Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World, written all the way back in 1931, asks a lot of the most pressing questions about western civilization that we still grapple with today. For example, what is the role of the government? What about religion? Individualism or collectivism? Try this question on for size: Does all of your technology make you any happier? Relative to readers in the 21st century, this may actually be the most pertinent question raised in the book. There’s plenty of research out there that seems to indicate that the answer is no; it doesn’t make us any happier. And maybe that sounds self-evident to you, but if that were the case, then why is it that everyone you see has their face stuck in an iPhone or laptop everywhere they go?
“O brave new world that has such people in it.”
Even though the story takes place in future England, reading Brave New World as an American in 2017 is a bit like looking in a funhouse mirror at your distorted self. It’s not quite you, but it’s close enough to appear ghastly.
Some of the visions Huxley had for his future society haven’t yet come to pass, such as the mode of personal transportation. People have helicopters and the public roads are the sky (I picture the jammed skyways of Back to the Future II). Other predictions are a bit too close for comfort. I wonder what he would think if he could see our society today, if he would be comforted by the fact that we’re not as bad as he’d imagined, or if he’d think we’re every bit the monsters he envisioned in his utopian society? Let’s see if we have fallen into any of the traps Huxley prophesied:
•Taking Soma pills to avoid feelings of pain or sadness? Check.
•Waning belief in natural, individual rights in favor of rights of the community at large? Check.
•Pavlovian-like conditioning tactics that de-sensitize us and our children to sex and violence (Hello, television and video games!)? That’s a big ‘Check!’
•Treating people who are different (whether culturally or geographically) as “other?” CHECK!
And I didn’t even get into the genetic engineering. I’m already long-winded, but if I tried to tackle that element of the book, I’d be here all day. I’ll just note that humans are grown/cloned, kind of like in the The Matrix with a sprinkle of the collective mentality from the Borg in Star Trek, and the class system from Divergent, only with a more sinister genetic plot to hatch different classes of people with differing intelligences and abilities. So the ruling class gets all the brains and the working classes are kept dumb/docile so that they will accept their fate as the workers of society.
I don’t know if Brave New World is quite right for high schoolers as I’ve seen some people online recommending, for a number of reasons. It’s not because they couldn’t read it though; it’s written is an enjoyable prose that’s quite easy to read. I think teaching it to first-year college students would be a great idea, though.
Brave New World is the father to great dystopian novels written in the fifties like Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (one of my favorites) and great-grandfather to a wide variety of dystopian novels and movies that are popular today, like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Gattaca, just to name a few where I can see direct resemblance. Also, there is a scene at the beginning of Chapter 17 that, if you change the names, becomes an almost perfect substitute for the scene near the end of the original Planet of the Apes (the scene where the young ape questions the Minister of “Science” about the historical facts of Earth that he’s hiding from the population).
Final say: If you like science fiction, dystopia, fantasy, religion or politics, read it!
Thanks for reading! If you are so inclined, go pick up my book (available on Kindle or paperback) at Amazon. It’s called “Jamey Jones and the Sons of Noah.” It’s a fun science fiction book about a group of teenagers living on a planet called Kepler 438b. It’s seventy pages long, inexpensive, and it’s kinda good, even if I say so myself (although I admit it’s not nearly as good as Brave New World).