I’ve always been fascinated with dystopian literature and science fiction movies from Blade Runner, Fahrenheit 451, Logan’s Run to Terminator. Hulu’s reboot of the 1985 novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood put me back on the dystopian literature trail and I finally got round to Brave New World recently. Here are my thoughts:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Would you rather be happy or free? This is the question Huxley’s antagonist Bernard Marx, a psychologist, grapples with on a daily basis. Set in the World State [nations are no more] city of London in AF (After Ford) 632, your life, which begins in a test-tube, is mapped out for you depending on your caste. Immediately recognizable by the colour of their work clothes, going from highest to lowest, the castes are Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, with a few minor grades in between.
Life is simple here. Consumerism is cherished, promiscuity is the norm, birth is controlled in laboratories and hangoverless highs from the happiness-producing drug called ‘soma’ keep everyone sweet.
Although an Alpha, Bernard is a bit on the short side and feels hopelessly inadequate and unhappy, even ‘soma’ can’t raise his spirits. His only friend Helmholtz Watson, a handsome alpha, is also disillusioned but doesn’t know why. Despite a lifetime of classical conditioning involving hypnopaedic slogans that range from sexual behaviour: “everyone belongs to everyone else” to consumerism “ending is better than mending” to getting rid of their problems with soma: “a gramme is better than a damn“, Bernard is on the fringe and finds it hard to fit in.
Love interest Lenina Crowne, a hatchery worker, is popular and sexually desirable. Frequently described as ‘pneumatic’ [I’ve no idea what that actually means] in the men’s locker rooms, Lenina seems to be an all-around swell girl so you’d have to wonder why she’s interested in bleak Bernard. It turns out he’s her ticket to a rare holiday to a Savage Reservation to observe how these grotesque communities survive as they give birth (considered a major ewww!), disease and age and die.
Everything changes when they meet John Savage and his hideously ugly mother Linda, formerly from the World State, and invite them back to civilisation or is it?
It’s a good yarn, seriously way ahead of its time, both scientifically and socially, considering it is almost 100 years old but I found the writing clunky and disjointed. You’ll be reading for the story and the subtext rather than the text itself. Often with crime and sci-fi writing, the stories hook the readers but not the writing. If I’ve put you off, then maybe you could watch this 10-minute video summary instead.
Theatre was my first love. It all started with the One-Act and 3-Act AmDram festivals in our local theatre to get out of the house to smoke cigarettes on school nights. It wasn’t long before I had graduated onto the Class As in the Abbey, Peacock, Project, Tivoli and even more fringe events and locations. It’s physical. Being present with the cast, the crew, the soundscape of mutters, coughs, and gasps from the audience; the dust, the set, the murmur murmur hum before curtain. Pure energy. I can forgive anything — set, direction, costumes, props, performance — except bad writing.
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