Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New WorldYou’ve heard of this book. You’ve probably even read it, years ago in high school. (Maybe not so many years ago for some of you.) In 1999, Brave New World was number five on Modern Library’s list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, as chosen by its editorial board. This list inspired another list chosen by readers. Brave New World was number 18 on this one. So, perhaps it’s time to read it again to see what all the adulation is about.

Set in the year 2540, Brave New World describes a society that has given up independent thought and true happiness, replacing them with stability and constant pleasure. Embryos are grown in jars, and decanted rather than born. While in their jars, they are treated with chemicals to ensure the resultant person will have the intelligence needed for whatever job they are being engineered to perform. The Epsilons will do the most menial of jobs, so their intelligence is severely limited, Deltas are a little more advanced, and so on up to the Alphas. They have the most complex jobs, and so are the most intelligent.

Everyone, no matter their level, is conditioned as a child to be content with their lot in life and to accept the precepts of society. While sleeping they hear recordings repeating phrases like, “I’m so glad I’m an Epsilon” and as toddlers they are subjected to mild electric shocks when they approach a book. (Reading books might cause some independent thought that might in turn lead to instability in society.) They are also taught from an early age that “Everyone belongs to everyone else”. In other words, sexual promiscuity is encouraged, while developing feelings for one special person is a big no-no. Special relationships can lead to jealousy, anger, and discord, and would disrupt society. Stability is the number one priority. If ever your conditioning isn’t enough to keep you content, then there’s always soma, a Prozac-like drug that everyone uses.

You may have noticed that I’ve spent a lot of words just describing the idea of the book, without even touching yet on the characters or the plot. That’s because the idea is the most fascinating thing about Brave New World. Oh, there’s a story about what happens when individuals question their conditioning and just can’t fit in, and when a man who has been raised outside mainstream society is brought into it and experiences all these ideas for the first time. But the plot and the characters are not why you read this book. You read it for the intellectual rather than the emotional appeal.


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