While I was on work experience I had some time to get through this book, which- after reading 1984– I couldn’t wait to get my hands on. Though written by a different author, I like to think of Brave New World as the ideal complementary read to 1984. Whereas Orwell’s 1984 is all about a society controlled through fear of Room 101, and having just enough to get by on- in Brave New World, mankind have everything they could wish for…
Society in this novel is complex. Mothers and fathers don’t exist: they’re dirty words. People are sterile. Babies are grown in test tubes, and what is added to these tubes determines your stature, intelligence, and place on the hierarchy. Alphas are at the top of the hierarchy, Epsilons are at the bottom; Alphas are intelligent and attractive, Epsilons are simply a source of labour, and are unattractive. Every level of this society is kept in place by having access to pleasure of all forms. The society that the characters live in is drugged up on soma- which they take whenever anything displeases or distresses them. Oh, and there’s little danger of disliking your place on the hierarchy; you’re conditioned from birth to love it. There’s also a complete reversal of tropes from classical books: sex is fine. Monogamy is not. Which is where the character we initially follow comes in:
Bernard Marx wants an exclusive relationship with Lenina Crowne, the shallow but desirable woman everyone wants. Bernard doesn’t like the fact that there is never any chance of being alone. And so he is taking Lenina on a trip with him. To the one place left in the world where savages still exist: the Reservation.
I don’t want to spoil the storyline too much, because even I didn’t see some of the twists and turns coming, but it’s here that they meet John: a man who looks like an alpha in a hoard of “savages”. John has had access to books banned from civilisation: primarily the Bible, and the collected works of Shakespeare. As such his language is pretty comic at time- I have never laughed so much at the use of the word ‘strumpet’. One comic moment is when Lenina attempts to seduce John (who she and Bernard bring back to civilization), not realising that John’s attitudes to male-female relationships is very, uh, Shakespearean. You will find some incredibly funny moments in this novel, but it isn’t all fun and games- just to warn you now.
The characters irritated me immensely. John annoyed me, Lenina annoyed me, Bernard especially annoyed me- the society they lived in annoyed me. This is definitely Huxley’s intention- his characters are not intended to likable. John is melodramatic and naïve, Lenina is shallow, and Bernard is inconsistent. Amoung Huxley’s characters there were two I felt would be worth knowing. One was Helmholtz Watson, a man who appears to share common values with Bernard- but who sticks with these values. The second is the man I suppose would be considered the “villain”: Mustapha Mond. He is completely unlike the key villain figure of 1984, O’Brien, and I can’t wait for you to meet him in this book.
Ultimately, this novel is a study of nature vs nurture, and whether society itself is more of an evil as an unthinking mass than one arch villain can ever be. The earlier chapters can be hard work to get through; a lot of information is thrown at the reader at once, and the structure can be slightly confusing (you’ll see what I mean)- but the story does move past that, and all of the information is necessary for the novel to then flow. I can definitely recommend it to you.
Really into dystopian? Here are a few more classic dystopian/utopian novels for you to check out…
- 1984, George Orwell
- The Time Machine, H.G Wells
- Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman