I have always seen a pattern in dystopian novels. Dehumanization works as the central theme, and the author works his or her way around it to introduce to us a society which has given precedence to advancement before everything, and in essence has lost its compassionate core. It’s Machiavellian to the Ancien Régime. Darwinian preciseness survival of the fittest is not only an idea, but a necessity.
Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ doesn’t only borrow its name from the famous Shakespeare tragedy Othello, but invigorates the entire concept of society and its norms using Shakespeare’s words as a formidable weapon. This society thrives on order, and it starts early. Strict Bokanovoskian conditioning (a fictional process of cloning) ensures the Betas, Gammas, Epsilons and Alphas are segregated. The first chapter gives a frightening description of the conditioning, yet there is a conscious effort to normalize the shock by letting the readers know that this is part of an orderly system where nothing falls out of place. After all, Alphas can’t work as farmers, and Epsilons won’t do well as Controllers or Directors. The idea of a family and human viviparousness is heresy, since nature does not follow orders. Society thrives on a single idea and multiplication of that idea in similar manifestations along all sections. There are no places for abnormality, randomness, impulsiveness. Trance-inducing nerve-soothers called Soma dominate the senses; sadness is simply not allowed.
But of course, no story is complete without a rebel, a relentless questioner of the accepted norms. We get that here as well, but Bernard Marx is not a hero. Instead, his questions about the validity of theories stem from his inabilities to fit into this orderly progression. When we get a glimpse of his other side, a side full of unhindered attentions and popularity amongst women, the Marx that readers can relate themselves with comes full circle and reminds us about our fallacies. But he, the Alpha-Plus sleep learning specialist, pales in comparison with John ‘The Savage’. His existence is chanced; his intentions aren’t. He’s proud to be a misfit, and often displays his irritations aloud. In one fantastic scene, he proceeds to teach a group of lower-caste workers about freedom, and finds himself utterly dazed when his brilliant speech backfires, almost killing him and his friends. From love to the existence of God and to his painful self-cleansing and ultimately his bitter fate, John remains a fascinating character, stumbling in some and headstrong in some, but always finding solace in the words of Shakespeare. They become his only way of expression after a while, and like a drowning man catching a straw he holds onto those words, those beliefs till he’s diminished.
The two female leads, Lenina and Linda, portray different sides as well. Lenina’s coquettish; has a love-hate relationship with Bernard Marx in the first few chapters. But Huxley jolts us with her reaction to John, teasing us with the possibility of a future monogamy. Yet this too falls apart, in a segment clearly aimed at letting us know how deep the conditioning has gone for the people of this society. Linda on the other hand, is a delirious specimen, forever longing the eternal dream, a never-ending holiday. She ends up killing the last bit of chance John had to accept this society with her death.
A gramme in time saves nine, Lenina says in several occasions as she drowns herself in doses after doses of soma. Her senses do not comprehend anything beyond what has been taught, and her bewildered replies come in the form of ordered sentences, playing from her memory like pre-recorded messages.
Where Huxley falters is in the strong religious reference. As my friend Jeeta notes in her review of the book, ‘We see people living out of this artificial paradise, people in committed relation, God believer but rotting in sickness, illiteracy, violence and dirt. Is this writer’s offering of the alternative scenario, people rotting without modern technology? From the argument between an official and a savage one might feel his alternative might be a third one; normal society like ours with Shakespeare, pure joy of scientific research but with God. That made me skeptical about the idea of the whole book. A society where people have blind faith in God (and mind it for Huxley God meant only Christian God), a norm of uniform single God and people hurting themselves for God is definitely not a brave new world for us.’
Yet, amidst its flaws, ‘Brave New World’ poses a significant question.
“The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma.” says Mustapha Mond, the World Controller of Western Europe. The infinite line of eternal happiness is an enemy of our emotions, the things which make us human. Yet progress is always made to get to that line, to iron out our differences, to make ‘everyone is for us, and we are for everyone’. How far are we willing to go along this quest to achieve something which makes our identities invalid?
Is happiness the cure to everything? Can it be an alternative to freedom? Can you be happy in a cage?
Strip the novel of its science fiction paintjob; take away the fancy names (which were inspired from real life personalities), and we’re left with a shocking image of the current society. A civilization which thrives on religious and regional discrimination. Our conditioning runs deep too.
Is the ‘Brave New World’ really set in the future? Huxley wrote it in 1931; it must’ve been then. Not now.
Source: Aldous Huxley, A Brave New World.
Image Courtesy: CorporalSpyCrab, Deviantart