As many young bunnies her age do, Marshmallow has been reading some dystopian novels. In these past few months, she has read and reviewed the recent Shatter Me and Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi, as well as the classic Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Today she reviews another classic dystopian novel: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, first published in 1932. Sprinkles is asking questions and taking notes.
Sprinkles: So Marshmallow, I’m so glad you have read this book. It was one of my favorites when I read it, and I was only a bit older than you I think.
Marshmallow: I enjoyed reading it too! I found it fascinating.
S: That’s big endorsement from you! Okay, tell us a bit about the book.
M: Okay, let me set the stage: The year is AF (After Ford) 632. Technology is so advanced that humans who are citizens of the World State reproduce solely in artificial wombs, and everyone is conditioned to perfection. That is, if you’re in the right caste. Even before you are born, you are assigned a caste. If you are an Alpha or Alpha Plus, you will receive the most attention and care while in the incubator machines. If you are of a lower caste, say a Delta or an Epsilon, you will get less space, and your growth will be intentionally stunted by alcohol infusions. No matter how hard you work, you will always be working the job you were assigned at birth. Despite this inequality, no one ever complains because complacency and contentment with the system are essentially brainwashed into citizens while they are children. In this sea of conformity, individuality is diluted. On the one hand, everyone is happy, but on the other, this happiness is attained only at the cost of their humanity.
S: Okay, that is pretty dismal as a setting. Go on.
M: So in short, when the story begins, the society is in harmony, but a couple people start to realize that the things that make us human are being lost. Two citizens, Bernard Marx, an Alpha Plus, and Lenina Crowne, a Beta, are vacationing in a reservation where humans still reproduce the natural way. Such societies are rare, and their residents are regarded by basically everyone else as savages. Here they meet John, a man whose mother Linda came from the “brave new world”. When they bring him back to their world, he is horrified by what he sees.
S: That is a good summary of the plot, Marshmallow. I know you thought a lot about this book and even prepared a report of sorts for your English class. So maybe you can tell us a bit more about the three main characters.
M: Sure. Bernard is an Alpha Plus who is at the top of the society. But he is different from others because he isn’t very cheery whereas everyone else is always happy. This is probably because he doesn’t take soma, the drug that everyone else does. Soma gives people a sense of euphoria and makes them unconcerned and joyful. Bernard’s refusal to take it is one example of his peculiarity. Bernard is a bit shorter than other Alpha Plus males, and he feels a bit bad about this.
Then there is Lenina, a very typical member of the World State. An average Beta, she is content with her status and is very disturbed by the comments made by Bernard and John that vilify the World State.
Finally there is John. John’s mother Linda came from the World State, or the “developed” world. Linda actually got pregnant at some point and gave birth to John. This is highly unusual in the World State, as biological reproduction is regarded as a taboo in the brave new world. However, in the reservation, natural birth is just natural. Still, the tribe does not completely accept Linda and John, and so they feel like outcasts. When Bernard gets the permission to bring John to “the civilized world”, he is called the Savage, and people treat him almost like a celebrity. However, as an outsider with beliefs completely orthogonal to those of others, he finds this brave new world repulsive.
S: Thank you Marshmallow. I think you summarized the main features of these characters well. So I can see that Bernard might not be too happy because he does not feel confident about his stature, and I can see John finding it difficult to adjust. But tell me more about what is wrong with this world. Why do you think this book is so important? What is its main message?
M: I think that the main problem is that everything is supposedly perfect, and the fundamental struggles that make people human are long gone. John the Savage argues that people need to have problems to live properly like humans. Without them, they are not fully human. They become passive, complacent, and no longer crave for progress, creativity, new ideas.
S: When I was in school, we read this book in tandem with Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. You read and reviewed that book, too. Did you see any parallels or significant differences between the two books?
M: Well, I did like both books a lot. But both books had a little bit of adult content, a bit more than I like to engage with in the books I read. Other than that, they are both dystopian, telling us about a possible future where life as we know it is replaced by some very unpleasant and almost hopeless system. But when I was reading about Huxley and Brave New World for my class report, I found a very insightful quote by Neil Postman, who wrote in a 1985 book titled Amusing Ourselves to Death the following:
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture […] In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.Neil Postman
The Wikipedia article on Brave New World has this quote, in its context, and the full quote is also very good. But this part is enough for me here. I especially like the last two sentences. Aldous Huxley delves into the psyche of humans to look at how easily they can be reduced to passivity and complacency.
S: Are there other themes that show up in the book?
M: According to Britannica, Huxley was always preoccupied “with the negative and positive impacts of science and technology on 20th-century life”. So there is that of course.
S: I see. The technology that allows the World State to govern one of the most fundamental processes of human life is awesome and scary, and the government, or any other entity, having such a power is bound to be dangerous.
S: Any other themes that you would like to bring up?
M: Yes, the book is really rich. In Brave New World, humans have become passive and complacent under the eye of the World State. Brave New World presents a different type among the many terrifying futures that could occur. Most dystopian books have governments that are feared, but in this book the government rules by giving citizens everything that they could ever want.
S: What could be wrong with that?
M: As I said before, I think one of the central messages of the book is that people are not fully human if they are not striving to be better; they are not fully human if they are completely satisfied and complacent.
S: How about bunnies? Would you not be a happy bunny if you got all the nice food and all the books and friends you wanted and so on and never needed anything?
M: Given all the terrible things happening in our world today, this kind of a possible world actually sounds nice initially, but I think I’d eventually get bored. I’d probably want to do something different, something new. I’d want a purpose in my life.
S: I can see that.
M: I do wonder if a lot of people would be better off or happier in that world. But they would all be pawns of the establishment. They would not have a purpose or even a choice in this way of living. I don’t think either of those is good.
S: I agree. So what would your rating be for this book?
M: I think I’d rate it 97%. I think this is a very provocative book, made me think a lot, but again, I don’t like too much adult stuff in a book.
S: I agree that there is some of that stuff in the book and some of it is truly disturbing. There is even a scene where they expect children as young as seven to engage in what they call “erotic play”.
M: Those kinds of things make me think that younger bunnies should probably not read this book.
S: Agreed. So a very good book, very thought-provoking, but definitely for older bunnies.
S: Then we are done. Let us wrap this up. What would you like to tell our readers Marshmallow?
M: Stay tuned for more amazing book reviews from the book bunnies!