In the future, everyone is happy. With the aid of brain washing, genetic engineering, relentless condition, recreation sex and drugs, of course. Bernard Marx seems to be the only one who questions the system, so much so that he decides to take Lenina to the reservations in North America to see the tribal savages– people who live in families and and give live births. Bernard took one of the “savages” back to civilization and he began to question the validity of free will and the usefulness of the control the World Controllers have over the people.
The majority of this book was pretty dull. I found that I disliked Bernard and most of the other characters, but I’m pretty sure that was the point. Lenina and the rest of the filler characters all completely bought the conditioning and the happiness that the World Controllers fed them, and while the reader may root for a moment of clarity for them, it never happens. This ignorance is important to the entire book because it shows how fool-proof the brain washing is. If the children were raised in these castes, raised with sleep-hypnosis and electric conditioning and drilled routines in their brains, than it would be ridiculous to assume that they could simply stop.
Bernard proved to be a little different, but the thing about this protagonist is that he wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t anything, really. Sure, he had more speculations than most about the blind obedience and use of drugs the society submersed themselves in, but he still fed into their social ways. He despised the casual sex until he was a desired candidate. He had doubts about the lab-based children and absence of families until he became famous and gave up thinking about the problems and instead allowed their easy happiness to wash over him.
The “savage”– John– became the real figure to watch. He experienced both a fairly normal tribal life with families and towns, similar to Native American life, and he went to Europe to experience the real civilization. Huxley juxtaposes these two societies together to show that they have similar problems– the manufactured and widely used drug soma in Europe equates to alcohol in John’s tribe– and also to demonstrate the extent the Europeans have drifted from humane behavior and into a technology-controlled stupor.
When John talked with the World Controller and Bernard’s partially self-aware friend at the end of the book, the truly philosophical topics came into play. The whole book raised questions of happiness and free will and wondering if intense emotions like love are worth it if there’s a risk of emotions such as misery. Is it better to be ignorant and blissfully unaware and happy or is it better to have free will be feel deeply and have unhappiness?
They discuss this at the end of the book, and it really ties together the entire themes of the novel. He talks about how conditioning plays the main factor in a person’s life and human instinct is an allusion. Human instinct only relies on one factor: how a person was raised. If they were told from a young age there is a God, they will believe it. If there is no speak of a higher presence, than they are none the wiser.
**END MINOR SPOILER**
The book exaggerates the flaws of modern society in that it shows how conditioning– even something as simple as training your children to believe in God– affects a person more than natural instincts. The novel satirically shows the ease that a person could fall into ignorance, and it brings up the question: is it easier? Sure with the knowledge we have now we think that a life of unawareness would be terrible, but it would be blissful if we didn’t know of anything more. Huxley shows the danger of an all-powerful state and the use of technology to control its people, referencing an over-the-top version of modern society. He degrades sex to an extreme in which it becomes as casual as conversation– even in children– to show that sex has been taken out of context in modern society and is not synonymous with love.
There are so many moral points that Huxley brings up in this book, which is the real reason why it’s a modern classic. The entirety of the plot is not fast-paced or riveting, but the questions that he instills in the readers and his satirical critique of society cause the book to captivate its audience.