As yesterday’s ominous yet unfruitful clouds have fled the celestial scene and given way to thick layers of gray that now dawn the heavens, a gray that dumped great fluffy flurries of frosty flakes on the ground, man is temporarily imprisoned inside his house. And the children are given that joyful release from their own cinder block cells, but unlike man these creatures do not fear the flakes but put on their armor and brave the storm, creating men and angels and forts and round grenades that explode on impact; each fort fights to keep his land until that Great Diplomat calls the soldiers to a ceasefire, and they all agree to terms of peace over large mugs of hot chocolate. One lonely house in the midst of the storm in which I reside has no hot chocolate, no soldiers coming to terms of peace, no Great Diplomat, but only a whining kettle, some large stacks of literature, and the horrible device of a computer. As I write these words and watch the snow fall, I cannot help, being literary, philosophizing on the symbolism that snow creates. The world I live in is now covered in white, creating a new start for creation much like our Great Savior has made our sins as white as snow. Perhaps nothing beats a snow day. Though I am certainly not getting paid for this lazy day; though I may have apprehensions concerning whether or not the Bumblebee will ever make it out of the garage, or whether I should have stocked up on provisions beforehand considering my pathetic means of transportation, I, nevertheless, see this day much like creation: a day to reflect, to sit back and take perspective on life. A day to write.
The work of literature I have recently finished is Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It is the fourth of four dystopic novels I have commented on in this blog (the others being Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s Farenheit 451, and Anderson’s Feed — one I need to give a reread). Although I generally do not care for the way these novels are written, I really enjoy reading what men have had to say concerning the future of our world. Each of these men are commenting on the future but using today’s world to reach their conclusions. Brave New World is not different. Huxley’s novel focuses around two major ideas. The first is that it is set in AD 2540 or A.F. 632 (After [Henry] Ford). The second has to do with the concept of conditioning. Certainly, many other themes and talking points are draped through this novel, but I will focus on these two and specifically the second. Lastly, what I want to do regarding this novel, as should be done with any piece of dystopia, is reflect on what this novel is saying about our world today. What has come true? What could come true? What seems a stretch? As Bradbury once stated in response to writing about the future, (and I paraphrase) “I was trying to prevent the future more than anything.” I couldn’t agree more.
Let’s discuss this first aspect of the novel, the setting. Good readers immediately ask the question why AF 632? What significance does Henry Ford play in the world we live in? The assembly line has certainly become a common mode of work for many American’s today. The idea in the novel specifically is that every person should be contributing to society. In this sense, the novel is very similar to both Farenheit 451 and 1984. Both of those novels, Orwell’s especially, make the argument that outside forces will slowly make man less independent. His need to be useful for society will trump any individuality he can claim. This is presented immediately in Huxley’s novel as the first chapter opens up with The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning (D.H.C.) informing young students on how upbringing works. No longer are there parents and families, but instead each person is raised in a sort of assembly line mode of rearing. Each being created and conditioned for usefulness in society.
When reading this part of the novel, the initial response is to conclude that this sort of thing could never actually occur in our world. I do not believe it ever will happen, yet, at the same time, something quite like it is already occurring. We see this more or less in Europe and highly civilized countries. It is slowly creeping into the U.S., only slowly due to our deeper Christian roots and widespread amount of immigration that takes place here. What I am referring to is the new trend for lovers to have fewer children or no children at all. In today’s far less-religious and more urbanized societies, the desire or need for children is far more void than in past generations. Christian families see children as creating small images of God and less industrialized families will view children as more helpful hands for the farm instead of another mouth to feed. Of course, the grand paradox in our society is that, while we do not want children, we still definitely want sex, and Huxley’s world is no different as sex is perhaps as common as a kiss in AF 632. Though, for any prospective readers, nothing really too graphic takes place, thankfully.
Thus, I can certainly see this occurring in the future if our world was allowed to keep going the way it is currently trending. Of course, we will always have Christianity with us, and the poor working rural families are not leaving any time soon either, so as a widespread phenomenon, it will never happen. But as we careen down this slippery slope like a child with glee on a snowy sled, we will eventually want all sex has to offer without that awful issue of offspring. Amazingly, we’ve already gone to extremes like abortion for this very cause. And the family is “less important” every year.
This leads to the second major theme of the novel: conditioning. As individual families are done away with (indeed in the novel nothing is more offensive than being called a mother or father) so too is individuality itself. This is replaced with making people grow up liking what they do without ever thinking about it.
“And that,” put the Director sententiously, “that is the secret of happiness and virtue — liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their unescapable social destiny.”
The conditioning is done in the novel through the use of Soma, a drug people take when they are beginning to feel depressed even a little. The more Soma you take the better you feel. And as long as you are happy, can you possibly have any complaints? Is not pure bliss what this entire journey on earth is all about? This same concept is fleshed out in Farenheit 451 in which the “Soma” people take is the T.V. And in Anderson’s Feed, the drug people cling to is materialism. I believe these latter two writers created a conditioning that is perhaps more true to the everyday person, but they probably both were building off of what Huxley purports in his novel.
But the main character, Bernard Marx, is not so convinced that his world is necessarily on the right track. Instead of flooding his mind with Soma, Bernard decides to question the authenticity of his world. At his bi-weekly Solidarity Service meeting, a meeting of six men and six women, Bernard’s uneasiness begins to show. The meeting begins with everyone taking Soma and quickly becomes a religious ceremony in which all twelve occupants “become one” to the music of “Orgy-porgy” and dancing. As religion has died in this world and been replaced with Ford, materialism, the service functions as their transcendental fix — every man needs to belong to something outside of himself. While the taboos of explicit writing about sex were definitely in vogue at this time (1932) Huxley only hints at the issue here. But the conclusion can easily be made that this scene displays the replacing of supernatural religion with various material religions, one being that of sex as the phrase “twelve becomes one” is repeated. Despite there being a common feeling of transcendence among the majority of the party, Bernard still feels utterly alone in their midst and despite the Soma.
He was as miserably isolated now as he had been when the service began — more isolated by the reason of his unreplenished emptiness, his dead satiety. Separate and unatoned, while the others were being fused into the Greater Being… much more alone, indeed, more hopelessly himself than he had ever been in his life before. He had emerged from that crimson twilight into the common electric glare with a self-consciousness intensified to the pitch of agony. He was utterly miserable…
The hero of the novel is none other than a savage from New Mexico named John. John is the offspring of a woman who lives with him and a man from this Brave New World, an irony in that men from this New World were not to have any offspring as it was considered an absurdity. The savage in the novel represents what Bernard could never represent. While Bernard clearly questions his world, he can only go so far. Like Montag in Farenheit 451, he can’t question something he can’t fully comprehend. This only leads to confusion. But the savage is much closer to Faber, the English professor, who is enlightened enough to see beyond what Montag can. The Savage is well-read, and though he initially is excited to visit this new world he has heard so much about, quickly realizes that the world is largely pseudo-satisfying. “I’d rather be unhappy than have the sort of false, lying happiness you were having here” the Savage tells Bernard.
The climax of the novel comes during the death scene of Linda, the Savage’s mother. During the scene children are present who are being death-conditioned (called Death “Education” today). Afterwards a Deputy comes and begins rationing out Soma for the children to take. Watching the death was useful in the conditioning process, but what use would it be if it did not produce the required happiness, the “Sovereign Good”? However, in an effort to free the children from themselves, the Savage takes the box of Soma and begins throwing it out the window, crying “Free” as he does so.
The Savage as well as Bernard and another friend are taken into custody, and it is here that we learn of the art of conditioning as they are instructed by the Controller, Mustapha Mond.
“Our world is not the same as Othello’s world. You can’t make flivvers without steel — and you can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma.
The Brave New World the Savage has encountered is one full of a conditioned happiness with no more of the awful duties of thought or the possibilities of unhappiness. God has been erased from the people’s minds despite Mustapha Mond admitting a belief in God, albeit one that “manifests himself as an absence, as though he weren’t there at all” because he “is not compatible with… universal happiness,” finally reaching the conclusion that “people believe in God because they’ve been conditioned to believe in God.” The Savage, however, does not take the bate stating in a highly revealing quote that “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone — quite alone, in the night, thinking about death…” But in this Brave New World no one is ever alone, and the only thoughts of death are countered by rationings of soma. In the end, the Savage condemns himself with the ever popular resolution to all of Mustapha Mond’s propaganda: “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
Conditioning is a theme that I have found is present in all four of the dystopic novels I have read. Perhaps this is because Huxley’s novel is in many ways the “first of its kind.” A dystopic novel does not work unless it is somewhat reasonably applicable to today’s societal issues and can be believed to possibly occur in the future. Brave New World does both. Whether it is the current education system conditioning students or the possibility of a future society that is over-reliant on contraceptives, this novel is one for the present as well as the future. Progress is not always good. And every problem we see in our society can be linked back to man’s inward struggle for happiness. Happiness is our god. Nearly ever act, if not all acts, we do is for that pursuit. The problem is that we have our happiness tied up in things that will never truly satisfy. We have been conditioned to seek joy in what CS Lewis calls “mud pies”: sex, television, recreation, music, video games, sports, books (!), materialism, transcendentalism, even people, when an infinite joy, the source of all joy, is offered to us in God. Naturalism cannot account for this odd desire for joy inside of us, and this desire has to have some origin — it did not evolve from slime. That cause is the Source of all good himself, the infinite and ever-joyful God. The God who layered my world with the snow I would much rather make forts with than shovel.
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. — CS Lewis