Thursday, 23 April, 2009

Brave new world!

I had a tough time getting Mario to lend me this book. But after reading it, I am feeling that it was worth all the effort. Oh there I go rambling again not giving a moment's consideration to give the readers an insight into what I am talking about. For those of you in the dark, A Brave New World is a novel written by Aldous Huxley and is considered one of Science Fiction's masterpieces, and justifiably so. While the concept of a dystopian future is a bit cliched now, this was a ground breaking work during the early 20th century (pub. 1932). While earlier works like Men like Gods visualized a utopian future, Huxley chose to parody that idea, by creating a new world where men are 'reared' and life is an ever turning wheel, uniform and synchronised. Everyone has a pre-determined fate. They live it out and die, to be replaced by more drones.

The year is AF 632 (that s not a typo. It is AF). Population is stabilized and peace and harmony reigns in the world state. The novel opens with the director of Hatcheries taking a fresh batch of students through the Hatcheries and conditioning centre, explaining the process of Bokanovskification - the creation of various classes of human beings from embryos. While genetic engineering was unheard of during Huxley's time, he used the advantage of coming from a family of biologists to good measure, by giving a not too unbelievable explanation of how the various castes are developed. As the director takes the students on the tour, the reader is also transported to the world of the future. One is able to form a vivid mental picture of the decanting process, the hypnopaedic (sleep learning) centres where the babies are infused with ideas of class segregation and what is acceptable by the world order and what is not.

Henry Ford sparked off a revolution with his assembly line concept, which revolutionised the industrial world. So much so, that in Huxley's future, Ford has replaced God, and Fordism, Christianity. And AD of the Gregorian calendar, is now AF - After Ford that is. One cant help but smile at this, as it is said in the most serious of tones. London's Big Ben has made way for Big Henry. Huxley, while on a trip to USA, got hold of a book by Henry Ford, and on reaching America, found out that a lot of ideas put forward by Ford seemed to predominate the activities of the people there. He was disgusted by the culture there, the sexual promiscuity, drugs and the lot. So Brave New World sort of, takes off from those American themes, with quite a bit of satire, as is evident from the psychedelic drug - Soma, which is absolute bliss for the one who consumes it,(and which doesnt have the bad side effects of usual drugs) and Sex hormone chewing gums(lol, and to think the world hadnt heard of Viagra back then. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. How true! ) . Most of the characters are named after prominent people of that time. More on that here.

As you turn the pages of the novel, you will find that the writing style reflects the thoughts of each of the key characters in that particular section. Predominantly, you can view the novel as 3 parts. Part one is described as seen by the eyes Bernard Marx, an alpha male (the upper class) , a sort of outcast because of his physical deformity and his blasphemous ideas (such as the desire to be lonely, his disgust at the thought of everyone belongs to everyone else, his distaste for soma etc) which ultimately land him in soup. Helmholtz Watson, a like minded Alpha Plus and lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering is his sole confidante. While Bernard Marx is shown as different from the rest, he is by no means, your classical hero. He is portrayed as a weak individual who has different ideas, but is insecure, about the fact that he is a social outcast. Throughout the book, Bernard annotates quotes from various hypnopaedic lessons, much like Bible quotes one finds, in several texts.

The next part is when Bernard sets off with Lenina Crowne, a Beta female, to study the "savages" who live in reservations pocketed in various corners of the world. By sheer coincidence, they chance upon John, a savage, who is actually "born" of a woman from the civilized world. John and Bernard become friends quickly. From here, we begin to see the world through the eyes of John. An obvious outcast, John tries his best to fit in with the natives. His mother however, cannot adapt to the real world, as she struggles to understand that, in the world of savages, everyone doesNOT belong to everyone else. John cannot come to grips with some of his mother's antics, though he loves her a lot, as is evident in the scene where she is in her death bed. His mother,Linda however, resents the very fact that she has given birth(which is pretty blasphemous. So is the word "mother"). Bernard then obtains permission to bring back John, the savage and his mother, to the New world.

The third part is depicted through the eyes of John, the savage. Each and every "wonder" of the New World, troubles him. Everybody seems to want to use him, Bernard included, who,for the first time in his life, is getting recognition and importance. John falls in love with Lenina, and this grows complicated, as John is the classic romantic, while all Lenina knows is desire and pleasure. John and Helmholtz become friends very quickly much to Bernard's chagrin (as mentioned earlier, Bernard is not the epitome of perfection). In these portions, John is continually referred as the savage, but to the reader, it is quite ironic, because the behaviour of the so called civilised people around him, is nothing short of savagery. Inspired by Shakespeare, the romantic in John gets the better of him, as he tries to redeem the New World, by attempting to do away with Soma rations for the workers. A riot ensues, which results in John, Helmholtz and Bernard being arrested.

While Bernard's excesses had been tolerated thus far, this was the last straw. Both he and Helmholtz are exiled to Iceland and the Falkland islands respectively, by one of the 10 Resident World Controllers, His Fordship, Mustapha Mond. The savage disentangles himself from society and leads the life of a hermit at the lighthouse. He blames himself for his mother's death, Lenina's behaviour and other issues, and embarks on teh act of self punishment, brutally whipping himself. This draws huge crowds, as they want to see the savage do his Savage Act. When even Lenina comes to watch this, albeit a tear in her eye, John, overridden by his love for her, and his loathing for her behaviour, whips her too. The crowd breaks into a frenzy. John's world crumble s before him. The book ends, with people looking for the savage, only to find him hanging by the neck in the light house.

While Huxley portrays a pretty scary picture of the future, many of the characteristics of the dystopian world donot seem too impossible in the near future, especially the abuse of drugs, the urge to control the state of affairs of the world,etc. The conversations between John and Mustapha Mond, show that the Controller is aware of how the world was, and is deliberately carrying on with the New world, denouncing the old practices and Nature's laws. While trying to achieve the greatest good, the controllers lose sight of their goal, as maintaining order and control becomes top priority. So instead of a world of free men, we are left with colorful zombies who lead a pre ordinated and meaningless existence.

At no point does the book allow the reader's attention to wane. It is a must read, especially so if you are a science fiction buff. 5/5 for Aldous Huxley's Masterpiece.

O wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!

O brave new world! That has such people in't!

Miranda,in the Tempest by William Shakespeare