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The takeaway message that author Aldous Huxley leaves readers of his book, Brave New World, is that man must uphold his free will and assert his rights. There may be severe consequences in doing so, especially in a tightly controlled or totalitarian state, but by asserting one’s inpiduality or fighting for one’s rights, one comes out a more enlightened and better person. Clearly, the challenge posed to discerning readers of the book that tackles the making of a utopian society -- and the human casualties created along the way -- is not to be complacent but instead to seek the truth no matter what the cost.
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Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which was first published back in 1932, also masterfully articulates the powerful external forces – both societal and environmental - that may have a huge impact on humankind. At the start of the novel, the book conveys that men in power can employ modern technology and even intervene in the pine plan or natural process of procreation, and subject humankind to countless experimentations and preconditioning – from artificial birth to adult life – to bring about an ideal social order or stability.
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Babies are decanted from tubes through a process called Bokanovskification, which “consists of a series of arrests of development… a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will pide… and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo” (Huxley 3). The scientific process for human reproduction also segregates inferior genes from the perfectly formed ones, giving rise to class distinctions. The inpiduals are further preconditioned with lessons on class consciousness through sleep teaching and undergo other forms of conditioning, like death conditioning.
Babies who are classified in the lower caste, Delta, are subjected to electric shocks to condition them to hate books and flowers, as it is believed that while reading something may decondition reflexes; on the other hand, “a love of nature keeps no factories busy” (Huxley 14). Every action that may possibly disturb the stability of the future are taken into consideration and thwarted by psychological manipulation in the early stages of human development. Totally conditioning human beings to act or react in a preordained manner is hinged on the premise that “it would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own” (Huxley 161).
Hence, even natural human proclivities and activities like sex, and consequently, reproductive rights, are controlled by the administrators or perpetrators of utopian society. Concepts like Pregnancy Substitute, deemed as the best recourse in a society that frowns on pregnancy and live birth, are also depicted in the book, raising a moral argument that reverberates in the contemporary age.
Indeed, while organizations and governments may aspire to bring about a highly organized society, to the extent of using science & technology to bring about automatic peace & harmony, there are many things, notably humanity, at stake, which warrants a closer look at the manner with which stability can be attained.
Nonetheless, the stark reality is that science and technology can have a profound, far-reaching influence in changing lives and society-at-large. However, when manipulated by people harboring in their minds and consciousness some contrived notions of perfection & stability, the most finely tuned scientific method can backfire. Science is symbolized in the book by soma, which is used at every turn to alleviate suffering and appease men when encountering threats to their existence, and to make life a little better. In short, there are so many things which are superficial in the utopian society depicted in Brave New World, that most present-day readers cannot help but be rattled, especially since many of the things brought up may be seen happening in real life.
It may also be postulated that from a utopian view, a dystopian society may emerge, which also highlights the fact that not everything can go as planned, even if it is supported by modern science and technology. This is also one of the main points raised in the book. A scientific advance or breakthrough, no matter how seemingly perfect and well laid out, is not fool-proof.
Towards the end of the book, one of the characters deemed responsible to bring about the `greater good’ – the Resident Controller – states to the other main characters who discover civilization that “truth’s a menace, science is a danger” (Huxley 155). The Controller acknowledges that there are drawbacks even in the most sophisticated scientific means used to try to control mental and behavioral functioning. As this character states in the book, “Every discovery in pure science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy” (Huxley 153).
All these ideas reflect the very issues and ideas that percolated in the mind of English writer Aldous Huxley, who himself “became steadily more disillusioned with the uses toward which science was being put in his time” (Murray 2). Yet for all his misgivings about science and belief in the necessity of societal control, Aldous Huxley was a seeker of truth. A descendant of the esteemed scientist during the Victorian era, Thomas Henry Huxley, ALdous Huxley was born to parents who ensured that their son obtained the best education notwithstanding the physical setback of an impaired vision, Aldous Huxley was all fired up by his zealous quest for the truth, and it showed in his writings, notably in his most popular work, Brave New World.
Since the book was published long ago, way before extreme cases of totalitarianism imperiled human lives and brought nation-states to devastation and eventual downfall, it can be said that Huxley had the foresight to see the possible threats to humanity based on a keen observation of events that transpired during his time. It will also be gleaned from Huxley’s illustration of a utopian state that he has given thought to various possibilities, even the extreme circumstances of regarding family as one of the myriad factor that may get in the way of inpidual development and stability. Huxley clearly articulated in his book that everything which may help bring about societal good emanates from the inpidual himself.
As he expressed in Brave New World, through the Controller, “No social stability without inpidual stability” (Huxley 28). Huxley intimated at several portions in his book that the very things upheld by normal people today – a high regard for family, love, and so on, are the very things that may signal or bring on political inefficiency, which in turn may stall the realization of the ideal social order.
Brave New World views change as “a menace to stability” (Huxley 153). On the other hand, he firmly believed that man can do something about the social realm in which he operates. “Huxley’s philosophy might be summed up as: the world can be made better, but only if we make ourselves better” (Murray 5).
It can be noted that as an inpidual who experimented with several things, including drugs and the occult, in his relentless quest for the truth, Aldous Huxley was mostly speaking from his own experiences. Hence, he delivered the most credible accounts of the soma-induced quest for happiness or pain-free existence to underscore his main points in Brave New World.
Huxley’s characterization is also impeccable. He uses symbolic names like Bernard Marx, an Alpha Plus who, in the later part of the book joins another intellectual of the same order, Helmholtz Watson, but who end up being exiled for their non-conventional ideas and for inciting chaos which Huxley may well classify as a form of destructive nationalism. Bernard Marx is used to represent how man can extract himself from servitude and aspire to gain freedom. Huxley also employed numerous literary techniques in Brave New World to instill in readers’ consciousness the negative utopian view.
After absorbing the many insights compellingly included by Aldous Huxley in the book, readers go away realizing that while there may really be forms of instant gratification, pain, suffering and hurdles are all part of human existence. Even in a well-ordered state, these are bound to arise. Through his book, Aldous Huxley sends a shudder of fear as well as relief in the hearts of ordinary inpiduals. The book creates some alarm because Huxley was able to expose many weaknesses or chinks in the armor of the average man, like promiscuity or substance abuse, two things which have become widespread in the present age.
Moreover, Huxley was able to foretell that inhumane acts can be committed in disparaging ways in the pursuit of social order. On the other hand, modern-day inpiduals who read the book may be overcome by a sense of relief in knowing that for all their imperfections or weaknesses, their basic rights as human beings are not being curtailed and they end up valuing the democratic workings of government.
Indeed, the worst harm to inpiduals, notably the repression of inpiduality, may emanate from an all-consuming desire to bring about social order. There are other masterfully written literary works that tackle the similar topic of dystopian society. A chilling account of how humans struggle to survive in a totalitarian state may be glimpsed from George Orwell’s novel entitled 1984. Just like Brave New World, which mouths the motto of “Community, Identity, Stability” (Huxley 4), Orwell’s 1984 repeatedly spouts the Party’s slogans: “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength” (Orwell 4). In terms of literary style, both Brave New World and 1984 take off in a fluid, narrative manner.
The first few chapters of both books use spatial description to clue readers not just on where the events are taking pace but also on the main theme or focal point of the story. Brave New World starts by describing the Hatchery where human beings are developed, while 1984 lapses immediately into a description of roving telescreens, a Thought Police, and of a Ministry of Truth “towering vast and white above the grimy landscape” (Orwell 3) foreshadowing the oppressive things that are about to take place. In the process of comparing the utopian/dystopian state in Brave New World and 1984, particularly on the issue of censorship, another literary masterpiece -- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury -- comes to mind.
In the latter, censorship is symbolized by the burning of books. Heaped on the shoulders of a firefighter named Guy Montag, who embodies a thirst for knowledge through the written word, but is curtailed by state censorship. While both Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World touch on the repercussions of state censorship, they also insinuate how something new may come forth from total annihilation, the latter as depicted by the demise of a character in the story.
Another literary work that adopts a unique approach to tackling the topic of a planned society through a tale focusing on how inpiduals are trained to see and react to things in a Utopian manner is Anthem by Ayn Rand. Just like Brave New World which spouts ideals that man must subscribe to for stability, Anthem names characters after ideals as equality and liberty. Ayn Rand also incorporates in her story several “councils” to prescribe how things must be carried out by people. Anthem’s other similarity with both Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 is the existence of a central character who reads manuscripts surreptitiously, at the risk of being arrested/exiled.
As far as Brave New World is concerned, the political ideas presented, especially in light of the fact that the book was written in the early 1930s, are on the extremist side. Brave New World presupposes that with freedom comes pain, poverty, disease, plus “the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow… the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind” (Huxley 163) all as a result of adhering to the natural order of things. These may be assuaged by using science and technology, which is not without its drawbacks either.
On the whole, Brave New World’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. The book is riveting enough o command the attention of readers of all ages, and does not resort to distracting techno babble the way some books that tackle the future do. Readers, instead, are able to enjoy a creative narrative that successfully appeals to both reason and sentiments. Some main points in the book, though, like the curtailment of human reproductive rights and pregnancy substitutes, seem to have been dealt with in a trivial, fleeting manner, and may raise moral arguments.
The main form of instant gratification or panacea for pain & suffering, illustrated in the book by characters who induce themselves into a heightened stupor through soma, also calls attention to modern-day trends or methods that merely provide temporary relief to problems. As for the central theme of asserting one’s rights or inpiduality which may come at a high price, especially in a repressive totalitarian regime, Brave New World underscores that this is the ideal which is fraught with challenges. Despite being a lengthy narrative, Brave New World manages to send a message of hope that rebirth is possible after the purging of all evils.
- Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987
- Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Bantam Books, 1958.
- Murray, Nicholas. Aldous Huxley: A Biography. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2002.
- Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Signet, 1961.
- Rand, Ayn. Anthem. New York: Signet, 1961.