but when I started reading the book, I thought everything was a bad joke. But not because the book on it self is bad, it was this enormous introduction. Or let’s say two introductions. One about the book, the other about the author. So the first introduction is written by David Bradshaw and it’s about the book, the plot, the things that are described and talked about in the story. In the beginning I just knew that Brave New World is about the future, how life could possibly be in 600 years. Huxley’s view on an utopia we call future, civilization, better life. It just needed two pages to let me think “sounds like a really bad science-fiction movie, everything absolutely surreal and absurd. The next two pages were like “hm ok, sounds quite funny because they talk about today’s way of life and customs like it’s something totally crazy and ridiculous”. By the ending of this introduction I even wasn’t sure, is this book now about future or today’s reality, is it an interpretation of given facts by present or is it a gathering of unrealistic thoughts? I kept on reading. On page 23 I had to force myself to keep on and on. And I got the end of the second introduction, a comment on Huxley and his work written by Nicolas Berdiaeff and I have to admit, although it was really operose, it explains some details and the criticism on one side and the praise on the other side concerning this book made me quite curious about what I will think of it in the end. But I give you an advice. If you’re after reading this blog still interested in reading Brave New World, skip the introductions. Now you know what’s in there, because when I turned the page all curious about the story starting, bet what… Foreword! Yay. But I thought if I came this far, I’ll even manage the Foreword.  It’s psychologically very deep and complicated but then I stumbled across this sentence: “[…] a book about the future can interest us only if its prophecies look as though they might conceivably come true.” Lucky me, I was thinking, maybe it’s not that science-fiction-absurd-don’t-know-what. It actually seemed very interesting again how Huxley projects problems of his time into future and how real and possible his utopia sounds. Plus, I have the german edition at home, too and on its back cover it says, freely translated, that it seems that utopia seems nearer than we all think. Huxley placed his utopia 600 years into future but it’s possible that we could have to face this horror even in one single century, if mankind doesn’t blast itself in the air. Now, I really wanted to know, how he imagines mankind in future.

About the author

Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on 26 July 1894 in Godalming in Surrey as the son of Thomas Henry Huxley and Julia Arnold. His father’s family was one of scientists and his mothers family was also a very intellectual one. Matthew Arnold, writer and cultural critic, was his uncle. There were three traumatic events in his life, with which he had to deal with. When he was 14, his mother died of cancer, what led to the break-up of the family home. Two years later, he contracted an infection on one eye, which made him for some time and affected his vision for the rest of his life. Again 4 years later, 1914, his brother committed suicide, which made Huxley lose the person to whom he felt closest.

In Oxford, he studied literature at Balliol College.  With 21 years, he decided to be author and published his first book “The Burning Wheel” in 1916.  After the World War he acted as journalist and cultural critic. 1937, he moved to California, worked there as a screenwriter for Hollywood and in 1953 he took part in an experiment under the attendance of Humphry Osmond, that tested the effect of mescaline on people. Changes concerning not only his writing were expressed in his novel “Island”, which is the positive contrast to “Brave New World” written in 1932.

On 22nd November 1963 Aldous Huxley died of cancer of the throat. Rumor has it he asked his wife to administer him 100 mg LSD intramuscular just before his death.

His novels, poems and short stories were mostly about dehumanization of society through progress. He criticised social and cultural morals, ideals and standards.

The Story

I already told you, the book is the imagery of an utopia. “People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want, what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about[…]” (page 193/94). They live in a time when people are actually produced in different castes, educated in a very, for our circumstances, wierd way and they live their life in a quiet abstract way. The point is, most of them don’t really think. They don’t think about what life used to be or could be. They get produced, raised, live their life for the job that’s attributed to them and die. But what happens if someone is different? Accidently different. And starts to think about life. Starts to realize that something is missing in this happy-clappy-Bambi-hugging world he lives in? Right. He catches wierd looks, people talk about him, rumors are spread, bad talking gets louder and louder. Now imagine on this planet with the perfect world, the perfect live, the perfect civilization, there is still a little spot where people live like they used to hundreds and hundreds years ago, a reservation for savages. You’re right in the middle of the story now. I skipped the detailed description of the outter, perfect world on purpose so you still have something to read and imagine. But let’s go back to the reservation and the ones, that feel something is missing in their life. If you now assume, those two worlds clash, you’re absolutely right. Civilized people visit the reservation and savages leave it. It’s kind of like when Crocodile Dundee visits New York, just that this time I couldn’t really laugh. Try to imagine a savage in a civilized, overmodernized world trying to find a way to live his life like he’s used to. Now you’re at the end of the story.

The characters

John, the Savage: John was born in the reservation in New Mexiko as a son of two civilized people. His mother, Linda, used to tell him stories about that perfect outter world, but he never got to know it, until Bernard Marx visited the reservation and asked for permission to take John to London, particular for one reason. Marx knows, who John’s father is. The interesting point of John is, that he grew up in moral values, archaic and medieval,  given by an indian native tribe and gets put into the new world, that is based on abundance.

Bernard Marx: Bernard Marx is an Alpha-Plus, but according to rumors, alcohol was put in blood-surrogate while he was still a bottled embryo. But the only consequence of it is, that he’s a bit smaller than other Alpha-Pluses. He’s the one who tries to show people, that he’s different and that something is wrong with this world they live in. And he’s the one, who travelles with Lenina to the reservation and brings John and his mother Linda to London.

Lenina Crown: Lenina is a young and beautiful Beta-Women, that works in an Embryo Store. At first glance, she’s the perfect Beta. She knows what she wants and if she doesn’t get it, she calms herselfs with dozens of Soma, the happy-making-everything-is-so-perfect-let’s-go-on-a-mind-holiday-drug. She is pretty limited in intellectual capicity and kind of simple-minded. But if you look closer on her behaviour, she’s not really the perfect civilized citizen. She has an inclination towards stability concerning relationships to men, what is really blameworthy and she is interested in the wierd Bernard Marx. She even gets lovesick after making the experience, that John doesn’t want her body, but not understanding that he loves her actually.  She’s that typical dumb blonde, that has to suffer in the end.

Mustapha Mond: Mond is one of the ten world controllers and responsible for western europe and he minds the world not changing back. Despite it, he sympathizes with Helmholtz and John, because in his youth he was also on the look for the truth when he recovered the world’s imbecility and was on the verge of being banned. But; “Great is the truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view is silence about truth.” (page 36) So he sacrificed his knowledge for the other’s happiness.

The Director: The director is politically correct, but giving Marx the permission for leaving to the reservation, he gets lost in a dreamy longing for a girl he lost there, when he visited the reservation 20 years ago. Realizing having offended common decency he immediately claims “It was a perfectly healthy and normal” (page 126) relation

Linda: Linda, John’s mother, once was, like Lenina, the perfect Beta-women. Till she visited the reservation, got lost, stayed pregnant, bore a child and had to get used to life in wilderness. Now, she’s a ravaged, fat and ugly “Squaw”. She always wanted to go back to civilization, but the fact of being mother enclosed this path. As she see’s Lenina and get’s to live in London again, she nearly kills herself with an overdose of Soma.

The operative point

Brave New World was written 1932 and put 600 years into future. So at the beginning of the story we aren’t in the year 2532 after Christ, we’re in the year 632 A.F., after Ford. Henry Ford.1932, Henry Ford’s Model T advented and it was the first automobile produced by pure mass-production. So between the time the book was written and the future that’s the book written is about, there is no present we live in. The Second  World War didn’t occur and everything that came after it until today. Now be patient: ” […] COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY, the World State’s motto. Every aspect of life has been reduced to the level of social utility […]” (David Bradshaw). Don’t you think that sounds familiar? Like you’ve already heard it somewhere or even experienced it. I know,  it’s farfetched and not really to 100 % appropriate, but doesn’t that remind you of today’s society? Just a little bit? I think it does. And that’s what so amazing about this book. The beginning starts absolutely surreal. But with getting further into the story, getting to know the characters and the world they live in, analogys emerge more and more. I don’t know how Huxley did this, but he had a grasp for future. In August 1918 he wrote his brother, after the First World War America would dominate the world. A different point: isn’t California, including Los Angeles nowadays THE place to be? THE place to travel to and to live in? Huxley in the middle of the 20’s: “gimcrack movies, blankfaced ‘pneumatic’ flappers, ‘barbarous’ jazz, the City of Dreadful Joy. The future of America is the future of the world”. Either I am talking myself into something or you see it, too. This book isn’t just an imagination of some fool, who wrote a book. It’s a piece, that tries to show us, where we could end up to even in one single century, if mankind doesn’t blast itself in the air.

It’s worth reading it. Even stuggling through the introduction is really worth it Verena 😉 I needed some time, too, for getting into the book, but once you are fascinated by this future, that’s possibly already present, you want to know, how the different characters deal with it.

I hope you enjoyed reading this little presentation and got curious about the book (:

Yours, Chrissi (not Jan :D)