Happy Hump Day, Bookworms! It’s no secret that I love a good dystopian novel. When I’m having a bad day, I like to tell myself things like, “This sucks, but at least I wasn’t forced to fight other children to the death in a televised competition.” Or “This really sucks, but Big Brother is just a crappy reality show.” Sometimes it’s not even a dystopia thing, it’s a, “This sucks, but I totally have indoor plumbing and deodorant! Celebrate!”
To continue our celebration of Banned Books Week, we’re going to discuss one of the all-time-greatest dystopian novels, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This was written in 1931. It was banned in Ireland in 1932 (quick turnaround, right?) The American Library Association has a huge list of American high schools that have challenged this book as required reading. Parental complaints over the years have included that the book shows contempt for religion, marriage and family. (I can’t disagree with that except that Henry Ford, he of the assembly line, is a godlike figure to these people. So they don’t hate religion… Just YOUR religion.) Among other things, parents objected to the idea that this book made promiscuous sex sound like fun. (I don’t agree with that sentiment either. It wasn’t “fun” so much as required… And our protagonist isn’t really into it.)
Fast forward to London in the year 2540 (or the year 632… After Ford.) The human race has become mechanized. All conception and gestation of children takes place assembly line style in test tubes and jars. All children are genetically coded to belong to a particular class. The classes do NOT intermingle. Everyone is sleep hypnotized throughout their formative years so they’re conditioned to believe their particular caste has the best lot in life. There is no nuclear family, and the basest human instincts have been exploited. Multiple sexual partners are required, and if anyone begins to get a little bit cranky, a wonder drug that sounds like xanax plus valium plus ecstasy called “soma” is administered. That helps any ne’er do wells who might get their undies in a bunch to simmer down.
In any “utopia,” there’s always a black sheep. This black sheep is named Bernard Marx. He’s a top tier brain, but rumors abound that he was exposed to alcohol accidentally as a fetus, because he’s short and not as handsome as the rest of his peers. As a result he has a massive inferiority complex. He’s also a psychologist, so he understands in more detail than most exactly what conditioning goes on in order to maintain their peaceful society. This just fuels his discontent.
While on vacation, Bernard witnesses a society of “savages.” Apparently not EVERYONE was on board with the soma induced happy land of the new world order, so there are isolated pockets of tribal peoples who live without modern conveniences. They also (GASP) give birth to their own children. And have a semi organized religious tradition that has nothing to do with drug fueled orgies. As it turns out, Bernard and his buddy come across one of their own lost amongst the tribes decades ago. She was stranded without her birth control, so her socially approved dalliances led to a birth. The woman and her (now grown) son are rescued by Bernard and his compadre and returned to their society in London. The woman soothes herself with excessive use of soma, and dies in a drug induced haze. Her son is devastated and completely confused and horrified by the new society. Of course, Bernard starts hanging out with the wildling, and gets himself into all manner of trouble.
Okay. Stop for a minute. This sucker was published in 1931! I mean, some of these ideas are still pretty radical today. The book resonates 80+ years after its publication, and not in a “where’s my flying car, Jetsons?!” sort of way. Do you even know what was happening in 1931? The Great Depression. Television didn’t exist yet. Birth control pills weren’t invented yet (which leads me to wonder what exactly Huxley was imagining the egg producing women were using to prevent births…) There was no polio vaccine, in-vitro fertilization was decades away… Huxley was kind of DaVinci-esque in his prediction of future technology.
In essence though, I think Brave New World boils down to being a cautionary tale. Huxley was worried. Worried that humanity would go all hedonistic and forget about all the good wholesome things that make the world go round. I love this book, and I think Huxley was a genius to have written it. BUT. Every generation since the beginning of time has thought that “these kids today” would be the end of civilization as we know it. Ooooh that Rock-n-Roll! Get off my lawn! You kids have no respect! When I was your age, I had to WALK to school. In 8 feet of snow. Uphill both ways. And I was HAPPY TO DO IT! (I’ll be 30 in March, I’m practicing my Angry Old Lady-isms. My husband is already well versed in his Angry Old Man-isms. I was reading this to him and he shouted, “The Jersey Shore generation will bring about the apocalypse!”)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not especially scared that Huxley’s future will come to pass. Unless, of course, someone invents soma and releases it into the world’s water supply… Dun dun dun!!!!!! It’s October, y’all. I’ve got to Halloween it up a little. What would your Utopia look like, Bookworms?