I know quite well that one needs ridiculous, mad situations like that; one can’t write really well about anything else. Why was that old fellow [Shakespeare] such a marvellous propaganda technician? Because he had so many insane, excruciating things to get excited about. You’ve got to be hurt and upset, otherwise you can’t think of the really good, penetrating, X-rayish phrases.’
I wouldn’t be so bold as to label this in any way a review of the excellence that is Brave New World. I feel pretty humbled after reading this and my own words fall somewhat short of those of Huxley. So… I will make this blog post my little tribute to the novel and make sure you all go and read it; or, if you have already read it – read it again!
Set in the distant futures, Huxley describes a world where science has taken over completely from nature. Children are no longer ‘born’, and the idea of mothers and fathers is morally repugnant. A world where monogamy is considered atrocious and instead sexual partners should be frequent and varied. Humans are cloned in their thousands, and carefully monitored at each stage of incubation to ensure certain characteristics, strengths, intelligence – anything. ‘Civilized society’ worships Our Ford, and has taken the moving production line to extreme new depths.
‘Which brings us at last,’ continued Mr Foster, ‘out of the realm of the mere slavish imitation of nature into the much more interesting world of human invention.’
Conditioned to believe in a prescribed set of ideals, the characters in this book are purely products designed to fulfil a very specific role in their society, ordained by those who were given a splash more intelligence at conception than the rest. Lenina, the female protagonist, is a prime example of everything a person should be, according to the system. She reels off the lessons drummed into her brain at childhood by constant repetition… ‘everyone works for everyone else. We can’t do without anyone.’ Or ‘Everybody’s happy nowadays.’ Anyone who stands out from the new norm is considered an outcast; their differences blamed on an accident occurring in the assembly line of their creation instead of hailed for their originality.
‘And that,’ put in the Director sententiously, ‘that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.’
But there are a few who remain unchanged by this ‘New World’ – little pockets of humanity still living naturally, so to speak. Visited like a petting zoo or an interactive museum, the way in which these two worlds interact becomes the new focus of this book. What does it really mean to be civilized? How much are we willing to give up for happiness? What even is happiness and what values are worth clinging onto in the vast advances of science? Where do we turn when science fails to answer the questions we want to know the answers to most?
In 1931 Huxley peered into the future for this novel and brought back a warning. It is up to us to decide just how nascent his predictions are in 2019.