I just finished an absolutely scandalous book. It was so titillating and subversive it was banned in Ireland, and it’s listed on the American Library Associations most challenged books. Needless to say it’s got me thinking.
Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” was published in 1932. It’s set in the year 2540 AD. In the paradise Huxley envisions the traditional family structure of marriage, and parenthood is gone, and so is organized religion. Most recreation in this new world centers around sex, and a drug “Soma”.
In this futuristic world humans are no longer born, they’re mass produced in “Fertilization” factories. From infancy everyone is conditioned through sleep-learning to conform to one of five castes. The highest level Alphas are the controllers and managers. Chemicals are used in the hatchery process to inhibit the physical and cognitive ability of those destined for the lower castes.
The whole idea is to maintain order and stability. There is no competition, because no one strives to change their predestined and carefully conditioned lot. There are no broken hearts over lost love, because everyone “belongs” to everyone. Family and national loyalties that often produce conflicts are avoided, because there are no families or nations.
Of course, these elements of society that are the source of our deepest pains, also fuel our greatest joys.
One the characters is the illegitimate son of an Alpha controller, and a stranded Beta female. On the Indian reservation where he is raised, John is exposed to everything the “civilized” world has rejected. As an outsider among the natives, he finds solace in an old copy of the works of Shakespeare.
When John is taken to the new world he’s called the “Savage”. By then he’s already fallen in love with Lenina, a young visitor to the reservation. As you might imagine, the relationship, and John’s life plays out like a Shakespearean tragedy.
Through a few brief pages of satirical fiction Huxley paints a grim picture of what the world might become stripped of all spirituality and morality, and fueled by base desires and material consumption.
Today, some might argue we are closer to Huxley’s New World than we think. I however, am hopeful that mankind will come to grips with the good and bad of humanity, and somehow find a peaceful balance.
Critics call “Brave New World” “anti-family”, and “anti-religion”. Personally, I find the book very thought provoking, and that I think is what good literature is all about. You can bet there will be plenty more “banned” books on my reading list.