Book Review: Brave New World

Review of Huxley’s Brave New World

Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World” offers a vision of the future where the perversion of science has reshaped society into a self-medicated, pleasure seeking, obedient mass ruled by capitalism, totalitarianism, Social Darwinism and industrialized assembly lines, all maintained under the motto of “Community, Identity, Stability”. Within the gleaming skyscrapers of Huxley’s future, human beings are manufactured, certain qualities encouraged in some and repressed in others. Gestated within artificial wombs and conditioned by nightly sleep-lessons (called hypnopædia) these children are raised to fill the complex caste system of their society. The bonds of family, the rewards of knowledge, and the pursuit of happiness no longer exist. Happiness is taken for granted, and to feel otherwise is an unattractive quality, something to be mollified, repressed by a steady dose of a pacifying drug called soma, which boasts “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects”. “Everybody is happy now,” exclaims one of the novel’s key characters, Lenina Crowne.

Charged with creating a stage upon which his story could unfold, Huxley spent so much time describing the locations, scientific processes, and hypnodædic lessons of his world that inevitably something has to suffer, and unfortunately it is his characters that bear the brunt of this shortcoming. Like cardboard stand-ins, Huxley’s characters are set in place to deliver a key point or message before they retire and are quickly forgotten.

While it is understood that the successful individuals indoctrinated into Huxley’s society would not resonate with much personality, even the “anomalies”, characters like Bernard Marx, who is inherently damaged by a mistake made during his assembly, and total outsiders like the Savage, fail to register as anything remarkable. Huxley’s characters seem to exist merely to fill a prescribed roll: Bernard is the voice of dissent: “‘Even Epsilons are useful’! So am I. And I damned well wish I weren’t!”. Lenina Crowne is the embodiment of the status quo, the product of a successful upbringing of hypnopædic, “neo-Pavlovian” conditioning. The Controller Mustapha Mond is the law and maintainer of order, and the Savage is the incongruous outsider. However, despite a solid foundation, Huxley’s characters never progress past these basic definitions, and denied any further development they leave no lasting impression on the reader.

What Huxley has created in “Brave New World” is a tale of caution, however, unfortunately it is a flat one. The richness and the depth of detail in the world Huxley has created make his imagined future disturbingly probable; however, it is his failure to delve into his characters that forms the key failing of the novel. Huxley is an excellent wordsmith, but compared to his elaborate locations, scientific processes, historic explanations and lush descriptions, his characters seem shallow and two-dimensional. Huxley is so focused on delivering his overall message that he forgets to endow his characters with a spark of personality, and in the end this robs his story of its conviction and its believability.

– Sophia M


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