Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

I debated reviewing this amazing dystopian novel or not, but determined that I HAD to give it a plug on my blog. This last month, in preparation for the AP Literature exam for my students, we read Brave New World. I distinctly remember reading it when I was in high school, and what a breath of fresh air (strangely enough) that it was after all of the classic "oldies but goodies" we had been reading. I think this might have also been the case for many of my students, as they really seemed to "dig" it, with it's in-your-face sort of satire. So, why not review it? It's been awhile since I had read it, and I have to say that I really enjoyed revisiting it with my classes.

Synopsis: Deemed a science fiction original, Aldous Huxley sets forth a future society in which happiness is the key. Humans are scientifically engineered, both genetically and psychologically, to be a part of a certain "caste" in society. Those who are set apart to work, are conditioned from their pre-natal state, through maturation, to seemingly enjoy their status, and not desire more. Alphas are the highest caste possible, and only remotely are these upper echelons allowed the opportunity to think and create in their society. Otherwise, all members of this society take Soma tablets to escape reality and be happy, listen to hypnopaedia as they sleep to condition them to not question or think, and use sex and erotic play as a normal behavior to be shared freely. In this society, humans are not to "bond" with one another, nor do they have children. Into this mix of conditioned humans are our main characters. Bernard likes to think and consider why he's different, so he avoids Soma pills, and wants to pair off with Lenina (who is a very typical female, and is therefore freaked out by Bernard's strange need to be with her, but not have sex with her). Then there is John, considered a native, and a young man who was born of a woman and raised outside of the community on a "reservation." John is obviously not like the others, and when introduced into their society, we find that this can be a volatile mix.

Our essential question then becomes, how important is it to be comfortable and happy at all times? What must be sacrificed so that all people can be happy? Do we really have to sacrifice passion and individual thought to achieve peace and balance? And...who decides what is peace and balance?

Synopsis: I forgot how much I loved this book. Just about every page of my copy of the novel was marked up with my thoughts and connections. Everything from the names used in the book (which all tie to famous communists or free-thinkers of the time), to the casual way in which sex was treated (since all passions lead to crime and unhappiness), were really interesting to think about and consider. From the beginning, I told my students that this book was not about glamorizing immorality, nor degrading reason, and that they should be looking for the satire. Luckily, they found it! The satire in the novel is embedded in the absurdities behind erotic play being encouraged for children, avoiding family connections at all costs, and packing Soma pills around so that an escape from reality was just around the corner. It is obvious that Huxley is pointing out more about how pain, love, fear, joy, hate, and happiness all go together; that essentially, we as humans have to have structure and control, to understand and enjoy beauty. Essentially, without pain, chaos, and restraint, we would be like infants, who are unable to comprehend creation in any sense.

It seems obvious that Huxley's novel is a reaction to the many political powers threatening societies across the globe. While we see the way forcing others to behave in certain ways can backfire, we also see Huxley pointing a finger at us as individuals, asking us to examine our own beliefs that affect our daily lives. Religion seems to come directly under fire in the novel, not for its ability to inspire, but for its power to direct the way people think, almost mindlessly. In essence, we can see that thought, feeling, and believing are encouraged on an individual basis, and in a way that unites us as human beings. Huxley definitely seems to be encouraging a certain morality that I find refreshing, and a message that can only be reached with an open mind and a little reason. Overall, I think this was a great text to end my school year with, and I loved the discussions we had. From my own point of view, it was a great experience re-reading this as an adult, as I found so much more to connect to than before. If you want a lot of discussion, this is the book to pick up!

If you've read Brave New World, what did you think? Do you enjoy reading dystopian novels, and why? I'd really love to hear what you think.


  1. I read Brave New World in highschool as a comparitive study against the film Blade Runner. I thought the novel was interesting. I do enjoy reading dystopian novels because it gives good insight to your own world. My favourite (if this is correct) is A Clockwork Orange by Burgess. I feel compelled to scan my book case and start reading BNW again.

    Good blog.

  2. Guess what just went on my wishlist? ;-) I haven't read this, but before this year I wasn't really interested in dystopian fiction. This year, however, I've found that I really like it. I'm not really sure why--maybe it's the science fiction aspect, maybe because it's a bit fantastical, maybe because of what it says about our society (since dystopian futures have developed out of our present). This one sounds interesting & I'm looking forward to picking it up.

  3. I haven't read this one-but I'm going to have to give it a try. I've really started to enjoy dystopian novels-I think b/c they make you wonder what you would do in the same situation, and how easily everything we have now could change.

  4. Hi - I really enjoyed reading your excellent and clearsighted review. i read this for A Level English alongside 1984, the Handmaid's Tale and Thomas More's Utopia - a fine collection of reads as I remember. I think that it is most interesting to examine Brave New World in historical context as for many it really did look as though the civilised world was about to be swallowed by competing ideologies.
    Great post - thanks indeed for sharing

  5. I went through a classics phase when I was in high school... but I was thinking more Jane Austen and I remember my cousins got me this book and I was so not interested. I ended up trading my brand new copy only a few years ago on paperbackswap but lately I've been wishing I'd kept it!! I'll have to pick it up another time.

  6. I haven't read the entire book, but I have read parts of it and what I did read I liked a lot. I have the book and it's waiting for me on my bookshelf- you know how that can go.

  7. I've never read this book, although one of my friends tried to get to read it in high school. She was one of those over-achieving types. ;)

  8. I want to read this. I even think an annotated version would be interesting - off to go search. Thanks for a terrific review.

  9. Rhiannon--I haven't read Clockwork Orange, or watched Blade Runner, so thanks for pointing those out. I'll have to check them out as well!

    Katy--Yay! Yes, give this a try. The satire that is built in here is quite good, and one that will shock and surprise you by its quirky insights.

    Buckeye Girl--Wondering what you would do in this society is crazy! :) They really are out there in their ideas of pleasure seeking. It's pretty interesting, and would be an interesting book to check out for you!

    Hannah--Thanks for sharing how your class partnered this book up. Those were some great reads you read with it! I think Dystopian & Utopian novels are so interesting, for what they say about us right now. Thanks for sharing!

    Jenny--Give it another try! It's great!

    Rebecca--Yes, I have books waiting years...even a decade for me to pick them up! :) I know how that goes.

    Heidenkind--Too funny. :) I think you would find this book pretty interesting. It's a little freaky in its presentation, but definitely a great concept to consider!

    Care--Thanks so much for the nice comment. I'd love to see what you think of the book!

  10. I loved Brave New World! I actually read it as an adult maybe ten or fifteen years ago and it was probably the first book I ever read that was considered a dystopia, which is a genre I have grown to love and is now taking off exponentially it seems. This is one I may reread someday.