Book Review: Brave New World (Aldous Huxley 259 pages paperback)

Posted: October 20, 2012 in Books


Bernard Marx lives in England at some undisclosed future time.  Babies are decanted not born and they are given Pavlovian messages from birth to adore consumerism and discriminate against the cast below them.  There is no religion in this society.  The twin gods of this society are Ford and Freud, Ford father of mass production, Freud, father of modern psychoanalysis.  Bernard should be happy, he’s an Alpha male, at the top of this society’s caste system.  But Bernard is not happy, he is not happy about men and women having as many sex partners as they please, taking soma, the drug of choice, but mostly, Bernard is angry that he is not more famous, more well- known, more well-liked, or at least taller.  Bernard is planning to take his girlfriend, Lenina Crowne to the Indian reservations in Malpais, New Mexico.  Lenina has reservations about going to New Mexico, Bernard is so odd, he doesn’t take his soma regularly, he doesn’t want to sleep with her immediately, why doesn’t Bernard just conform to the norms of this society?  Bernard gets approval to travel from the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, and Lenina decides to go with him, what better opportunity would she get to travel to America.

Bernard and Lenina are not ready for what they find in New Mexico, here they find Native Americans living as they always have, wearing their native clothes, chanting to their native gods and living like savages compared to the world that Bernard and Lenina just left.  They also find John and Linda on the reservation.  Linda was one of Bernard and Lenina’s cohorts, but she went on vacation with the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, who told her to have a baby, and left her behind to raise her son with the natives.  John, Linda’s son, loves his mother but hates her at the same time, because she hung on to the habit of having multiple sex partners, and so become an object of scorn and derision to the other women and children in the reservation.  By extension, John is viciously teased by the kids about his mother.  John has been taught to read by Linda, and he reads everything from Shakespeare to the Bible, and is quite confused by Bernard and Lenina’s lack of morality

Bernard and Lenina treat the savages with a sort of bemused superiority, but decides to take them back to the civilzed world of London.  When Linda tells her story of sleeping with the director and being forced to have a baby, she is shipped off to this society’s version of the sanitarium, and given enough some to induce a slow comatose death. John takes in a full dose of modern London society, with its graphic sexually explicit movies, and it’s free love ethos, and drugs to medicate whatever ailed them.  John fell in love with Lenina, but all she wanted to do was make him one of her many sex partners, so he bagged with her to marry him and settle down, but ideas of monogamy and morality were foreign to Lenina, so she refused him.  John had a violent argument with Lenina and threw her out of the apartment where he was staying.  Bernard, for his efforts to Bring John and Linda back to London, gets a one way ticket to Iceland.  Will John also use this opportunity to escape this civilization?

This is a very interesting book.  It’s alarming how much of the future Huxley predicts in 1933.  He foresees a time of test tube babies, the free love and drug movements of the 60’s rampant consumerism and even the tabloid media phenomenon.  It’s interesting how he juxtaposes Ford master of mass production, and Freud, father of modern psychoanalysis.  The civilization that Huxley presents mass produces babies and brainwashes them into thinking that they are happy.  What’s also interesting is that the character of John is an oxymoron, the civilized people think he’s a savage, but to the reader, John is more civilized than the current civilization in which he finds himself, he reads Shakespeare, believes in Jesus, so his savage culture in a lot of ways tracks closer to our own.  But it’s hard to read Brave New World as anything but a political critique of authoritarian, statist type governments that were rising in the Soviet Union and Germany at the time.  Huxley’s society eschews religion, divides people into a caste system, and leaves all control of a person’s life to a nameless faceless government.  The people who dissent and sent off to psychiatric hospitals or off to Iceland, the way dissenters in the Soviet Union were sent to psychiatric hospital or the Gulag and never heard from again.

With characters named Marx and Lenina, it’s obvious that Huxley is warning against Communism, but Fascism uses the same model.  When the Nazis came into power, all religion was banned and everyone had to proclaim loyalty or fealty to the National Socialist Party.  Women were told to have babies and the babies were indoctrinated into the party from birth to death, hence the Hitler youth.

Huxley’s warning is how easily a free country can fall into a totalitarian brand of government, if the people are kept compliant through the use of drugs and other pleasurable activities.  Huxley also seems to be warning against the excesses of capitalism, how it is pounded into us day and night by advertisers that we need newer and better things, in other words materialism gone mad.   Huxley seems to be a proponent of a belief in God, although he writes in opposition to a caste system which has its origins in Hinduism and soma, the drug, has its origins in the Rig Vedas, which are also Hindu religious books.  He may not know it, but he seems to be endorsing Christianity.

The ending is a little weak, but I can only take it as a political metaphor, that’s the only way it makes sense to me.


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