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Brave New World - Discussion

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18th February 2011, 09:06 AM
lunababymoonchild

This book sets out an alternative society with babies not being born but created and then conditioned from birth and for their entire lives with adult behaviour being controlled via drugs. Even so, not everybody conforms to this and the book goes on to describe what happens.

This book is set in the future but as it was written between the two world wars so at that time perhaps it was futuristic, but not so now, I felt. More an alternative man made society.

I struggled with this book a little bit. I got to page 70 and decided to give it until page 100 before I abandoned it as I felt that up until then it was mundane and somewhat sterile in it's depictions of the society that was later to be called Brave New World. Fortunately, somewhere between page 70 and 100 it got a bit more interesting, from my point of view. Had the book been written later I would have felt that it was cliched in the introduction of a character that was neither of the controlled society or fully savage (the pre-existing 'alternative' society) but since the book was obviously written in the thirties it didn't come across a cliched at all.

I enjoyed the remainder of the book and am glad that I stuck with it. The most profound of the author's statements come near the end, and during the thirties I'm sure that they were extremely profound if not ground breaking. They are certainly thought provoking today.

Not the greatest book I've ever read but enjoyable enough and for long enough to keep me reading. Won't be seeking out other works by Aldous Huxley, though.


#2 18th February 2011, 09:24 AM
tagesmann

I finished this yesterday. I had read the book before but that was at school and the impression it made then was fairly profound. This time I was a little disappointed. It wasn't a bad book and it wasn't badly written. Of course the science fiction is dated but that doesn't matter. I think that my main reason for not being so involved in the book was because I couldn't empathise with the characters although I did appreciate the cultural clashes and the total inability of the people to understand each other.

I agree that the end of the book contained the most interesting aspects. Particularly the controller's sacrifice and the discussion about the right to be unhappy. I sometimes think that it is a shame that authors so rarely put their point of view forward through their characters in the way that was accepted in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century.

I hated the ending but it was at least final.


#3 18th February 2011, 10:29 AM
Grammath

Like most science fiction books, it is worth considering Brave New World in the context of the time it was written and published - 1932. I see it as satire as much as some form of future prediction.

Mass production had fuelled the boom of the 1920s but had also had a dehumanizing effect - people became simple machines on a production line. The Great Crash of 1929 suggested that a world of wealth and mindless pleasure wasn't necessarily going to last forever. The Soviet Union had existed for a decade and a half; a society dedicated to shoehorning people into contributing to accepting its ideology unquestioningly. Mussolini was already in charge of Italy and Hitler's election was imminent.

Huxley was from an academic background and I see Brave New World as a novel of ideas first and foremost, I agree as a story it is somewhat weaker than its closest equivalent in English Literature, Nineteen Eighty Four.

Like tag, I first read Brave New World in my teens, at a time when sci-fi formed the backbone of my pleasure reading diet, as opposed to what I had to read for school. This, Nineteen Eighty Four and the works of Philip K. Dick showed me that the future was not necessarily going to be a rosy place so for me personally it was a very important book and appealing to the moody teenage Grammath.


#4 21st February 2011, 11:43 AM
Jenmcd

Science fiction, along with fantasy, is a genre I avoid like the plague and I think Brave New World is my first foray into this area. I suppose I started out with low expectations so was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the novel. It is very much an ideas driven rather than character driven book so the weak point was my inability to connect with any of the characters.

Aspects of the book seem very dated which at times make it hard to take the novel seriously - I am thinking particularly of the notion that we would all be obsessed with wearing artificial fibres and clothes with large numbers of zips in the future. Also I would have expected the fact that women were freed from pregnancy and mothering would have promoted equality to a much greater extent. I know the female characters were working but they didn't seem to make it to the very top in society and it seemed to be still basically a man's world.

I have found myself thinking about the book quite a bit since I finished it and was particularly struck by the notion that the Brave New World sacrificed democracy for stability. The response of western governments and media to the current situation in various middle eastern countries seems to echo this - while they are very careful not to say anything which appears to deny the democratic rights of people in the region you can sense the underlying fear for the 'stability of the region' - a stability which suits the west.

I have also found myself wondering whether it would be better to be bred and conditioned to be on the lower stratas of such a futuristic society or to be kept there by force. As someone who has been through pregnancy and childbirth three times it has also occurred to me that if you are conditioned against the whole notion it would seem a very bizarre and appalling thing to go through.

Anyway I am slightly freaking myself out by how much I'm thinking about this! On the whole I'll settle for our imperfect democracy.

#5 20th March 2011, 05:29 PM
bobblington

What interested me in this book was the way that like so many futuristic books there is the idea that rather than turning into extremely independant people, the human race always becomes conformist and is so easily controlled.

Also the controlling faction are always breaking the rules themselves and in this instance deciding to stay and control rather than escaping to the islands.

Basically this book had a world split into 3 groups, the controlled world, with programmed humans from birth into social strata. A group of 'savages' which appeared to be Mexican Nomads (now confined) and the islands where people who wanted space and the ability to be free and alone could have it. Which seemed like a sensible idea really.

I find it wonderful how clear he was about 'test tube babies' and mind control, I know it was only the 1930's but it still seemed an impressive idea of the future. Very interesting to see how people think things will pan out. I always enjoy a futuristic tale - how accurate they can be on small things, and sometimes big things.


#6 19th April 2011, 05:15 PM
nonsuch

I've taken a long time to finish this one, which indicates that it was hardly a pageturner. I have to agree with Tagesmann that the characters are so thinly realised that it's difficult to identify with them. Of course it's about ideas not people, but even so it's terribly dated. So what if many of the seemingly fantastic notions about cloning and conditioning are now part of our everyday life. Test tube babies, avoidance of romantic love, the pragmatic approach to death, the clean clinical world where alphas are governors and epsilons are pariahs to be shunted off to New Mexico - some of these things have happened and are happening around us (QV the euthanasia debate) but are they really novel material, which, to me at least, depends on character. Like Mrs Thatcher I sometimes tend to think that society is a myth. Oh well, I guess I'm just not a sci-fi guy.


#7 20th April 2011, 08:29 AM
tagesmann



Aspects of the book seem very dated which at times make it hard to take the novel seriously - I am thinking particularly of the notion that we would all be obsessed with wearing artificial fibres and clothes with large numbers of zips in the future.


A lot of modern clothes are made with synthetic fibres, especially those made for women. And our society is obsessed with fashion and with buying this year's styles.

I think Huxley also correctly predicted our rampant consumerism. But where he suggested an almost compulsory consumerism which created a demand for products and services we have a manufacturing industry that creates the demand by constantly developing new products.


#8 20th April 2011, 12:28 PM
nonsuch

Of course it is dated, like Wells and Orwell, because many of the prophesies have become commonplace and others are too far-fetched to even make us smile. The reader must take fantasy fiction for what it's worth and when it is satirical and funny, like Gulliver's Travels or Animal Farm, for example, it is hugely enjoyable. There's a fictional world presented in those books that relates to our world, as it is and always will be, but with Brave New World I felt I was being dragged through one gimmick after another - frozen wastes, deserts, skyscraper countries or whatever - all to show us what bizarre futures we could be heading for. Still, I did laugh at some bits - John the barbarian becoming a Shakespeare scholar for instance. Sci-fi should either be funny or rather chilling - like, say, Ferency's Metropole, which is so close to our real world as to be horrific. Orwell, it seems to me, does both extraordinarily well in Animal Farm and pulls the horror thread uncomfortably tight in 1984, which is not funny and almost too close for comfort. Huxley never quite engages the reader to the same degree.


#9 5th August 2011, 12:50 PM
Luis Saunders

"…what would it be like if I could, if I were free – not enslaved by my conditioning."

I found this quote on ****** along with an analysis, discussion, and references pertaining to Brave New World. It really helped me understand the book, its magnificence and significance to the way society is progressing today, especially in developed countries like ours. The current preoccupation really is with comfort, with numbing ourselves to anything unpleasant, anything that leaves us feeling uncertain. Psychiatrists prescribe Prozac like candy. Those who can afford it control the temperature, the lighting, the very environment they live in to shut out the elements. Every human experience can be purchased if you have enough money. The world Aldous Huxley speaks of could be a reality very soon.


#10 13th August 2011, 11:58 AM
nonsuch
 

"…what would it be like if I could, if I were free – not enslaved by my conditioning."

. The world Aldous Huxley speaks of could be a reality very soon.


It already is! That's why, in many ways, the novel, like some of Ray Bradbury, seems somewhat dated.


#11 15th October 2011, 04:28 PM
eager reader

My teenager and young adult students all love this book. I set it as a reader almost every semester. It all started a few years ago, when 1984 used to be one of the set titles for the Cambridge FCE exam. Back then I recommended it as a complement to 1984 to the students who had read that and enjoyed, and it proved to be so popular that whenever I have a group with that profile I go for it again.

I also like this novel a lot myself, but I often wonder why the younger generation responds to it so positively. Could it be that they somehow see the world as it is today - cold-hearted, no room for love, only alphas taking it all - reflected on the plot ?

It's incredible how most teenagers seem to be without hope nowadays. I suppose Brave New World illustrates that lack of social mobility so perfectly it gives them comfort regarding their own lives.


#12 15th October 2011, 07:21 PM
momac
 

It's incredible how most teenagers seem to be without hope nowadays. I suppose Brave New World illustrates that lack of social mobility so perfectly it gives them comfort regarding their own lives.


I certainly hope that it doesn't apply to most teenagers, what a depressing thought when they have their whole lives ahead of them.


#13 16th October 2011, 02:38 PM
eager reader
 

I certainly hope that it doesn't apply to most teenagers, what a depressing thought when they have their whole lives ahead of them.

Hi Momac,

I also find it utterly depressing and certainly hope this is just a local problem here in Brazil - but unfortunately it's what I've been noticing recently. Our educational system is extremely elitist, and youngsters realise from an early age that the vast majority will probably be excluded from a good university and therefore good jobs in the future. This makes them very competitive at a time when they should be just enjoying their youth. The ones who feel they can't enter the race just give up and conform. It's a downward spiral, really, which could only be reversed if we had drastic changes implemented from secondary school on, but our government is not too keen... Sad, sad, sad.


#14 15th November 2011, 01:08 PM
Chris Parker

I loved this book, even though it's gloomy and ends on a downer. It's remarkable when you think of the publishing date.

I was talking to my 12-year old son about the streaming in his school. They put the brightest kids in 'E' stream, next brightest in 'D' stream etc, for most of their lessons. Except for the alphabet reverasl, I was struck by the similarity with alphas etc. If we're not careful we'll be educating (if not genetically engineering) the next generation. At least there's the X Factor to keep everyone entertained and happy!

 

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I didn't read this book at the time but have read it last year. Glad to see the thread back. I have read several dystopian novels. And there is some truth in all of them. If we consider when the book was written and what was the greatest fear of the time, we recognize the foundation of their subject. And the more time has passed, the better we can judge whether the author was right or not.

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My problem with Brave New World is that it now seems terribly dated. Of course the characters, as in most 'novels' of ideas are largely illustrative and they don't come alive outside of the book. Orwell, I find, manages rather better to engage readers with character and his satire bites and the language is more memorable.

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We have to read dystopian novels almost like a classic, considering the time it was written, the fears people had adn then compare them with the present, did any of the predictions come true? The closer the novel comes to our real world, the better we probably imagine the author was. That is not necessarily true since they are not fortune tellers, they just describe what people are afraid of at the time.

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Brave New World is a book whose reputation precedes it. A staple of school curriculums for decades, many have fond memories of the society stratified from Alpha to Epsilon, neatly colour coded and living for their daily fix of soma. This school-based reading passed me by. As we read Grapes of Wrath and Animal Farm, the Brave New World was left as nothing more than an enigmatic title, teasing with its symbolism.

So, as a first time reader who is comfortably into middle age, how did it stack up? Not terribly well, if truth be told. Nothing happens. Slowly.

Sure, there is an interesting idea of this utopian society where everyone is genetically engineered and raised to fulfil a specific role in society. As the mulberry clad Betas are taught, they are lucky because they don't have to work as hard as the Alphas, and they are better than the Gammas in their hideous green clothes. And the Gammas in turn are pleased to work less hard than the Betas. And everyone is glad to have avoided the fate of the Epsilon semi-morons, dressed in ugly black.

Aldous Huxley's big idea seemed to involve an odd mix of eugenics and very rapid travel, enabling people to play golf in Scotland and pop to the south of France for afternoon tea. Apart from that, daily life is not that different from 1930s Britain, albeit slightly more regimented. One wonders whether the novel was really a vision of a future or a parody of growing social change at the time of writing. Perhaps with the passage of time, it has been easier to see the vision of the future rather than the comment on contemporary society.

But for all the big idea, Huxley fails to do much with it. The plot is all but non-existent, serving only as a vehicle to permit more details of this Brave New World to be expanded upon or to permit a leading character to make a long and implausible speech outlining the philosophy of the new society. And as for the characters, let's just say that eugenics does not work wonders for personality. All the carefully cloned characters behave in cloned fashion, impossible to tell apart with no trace of individuality permitted to show through. Except, of course, for a brief foray for no obvious reason into an "uncivilised" society where people live in their natural state. This permits heavy handed contrasts to be made, but with no real narrative drive.

There are questions that the novel might inspire - which doubtless would have helped to establish the novel in classrooms down the ages. For example, one might ask whether it is really worse to pre-determine a person's physical, emotional and intellectual development in artificial gestation than to allow nature to do the work and cast people into different social strata from which they cannot escape. Or whether free will is such a great thing if people with no free will are not able to be aware they don't have it. But it would have been nice if these questions could have been posed by a book that was well written, less clunky and dull.

I suspect that teenagers like Brave New World (and they really do) because it seems subversive and deals with reproduction. I suspect that adult readers will have encountered better books - including those that consider reproduction in more, um, stimulating ways and will see Brave New World for the clunker it really is.

 

**000

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