While Brave New World is often compared to Orwell’s 1984 in that they both present a portrait of a disturbing future dystopia, the mechanisms in which their future societies impose control over the individual are actually in stark contrast to one another. Where Big Brother controls society through intimidation, fear and the violent suppression of individual freedoms, Huxley presents a world in which true social and mental conditioning have eliminated the need for strict government enforcement at all. Although Orwell’s future is more viscerally disturbing and repulsive, the society in Brave New World is just as frightening in its implications, with Huxley giving us a more subtle condemnation of the effects of population control and the social caste system.
Brave New World Summary: In London of 2540, the world’s population is kept at a stable 2 billion, resources are plentiful, there is near-universal employment, and global society is peaceful and stable. Babies aren’t born in the traditional sense, but are instead grown in test tubes and molded (through chemicals and sleep-hypnosis) to become a member of one of society’s five main castes. Since natural reproduction is non existent and sex is seen only as recreation, people are encouraged to be sexually promiscuous and open. In order to keep the economy stable, citizens are conditioned to be voracious consumers of products and materials. While individuality and solitude isn’t outlawed, it is looked down upon by society to the extent that those who value it are deemed “Unstable.” In place of religion, citizens are encouraged to take the Hallucinogenic drug Soma to combat any feelings of stress or anxiety. Actually, now that I think about, this doesn’t seem like such a bad way to live after all 🙂
The conflict begins when the main character Bernard (who is a bit unstable himself) travels to a Reservation during a holiday in order to view a group of “Savages” -a primitive people who exist outside of society and who still live in the traditional manner. When Bernard brings one of the savages back to London, he quickly becomes a celebrity as the savage (John) is seen as different and unique. John quickly becomes disenchanted with the decadence of society and the values which conflict with his own and tries to escape civilization. John’s isolation and self-flagellation eventually cause even more interest in him by the citizens, leading to an encounter that has tragic consequences.
Brave New World Review: The true prescience of Huxley’s vision, I think, is that many of the customs and structures that he describes are logical extensions of things that can be found in modern day culture. From population control programs and test tube conception techniques to the use of drugs and material consumption as a salve for depression and discontent, the book accurately predicts some of the emerging social and societal trends of the last 50 years. And while Orwell’s vision warns us of the dangers of a totalitarian regime that forcibly limits our intellectual curiosity and freedoms, Huxley seems to instead be warning us of a future in which prosperity and imposed happiness have caused us to suppress our own individuality and search for meaning.