A Slice of 1932
This post might contain spoilers for those who haven’t finished Brave New World yet. I’ve hidden it behind this cut so that those who want to can avoid being spoiled.
Brave New World paints a wonderful picture of the varied and plentiful paranoia of Huxley’s era. The dystopian London in which he places us has all of the hallmarks of communism taken to extremes (“every one belongs to every one else”), published a mere 15 years after the Bolshevik revolution. Even Bernard is named Marx. The creation of this world, especially when contrasted with the apparently static world of the Reservation, carries implications of Enlightenment-era cultural evolution, or the advancement of all civilizations worldwide taking place in clear and constant stages, which was a theory still in place in anthropology and archaeology at that time. With the world perched on the edge of the second World War, the fascist and Nazi propaganda machines were pumping out messages of happiness in conformity and producing slogans worthy of any Emotional Engineer. There was also an assumption, especially among the still-imperial British, of white racial supremacy, an attitude that we see reflected in Huxley’s choice to place dark-skinned individuals only within the Epsilon class (although it might be argued that he was criticizing this norm by depicting it as part of his dystopia). The world was wrapped in positivistic sentiment, leaning heavily on the rapid advances of science. Huxley’s London is positivism, fascism, and communism run rampant. In fact, while the novel certainly works to get its message across, it seems to me to be hyperbolic. The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed, I think the saying goes. Certainly this novel works as a warning, but frankly, it’s the subtle advances of technological power into control of our lives that are insidious, and this extreme example implies that it is only by means of major war and uprising that such a state could be made manifest. The impulse for constant vigilance is more likely to be inspired by the threat of creeping influences on the makeup of humanity than by a distant future of biological warfare and engineering. Huxley’s primary interest seems to be in producing a pro-religion humanist statement towards the conclusion of the book, coupled with a troubling denial of John’s return to purity after the horrors of civilization.
Now, of course, things are different from 1932 — the biological engineering and genetic modification are part of our lives already, affecting the food that we eat and the children that we produce. Brave New World seems perhaps less far-fetched now than it may have when it was published.
One interesting note which isn’t directly connected is the amazing heteronormativity that Huxley maintained despite the continual copulation that was the societal norm in this novel. There is a single mention of homosexuality in passing when Mustapha Mond is describing old sexual practices to the D.H.C.’s students and that is all. If in fact ‘every one is for every one,’ wouldn’t further social stability be attained by breeding bisexuals? Or simply enforcing bisexuality? In fact, homosexuality for all of the citizens would reduce or eliminate the worry of natural conception. Of course, there was at this point no concept of the gay gene or anything of the sort, but certainly with the extent of the effectiveness of conditioning, Huxley could have set up such a situation. The fact that he didn’t is another little indicator of the times, for the book would have been dismissed as perverse and titillating if people were distracted from the main thrust of the novel by a bit of socially condoned homosexuality.
I’ll refrain from ranting about the essentialization of the figure of the Native American as the epitome of pristine, natural life — I think that’s likely to devolve into mental masturbation on my part, and, in Huxley’s defense, it is a portrayal completely in line with the popular attitudes of the day concerning First Nations peoples.