Brave New World

‘All right, then,’ said the Savage defiantly, ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.’

‘Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’

There was a long silence.

‘I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last. ~ Aldous Huxley, ‘Brave New World’

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I love Brave New World; I must have read it at least four times in the past three years. Dystopian fiction is one of my favourite genres, and not because I’m a pessimist or because I oppose science and progress, but because I exult in the ability of great literary works to bring us to question our values.

The society Huxley presents to us is a stable, prosperous one, yet the reader is repelled by this seeming prosperity. What is wrong, the novel asks, with this kind of happiness? It is not an intelligent, adult happiness, one which has been earned through hard work and suffering, but instead a drug-induced, infantile state of ignorant bliss. Happiness is given in exchange for the annihilation of the self, the suppression of any emotional or artistic capacity, and the re-conditioning of the mind to rid us of the very fear that makes us human: the fear of death.

The Savage Reservation, however, isn’t presented as a particularly appealing alternative to this nightmare of bliss. Huxley thwarts the image of the noble savage and instead presents another kind of bleakness: life on the reservation is a life of pain, disease, and gradual bodily decay.

Ultimately, though, we sympathise with John the Savage. Despite all the suffering reality entails, we would rather live with the pain than waste our short lives away on a soma-holiday. The novel’s strength lies in its ability to confront the reader with what appears at first to be a utopian vision, and leaves us with the puzzle of figuring out precisely what it is about this blissful world that offends our humanity so deeply.

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6 thoughts on “Brave New World

  1. A truly excellent post. Do you prefer (find more realistic / more scary / more appealing) the words of Atwood, Orwell, or Bradbury? Do you feel that perhaps our generation would be more tempted by soma? Less aware, I mean, of that part of the novel which seems so strongly anti-that. (I feel that I feel that way.)

  2. Thank you! I haven’t actually read Bradbury yet, which I really must fix! How highly do you rate him?
    I think I do feel the same way as you sometimes, about our generation being less aware of the reasons why escaping reality through soma would be a negative thing. I remember one of my professors at UVic saying the way people consume tv shows is quite damaging; he envisaged people staring at a screen for hours, not thinking or engaging with what they’re watching, but just escaping. That seems to me like something unique to our generation.
    I’m not sure which author’s dystopian vision I find to the most realistic! I think it feels to me like the kind of changes they write about would happen in a more insidious way in the real world, e.g. the gradual encroachment on our civil liberties. That’s a brilliant question! What’s your take on it? 🙂

    • I rate Bradbury as highly as Atwood, so you should definitely get a hold of Fahrenheit 451.

      Would it be obvious of me to point to DFW’s dystopian vision as being the most accurate? I feel like I’m a member of that generation who finds great comfort in reruns and repeats. I think Bradbury is maybe the most accurate (in a hyperbolic, sci-fi sort of way), though Atwood feels very “predictive”, and Orwell and Huxley are always on the tongue. A mishmash of fears!

  3. How so you envisage your version of utopia?

    I’m not sure what mind would look like, but one major condition for mine would be everyone feeling a sense of empathy and compassion. I have to read Huxley again within this light.

    Totally random, the term for utopia in Chinese is 桃源, meaning peach garden. So you would literally say, “Canada is the closest thing to a peach garden.” It comes from Tao yuanming’s “Origin on of the Peach Garden.”

    • That’s a good question! I’m not sure what my version of utopia would look like. I guess I feel like a true utopia would be impossible; it’s really interesting that in most dystopian novels, including Brave New World, the societies presented were conceived as utopias, but they all ultimately fail to make their citizens happy.

      I like your idea about everyone feeling a sense of empathy and compassion! Although it might not be possible to create utopia, that would definitely help us get closer to one.

      Oh wow, that’s really fascinating about the Chinese term for utopia! Is there a Chinese word for dystopia? Thank you very much for sharing the video! The animation is beautiful. I will definitely be looking up more of Tao Yuanming’s poetry :).

  4. Pingback: Books Read in 2013 | The cat that walks by herself

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