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The Book Club

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

1. The fascination with dystopias. The field of dystopian fiction is dominated by authors who are often concerned with particular progressions or changes in their status quo; and hence project futuristic worlds in which many ideals have been corrupted, grossly exaggerated and taken to extremes. Characterised by large degrees of control and restriction of supposed privileges – under a totalitarian or authoritarian administration – the works indirectly serve as warnings on the ramifications of the continuation of the present way of living. Ironically, the fictional designers or creators of these dystopian communities are convinced that they have instead created utopias for their people; and that disgruntled individuals are merely anomalies, insignificant deviations from the norm.

2. Socio-economic considerations with minimal political commentary. The state remains an all-powerful one; but rather than having ordinary human beings subjugated under various elements of a police state, surveillance et cetera – as expounded by traditional dystopian fiction – citizens have been biologically and technically altered since young to comply with the state’s expectations. Instead of delving into aspects of politics or geopolitical considerations, control in “Brave New World” is fulfilled with superficial engagement in the form of sex, soma and repetitive sports. As a consumer state, individuals are part of the cycle of economic growth and prosperity; however, their lack of individuality, identity, and commitment to their counterparts render the fiscal boom an empty one, complemented by the people’s loss of their sense of self.

3. Hypnopaedia and the use of Pavlovian theory. From young, citizens are conditioned to have no personal identity whatsoever, and are hence dependent on the World State. Hypnopaedia – as a “moralising” and “socialising” force – is adopted through sleep-teaching with tried-and-tested methodologies, engaging solely in moral education. Slogans are cleverly manipulated and worded for “stability, identity and community”; of which themes like the use of soma and the importance of consumption is drilled repetitively. In terms of Pavlovian theory, for instance, when a group of children are presented with beautiful images of nature and its elements, they are cruelly zapped to drill into their subconscious that aspects of their environment should not be their concern.

4. Elementary sex and elementary class consciousness. These are the two primary subjects in hypnopaedia. In terms of class consciousness, it maintains the fluidity of the caste system, and emphasises largely on identification with the respective class to maintain envisioned stability. In terms of sex, promiscuity and the lack of commitment is encouraged: both through the use of such education, and also repeatedly sterilising reproductive rights through contraceptives. Most ironically, such forms of interaction and supposed “socialising” is superficial in nature; without genuine emotional connections or meaningful exchanges. Attitudes are casual and almost forgettable.

5. The continuation of hypnopaedia and the (ab)use of soma. “A gramme is always better than a damn . . . A gramme in time saves nine . . . One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments . . . Everybody’s happy nowadays . . . Every one works for every one else . . . When the individual feels, the community reels . . . Never put off till to-morrow the fun you can have to-day . . . Progress is lovely”. Essentially, unhappiness is dealt with through the use of an external stimulant, which simply grants escape from the problems without actually solving it. These forms of instant gratification go hand-in-hand with the caste system, the demand for productivity, and emphasis on the state over the individual.

6. Soma: as a convenient opiate, stifling true emotions, and damning the individual. As Mustapha attempts to convince the Savage towards the end of the novel on soma’s ability to reduce unpleasant emotions to heighten effectiveness of the people, and its purported parallels with religion: “Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears – that’s what soma is”.

7. Bernard Marx. As the initial protagonist, his feelings of isolation and contemplation are understandable; yet his embrace of the system of the World State after he had been propelled to fame and immense popularity reveals him to be no more than a hypocrite. While his frustrations appeared to be a genuine criticism in the beginning, Savage’s appearance eventually proves that Marx is no more than a fraud; though it can also be contended that the World State’s system of moral education has been so successful that members born out of the technology would never really be able to attain the desired independence or liberty to experience emotions and live life to the fullest.

8. John Savage. Savage is a sympathetic individual, who is clearly a misfit in the new world he finds himself in. His extensive knowledge of Shakespeare brings about a much-needed romantic and emotional aspect to the novel; and his regular use of the former’s quotes enables him to indirectly articulate his criticisms of the world state. Having gone through a difficult childhood, he yearns true love, companionship and commitment; yet the reality of the community around him drives him further inwards, which culminates in his projected rage and anger. His human-like input in “Brave New World” makes him easy to relate to, and we genuinely feel for his stifled hopes and optimism; and further empathise his horror at his self-degradation at the end of the novel.

9. The caste system. In general, the citizens in “Brave New World” are classified – from birth – into five categories in accordance to their intelligence and intellect, as well as their corresponding responsibilities and careers within the state. Such a system sounds logical: it creates happiness for everyone because the conditioning since young not only makes for a more efficient system, contentment breeds greater stability and prosperity. Class conflicts – possibly quite extensive during Huxley’s time – would cease to exist. However, the failings of the caste system lie in the fact that not only is the individual’s right to liberty and the freedom to choice and competition denied, but also creates a society that is empty and devoid of emotions because of the lack of stimulus. Everything is granted and distributed fairly, so there is nothing worth fighting for. The supposed freedom within the country is almost negligible, because each human being functions like a modified machinery or robot without a soul; and without notions of suffering and pain.

10. Are we following in the footsteps of Mustapha Mond? “The optimum population is modeled on the iceberg — eight ninths below the water line, one ninth above”.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.



  1. Pingback: Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange « guanyinmiao's musings - June 8, 2012

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