Brave New World
Sacrificing Shakespeare in the name of the Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy?
Brave New World was written by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1932 and derived its title from The Tempest, a play by William Shakespeare, namely from its heroine Miranda’s speech which is at the same time both ironic and naive. Miranda, raised her whole life on a solitary island, comes to encounter people for the first time only to find drunken sailors and their ship which they happened to wreck. The line is: O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!
Aldous Huxley’s ironic allegory is quite clear. It is the future into which we project our hopes and dreams and it is the future again who twists and turns them into ludicrous dissapointments. But at least the citizens of Huxley’s dreamworld are unaware of their absurd condition and float through their existence with ease that men of today can hardly come to know. Written during The Great Depression and inspired by the novels of H. G. Wells, Huxley’s Brave New World tells the story of a suprisingly happy and contended society (one should bear in mind that this book is usually labeled as dystopian fiction, genre which relishes in apocalyptic and catastrophical visions of the future). People are not born but grown (in the book’s words ˈdecantedˈ), they are specifically conditioned through various means such as sleep-teaching to love what they would otherwise hate and to think only within the confines of their caste, they are distracted by the consumerist nature of their world to buy new and throw away the old, to dread solitude and to never doubt, question or fear. The need for religion and self-transcendence is achieved through the use of hallucinogen called soma. And into this world of blissful ignorance arrives John the Savage, the novel’s protagonist though he does not make an appearance until the middle of the narrative. He had been raised by the pre-Columbians in one of the last reservations where people are still left to their own devices and vices. His magical worldview is confronted with the unthinking machinery of the World State (single political authority common for all the world’s population) which cannot become anything but the end of him. Unlike Orwell’s vision of bleak, industrial and altogether dispiriting future as the one described in his masterpiece 1984, Huxley depicts it using opposite methods. Where is 1984 bleak, there is Brave New World bright and shining , industrial ladscape of 1984 is replaced with sunny one, full of colourful and sparkling skyscrapers of Brave New World. The word depression had all but lost its meaning. Everyone is happy. And happiness is indeed the word to understand the concept of the book. ˈI just want to be happyˈ is an answer common to majority when asked what is it they want most in their lives. And here it is, happy society in all its shining armor, so why is it then that this kind of society is still not desirable for the ones who reads about it (human’s squeamishness at genetic manipulation put aside)? It seems to be the absence of something fundamental. And that fundamental something seems to be the art. The high art respectively. In the world of Huxley’s imagination there are no great writers, painters or composers, no poets or playwrights. The reason why is very likely because happiness is not compatible with art. One has to know tragedy to give birth to something great and beautiful. It is this dialectic of art vs happiness that constitute the heart of this book. Happiness has got to be paid for and its prize seems to be the art. Brave New World is not a work without flaws. There are in fact many of them (the unrealistic portrayal of a highly intellectual savage who got all his wisdom from The complete works of William Shakespeare being one of them). Reading it is not a life-changing experience as, for me personally, reading 1984 was. It however raises rather few questions about the state of our own society and values. It presents the reader with the question (as the title suggests) whether it is right to sacrifice something honourable like art for the sake of being happy. The answer is left for everybody to decide individually according to their set of beliefs but in my personal opinion pain and pleasure, happiness and sorrow are two complementary human conditions. You wouldn‘t know one without the other and both of them are part of the whole integral human experience. The absence of one, be it a pleasure or pain, makes life incomplete and one-dimensional. Putting all philosophical discourse aside, Brave New World is also fairly easy to read, Huxley’s dictionary english makes it so and is sure to keep reader’s attention despite few of its defects, inconsistencies or holes in logic, it is also on the list of 1000 books you must read before you die and who are you not to do what you are told to do.