Sunday, June 22, 2008

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Title: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Date Finished: June 21, 2008 #34
Pages: 259
Rating: 3.5/5

When I read A Handmaid's Tale about five years ago, I realized that I really like dystopian literature and have since been steadily trying to read through the canon. I didn't love Brave New World, but it definitely provides some interesting food for thought.

In the year 632 AF (After Ford), the social structure of civilization looks a little different than how it does now. In the first chapter, the reader, with a number of students, is taken on a tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. This is where the new babies are born--not from a mother's womb, but essentially from test tubes. It is here that the infants are born into their pre-determined social sphere (Alpha being the highest, Epsilon the lowest) and then conditioned through sleep hypnosis so they will fit in with their given social status. Only the Alpha and Beta babies are born of one egg and one sperm; the rest bud off from the same fertilized egg so that thousands of babies can be produced at the same time.

In this society, there is no religion, there is no family, there is no commitment to anyone else, and if life begins to get a little difficult there is always a tab of soma that can be taken for a little mental holiday. When two characters, Lenina and Bernard, decide to go on vacation together to visit the Savages in New Mexico, their lives turn topsy-turvy when they decide to bring a Savage, John, back to civilization with them. The Savage cannot reconcile the decisions and actions of those in the civilized world and begins to question the basis of their beliefs.

There is too much in this book for me to discuss here--and this is another one of those books where everyone can take away something different. What struck me as one of the most curious aspects of this civilization is that the citizens are sheltered from any type of pain or hurt. They don't have literature because they can't understand the elements of feeling, they can't have only one partner because of the attachment (no marriage at all!), there is no God or religion. In a discussion between John, the Savage, and the Controller, the merits of an easy life versus a difficult life are explained and John exclaims:

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

The Controller answers:

"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind" (240).

Yes, John says. What is a life without a little pain to balance--to make the good that much sweeter? But, this is only a small part of the book. Even though I had to laugh at the fact that this is a commonly assigned high school book despite the discussion of god and especially the blatant promiscuity, there are so many themes to be discussed: technology, family relations, education, class system, etc etc. I would recommend this book to those who are interested in these themes--aren't we all??--but don't be frightened by the first few chapters. I had to re-read several passages until I became more familiar with this foreign world. After those first chapters, the book was very engaging and even at times gripping. I got lost in a little bit of religious discussion near the end, but overall it was a fascinating little book.

Also read and reviewed by:

Rhinoa from Rhinoa's Ramblings
Raidergirl from An Adventure in Reading


Literary Feline said...

I think I'm one of a handful of people who couldn't get into this book when I tried to read it. Mayber someday I will try again. It sounds like something I would like--should like. I'm not sure why it fell flat for me.

Laura said...

I wish I remembered this book better! I could definitely draw a major Venn diagram after I read 1984 next month and after completing A Handmaid's Tale! Sometimes, it seems like it would be nice only to experience the good parts of life, and not the bad. I'm thinking that without the bad stuff, the good stuff would not seem so great. Anyways...I'm rambling--great review! I noticed in particular the word "essentially." Where do you think that came from ? ;)

Michelle said...

I'm a big fan of dystopian literature as well - I remember quite enjoying Brave New World when I read it, but it was so many years ago now that I think it's about time to reread it.

bethany said...

My hubby read this and loved it. I tried but didn't...I wonder if it is a guy book, who knows.

Nymeth said...

I'm in the same boat as Michelle. It's been way too long since I've read it. I read it at around the same time as I read 1984 for the first time, and I remember preferring Orwell, but since I don't remember this one all that well I wouldn't be able to say why.

Anyway, I quite like dystopian literature, which is yet another reason to read The Handmaid's Tale.

Trish said...

*Lit Feline - the first 50 pages or so were really shaky for me. I did a lot of re-reading and wondering if I was going to like it. After that the book really picked up--maybe you just didn't get far enough?

*Laura - Well, essentially I'm not sure if I used essentially correctly. :) I think I'm missing an inside joke, though! Anyway, I'd love to see your Venn Diagram when you're done with 1984.

*Michelle - I think so far I prefer the other dystopian novels I've read (Handmaid's Tale and The Giver being among the top), but this one was definitely interesting.

*Bethany - I'm not sure if it is a guy book or not, but it did take some work at the beginning to get through some of the more scientific aspects of the society. Once I got past that, it was a much better read.

*Nymeth - I still haven't read 1984 but I have it on my shelf and am really curious about it. Yes, if you like dystopian literature, I think you'll really like Handmaid's Tale--plus it is Atwood. Can't go wrong there, right?

Stephanie said...

I haven't read this book. And I've really meant to. I'm with you. I love dystopian fiction. That's why the End of the World challenge had such appeal!

Debi said...

I read this one back in high school...yep, assigned reading. But that was a loooong time ago, and I have to admit I really don't remember it well at all. I do remember that I really loved it though. It's definitely time for a reread!

Jeane said...

It's been a very long time since I read this, as well. I am not sure what I thought of it then, would probably feel differently now. You've reminded me how much I need to revisit this book! Orwell's is fresh in my mind, so it would be a good comparison.

Trish said...

*Stephanie - Yes, the End of the World Challenge definitely prompted me to read this book sooner than later. Have you read Orwell's 1984? I haven't but have heard a lot about it.

*Debi - I wish I had been assigned this in school--I'm sure I missed out on a lot reading this one on my own.

*Jeane - I haven't read any Orwell except a few of his essays. I have 1984 and Animal Farm on my shelf, so I'm interested in comparing the two authors as well.

Myrthe said...

I read this in highschool, almost twenty years ago and I remember I rather enjoyed the book. I'd love to reread it to see what my experience is so many years later!

Trish said...

*Myrthe - What interested me about this book (among many things!) is its timelessness--some of the issues that Huxley explores are still very much relevant today. I do think this one would be interesting to revisit years down the road. Thanks for coming by!

Natasha @ Maw Books said...

I haven't read this since high school but recently bought A Handmaid's Tale and am hoping to be able to find time to read that one sometime this next year.

Rhinoa said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it overall. For such a small book it certainly packs an impact!

jessi said...

I really enjoyed this book, much more than 1984 (which I think puts me in the minority for most people). I ending was what got me. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Handmaid's Tale, but I like most Atwood. The Blind Assassin and Alisa Grace are also good.

Trish said...

*Natasha - I really liked A Handmaid's Tale and I hope you do as well! It was my first taste of dystopian literature (at least that I'm aware of) and I recommend it!

*Rhinoa - I've been finding that the smaller books often to pack more punch. It irks me a little when people talk about only reading books that are over a certain page limit. I want to shake them and say, do you know what you're missing?? :)

*Jessi - I've read Blind Assassin and have Alias Grace on my shelf (along with a few others by her). I really enjoy her writing! I hope to read 1984 soon--I have no idea what it is about, but I have heard good things. And yes, the ending to Brave New World was haunting! Thanks for coming by.

Amanda said...

I liked Brave New World in high school. We read it paired with 1984 and I didn't like the latter too much. I've since reread 1984 and liked it better, though it still had problems. I, too, like dystopian novels and am even writing one that is about society as run by a company called MatchMakers, Incorporated, whose job is to make sure everyone finds their perfect match. Recently one of our members reviewed A Handmaid's Tale on our book review group, but I didn't realize it was dystopian. I think I'll have to check that one out.

Trish said...

*Amanda - As I'm responding to all of these comments (thank you...I love it!!), I realize how many books we must have in common!!

I still haven't read 1984 but I would like to someday. I've heard good and bad things about it. Your book sounds very interesting--and with all of the online dating sites sounds like it could be pretty relevant. Yes, Handmaid's Tale is generally classified as dystopian--and it's my favorite of the bunch. I really love Atwood.

Rebecca said...

This is on my 2009 TBR list. I have been interested in reading it for a while now. Orwell's 1984 is still one of my favorite books. I will be sure to send the review link your way when I do read it. :)