Classics For Everyone: Brave New World

Book cover for Brave New WorldKids these days, with their “Hunger Games” and “Divergent.” The millennial generation thinks they’re the first ones to discover futuristic dystopian literature? I’ll show them futuristic dystopian literature. Aldous Huxley was writing it before their grandparents were born.

His 1932 book, “Brave New World,” presents a society where lives are created by cloning and controlled through technology and drugs. Fulfillment is meant to be found in consumer goods, and Henry Ford is worshiped. A caste system is enforced through genetic engineering. There are no families, no personal attachments. Or at least there aren’t supposed to be.

Enter John, aka “the Savage.” Through happenstance, he has grown up removed from the World State, raised by a mother, even, albeit not a stable one. His development was largely influenced by an old volume of the works of William Shakespeare, and it provides his frame of reference as he tries to understand what passes for the civilized world, once he is dropped into its midst. He repeatedly speaks of the “brave new world,” a quote from Miranda in Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.” But each time he utters the phrase, it takes on a different meaning.

John’s three main companions in his new life are Bernard Marx, who oversees psychological sleep training at the (human) Hatchery and Conditioning Center, Bernard’s friend Helmholtz Watson, a university lecturer and Lenina Crowne, a giver of vaccines at the Hatchery. All three are, in their own ways, discontent with life in their supposed Utopia, though Lenina tries her best to find happiness, or failing that, at least numbness.

“Brave New World” tackles questions that are still relevant today, issues about the role of technology and medical ethics. To what extent should we meddle with nature? How much can we improve life and health by doing so, and what do we risk losing? Is complacency the same as happiness? How much social engineering is acceptable in order to maintain a stable society?

Kids these days. Do they think they’re the first one to ask those questions? They’re not. Every generation asks them. Aldous Huxley saw this.

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