Thursday, May 13, 2010

Literary Bite: Brave New World

Elementary through high school, I hated required reading. Of course I always did it…but I hated it. For some reason, a book someone else tells me I have to read is about 9,000 times less appealing than a book I chose myself.

But once I got to college I did a 180* and loved required reading. Because a book reading assignment is not a textbook and is not a paper. Therefore reading time = peaceful bliss.

My point is that required reading is not always the most fun, but it’s still important. And now that I’m beyond the scholastic-sphere, no one tells me what to read…so required reading is something I do to myself. Because there’s so many books out there that I want to have read, I just don’t necessarily want to read them, you know?

For example, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. I would never pick this up at the bookstore, read the back and say Yes, I’m totally buying this! Get me home to my reading chair STAT! (Sidenote: actually, that’s a lie. I usually read lying on the floor.) BUT it’s one of those books I want to have read, so I made myself check it out from the library and read it.

And you know what? It’s actually very good! I mean, I can confidently recommend this as a book you “should” read, and will enjoy! So that was a pleasant surprise.

The book takes place in the future, in a world where everyone is “happy” but no one has free will.

"The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get."

The title comes from Shakespeare:

Oh wonder
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
The Tempest (V, i)

It reminds me of The Giver (which I haven’t read in years, but I remember loving). For a summary of Brave New World, go here.

Aldous Huxley was born into a privileged English family in 1894. Due to a sickness at age 16, Huxley was blind for 6 months, and had bad sight for the rest of his life. (You’ll note that though the gray dominates Brave New World, anything related to color is described in vivid detail, a quirk common in sight-impaired authors.) He’s a very interesting man, check out his biography here.

Brave New World was Huxley’s fifth novel. It was first published in 1932, and was astoundingly ahead of its time. He wrote during the Victorian Era, but Huxley paints a portrait of a future of mass consumerism, rapid personal travel, the decline of religion and the family, responsibility-free promiscuity, drug use, etc. (Not to be a Debbie-Downer, but let’s be real, he did kind of sort of hit the mark on a few points.)

But the book isn’t depressing, it’s thought-provoking. So require this reading of yourself. And think about these questions:

Is pain necessary for happiness?

Which characters do you sympathize with? Why?

What makes a person valuable in Brave New World? How is that similar and different to society today?

If a slave his happy, is he/she still a slave?

And I will leave you with three fun facts:

  1. The “God” in Brave New World is called Our Ford because he’s named after Henry Ford, creator of the assembly-line.
  2. When zippers were first introduced, they were denounced by the Pope and other clerics because they make clothes too easy to take off, and therefore promote promiscuity.
  3. Huxley wrote before the Pill was invented.