How does it feel like to be in a world where there is no poverty, war or disease? A utopia where every one is smiling, happy and cheerful.What if to achieve that utopia, we would have to eliminate things like culture, art, literature, philosophy, family? Can we as human beings survive solely on pleasure, with no capacity to think? Is there any difference between a technologically advanced society where people are not allowed to think and a backward society where people don’t have the luxury of thinking?
Quite interesting questions, and explored in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World . It is set in the distant future sometime around 2540 A.D . But technically the novel starts off with London in the year 632 A.F.( year of our Ford 632). The globe is a single entity called the World State, administered by a peaceful world Government. Poverty, war, crime, disease have been eliminated by creating a homogenous high tech society, and Fordism is the ideology of the day. The entire society has been divided into 5 classes- Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon . Sexual promiscuity is norm, individual rights are not allowed, and soma, a narcotic, is the only means of recreation for it’s citizens. Natural birth is condemned as a primitive act, and children are created artificially from factory made embryos. The destiny of every individual is pre determined. This section is narrated through Lenina Crowne , a Beta Caste member and a lab worker in Central London Hatchery, and Bernard Marx , an upper caste Alpha psychologist. Life in World State is described through these 2 people, and another character Helmholtz Watson , an Alpha Plus lecturer.
The second part deals with Bernard’s visit to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico , to meet an ancient tribe the Malpais. Here he meets Linda, a World State citizen, who has now become part of the Savages, and her son John, the protagonist. John though a savage, has been educated by his mother and is well versed with Shakespeare .
John wants to see the world outside, and Bernard agrees to take him. John gets a culture shock on visiting the New World , and his experiences is what form the next section of this novel. It also deals with Bernard exposing his director’s hypocrisy, and their revolt against the World State.
Brave New World is a dystopian novel , a sort of work, which looks at a dark future, controlled by a powerful authority. It is similar to George Orwell’s 1984 . But while 1984 was about communism, Brave New World, was more an attack on the US and specifically on Henry Ford. It was based on Huxley’s visit to US, and he hated the youth obsession, blatant commercialism and the “I, Me,Myself” attitude prevalent there. Also Henry Ford’s observation of “ History being junk ” and the inability of the average American to look beyond his own borough were some of the factors. Also the novel concentrates more on themes, and issues than on characters.
The main thread is that of the World State , a single monolithic entity which runs on principles of Henry Ford. Its principles are Community, Identity and Stability . Fordism is the ideology and dates are taken as Before Ford, After Ford . So where we had Anno Dommini( Year of our Lord), here we have year of our Ford. The calendar begins with 1908 , it was the year in which Ford came up with the model T . We know of a Nine Years War that had broken out and the Great Economic Collapse. These could be alluding to the World Wars and the Great Depression . We come to know that this state has been established by closing down museums, banning all forms of literature and destruction of monuments.
Though Huxley centers this around Ford, many aspects of the World State are eerily similar to our current day world. The concept of savage reservations is close to the Indian reservations all over US, where the Indian tribes have been placed and ghettoized. Social equality is engineered, by dividing people into Alpha, Beta, Gamma castes, somewhat similar to today’s world, where the richer people have more privileges. Again natural birth dying out, and artificial breeding, points to the cloning, artificial insemination gaining ground in today’s world. Old age has been eliminated, using advanced techniques, and we see it in the youth obsessed culture around us. While economy is regulated by the state, mass consumerism is encouraged. People are encouraged to throw away the old, and get a new one. Is it not similar to what is happening out here? People are not encouraged to think, as it would lead to unrest and instability.And we see the dumbing down of media all around us. We live in an age, where being intelligent is frowned upon, and being dumb is seen as a great honor. Again the concept of TV, movies, and fast paced games for recreation has been explained well in this novel. Witness the way TV has slowly dumbed down our minds to such an extent, that non issues become the burning topic of discussion and how moral police claim their 15 minutes of fame. We claim we are living in a free society, but are we really? In a very subtle way, it is being thrust on us, that unless we don’t drive a certain brand of car, we don’t own a particular gadget, we don’t wear a certain bran of dress, we don’t belong. Freedom means the right of an individual to live life the way he wants, but in today’s society, when we are asked to conform and stop thinking, let us reflect whether we are really free.
We see the seeds of dictatorship in the character of Thomas Tomalkin , the director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, who enforces morality, but is exposed when it’s found he fathered an illegal son. The illegal son is John the Savage , a man who belongs to neither the Savage World nor the civilized world. He is born in the reservation, but his mother educated him. He is taken as a freak in the World State, and he knows the Complete Works of William Shakespeare , a book which has been banned in the World State. His character echoes those of immigrants who try to strike a balance between their native country and adopted land. He loves Lenina, a Beta Plus, who is totally conformist to the rules of the World Society, and has no mind of her own.
The other two vital characters are Bernard Marx , an Alpha Plus psychologist, who is not accepted within his own group, due to his odd looks and refusal to socialize. Helmholtz Watson on the other hand is good looking, handsome, virile, yet his intelligence isolates him from other people. In a way these two people are misfits in the World State. Brave New World is a novel which is set in the distant future. But much of it mirrors a frightening reality. We may not be living in a World State, but we have a unipolar world dominated by a single country. While we have not eliminated culture, literature, art we are slowly getting there. Either we do it the Taliban way or more dangerously, the way we are slowly dumbing down. This is a novel, which needs to be read. Only issue is that it requires repeated reading, and can be confusing at times.