Banned Books Week: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

October 3, 2012 Banned Books, Classics, Dystopian 29

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.)

Everybody loves a bleak dystopian future scenario!

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?

29 Responses to “Banned Books Week: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley”

  1. ashley

    I cannot tell you how much I love this book! I read it in high school and thought “wow how majorly messed up” but it wasn’t until I read it again sometime in my 20s that I really began to appreciate it. And this book definitely spurned my love for the dystopia books I can’t seem to get away from.
    Side note- Uglies series turned out pretty good! Currently on the immortals series by Alyson Noel. Pretty good so far!

    • Words for Worms

      Glad to hear the Uglies series was decent. My mom bought me the first two books in the Immortals series in our post Twilight phase. I wasn’t a huge fan. “Oh hahaha beautiful girlfriend of COURSE I’m not a vampire. That would be ridiculous. I’m immortal thanks to an ancient alchemist and his elixer of life! Vampires. Pfft. Preposterous.” Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. I’m getting snarkier as I age. I hope you like them better than I did :).

      • ashley

        Haha! I’m on the 2nd book and I definitely liked the first book better. But I have the whole series…so I can’t give up! Lol. Read the Uglies series though. Definitely worth it!

        • Words for Worms

          I’m so glad I know you in real life, Ash. You know I’m not intentionally bitchy! LOL. I will add the Uglies to my expanding list. I’ve been seeing the Insurgent/Divergent series all over the place. You tried that one? I believe it’s YA dysopia, which makes me think we’d both enjoy it.

  2. Ashley@sorry kid your mom doesn't play well with others

    I must now pay off my library fine and get this book! I think I read it on my 8th graders homeschool book report list… Now I need to go find that paper!

    • Words for Worms

      If you have a Kindle or e-reader, you might be able to get library books electronically, which totally eliminates the fines because they just take the book back when it’s due 🙂

  3. didibooksenglish

    I love a good dystopian too and Brave New world was one of my favorites in high school. I had to re-read it in college but I think I need to read it again. I read Divergent and Insurgent. Loved divergent but found Insurgent to be nothing more than a filler. I hate it when the publishers make series after series. Most of themm turn out to be a bit of a bore. I would like to read the third one to see how it ends. Yeah I wanna know what the hell is on the other side of the fence. check out my review on them. Well I’m loving banned books week here on Words for Worms. It’s been a blast from the past so far! What’s next? 🙂

    • Words for Worms

      So glad you’re enjoying Banned Books Week! It’s been fun for me to write. I don’t know if I should tell you about tomorrow’s selection in advance and ruin the element of surprise, but dangit, I will. Assuming I ever finish writing the post, we’re going to chat about Lady Chatterly and her scandalous self.

  4. Mary

    Katie, you broke my heart! How can you have a banned books week without Huckleberry Finn?!?!?! That said, I enjoyed your comments on the works that were included. I don’t, however, understand your surprise regarding Huxley’s ideas. Before the 30s came the “roaring” (often scandalous) 20s. (I just recently discovered that my great grandparents ran a small-town speakeasy.) You mention that there were no TVs, so what the heck else did poor Huxley have to occupy his mind? Only free love and avoiding consequent babies. (Don’t judge.) In fact, even today when we don’t have the boob tube to numb our senses, it would appear that we fall back on a brand of entertainment not so far from Huxley’s:

  5. Quirky Chrissy

    I’ve wanted to read this for a while…Ironic that I wrote in my blog today that I haven’t read this…though I graded a paper on it… The kid probably stole it off the internet. whoops!

    • Words for Worms

      Did you at least read the spark notes? Oh Christine. I try to make my blog unattractive for student copying by using a lot of gratuitous parenthesis and inappropriate commentary.

  6. ThatAshGirl

    Omg as I read this all I could think was “Eek, a woman thinking for herself, we must burn her for being a witch.” Not you of course but that’s how people thought at one point. Helloooo Spanish Inquisition anybody? Anybody? Bueller?

    But you are right, we can’t comprehend how shocking this was at the time but puritanical Irish Catholic brains would have literally exploded.

    I blogged about it a few weeks ago but in my opinion, Honey Boo Boo will be the end of civilization as we know it.

  7. Brittany

    I’m ashamed that I still haven’t read this and it’s been sitting on my shelf for at least 6 months if not a year. Eek!

    • Words for Worms

      Don’t be ashamed! Classics aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you do give it a chance, I think you’ll like it, but if I recall from your blog you’re more of a YA girl. The Giver is really where it’s at in YA dystopias. Lois Lowry just released the 4th and final book in the series, too! (It’s on my to-read list… along with a great many other things.)

  8. Brandt Hardin (@DREGstudios)

    Huxley is turning in his grave nearly 100 years after his visionary prophecies began to form into his own mode of fiction. He is one of my favorite authors and raised serious issues and made world-wide breakthroughs in the research of psychedelics as well as our cognitive liberties. I drew a portrait as homage to the man and his works. See the him roll with the mushrooms, the pills and the doors of perception at

  9. Branden

    My school is making us read this book during summer…..I would be okay with reading over summer but this book sucks. It’s soooo boring. I tried listening to the audio book and I fell asleep by the 2nd chapter….

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