More or less by definition, a
dystopian novel depicts a frighteningly bad society. The emphasis is on the
society. As a result, these books tend to present social aspects. Although a
book like Orwell's 1984 showed a picture of what might be 35 years after the
book was written, there was little that was futuristic in it - little about
technology and science.
Brave New World immerses the
reader in the future technology starting at page 1. Of course, Brave New World
is about a possible society 600 years after the book was written in 1932. But
the technology and society are intertwined. It is a society that honors Henry
Ford for his contributions to assembly line production and such. The “production”
of humans via something like an assembly line, and "built" so each
human is like a particular product model (as in the auto industry). Humans
aren't born as a result of sexual intercourse, they are industrially grown
using selected genetic material to produce bodies appropriate for certain kinds
of occupations. Then after birth, behavioral modification and subliminal
sleep-learning are used to further this.
During childhood, the
foundation is laid for individuals to be psychologically attached to and happy
with their strata of society. As adults, this is reinforced with a religion-substitute
"solidarity sessions" in which the importance of the group is
emphasized and the individual is de-emphasized. And they are conditioned so
that if at any time they feel dissatisfaction with their lives they use a drug
to change their mood, rather than finding some other outlet for their
Although most readers will
certainly view this as a dystopia, it's not done by knocking down straw men or
such. Almost every character does consider him/herself to be happy. Most of
the characters we know much about are part of the privileged alpha type - and
at least those people show signs of affluence. We don't hear about these
people having crime, violence, disease, war or other elements one might expect
in a dystopia.
On the other hand, we get to
see a "primitive reservation" where people live without the
technology and social institutions of the rest of humanity. These people are
poor, dirty, lack proper sanitation, get old and decrepit, and in many ways
don't make an appealing alternative.
The society is also not fiendish when we discover what they do with discontents.
The final section of the book
concerns a youth brought from a “primitive reservation” to live in the
dystopian society. As a result of the combination of his adolescence, his
superstitious background and the resulting experiences that are traumatic to
him, I didn’t feel he presented an alternative to the dystopia. The focus on
him seemed to me to be a departure from the rest of the book. It does give us
a perspective on how the society treats the youth. This just doesn’t seem to contribute
enough to illustrating the dystopia.
Some readers may see
parallels with our society of 2010. Large numbers of people mesmerized by TV,
pop culture and the media’s preferred pundits. Persuaded by carefully
researched and psychologically tuned advertisements and public relations
campaigns into being consumers who accept the status quo. Surely, there are a
variety of differences, but perhaps our society has tried to emulate a few
themes from the book.
The technology is surprising
for a book written in 1932. There’s genetic engineering of people and
sleep-learning. There are televisions (called “television”) – which must make
this an early mention of this in literature. At least the affluent alpha caste
has access to helicopters they can pilot themselves. There is no truly hi-tech
(spaceships, robots, etc.) Yet, it’s certainly more modern than what we see in
the book 1984, although Orwell’s book was written considerably later.
Huxley created a complex
concept of the dystopia. In most regards, it seems to be an internally
consistent system that has worked out stability for the various components of
society. However, the underlying economic system isn’t as clear. One kind of repeatedly
mentioned behavioral conditioning is designed to encourage consumers to buy
products and services. It’s indicated the purpose is to keep industry going. However,
there’s no reference to competing brands (or conditioning to make consumers
pick particular competing products). In other words, there’s not much
indication there are private owners of industry who benefit from encouraging
consumerism. The book’s only real explanation of why consumerism helps
stabilize the society is the statement that it had been found that shorter
working hours led to instability. So the purpose of consumerism only seems to
be a means to justify maintaining long enough work hours for stability.
Perhaps, that’s logically consistent with that society’s stated goals, but it
doesn’t leave an entirely satisfied feeling.