(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.
I heard his muffled cry from the bedroom. It was just a quick shriek at first. I listened and waited for it to escalate or to disappear entirely. When I didn’t hear another harsher cry I went back to the dishes. I was drying a plate when I heard the pained whimper.
I put the towel on the side of the sink and my hands flat on the edge. Again I waited. I knew I should go to him, see what was causing that terrible whine that was starting to pierce my heart but another side of me was terrified to go to him. I had heard that devastated moan before, I knew exactly what was causing it.
“Kelly,” he called. I turned toward the hallways, my decision being made for me. I walked through the short hallway to the bedroom. He was sitting on the ground, legs outstretched in front of him, head hung low. He looked like a child who just had his favorite toy taken away from him.
“Hon?” I whispered.
He looked up. I saw complete devastation on his face. I knelt beside him and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. I patted his side.
Finally he spoke, “I thought I was doing well. I thought I was trying. Why me? Why?” he kept asking the last question over and over again. I couldn’t look him in the eyes, couldn’t give him an answer because I had no answer to give him. No answer at least that would make all this go away and would make him feel less like he was dying.
“You know they have ways of making the decision They say they don’t make them simply. It hurts them too,” I told him. Such empty and rehearsed words. I knew exactly how they made their decisions and it was nothing short of throwing darts at a board.
I didn’t say anything more as he cried himself into silence. I just stared at my reflection in the mirror that hung on the back of our closet door. I looked, at least to me, calm and put together. I was being the rock he needed right now. I was holding my boyfriend as he grieved the loss of his dreams. I was keeping my face straight and devoid of emotions to keep him calm.
My mouth quirked up at the edges. I should have registered as wanting to be an actress instead of company assistant. I had learned quite skillfully how to hold back all the emotions that chased themselves around my mind. Right now I was breaking and I couldn’t show it. My love was watching his own world crumble around him and it was all because of me. I had caused all this pain and the worst part was that he didn’t even know. He blamed some featureless company, New Day, a name that made people shake when anyone even mentioned that place.
He sat up and wiped his eyes on the back of his hand. “I’m going to go make the arrangements. Get this whole hell over with,” he gave me a peck on my cheek and went to find his phone in the kitchen.
I watched him go, leaning my head back against the bed and took deep breath. I let it out slowly, feeling my chest deflate. My heart calmed and I managed to hold in the tears that were stinging the back of my eyes.
I hadn’t known what was I was doing when I had begun the project. They had only asked me to make a census type list at first. The wanted everyone’s name and registered dreams. I had done the task never thinking twice about what I was doing. They did this occasionally, made a quick list to see what the trend would be like and how the world could be changing soon. Usually it was just information to pass on to tech companies and medical personnel. Stuff like, a number of people have registered as wanting to rework the tablet computer to make life even more convenient, better alert the big technology companies and big wigs. Give them a heads up on who to follow and who could end up being a competitor sooner or later. Many people are now determined to scale the tallest mountains, better staff the hospitals nearby.
The dream registry concept was kind of a passing joke throughout the country. No one knew why it had really started. Something about wanting to show the world the number of different and innovated dreams that Americans were working towards each and every day. It wasn’t mandatory to register but almost everyone did because when you did you got resources to help you. Usually it was spam papers from companies wanting your business but sometime it was useful stuff like conference notifications and new classes teaching what you needed to know. You did it without really thinking twice about it
So I had never thought too hard about them taking a greater interest in the list. That was until they start making me track select groups of people. They all of sudden had a vast amount of information about what certain people bought and where they shopped. They knew who was taking classes, who was going to retreats to help them better themselves. They knew who was making new contacts and who was just sitting around not doing much.
“Why do you care?” I had asked one day as I had handed over a folder full of papers on the latest group.
“We did not become the greatest by being lazy and waiting for the world to change around us. People here work towards what they want. We will ensure that, that practice continues.”
It was just last year that I saw what I was helping them do. They took over every channel on TV and the radio and made the announcement. The president and CEO of New Day stood before his microphone and told the country about a new way of life. From that day onwards everyone would be watched though that wasn’t real new information since everyone knew they were being watched already. Spending would be tracked, visits to stores would be monitored. In every place you visited some of the people would be plants, sent to keep an eye on you. Not every single citizen would be watched but you couldn’t know if or if not you were being selected. Best to work and not to worry. If you worked and didn’t waste your time and the countries resources you would be perfectly fine.
If it was determined you were not working towards your goal and you are not seen to ever begin the work properly you would be notified. There were no warnings. You would receive a call saying you were done and you could no longer achieve what you desired. You could not register for necessary classes, buy certain items or watch shows with the themes of what you had once hoped to achieve. You would be cut off from that portion of the world.
Of course chaos had ensued throughout the country. Once the first calls came and it was seen that it wasn’t all a game it was too late they had completely closed their hands around our necks. We couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t get away. Who knew who was following you or how far their influence reached. Some rebelled but many began to work with vigor determined to never get that call. The land of the free became the land of the controlled and I had helped start it all.
“Tomorrow at 10,” he was leaning on the door, eyes on the ground. “You’ll come right?” he sounded as if he was doubting me.
“Of course,” I told him. He nodded and went into the living room. I heard the muffled sounds of some sitcom. I waited for the renewed sobs when he flipped the channels and realized that he could no longer access the history channel, his favorite channel.
Mike had registered as wanting to become a world renowned historian. He didn’t give any more details then that when he had done his paper work. That had made him an easy target. New Day loved people like Mike. They registered this huge and broad dreams with so many different parts to them that it was simple to say, “Nope, they aren’t working on this piece, lets end this.” People like Mike became examples for everyone else. Those who had very specific dreams with real details had a much better chance of never getting that call.
Why I stood up and made my way to the living room I had no idea. Mike was watching a home shopping channel. “I’m so sorry,” I said, surprised my voice was still strong. “I did all this.” I should stop talking right now. I was not allowed to say these words out loud. Why was I doing this to him? I was all he had left and now I was taking even that from him. Did I want him to be completely destroyed? What was I doing?
“What?” he hit mute and looked up at me, confused.
“I started this whole thing. That call you got? I drafted it. I helped track everyone, made all the lists they use. I didn’t know what they were doing. I swear,” I didn’t move. He was watching me like I was an alien life form, speaking a completely different language.
“You?” was all he asked. I nodded, my long held in tears spilling from my eyes.
He stood up. I flinched. He had never attempted to hurt me before but I had just told him all his pain was my fault.
He gave me the most disappointed look before turning and walking out the door. I watched him go and finally broke down.
I wasn’t welcome here. I knew that. I knew I was being insensitive and I should leave right now. He was already having to be reminded with each hug that his life was now pointless. To have me looking back at him was going to be like being slapped across the face. But I still loved him and I needed to be here. If not for him then for myself.
I was next in line. He looked up at me. I held out my arms and when he didn’t move I walk to him and wrapped him in a hug. A hug he did not return. I turned and went to the side room where his casket stood.
This part was not New Day’s idea. It was all created by those who had gotten the call and it was their way of dealing. It was a way of putting an end to the whole ordeal. This was a way to bury the pain in some manner. Mike’s casket was pretty bare. His registration form and a few of his favorite articles about new discoveries were all that laid on the white cushions.
My hands brushed the page and I sighed. How could I let this happen to our lives?
A hand squeezed my shoulder. I turned to find Mike watching me, “You caused this. You can fix it.” he looked down at me.
“I can’t,” I told him, my voice and heart breaking. “I have no access to any of this.”
“You can give me yours,” he said. There was the opportunity for one person to trade their dreams for another. You signed over your potential so someone else could succeed.
I felt something snap in me and before I knew it was I was on the ground laughing so hard I could barely breathe. I couldn’t put a real thought together. Tears rolled down my cheeks and a sharp pains started in my sides.
Mike just watched me with anger and a bit of fear on his face.
I finally gained control of myself and said from my place on the ground. “ I can’t. I already achieved mine. I registered as wanting to help a company change the world. Exactly one year ago today I did just that,” I breathed out. He walked away without a word and I let the laughter and sobs fight each other for dominance as I laid on the ground completely broken
He laid flat on the concrete, arms spread out along the hard cold ground. His knees were bent up, obscuring his view of the world in front of him. He only saw the wide open sky above, nothing more. Just a long black expanse with only a handful of puffy grey clouds.
As a child those clouds were animals, household objects or weird shapes that he had made up names for. Now they are mounds of water that he could never hope to reach, never understand and never wanted to be a part of. Feet flat on the Earth, that was his place. No matter what she said.
He let out a slow breath, slowing his heart rate and closed his eyes. Here he was safe. Inside his head he was free. Inside his own thoughts no one could come after him. No one could tell him he was wrong. Tell him yet again he had broken some stupid rule. He was a failure in the outer world. In this one he was just a man. Just a man who wanted to end up on the side where good was still a way of life. If good was even still a knowable concept.
A pitter-patter of footsteps pulled him out of his thoughts. He opened his eyes, the sky was still mostly black. He had been a child the last time the night had been anything but a suffocating blanket.
“You have wings?” the voice was gruff and angry.
The man on the ground didn’t bother to answer. He just acted as if he had not heard the speaker at all.
“I said,” the speaker kicked the man’s side. “You have wings?” He wasn’t asking now, he was demanding an answer.
The man set up, giving the intruder a clear view of his unobscured back. No slits, no scars and no feathers.
“That answer your question?” he snapped, looking up at the person who had disturbed his minute of solace.
“Name,” the tall man demanded. He was dressed in a black coat and black pants. His feet were covered by granite grey combat boots. With only using half his strength he could break ever finger in the man’s splayed hand.
“Julius,” the man answered, pulling his hands into his lap for safety.
“Julius, go home,” the man bent down and stared into Julius’s eyes, completely black and pupil-less. “You don’t belong here. You and your white shirt,” he plucked the shirt from Julius’s chest. “You’re lucky I’m at quota for the month.”
Julius gave him a scowl and nodded. He could argue but that would only end up with him in the constantly restless ocean behind him. Where he would be forced to tread water until he passed out. Tomorrow he would end up in the pile that burned. No one would know he was gone and no one would care, except maybe her. If she still had the capacity for any real emotion.
The officer strode off, hands in his pockets. Julius watched him get swallowed by the darkness before he pushed himself to his feet. He looked out across the inky ocean, wondering if drowning was really as horrible as everyone said.
He decided not to test the idea tonight. He had already played fast and loose with his life enough for one night. He turned his back to the expanse and faced his home. A city of tall, square identical buildings stared back at him. Every single one was grey, with the exact same brickwork and number of windows. Addresses were the only identifying markings on the buildings. Finding where you were going always took an extra twenty minutes and ended up with you wanting to punch something. He stood on the perimeters guard wall. It towered above the rooftops, giving a clear view of the entire settlement. No one was out, no lights shone.
He started down the stairs he had come up. Stopping on the first landing he looked up at the set of wings that adorned this side of the wall. They were made of steel, cold black steel. The detail work would make any artist feel like an amateur. Each wing had intricate lines and veins criss-crossing the sculpted feathers. From here they looked so real. He wanted nothing more than to hold them and disappear into the sky with them on his back.
But he knew better. Those were cold and hard, created by machines. They matched the pair on each side. There were exactly five hundred of them spaced intermittently over the whole wall. Like the real thing they held no warmth and no worth. Just pretty images to please the eye and excite the heart with falsehoods.
He turned away from the facade and slowly picked his way down the cold stone stairs. It was stupidly dangerous to be up here, he knew that. Only the winged ones were allowed on the wall. The winged ones could enter every building and walk every street. Those like him, the unfeathered, were restricted to their specific streets and their own homes. Nowhere else.
He made it back to his hovel without incident. It was the end of the month, the officers are enjoying a night off. Tonight was the only sort of safe night of the month.
He closed the door to his apartment and slid the lock into place, as if it actually did anything. He didn’t change, his white shirt and pants were not close to dingy yet. They remained on until their glow faded. Only then would he change. Only then would he begin to feel the cold slipping through his veins. The pain would start to crawl over the skin on his back. Once the first spots began to form on the whites the slits began to open and the wings started to grow.
He never let the first feathers appear. They could not see the light of day or he was doomed. If those feathers were seen he would become one of them and he would cease to be human, to be Julius. He must not become a winged one, ever.
He slept in intervals of sixty minutes, same as every night. One hour of sleep, twenty minutes of surveillance. It was a tactic he had learned from his parents. It had served them well for years but no practice was perfect. Sooner or later it alway failed. Sooner or later they came and the charade would be over.
The night was a calm one. No one was taken and no one became a winged one, as far as he knew. He saw no new faces being ushered up steps and heard no screams or hurried footsteps. The calm nights were the worst. He had no clues and no hints of what was hiding behind his neighbors walls. Tomorrow could be the end or it could be just another day. At least with noise he knew what was coming.
The sun began to rise straight into the clouds as it did every morning. He loved the last hour before dawn, because it was the only time he saw just pure sunlight, nothing around to obscure those beautiful rays. For a very small amount of time the world was bright and alive once again, like it had been when he had been very young. There was no darkness, only bright vibrant colors that just begged for your smile and laughter. For a handful of minutes the world wasn’t dead and then it all faded away and he reentered reality.
He unlocked his door at nine o’clock like he did every morning. It was law that during the day anyone could enter your rented space whenever they liked. You played gracious host no matter if they were winged or unfeathered.
He prayed he would be left to himself today. He was not in the mood to be a play actor. He hated his part, all smiles and kind words when in realty he was screaming for them to leave or kill him.
The knock was a quiet one. It was not a winged one, they never knocked. He opened the door just as the second knock finished. On the stoop stood a small female child, hands folded in front of her. Her face was covered with a tangle of black hair and her whites had begun to fade.
“What?” he asked gruffly. He saw the tears free-falling to the ground, the wobbly legs, and shaking hands. This child was in sever pain.
“I need a new set,” she cried. “I don’t want to become one.” she finally looked up at him. Her face smudged with dirt and the tears had left deep stains on her cheeks. She had been begging house to house. As she looked up, her hair moved the side a few inches. Just through the tangle he saw it, a dark grey tip of a brand new feather.
“Too late,” he slammed the door on the doomed child. He turned away as her cries increased in volume. She could scream and curse him. Her tiny fists could try to break down the door but it wouldn’t make him flinch or turn to help. She was gone.
He knew she would lose control, try to tear out the new appendages until they were nothing but bloody strings. That was what his mother had done. It would do no good. Minutes later fresh feathers would reappear and that would be the end of it all.
You stopped screaming and you stopped crying. The wings unfurled and you soared up into the free air, never looking down and never looking back. No longer did anything or anyone matter again.
It was just as he was finishing dinner that Jack showed up. He burst through the door letting it collide with the wall. He always entered the same way with a flourish of sound and energy. Julius didn’t even flinch.
He just gathered his plate and fork and turned to the sink. He began to clean them while his former best friend entered the room.
“Ugh, still?” Jack asked. Same question every month.
“Always,” Julius replied placing his dishes in the drying rack.
“I just don’t get it,” Jack sat at the table, his great wings folding around the back of the chair, making it completely disappear. “Why do you bother? It isn’t changing. Every day our numbers grow and your numbers shrink. Give it up already,” Jack said.
Julius leaned against the counter his sparkling white outfit almost glowing in the dim kitchen.
“I will not bend. I will not become you,” he nodded at his friend. “This is my home, my life. I choose how to live it.”
“As a prisoner. As a man who has to jump at every sound and hide in the darkest shadows at night. You live with one eye always on your clothes, just watching for that one dark spot to begin to grow,” Jack threw up his hands. “Why?”
“Because,” Julius felt his teeth clenching. His neck was stiffening. He took a gulp of breath and let it out as slowly as he could. Losing control would do nothing for either man. “Because it is not my time.”
Jack stood up, nodded at him with a twisted scowl across his lips and left out the front door. Julius let out a relieved breath. He still remembered the words.
He went and closed the door behind his visitor. The sun would begin its downward decent. Soon unfeathered would be hurrying home to stay out of the dark while the winged ones would begin their nightly hunt.
He sat on the bottom stair and let his head fall into his hands. He closed his eyes and opened them back in his past, in that one moment where he had learned the words that had kept him alive and whole for so long.
“Because it is not my time,” his father grasped his son’s tiny hands. He was ten, just old enough to understand what any of the words meant, let alone remember them.
“Repeat them,” every night it was the same routine. His father would say the phrase and Julius would repeat it until his father was satisfied.
“No other words are more important. Do you understand?” his father demanded.
“Yes, father,” young Julius always replied. His father had kissed his head and left the room for the night.
He had been only a child when the world had become dark. His parents had known, had tracked the coming beings for months, maybe even for years. They had always had their noses in books or were watching new programs. He hadn’t understood then. He just knew that as the sun had become dimmer and neighbors had begun to disappear his parents had become more and more protective. He didn’t go anywhere alone and he had no friends any longer. Only her, she was a secret friend. His parents had never known that she had existed. Maybe if he had said something, they would still be here and he wouldn’t be constantly hiding behind walls and words.
“It is not…It is not…,” his father sputtered over and over falling to his knees.
Julius’ eyes snapped open and he was back in his home. The sky was almost black now. He checked his watch, it was nine o’clock. He was allowed to shut himself away for the night.
He turned the lock and the click instantly sent him into another memory.
His mother shrieked and screamed like a wild animal in the throes of death. She tore the beautiful wings to a shredded mess. He had watched her scrambling, tearing skin with feathers. The dust had gathered into a pile that resembled ash with a tinge of dark red.
“Help me!” she screeched, crawling toward his father. His father only backed young Julius into a corner, holding his wife away with an outstretched foot.
“Out!” he commanded.
“No!” the screamed echoed through the night and had become trapped in the walls. At night he would fall asleep to that echoing din.
He had never see his mother after that last moment of desperation. She had crawled out the door and his father had locked the door with a click.
Julius was back in his home. Alone and on high alert once again.
The night was not as quiet as the night before. Many turned or were taken. The yells and begs for mercy seeped through the cracks in the windows and under the door like a stealthy spirit.
He had just been about to fall asleep for his hour when one voice penetrated through the cacophony.
“Julius!” she cried. It wasn’t her usual fake cry that was their signal. This was a genuine cry for help. Her time was done, she had been found.
Julius ran to the door and threw it open. On his lawn stood two winged ones. Inky black wings as tall as they were, just barely brushing the grass at their feet. Their faces were hidden completely in the shadows. Between them she was held by each arm. Her white T-shirt and shorts shone like a beacon in the night.
“Stop,” he cried. The pair stood still. He ran out and knelt in front of her. “Say it,” he begged her. “Say the words.”
“I can’t remember them,” panic filled her eyes. “Say them for me, please,” she begged. Her knees gave out and she collapsed onto the grass, head hung low.
“I,” he looked up at her captors. This close he could see the outline of their features. One was a no name, the other was Jack. His face was stone cold serious.
“You know the rules,” his voice was pure steel. “Say them and take her or let us go.”
“Julius,” she her eyes begged him to save her.
“Because,” he felt his chest tighten. He knew what this meant. If he said these words, it was all over. She was his. Their fates would be intertwined forever. No longer were either able to make decision for themselves alone.
“Because it is not her time,” he let the words fall from his lips, barely discernible. Apparently it had been enough because Jack and no name released her, letting her fall into a heap onto the ground.
“Good call. I’ll see you soon,” Jack left with a twisted smile on his face.
“Thank you,” she crawled to him, moving to curl up into his lap. He stood up abruptly, causing her to fall into another heap. He turned for his home. She followed him, his home was now hers.
“Thank you,” she said again as she locked them inside.
“Don’t,” he spat at her. “Don’t say a word,” he turned to go into the kitchen, he needed a drink. Her hand grabbed his upper arm.
“Now it is our time,” she moved to kiss him but he stepped back.
He walked to look out the window. Neighbors unfurled their wings and flew up into the air, whoops of laughter and joy following them up. Others begged for mercy trying to remember those few word that would give them one more day.
“Because it is not…,” he paused, his brain becoming fuzzy. The words were on the very tip of his tongue, if only he could just form them.
“My time,” she whispered in his ear and he let a tear fall down his cheek, as she wrapped his her soft yet cold wings around his body. She had finally won.