This is one of my favorite quotes from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, a remarkable writer whose take on the future of society set off a wave of dystopian thinkers in the 1900s. The quote perfectly captures an underlying theme in the novel: the importance of human emotion against rationale.
Set in London and published in 1932, the book explores a dystopian society following a eugenic breeding system, in which different mechanisms are employed to ensure a society of desirable hereditary characteristics, such as intelligence and beauty. Huxley drew inspiration from Henry Ford’s industrial innovation of the assembly line at the time, which has haunting relevance 86 years down the road, as technology and its seeming benefits cast a looming shadow on people’s lives. The society depicted in his novel refers to Ford in place of God through phrases such as “Oh My Ford!” instead of “Oh My God!” Huxley uses Ford’s success to showcase his main argument: that the increasing importance of technology and its creators in the lives of people can only have negative effects.
The “Brave New World” which Huxley explores is one where the “World State” consists of a brutal, emotionless society calibrated to breed a flawlessly intelligent population. The State enforces a system of totalitarianism, controlling everyone’s lives through test tube babies and hypnotism. This results in a caste system with intelligent humans at the top of the hierarchy, suited to the most powerful positions, and subordinate beings at the bottom, who are genetically programmed to carry out menial, low-value tasks.
As a novel, Brave New World explores an interesting and impeccably structured storyline with well-developed characters and an intense, impactful climax. Three distinct characters, Marx, Helmholtz, and John, share the same disillusionment with their society. Huxley makes use of all of them to paint a picture of a possible future, one in which mankind willingly gives up freedom in exchange for an illusion of happiness and a sense of fulfillment from performing their role in society. The story centers around the life of Marx, a citizen of the State. Huxley effectively builds the plot through gradually revealing Marx’s dissatisfaction and then introducing Helmholtz as someone who shares his unease.
The characters are faced with the same questions, but choose to deal with them differently. Huxley uses their different ways of dealing with their unsettlement to both develop the story and make it relatable to a wider audience. While I could relate to Marx’s response to his predicament only partially, I understood Helmholtz’s reaction better, demonstrating that the novel is truly written to appeal to all kinds of audiences. I enjoyed the book for the most part, but found it perhaps a bit too negative at times, with very few high points in the storyline. It also suffers slightly when a number of new characters are introduced in the latter half of the novel with inadequate time allotted to their development, making the story a little difficult to follow.
The themes and ideas explored in Brave New World are haunting because of their extreme relevance to the times we live in today. As Huxley paints a world in which technology seeps into people’s lifestyles in each and every aspect, he forces his readers to ponder the cost of this technology, and the inherent clash it creates between human emotion and logical rationale — in other words, whether the importance of human emotions, even if unfounded, trumps facts and evidence — a debate just as relevant now as it was then. Within his novel, Huxley expresses his hopelessness at the future of mankind, and seemingly gets carried away in presenting a robotic, senseless society. Because Huxley’s novel came at a time when technology had quickly replaced workers throughout the world, the very idea of something that could herald so much creation pushed him to reject the belief that technological advancements and humanity’s progress could exist side by side.
Therefore, with references such as “hatcheries” to produce children and “soma,” a drug taken to maintain happiness, Huxley's vision of the future is extreme, one which is perhaps not as likely as the one he depicts to his readers. The idea that “all conditioning aims [to make] people like their unescapable social destiny” is perhaps more relevant to our future. Huxley uses the “World State” to illustrate an idea of the perfect life. However, on deeper inspection, he reveals the nature of citizens’ happiness: it is artificially generated in a laboratory to continually instill a sense of satisfaction, thus “making people like their unescapable social destiny.” Regardless, the world Huxley creates and its extreme nature renders his novel at slight odds with the reality of today. After finishing his novel, I was left feeling rather hopeless. Perhaps Huxley could have better expressed his message had he not been so extreme and absolute in the emotionless society he portrays.
Nevertheless, the idea of society progressing towards an almost robotic, desensitized method of operating through means of eugenics is something that was and still is extremely relevant. Huxley forces his readers to ponder the path the world was taking at that time, and is continuing upon today. The emotive use of language and the strategic way he employs different writing styles to present his story further illuminate his opinion. Although his writing becomes hard to follow at times, I believe he purposefully uses impactful language and extremely complex sentences and phrases to elicit a reaction from his readers. The strong ideas and messages Huxley puts forth in his novel are perhaps best understood by readers above 13 years of age, although I would highly recommend those younger than 13 who are trying to make sense of the fast-moving world around them to give it a read.
Huxley’s novel was not only an extremely interesting read, but highly helpful in trying to understand and make sense of 1930s society, and also in trying to interpret the times we live in today. I would give the book 4 out of 5 stars in terms of both the message Huxley presents and the way in which he presents it. As one of the first novels to explore the future of modern-day society, Brave New World truly is a difficult text to forget, and an even harder one to ignore. The questions it poses are ones that continue to plague us today, and while they depict a haunting image of the future, perhaps their answer need not be as bleak.
Fizza Raza is a 14-year-old from Lahore, Pakistan. She is a hopeless enthusiast who spends most of her time contemplating the glass-ceiling or the ethics of modern-day capitalism. She can also be found in the nearest bookshop with her head buried inside a novel.
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