My book group has recently read ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley. What an amazing book! I can’t believe I have never read it, despite having read George Orwell’s views of dystopian Britain. Although ‘1984’ is often linked with ‘Brave New World’ the latter was actually written 13 years earlier in 1931.
Huxley imagines a future where families no longer exist. Instead babies are produced in test tubes and are physically and socially conditioned to slot into ‘classes’. They work but, more importantly, are programmed to consume. Small children are told in their sleep: “..we always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches.” They are subjected to certain (painful) stimuli to make them fearful of nature as there is no money to be made from outings to the countryside. Yet the population is content. there are no wars, they are encouraged to be promiscuous (with contraception compulsory; if you are feeling broody you can take a ‘pregnancy surrogate’). They also have leisure time to attend the ‘feelies’ ( a sort of all senses cinema experience). There is no high culture or religion, although everywhere is the pervading influence of the early 20th Century industrialist, Henry Ford. Most importantly the population is placated by the pleasure drug, ‘Soma’. They are happy and do not need to question the society they live in, or their position in it. Into this scenario enters a human who has not been bought up in this ‘civilised’ world, but instead raised in a Native American reservation in New Mexico. John, or ‘the Savage’ as they call him holds a looking glass up to this world and questions it.
From reading this book I was amazed at how forward thinking some of the ideas were. In the 1930s there were no ‘test tube’ babies. DNA hadn’t even been discovered yet what Huxley writes about is a form of pre-birth conditioning,separate but not dissimilar to genetic engineering. Henry Ford, who is referred to in reverential terms in the novel, invented the Model T car. Through his use of an assembly line to produce his vehicles developed the idea of mass production, and thus mass consumerism.
If you haven’t had the chance to read this book I really recommend it. It’s not the most enjoyable novel as I think Huxley was trying to get across a point rather than develop the characters. Some of the language is outdated and there were a couple of issues around the female characters that I questioned. However it is a novel that is still relevant to our times. Read it and see how many current topics it manages to cover. For example, what is our modern day version of soma?