Imagine a futuristic society where natural birth is obsolete and children are “decanted” from test tubes. A society based on a prejudiced and strict caste system: where Alphas rule and Epsilons are purposely given alcohol during their gestation period to inhibit their growth and intelligence. Where sexual promiscuity is accepted and encouraged, while those who practice monogamy and have deeps feelings for only one individual are ostracized. As Lenina aptly summarizes, “everybody belongs to every one else” and no one belongs to themselves (Huxley, 121). This horrifying dystopia is the setting of Aldous Huxley’s new age novel, “Brave New World”, where the main protagonists, Bernard Marx and John the Savage, defy social norm for a chance of freedom. Published in 1932, Huxley’s novel satirizes issues not only present in the 30s but in today’s modern society as well. Inequality among people and technology’s hold on the masses are brought to light within the novel. However comical some sections seem to be at first, Huxley’s original purpose was to draw light in how easy governments could control their the masses through psychological means while the public themselves are left ignorant or fully accept it just as in “Brave New World”. Although the people of this controlled society seem genuinely content with their lives, it’s due more to their ignorance and their soma than true happiness. Throughout the novel, “Brave New World,” the unifying idea that truth and happiness cannot coexists is prevalent; in order to achieve one, the other must be sacrificed.
A critical look into the eyes of a critic can give in-depth analysis on a topic for which a reader might overlook. An article in Aldous Huxley’s web site gives a very comprehensive investigation on “Brave New World” that breaks down and guesstimates the purpose of soma and its functionality. As the critic states, “Huxley was writing a satirical piece of fiction, not scientific prophecy”. Soma, viewed from scientific reality could be possible, but mostly have “dangerous side effects” and most unlikely to be approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). It is something akin to drugs or alcohol, without the unfavorable side-effects. However, according to the article, “taken in excess, soma acts as a respiratory depressant” making more of an “opiate than a sort of clinically valuable mood-brightener.” It is what separates false happiness from the harsh realities the infantile people of Huxley’s dystopia are not accustomed to. The basis of the government depicted in “Brave New World” is “centered around control and manipulation”, making soma a very useful tool in silencing rebellious thoughts by placating the minds of the public. On the other hand, those who do not find “happiness” are exiled into secluded islands where they cannot disrupt or “infect” the minds of others. This in itself gives proof that soma is not all effective to all populations, all the time. People like Bernard, though feels the instant gratification that soma brings, finds he cannot keep it as others could. The article gives a very insightful look into the mystery drug and debunks any misconception that could arise from lack of understanding within the novel.
The weapon of choice for the World Controllers is not nuclear bombs nor weaponry, but an artificial drug, soma. Instilling fear and intimidation could only go so far and may cause resentment and dangerous thoughts of rebellion in the oppressed. However, subconscious conditioning and mind-altering drugs could produce the same effects, without the dangerous thoughts. In addition to genetic engineering, the soma drug is perhaps the most powerful weapon the World Controllers have in their arsenal. With these two, any problems before “Ford” have been permanently eradicated from the minds of the everyday people.
“In the name of stability and happiness,” as Mustapha Mond, one of Huxley’s World Controllers states, the freedom of truth is sacrificed (Huxley, 225). Almost all of Huxley’s characters, with the exception of the main protagonists Bernard and John, are content with having their soma, vicariously living through “feelies”, and living their mundane and ignorant lives – never wanting more than what is given to them. Mond erroneously associates the lack of pain with genuine happiness. It seems only John the Savage understands that true joy is a result of knowing one’s own self-worth and finding inner-satisfaction. John “was filled with an intense, absorbing happiness” after investing hard work into a clay sculpture he made with his own hands (Huxley, 134). He alone out of everyone else in civilized Britain could give testimony to feeling true happiness, and not the artificial one induced by the soma drug, because he is the only one who worked hard because he wanted to, and not because he was conditioned to do so.
The concept of a futuristic dystopian society is popular through many works of prose. For example, Philena Pugh’s poem “Fragments for the Gates of Times Square: the Fear of Neon”, deals with a character who perceives himself to be the last of his kind. This mirrors Huxley’s own character, John as well as drawing other parallels.
“Silence lies underneath the crackle and hum of the neon lights. The puddle near my feet glistens crimson reflecting the words “Restaurant and Lounge.” A tribute to our pick up/take out society. Above buildings crowd out the sky leaving a jailcell window to see the stars through. My footsteps echo throughout the world and I realize that I am the last. My breathing grows labored- sending out a sharp, rasping sound to compete with the sputter-buzz conversation on the neon. My dim, twilight eyes srift shut and my final breath gurgles the dark phlegm of fear in the back of my throat. With the hollow thump of cranium meeting pavement, humanity is gone. And the neon lights burn brightly into eternity- crackling in time to the winking stars.”
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The narrator of Pugh’s poem and Huxley’s John find themselves “the last” of their kind, with the narrator the last human, while John is the only one naturally conceived with “civilized” parents. They both find great tragedy in the world around them, feeling trapped and alone by what society becomes in their respective worlds. The two works of prose focuses on the struggle between man and the society he is a part of and their failure to adapt or to conform leads to their demise. Driven to madness by the horror of moral-less society around him, John cried out to God and “covered his eyes with his hands” (Huxley, 259), drawing parallelism, the narrator of the poem is met with the same fate “with the hollow thump of cranium meeting pavement, humanity is gone”(Pugh). The setting of both works is in a dystopia that puts an emphasis on the consumption of goods verses the freedom of nature. Juxtaposing Pugh’s society in which “buildings crowd out the sky leaving a jailcell window to see the stars” with the buildings themselves are made as a “tribute to [their] pick up/take out society”, and Huxley’s World-Controlled civilized society “condition the masses to hate the country” but at the same time, “condition them to love country sports”; one can see the similarities between the two dystopian societies. (Huxley, 23). These works built a society that ensures the consumption of goods and/or transportation and the technology that drives it.
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