Monday, May 10, 2010

Brave New World, first few chapters

I've begun reading Brave New World for the first time since I was in high school. I'm not sure if I really don't remember the books from when I first read them, or if I see them in an entirely new light now. Though to be honest, what I best remember from Brave New World is that it was the version of 1984 that didn't terrify me. Drugs and sex are a less scary way to take over society than the thought police, though it should probably be the scarier option since you're less likely to notice you've lost control until it's gone.

I haven't really decided on a format for this blog and I have a feeling it will vary depending on the day, the book, my mood.

The book opens with a description of the way people are created in the future. I'm not sure if this is a sign of how times have changed since the book was first published in 1932 or if it's just the way I'm reading it, but the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre seems like just that, a hatchery on a modern farm. I'm not sure when commercial factory farms began mass producing products, such as eggs, at a rate that was considering the norm over small subsistence farms.

More than the description of the hatchery and how it works, I was interested in the description of the students. "A troop of newly arrived students, very young, pink and callow, followed nervously, rather abjectly, at the Director's heels. Each of them carried a notebook, in which, whenever the great man spoke, he desperately scribbled," (Huxley 4) They seem partly an example of the conditioning that happens in the Centre but it's easy to see the students described there as students in any college classroom. They're mostly silent, ask only a few questions and are promptly ridiculed for them. Narratively speaking they need to be quiet and have the Centre explained to them if we, the reader, are to understand the world but students at this age seem to be less a system of the new world's conditioning and more an example of what behavior is expected of students at any point.

Back to my earlier point, the idea is for the person hatchery and the chicken hatchery to be the same, but the idea that people are still being treated like living things rather than objects like their god Henry Ford created. The adults of the novel repeat the mantra "everyone belongs to every one else," (43) which allows them to objectify one another. Lenina Crowne and Fanny Crowne , HenryFoster and the Assistant Predestinator repeat variations of "having" one another. The objectification is then justified by the repetition of the mantra. When everyone belongs to everyone else, everyone is treated as a belonging, and everyone views themselves as a belonging. There is no family to give people a sense of belonging except for the family created by your caste. An Alpha may not be a belonging for a Gamma, but they certainly are for other Alphas and there is no surface confusion or distress about this.

Of course Lenina and Bernard begin to exhibit signs of internal distress about society. Lenina's unease seems more sincere if less defined. She blushes went Fanny accuses her of only sleeping with one person for the last few months and briefly questions societies arrangements. "No, there hasn't been any one else...And I jolly well don't see why there should have been," (40) though after hearing the mantra again Lenina relents: "You're quite right, Fanny. As usual. I'll make the effort," (43).

Bernard's indignation seems stronger when he's first introduced. He overhears Henry and the AP discussing "having" Lenina and is disgusted. He seems to have broken free of the conditioned beliefs he was taught to see people as people instead of objects. The fact that he is described as "a specialist on hypnopaedia", (47) that he knows the secret of the brainwashing technique gives him the chance to rise above them. Yet later he describes how he feels inferior to other Alphas and how he doesn't feel he's getting the respect from the other castes he thinks he deserves, the castes that are set by the hypnopaedia he is an expert on. "The mockery made him feel an outsider; and feeling an outsider he behaved like one," (65). Perhaps if Bernard didn't feel himself an outsider he wouldn't question his conditioning. Lenina is far from an outsider, yet feels unease at society. Her unease stems from actual problems she subconsciously perceives with society, but Bernard's has to do with his discomfort with his position. He envies men like Henry Foster, he doesn't find them contemptible. If he was more comfortable he would have no problem agreeing with the conditioning and viewing people as belongings.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: HarperPerennial, 1998.