For this weeks Throw Back Thursday, I am very pleased to welcome back this week's Spotlight Author PM Hernandez. She has selected Aldous Huxley's Brave New World!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.
~William Shakespeare, The Tempest
My introduction to Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, was in a high school creative writing class. We had to choose a book from the teacher’s list, read it, include marginalia, and write a report. I can’t exactly recall why I chose it. Probably because it was one of the few on the list that looked like it didn’t suck and it was science fiction. Oh, and it was short.
(Sidebar: For those who don’t know what marginalia is, it’s notes written in the margins of a book. I don’t know why my teacher couldn’t simply say “write notes in the margins.” Despite being quite full of herself, she was an excellent teacher, yet I suspected she made up the word marginalia until I looked it up. In my defense, this was the same teacher who, when compared to Robin Williams’s character in Dead Poets Society by one of the class suck-ups, preened like a peacock. I was completely justified to be suspicious that she possibly made up a word that sounded smart but which was actually complete gibberish.)
Moving on…Brave New World was scarily prophetic back in my high school days and only continues to read like a doomsday warning. In Huxley’s future, in the World State, there is no nurture, only nature, but it’s a twisted facsimile of nature where embryos are grown in tubes and given chemicals that determine what they’ll be in life, which caste they’ll be in. People are commodities, grown in a ‘hatchery,’ which is fitting because in this futuristic society, Henry Ford is God. Literally. It’s a dystopian world where we are cogs in the machine, have no choice, are forced to conform, and are kept compliant through drugs and pleasure seeking. While sex is treated as something casual and to be encouraged, even among children, things like emotional relationships (especially familial or romantic) are considered misguided and outdated. The lower castes are trained to do menial jobs and conditioned not to question their lot in life, while the upper castes lead hedonistic and materialistic lives.
When Bernard, the protagonist, questions the system, he’s mocked. His pursuit of love interest Lenina is thwarted by his outcast status and the fact that she agrees with others that while Bernard is an alpha, something went a little wrong in the hatchery while he was gestating. Despite this, she agrees to go on holiday with him to a “Savage Reservation,” where they meet Linda and her grown son John. Linda, who stayed behind at the reservation out of shame for her pregnancy, is strung out on soma, a drug all citizens take but which she abuses. Bernard takes John back to London where he becomes a celebrity (the Savage), but where John also realizes the world has basically gone to hell. He quickly becomes disenchanted with society even though he’s attracted to Lenina, who he desires but also reviles for her sexual promiscuity. Ultimately, John can’t cope with this brave new world (see what I did there?) and he lashes out, not only against the system but against Lenina.
I won’t spoil the ending. I promise. I’ll just say go read this classic. I don’t know if it’s the first dystopian ever, but Brave New World was written in 1931. Yep, as in nearly a hundred years ago. Way before in-vitro fertilization and a host of other things Huxley includes in the book. I have to credit Brave New World and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with inspiring one of my current works in progress. It’s seriously one kick ass book and every time I think about how old it is and how well it holds up, my admiration of Huxley only grows. If my silly write up hasn’t convinced you to pick up this book, think on this. Brave New World is number 52 on the American Library Association’s most challenged books list. So be a rebel, and go read it!