(Slight spoilers for those who have not read the novel.)
Brave New World was always one of those books I wanted to read but never got around to it. When I was in school I left it off my to-be-read list mostly because I figured sooner or later I would have to read it for class. But it never appeared on any syllabus. Now I am out of school and walked past it in the bookstore and figured it was time for me to finally read this one.
All I knew about the book was that it was a “classic,” dystopian genre novel. I knew it involved the idea of basically cloning people, but that was all I knew. What it is truly about is what makes a human, human and how in our pursuit for everything to be perfect and happy we may lose the essential elements of what it means to be human.
Brave New World takes place in a future where human life is literally manufactured. There are no more natural births in “civilized,” society. Every person comes from a test tube. They are then conditioned to fall into a certain place within the society. No one questions it because they are raised to understand their place and like it. There are no issues, everything just operates at a steady pace without question. If anyone begins to doubt life or is unhappy they are able to take a drug called “soma,” that drugs them up and makes them forget their problems. Society operates like a machine, all the parts moving together without an issue. Life is about consuming and producing and that is all.
Bernard is an Alpha-Plus, one of the highest ranks, that does not quite fit into the mold that he is supposed to fit into. He questions aspects of society and wonders if their way of life is actually right. At first, it seems like Bernard is going to be the one that fights against society and tries to change things.
But then he takes. Lenian, to what is called a Savage Reservation. Here is where those who are not “civilized,” live. They are native people who are not manufactured but are born. There they meet John, who is actually a product of two members of “civilized,” society. His mother came out to the reservation with a man from the society and was left behind. She happened to be pregnant and gave birth to John and was forced to live on the reservation. John was raised on the reservation but never fit in because he was an outside. So when Bernard offers to bring him back to civilization he jumps at the chance.
John loves the idea of civilization until he actually experiences it. His mother has lost all connection to life and when she is back all she does is drug herself up. She can’t bear to live life anymore so she doesn’t. John hates that the “doctors,” let her constantly use the drug. He doesn’t understand why they won’t help her. They don’t understand why he cares so much about her.
John is at her bedside when she dies and he sees first hand the way this new world works. Her death is barely registered. The children are being conditioned to not care about death. He can’t understand why no one is upset or shows any real emotion. He is furious at the way the whole thing is handled and he freaks out. He tries to force everyone to understand that they are nothing but slaves to drugs and this society, but no one listens or cares. They have no idea how to listen to his words because they can not think for themselves.
After his mission is aborted he is brought into the office of the Controller who tries to explain this new way of life to John. He tries to explain that what they have done is taken the responsibility of living away from everyone and created what they consider a utopia. No one worries, no one hurts and no one cares. This allows the world to just keep moving forward without incident.
John does not think this is the way life should be. This is not the way he grew up and he does not understand this way of life. He knows that for life to have meaning, there has to be a yin and yang. There has to be bad to make the good worth something. And good in itself has to mean something.
The Controller points out to John that wanting inconveniences in life is a slippery slope, it opens the door for so many others things to happen as well. Asking for the right to be unhappy is also asking for, “…. the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; and right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” (pg 240).
All of those above things are a human right. This sums up the idea of the novel well. Life is literally manufactured in this world so does that mean that these people are actually human? What makes someone human? Is it just the biology of a person? Or is it free-will and the ability to have a meaningful life full of happiness and sorrow? These people are alive, but they aren’t truly living. They are just existing. Nothing happens to them. Nothing means anything to them. No one person means anything. John can’t understand that idea. Life to him has to have more meaning.
It was interesting in this novel because Bernard started it seeming to be the one that was going to question everything. He didn’t understand why things were the way they were, but that didn’t last too long. Once he returned with John and introduced him around he became a pseudo-celebrity and was no longer an outcast. That is what Bernard ultimately wanted. He wanted to be accepted into society. He stopped caring about the inconsistencies and questioning anything. He couldn’t step out of society because he didn’t have anywhere to go. He didn’t know any other way of life. This one way of life was literally ingrained into him and trying to walk away was not something that was possible for him.
It is not uncommon for people who move from one culture to another to have trouble adjusting. Life is different, values are different and that change is something humans have a hard time adjusting to. You have to understand that life is not the way you know it and that is has changed. Neither John nor Bernard had the ability to adjust with their surroundings. They both have a set way of living in their minds and trying to change is no possible.
John can’t get used to a world where nothing truly means anything. For him, that is not living. He wants to run, but he has nowhere to go. There is no life left for him to live.
This novel as an interesting read. It made me think of what exactly makes a human, human. While it also shed light on why cultures clash and the difficult of changing a known way of life.