Friday, May 27, 2011

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I read Brave New World back in high school and I remember really liking it. I wanted to read it again to see if I still liked it or if it was as Important as my 17 year old brain had decided.

From the class I mostly remember we had to give little skits introducing the rest of the class to the book. We were going to act out the tour scene from the beginning of the book. A really hot boy was the tour guide and he put on a stupid mustache and talked in a funny accent. That and my nervousness made me unable to stop giggling and do my parts. Pretty typical!

Brave New World is set in a future earth where a religion has been made out of Ford's assembly line insight and productivity, babies are massed produced and people spend their time drugged, enjoying pornographic or trivial hobbies. That's a huge oversimplification. The setting is actually the best part of this book. It centers around workers at one baby producing center. The previously mentioned tour scene introduces the reader to the way babies are grown in jars, poisoned to reduce the intelligence of future members of lower casts, conditioned to be happy, content, materialistic and free-loving.

There are characters from the society who seem to be discontent. It is speculated on by characters but never explicitly indicated how people would be able to break free of their conditioning and embrace 20th century norms and values. That part made no sense to me. For example, in the setting "everyone belongs to everyone else" meaning there are no families, marriages or permanent romantic relationships. People are literally expected to go out with and sleep with someone new every night. The discontent character Bernard viscerally hates this at least as as much as most people from the 20th century would. With the infallible conditioning in the setting though, it makes no sense for it not to have taken with Bernard.

The plot centers around Bernard and the woman he thinks he loves, Lenina as they travel from society to a reservation where apparently some Native American culture is kept alive in filth and squalor. There we meet "the Savage" who is brought back to society for Bernard's nefarious purposes.

The Savage is an interesting character in that he's the only one not raised in society and sees it from an outsider's perspective. And hates it, natch. When he was young he learned to read on the reservation with an old book of Shakespeare, which he quotes incessantly throughout the book, despite the fact that nobody understands it. Early on (tour scene) the reader is told an anecdote about failed conditioning where a boy is sleep-conditioned to remember facts. Except he really doesn't, it turns out he can repeat them but can't really understand what he's saying. That must be a clue to the Savage's later Shakespeare-quoting. It's as if he can't form his own sentences without quoting a reasonably relevant phrase from Shakespeare. His understanding of it is questionable.

Bernard is an interesting character in his patheticness. He wants so badly to disdain society, but not as much as he wants to fit in to it. When he wins some celebrity and acceptance from bringing the Savage back with him he forgets he was ever discontent until his celebrity fades. Bernard really reads like a real, flawed person.

I'm still not sure what the point of this book is, other than apparently the message that surrendering our critical thinking and history in favor of peace and shallow contentedness is a bad thing. I didn't enjoy reading it all that much this time around. After the first half where we are introduced to the setting stuff becomes less interesting to me. I don't really understand why this is considered such a relevant book.

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