Brave New World, one of the dystopian novels of the 20th century, written by Aldous Huxley, was first published in 1932. Brave new world is a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Miranda speaks of the newly discovered natives of the Americas, saying, ‘Oh brave new world, that has such people in it. ” Huxley’s choice of title is seen as a subtle display of irony when the reader discovers that such people in his brave new world are on the verge of losing their humanity. Huxley sets his imaginary society hundreds of years in the future, in contrast to Orwell’s classic 1984, set only a few decades from the time that it was penned.
The citizens of Huxley’s world are, in general, more complacent and are genetically engineered to be docile in some of the castes and bred to despise learning. Describing one such caste, Huxley says, “He could see quite well why you couldn’t have lower-caste people waste the Community’s time over books,” (22). John Savage, the novel’s protagonist, is miserable in what, at first glance, would seem to be the perfect society. All of the ills of mankind have been eradicated. But along with those ills the government has also removed incentive, pleasure, joy, love and freedom.
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Savage is a metaphor for the attitude held by a few in the society that man has the right to be free, to do as he pleases, which includes the right to suffer and die. John Savage and like-minded citizens of his civilization do not view their world as perfect or even acceptable because they believe that humanity is being bred out of mankind and people are being reduced to emotionless unfeeling automatons. Savage is dissatisfied with his society because the basics of humanity, those pursuits that bring them joy and pain, have been denied them.
Huxley’s Brave New World is devoid of suffering and pain but Savage understands that humans cannot grow without being subjected to the forces of life that occur in daily living. “And feeling strongly…how could they be stable? ” (41) is the justification for denial of feelings. Living, by its very nature, inflicts pain on those who experience life in its purest form. Savage becomes a symbol to people for he is one of the few willing to dispute man’s future with the world government and argue loudly that a painless society is not worth the cost it takes to remove the pain and threat of pain from society.
Mustapha Mond, one of the world’s Controllers, debates the issue with Savage in a telling chapter of this work. Huxley exposes the reader to his philosophies of life as he has Mond and Savage discuss literature in general and Shakespeare in particular. Their conversation extends to what it takes to make people happy and how they have basic needs, as humans, which must be met to make them whole. Savage wants to know why the people of this brave new world are not permitted to read the classics of literature.
Mond’s answer is that they wouldn’t understand it, and that in most cases Shakespeare is no longer even relevant, for the social issue and themes with which Shakespeare concerned himself do not exist in this new climate. People, Mond says, must be kept away from the old things that were simply a burden to mankind. He pointed out that Othello would have no meaning in the present day world for there is no such social instability as is found in Shakespeare’s play. “Because our world is not the same as Othello’s world,” (220), the Director tells Savage.
He then argues that society must pay for their security and that comes at the price of conformity. Such arguments have been made in the 20th and 21st centuries as well. It is not an entirely new concept. Savage understands that any happiness experienced by the citizens of this future civilization is produced by artifice; it is illusionary and chemical for the most part. The government has leaned that there are better ways to keep the populace in compliance with the rules than by using terror or threat of punishment. The pleasure drug, called Som has taken the place of true happiness.
The old bond between men and women that culminated in a sexual union is now achieved through the use of drugs. There are recreational drugs used in 21st century society but the use of Som goes far beyond the use seen in the contemporary world by those trying to escape their lives. Men and women of this bleak future engage in promiscuous sex and enjoy the pleasures of the designer drug they are given. If it gave much happiness Huxley would not have written that Savage takes his own life shortly after ingesting some of the happy medicine.
Primus in orbe deos fecit timor, the Romans said, “it was fear that first put gods in the world,” meaning that religion is a comfort to man. It is said that if God did not exist then man would have invented Him. This totalitarian dsytopia which Huxley created has no religion. It has no succor for the poor in spirit and it has no hope of redemption in another life. It is a cold and lifeless as any other totalitarian government ever before foisted on the human race. “People believe in god because they’ve been conditioned to believe in god,” (235) is accepted as truth.
Religion, far from being the opiate of the masses, is man’s key to philosophy and self-discovery. It is the methodology by which he reaches out in an attempt at discovery and searches for that which is greater then himself. Huxley’s world does not let men ponder the concept of God and does not allow them the time or the solitude it would take to initiate a new direction in their thinking. Citizens are not encouraged to think of religion for the inevitable result is art and literature, which is destabilizing to the totalitarians.
Mond wants stability above all else. Original thought would lead to the idea of men bowing to God’s will as opposed to the will of the state. A concept so seemingly simple as honoring one’s father and mother is discarded in the brave new world. There are, for most individuals, no parents to honor. Children are conceived and reared in the sterile environs of the lab, genetically designed to fit a specific need in society. It is repugnant to the citizens to even consider the idea of giving birth the conventional way, with the mother nurturing her child.
Savage’s love interest is told, “Perhaps you’ve missed something in not being a mother, Lenina,” (112). This lack of emotional attachment may lead to more productivity but the discussion of this essay relates not to productivity in the future, but rather the satisfaction of the people. Humans are creatures of emotion and to deny them those emotions produces a being less than human and less than happy. The citizens of this land do not realize how unhappy they are for they have no baseline by which to compare it. It is all that they have ever known.
One of the keys to understanding Brave New World is to accept that it is satire and not dire prophecy. While they may consider themselves to be happy they don’t actually know how happy a human being can be. That which they call happiness is as much an artificial by-product of drugs and conditioning, as is the rosy glow of joy the modern day human achieves with a bottle of strong wine. No one will argue that intoxication can bring true happiness. John Savage, a throwback of sorts, recognizes that happiness is only found in freedom of the soul.
In the world he inhabits there is no concept of an immortal soul. Citizens exist to please the state. To argue that the citizens of this future world are truly happy begs the question that they have the ability to determine what constitutes a state of happiness. Huxley, through Savage, shows the reader that humans are not allowed to live out their lives normally, finding their own pain or the path to joy. They are manipulated into stability. They are not permitted to read the classics of humanity or debate the existence of a supreme being. They are not truly happy for their minds are closed to grand ideas.
They have no comfort in a spiritual sense for they have no god. They are denied parenthood and the joy of a lifelong mate. They are sedated with mind-altering chemicals. It is Huxley’s version of a concept adopted millennia ago by the Caesars, it is simply panem et circenses. It stabilizes a population, perhaps, but it does not allow much happiness. Savage is dissatisfied with his society because the basics of humanity, those pursuits that bring them joy and pain, have been denied them. Bibliography Huxley, A. Brave New World New York: First Perennial Classics Edition 1998
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