Dystopian novels are something I stayed away from for a long time because most of the ones I had encountered were Young Adult stories that never seemed to take the idea seriously–I’m sorry, but I just don’t care about a love triangle when the world has been taken over by a corrupt power that controls the thoughts of its citizens.
But my opinion changed when I finally sat down to read 1984 by George Orwell.
Apparently I’m a sucker for a good dystopian novel when it takes itself seriously. Fahrenheit 451 is one of the best novels I’ve ever read even if it does hurt my heart to hear about books burning (you can check out my review if you want).
So it was only a matter of time before I got around to reading this one–that and my friend kept bothering me about it.
Brave New World is a dystopian novel by English author Aldous Huxley, written in 1931 and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State, inhabited by genetically modified citizens and an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual: the story’s protagonist.
What I liked most about this story was that it wasn’t really about the world Huxley created but about the characters within it. Now, it’s not novel for an author to tell a story about their characters–that is the point after all–but it is easy to have a bunch of setup and explanation for the world when it is so different from our own. Take Fahrenheit 451 in which the world isn’t so different from our own. Sure, they have crazy computer screens and they burn books a lot but in the scenes where Montag is walking in the streets it doesn’t feel like something too far from what it would be in contemporary times.
Then we have this novel.
There’s this strange class system where certain people are programmed to fit into certain categories in society. There are flying vehicles and odd communal spaces. This is a strange world compared to our current one. And instead of trying to justify it or explain it, Huxley places the reader into the lives of a few key characters and lets them figure out what is happening with context.
Another distinguishing feature about this novel and many other dystopian novels is that the powers that be do not maintain their control through fear or force but instead through pleasure. After all, psychologists have been telling us for years that rewarding desired behavior reinforces it. So why not saturate a society with pleasure in order to nudge them to act a certain way?
You must have their best interests at heart because the world you have given them feels so much better than the one before.
In a way, I find this far more sinister that a tyrannical control.
I think we all want to live an easier, more leisurely life but this novel makes it seem like this will inevitably lead to us losing something fundamental to who we are.
I will say this about this novel: the characters are kind of terrible. Like, not in that they aren’t fleshed out and distinctive–they’re just awful to each other. And I know, some of this is deliberate because they’ve been programmed to treat certain people a certain way and they have different values to that of this world but I was still hoping I would like them; at least some of the time.
And yet, here I am, not feeling all that much for these people as they struggle and go about their lives.
I really did love this novel and I think it says something that Huxley wasn’t convinced he was telling the future when he wrote it. The intention was more of a thought experiment–a what-if that resulted in a fascinating story–but his views changed after the Second World War.
There are so many layers to be explored with this novel that it took me a while to organize my thoughts into anything coherent–and I still feel like I need to dig deeper.