Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
23 January 2003


It's impossible to read this book without subconsciously comparing it with George Orwell's 1984. Interestingly enough, Eric Blair (later to use George Orwell as a pen name) was a student of Huxley's at Eton preparatory school, 15 years before Brave New World was published and 30 years before 1984. It's impossible to say how much this contact has to do with the similarities between the two satirical novels, or which of the two men influenced the other. It could have been mutual, or it could have been nothing at all. However, the similarities are remarkable.

In the World State of Brave New World, human beings are mass-produced and conditioned for positions they will have to take in society. The idea, according to World Controller Mustapha Mond, is that people will love what is forced on them. A good idea in principal; but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that this universal happiness comes at the cost of countless basic human rights, along with (as admitted by Mond himself) freedom, truth and beauty. The philosophical penultimate chapter poses the question: Is happiness worth the sacrifice of all that the human race holds dear? Mond believes it is. The reader is apparently left to decide for themselves, but Huxley is as skilled at propaganda as the World Controllers; with Nazi Germany inexorably rising, and later, with the Cold War looming as Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited, he ensured that the only possible choice is in favour of freedom.

I found the language of the novel a little awkward, the dialogue and flow of ideas a bit hesitant, but got too wrapped up in the story to mind very much. Perhaps the ideas would have been presented better if in different hands, but no one but Huxley could have had the ideas used. Even if he had, for some reason, employed a ghost writer, that individual would have been unable to understand what Huxley was trying to say. No, I think my discomfort with Huxley's style is purely personal, and Brave New World presents the fears of a generation of intellectuals in the best possible manner.

1984, being more modern, is far easier to read. The actual story is as interesting as the satire, but the workings of the Party are presented less smoothly; Orwell must employ forbidden literature and intellectual discussion to show his readers how his world operates, where Huxley builds every detail into the plot. Also, 1984 deals only with freedom of conscience, while Brave New World deals with all human freedoms - sexual freedom, intellectual freedom, artistic freedom, scientific freedom, etc, etc. As a result 1984 goes much deeper into the issues and examines the mechanisms of control in more detail. Brave New World presents a panoramic view of these mechanisms, and Huxley seems more eager to get onto Mond's musings - the actual philosophy.

O'Brien in 1984 is a more sympathetic and real leader than Mustapha Mond. He, and, through him, Big Brother, inspires respect and love in a Party worker. Mond, on the other hand, inspires respect and fear in Alphas and Betas. The lower classes - "the proles" in 1984, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons in Brave New World - care little for the existence of these leaders. Both groups are biologically inferior, Huxley's through poisoning at the embryonic level, Orwell's through generations of inbreeding and neglected intellectual development. As a result, neither group has it in them to revolt. This realisation brings both books to their equally despairing ends, although Orwell has no need of suicide as a tool here - the breaking of his characters' minds is sufficient to leave the reader with the horror that both authors wish to inspire. In 1984, however, this horror is intensely emotional, whereas Brave New World evokes a mostly intellectual condemnation, again caused by Huxley's philosophical penultimate chapter.

I am very glad that I have read Brave New World. It marks an important growth in my political philosophy. It also throws 1984 into a bit more context - Blair would have been influenced by books such as this one. Reading it in companion with the Cliff's Notes increased my understanding of it. However, this is not something I'd do with a novel I was studying academically. Part of the joy of the academic study of the novel is to discover unaided the subtler nuances of meaning. To have them pointed out would turn the study into a chore.


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