I read this after reading much about it in Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I often saw it in book shops on the “Must Reads” tables, and so reading it was inevitable:
Hundreds of years in the future, the World Controllers have created an ideal civilization. Its members, shaped by genetic engineering and behavioral conditioning, are productive and content in roles they have been assigned at conception. Government-sanctioned drugs and recreational sex ensure that everyone is a happy, unquestioning consumer; messy emotions have been anesthetized and private attachments are considered obscene. Only Bernard Marx is discontented, developing an unnatural desire for solitude and a distaste for compulsory promiscuity. When he brings back a young man from one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old unenlightened ways still continue, he unleashes a dramatic clash of cultures that will force him to consider whether freedom, dignity, and individuality are worth suffering for.
The book essentially follows two main characters who are living in a future where amusement and consumership are held in the highest regard, and where it is considered the height of barbarism to commit to only one other human in a monogamous relationship, or to (worst of all) became a parent. Babies are grown in test-tubes in this future, and abortion clinics are there for emergencies (though from a very young age, contraception is taught to be of the utmost importance).
Bernard Marx struggles in this society as he has found within himself another desire – a desire to be an individual. This world which humans exchange sex and drugs so casually sickens him, and he wishes to abandon his base desires in order to search deeper meaning – though this is actively discouraged!
Upon bringing back a “savage” (raised by a mother, taught monogamy, and to whom religion is very important) to “civilised” society, the savage shocks many with his views and disgust towards this world. Even when the girl he is in love with offers him sex so casually, he is infuriated and refuses this meaninglessness she has attached to offering her body to men.
The book is a strange one as it differs from Orwell’s 1984 in a few stark ways:
Firstly, the world is controlled through the means of pleasure and an abundance of amusement. This keeps the population so disinterested in seeking out individualism or meaning, as they are kept sedated from doing so by having all they seemingly need.
Secondly, the characters revolt against the system isn’t so much a physical one in attacking the government, but a mental one in which he must battle the things he has been taught as normative since birth (and often failing to do so).
Thirdly, the number of those in revolt against the system are so few as to make their impact near negligible. Rather than groups of “rebels”, there are only two people within the novel who seemingly want to change the world, or at least survive it differently.
There are moments when the book took a little inferring due to leaps in character development with little build-up, but otherwise it was written fairly well and with haunting clarity.
Postman suggests (and I would tend to agree) that insofar as predicting the future, Huxley was much more on target: We now have an abundance of entertainment and attach a great deal to being constantly amused (affecting all areas of our life from religion to education); we take little to no interest in politics or meaning unless it directly affects us and our comfort; and (without perhaps sounding prudish) we have diminished the meaning of sex to little more than a physical exchange, and monogamy to little more than an outdated way of viewing relationships. We are entering this “Brave New World”, not in such a dramatic way, but step-by-step.