I have never had my heart broken by a book so quickly. I cried when I first read A Walk to Remember (hey, it’s romantic and sad!), and I was upset when Mockingjay was such a lame conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy (I got sick of Katniss’s PTSD), but I don’t think any book has ever left me so sad and so worried about the future as Brave New World. As with The Screwtape Letters, Brave New World was on my list of books I ought to have read sooner. I’m glad I finally read it, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to read it again. My heart can only break so far.
Brave New World, the best-known novel by Aldous Huxley, does not begin like an ordinary novel. The first two chapters describe the Hatchery of the future: a building in which purchased reproductive cells are fertilized, split into thousands upon thousands of identical twins, and sent through a process of biological conditioning based on the predetermined social class of each embryo. Those who will become servants working in tropical climates receive chemicals to stunt their growth and predispose them to feel comfortable in extreme heat. Most of the embryos are sterilized—because why would you need to be fertile when people are “born” from bottles? As infants, lower-caste babies are taught to hate things of beauty, and as children, they all subliminally learn government propaganda while napping. When they become adults, sex is recreational, emotional relationships are useless and dangerous, and no one wants the world to be any different because they’ve been conditioned from conception to desire nothing else.
Does that sound as disturbing and distressingly familiar to you as it does to me?
In terms of storytelling, Huxley’s novel is an experimental-format cautionary tale. Few major characters emerge before the third chapter, and the protagonist arrives halfway through the book. We readers must weave together plot threads ourselves and decide whose side we’re on, even after the story ends. Huxley published his novel in the 1930s, but he remarked in a follow-up essay that this world was approaching even faster than he’d feared. What might have seemed more shocking in his day probably just makes me sad at the state of our world, the real world that isn’t so new anymore.
Utopias seem to be much more achievable than we formerly believed them to be. Now we find ourselves presented with another alarming question: how do we prevent utopias from coming into existence?
—translated by Shmoop writers from the original French epigraph
In the World State, facets of life that we take for granted—family, individual determination, and emotions—have been eliminated in favor of order, control, and predestination. Religion has been replaced by admiration of “Our Ford” and the Sign of the Cross with the Sign of the (Model) T in a world where Henry Ford’s mass-production principles have superseded devotion to Our Lord. Since sex is no longer needed for procreation or bonding, it becomes purely recreational, strongly encouraged, and entirely unrestricted. Even children are free to engage in it as they wish. In a world where “everyone belongs to everyone else,” being alone or developing friendships is mildly treasonous. Against one extreme, another has risen.
I know I’m not the first person to say this, but how far into the future is this world, really? Surrogacy (even paid surrogacy) and egg and sperm donation are growing in popularity and acceptance almost to the point of being mainstream. So many people already consider sex recreational and babies an unfortunate side effect. In vitro fertilization is advertised on the radio and moms of multiples become famous. Communism and socialism may not be as popular as the once were, but atheism is on the rise. What kind of world are we already living in?
As Huxley suggests in the epigraph quoted above, perhaps this “perfection” is really something to be avoided. Humans will never be perfect. Some of our imperfections are even lovable. What are you doing to keep the world from becoming too perfect?
Up next: OyMG, some lighter fare with religious themes to coincide with the coming Jewish High Holidays