Brave New World: A Character Piece
To say about Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, “characters migrate” (Eco), is fact. To say about Brave New World, that the characters migrated from Shakespeare would be debatable. Huxley’s dystopian tale is an excellent character piece and though it does contain many parallels of Shakespeare’s characters particularly from the birthplace of its title “O brave new world, that hath such people in it,” (The Tempest), The Tempest it deals with character traits and interactions as ancient as humanity itself and as current as the Ipod; character traits which will be a part of our culture until we are gone from this planet.
More of a social experiment than a prophecy Brave New World was an opportunity for Mr. Huxley to put classic characters into brand new situations and see how they would evolve, to, in some sense, let them write their own stories. The character portrayals in the story are very realistic and the basic foundations for many of the characters are still common in our present day forms of story telling; film, books, television, and so on.
Take Bernard Marx for example. Bernard’s phenomenon is not an uncommon one in the human psyche. Self-conscious and bumbling, he is yet an extraordinary individual and, conditioned to think like the rest of his society, he cannot help but have otherwise challenging thoughts. To revisit the phrase “characters migrate” I cannot help but think of Seinfeld’s George Costanza, the clever yet simultaneously foolish protagonist of many an episode.
As the focal point of Brave New World all conflict begins with Marx. He is the one who resists taking soma, who chooses to visit the reservation, he is the one who chooses to bring the Savage back to Fordian life and in the end it all comes back to bite him in the rear. The reader is conditioned to grow fond of Marx during the first half of the story but when the savage is introduced as another primary protagonist, Bernard’s existence becomes borderline comical. Bernard’s struggle to maintain a balanced and neutral party later on in the story is described perfectly with the line where he “urged by a sudden impulse, ran forward to help them; then thought better of it and halted; then ashamed, stepped forward again; then thought better of it, and was standing in an agony of humiliated indecision— ” (Huxley 195) he decides to yell “help—so as to give himself the illusion of helping.” (195) The same lack of confidence humiliated indecision faced by Marx has been the butt of many a comedic tale long before Shakespeare and does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
The Savage on the other hand is every bit of bravery that Bernard isn’t. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Huxley himself related passionately to this character and his morality wanting his story to mimic Shakespearean tragedy every bit as much as the Savage did.
The spirit of the Savage is embodied in countless other fictional and actual figures and has timeless qualities of heroism which, entwined with his wildness leave possibilities of character migration such as that of Mark Twains “Huckleberry Finn” or Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan.” Both the shrewd methods of the Savage and his very moral afflictions make him to be both an interesting and likeable character, one whose self-pitying demise is not unlike that of the late Kurt Kobain.
Then there’s the handsome, articulate, and artistic Helmholtz who could be compared with the likes of Sophocles and John Lennon. His struggle for freedom of expression and the freedom to think and write as an individual is a personal and moral battle that has been fought many a time over history. A product of his environment Helmholtz seems every bit as moral as the Savage until the Savage reads him Romeo and Juliet Helmholtz regards the passion the lovers feel towards one another as “ridiculous, mad situations,” (168) and laughs at the idea.
The minor characters of the story do not have personality traits as distinct as the protagonists for their purpose is to assist the interactions but not to dominate them. Lenina becomes a meaningful addition to the plot long after her character is introduced. The Savage takes a secret liking to her and her to him, the problem being that hers is strictly carnal. Being of strong morals the Savage promises himself he “shall never melt mine honour into lust.” (175)
The dispositions of the cast of characters in a brave new world are relatable and interesting. In a tongue in cheek manner Huxley has been clever in the naming of his characters and in this way helps pronounce the sardonic tone of his story.
Some may say that Huxley’s use of the names of true to life scientists, industrialists, philosophers, and religious figures is evidence of the attempt to make a socially and technologically based prophetic statement about society. It seems to me that Huxley was using the world around him not as inspiration for a warning of what is to come but simply as inspiration for a story fit for queer and interesting character interaction.
Because of the personal battles fought by the characters in his story, Huxley has created a piece that will by all means, be timeless. Brave New World has also succeeded in withstanding the test of time due to Huxley’s very sane and realistic vision of the landscape of the future. Using familiar locations and technologies Huxley sticks closely to the social aspects of a bleak future and shies away from overbearing descriptions of invention. Familiar concepts with new light shed upon them are what challenges and intimidates the characters.
Yet, with all of his efforts to capture elements of humanity and habit Mr. Huxley fails to establish any kind of conclusion or inspiration with his novel. All goes back to how it started and no one learns anything. If all his aspirations were, were to show the humanistic temperament of a selection of characters each possessing different human qualities in a brave new setting; he succeeded. As a reader the premise of the story neither enthralled me nor bored me. I was amused during Huxley’s Brave New World but I closed the book with a feeling of indifference, left only to scratch my head and wonder how much of the story was humourous and whether I had read a tragedy, or a mock tragedy. Maybe that was his goal.