Yesterday I finished reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This was actually my first time reading this novel. I teach introduction to literature at the university where I work, but I was not a literature major in college, so I managed to miss many of the classics. I have slowly been working to fix this problem, especially now that I am being asked to teach more literature courses.
Brave New World looks at a future society that runs on efficiency. Under the guidance of the government, the entirety of the population is organized in a caste system, where humans are engineered to fit into a specific caste by insuring their physical and mental ability through conditioning, starting before birth and continuing throughout their lives.
Everybody in this world is happy. Or at least everyone in this world is supposed to pretend to be happy, and whenever they come across something disquieting, they are expected to take a drug, soma, to help them forget about it and regain their happy feeling.
Written in 1931, this novel seems to understand some of the dangers the human race was to face in the near future. Like most English distopian literature, it focuses on the dangers of societal living which neglect the importance of the individual. This novel offers a suggestion regarding how an emphasis on consumerism and bliss can wreck an individual’s spirit to make something of his/her life.
As we learn throughout the novel, the appearance of happiness is only that, an appearance. Many of the characters are not happy but also are unable to express their discontent, so they go on pretending. Only one character, the Savage, knows how to express his emotions regarding this new world he finds himself in. And though he is not a member of civilized society, I think he is a character that many people could sympathize with, as (I believe) they are supposed to.
Is everything about this new society bad? No. Of course not. There are many good things about it. But I am not sure it is somewhere I would want to live. There seems to be something missing from this civilized society that makes it feel empty to the reader, or at least to me as a reader.
This is a book for thinking. This is a book to make you ask, “What if…” It is a book to make you realized that all emotions are human emotions, and make you wonder if trying to live without any of them somehow make us less human.