Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is the most surprising book I have read so far during my Classics Club challenge.
The story is set in a future version of London where the entire population’s very existence is controlled by a council of World Controllers.
Religion and ageing don’t exist, neither do families, monogamy, illness, pregnancies or unhappiness, in fact experiencing or coming in contact with any of these would be something for the inhabitants of the World State to be ashamed of. Instead of religion the sign of the ‘T’ (for Henry Ford’s Model-T Ford) is used in the way that a Christian might make the sign of the Cross and ‘Our Ford’ being worshipped as a result of having created the assembly line.
In the World State babies are grown in test tubes and brought up in communal nurseries where they are exposed to social conditioning causing them to unthinkingly love their place in life, regardless of whether they are a cloned left-handed person of limited intellect working on a factory line along with droves of others who were bred for the same purpose, or if they are an Alpha-Plus, bred to be good-looking, clever and successful.
Everyone is young, enjoys complete sexual freedom, and consumerism and entertainment rule. Soma, a drug which promotes happiness, is used liberally. People go to the ‘feelies’ which is like going to the movies but with additional sensations. The mantra is that everyone belongs to everyone else, sexually, emotionally and and in any other way you might think of.
In the World State is vitally important for the inhabitants to be physically attractive to be happy and successful. Physically attractive women are considered to be ‘pneumatic’ and are more popular than those who are not (I’m not sure what pneumatic actually means, but for some reason the word makes me think of Jayne Mansfield).
Between the media (propaganda), education (sleep-conditioning) and the expectations of people’s peers, not much free-thinking went on in the World State but when Bernard Marx, an Alpha-Plus became critical of the use of Soma, sleep-learning and other ways that the people of the World State were controlled, took Lenina Crowne, an extremely pneumatic woman with him on an excursion to a Savage Reservation in America, they saw people who were living in a way more familiar to the reader for the first time. Lenina was so horrified and overwhelmed by the sight of old people, fat people, family units and the thought of monogamy that she dosed herself with Soma to avoid reality.
Bernard, however was intrigued, particularly by Linda, a woman who had previously lived in the World State and her son, John. Linda’s shame at becoming pregnant while on a visit to the Savage Reservation stopped her from returning to London, even though Linda and John had been ostracised by the Savage community after Linda got the women in the community offside by having sex with most of ‘their’ men. In Linda’s defence, she didn’t realise her behaviour in the Savage Reservation would offend or hurt anyone because back in the World State, everyone belonged to everyone.
Bernard took Linda and John back to the World State with him where Linda, who was fat and horribly old (she was 44) was thought by the people there to be so grotesque they almost considered her to be a monster. John, on the other hand, who had read the complete works of William Shakespeare at the Savage Reservation, found the World State to be a terrible place which did not live up to his values in any way. When Linda died, the people of the World State couldn’t understand John’s sorrow at losing his mother.
When John introduced a writer in the World State to Romeo and Juliet, the writer loved the words and appreciated the beauty of the sentence structures and Shakespeare’s words, but could not understand the passion that Romeo or Juliet felt for each other or why their families put up obstacles to prevent the lovers’ physical relationship from developing.
John and Lenina appeared to fall in love but as John was unable to tolerate Lenina’s free sexual values and Lenina could not understand her feelings towards John, their relationship was unable to develop either emotionally or physically.
I didn’t feel particularly drawn to any of the characters but found this version of the future to be funny, sad and thought-provoking. I expect I will continue to think about this book for some time to come (and I’m sure it will spring to mind when I’m next doing training at work and am hit with a slogan designed to encourage me to work harder, smarter and so on). I intend to re-read Brave New World before long, too.
I’ve already found a copy of Huxley’s The Devils of Loudun and have added this book to my next Classics Club challenge.
Brave New World was book forty-one of my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.