I can only guess that the reason I have never read this book till now, is because I assumed that I had already read it during my school days. I think I confused this book with 1984 by George Orwell.So, I picked up this book expecting it to be a re-read and breathlessly waiting for the Uncle Sam references (which I never got obviously because this is NOT 1984).
Instead, what I got is an awesome insight into the nature of modern civilization, and tons of philosophical ideas about what constitutes freedoms, the meaning and importance of happiness, and the struggle between individuality and the collective happiness of society.
Sounds like some heavy stuff, huh!
Well, it’s not. The story is deceptively simple and straight-forward.
Set in London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. (After Ford) in the book), this book tells the story of a hatchery in England. This is not a normal hatchery for chickens or anything. It’s a hatchery for human embryos. Here babies are decanted (not born), given appropriate hormones, and mental conditioning, so that they are prepared for the Brave New World that faces them outside.
There is a strict caste system hierarchy in this society. The babies are categorized as alpha, beta, gamma, epsilon and the babies from each caste are trained and conditioned appropriately. Once they are adults, they are allotted work as per their caste. I found these bits very interesting. In India, we have struggled to overthrow the burdens and biases that are inherent in our caste system. It was interesting to read that this was something Huxley envisioned as a future occurrence and not something that is already existing in another part of the world.
Everybody is happy because they have been heavily conditioned into thinking so. Sex is free, there are no families, and everybody belongs to everybody. There is also a state sanctioned drug called “soma” that people take if they feel even the least bit stressed.
Basically, this is a stable well-functioning society of its time.
However, there are a couple of unhappy people. Bernard Marx is an alpha male working in the hatchery. Because of a possible mistake in his hormonal doses when he was a baby, Bernard is not happy like everyone else. He is a loner, is not very sexual, and worse still, he questions things and thinks for himself.
One week, he goes on a trip to a Savage reservation with his girlfriend (a reservation is where people live isolated from civilization and practice the age-old habits of raising families, praying to God (and not Ford), and other such primitive practices).
There he comes across a young man and his mother who want to leave the reservation and come back home to England. The mother had been abandoned in the reservation by mistake and longs to return to civilization. The young man (John Savage) has been born and brought up in the reservation but is an outcast there because of his white skin. When they all return to England, there is a clash of cultures that makes everyone in the story rethink their ideas.
This is a very short and easy book to read. I completed it within 2 days, and kept thinking about it for many days more.
The story itself is no great shakes, but this is not a book you read for the story. This is a book you read for the provocative ideas and thoughts. I loved, loved, loved this book simply because it made me think a bit deeper on things we take for granted in today’s cultural environment.
It’s also downright eerie how he has visualized (in 1932!) a dumbed down society where the citizens rely on sexual relationships, shopping, and mind-altering drugs to stay in a permanent state of contentedness. These people are so engrossed in their own trivial concerns that they don’t even realize that so many freedoms are being taken away from them.
The really interesting question though is whether such a society is really such a bad thing? Or is personal fulfillment more important? What do you think? The book leaves this question to the audience to decide. And I really don’t know what to think just yet.
What about you? Did you read the book? What did you take away from it?