Reprinted by permission of the American Library Association
This review is presented in honor of Banned Book Week.
It is often a daunting task to read a 'literary classic'. It can bring up memories of dry and stifling texts forced upon us in school, books that we dredged through while being flogged and flagellated with the idea that we should not only be enjoying the experience but feel enlightened as well. So when confronted with Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, one cannot help but feel a little trepidation. The book is a juggernaut of science fiction, a dark dystopian tale of society gone horribly, awfully wrong. A vision of the future where everyone has been made "happy" through subliminal indoctrination, genetic conditioning, and government issued sedatives.
Brave New World is thankfully not one of those sorts of literary classics that we all grew to loathe. While a challenging book thanks to its disturbing image of the future, it is also a highly rewarding reading experience as well. While the story has some odd quirks (the seeming true protagonist of the book isn't introduced until halfway through, for instance) and the plot is rather simple overall, the powerful commentary and satire are what make the book thought provoking and interesting. The book compels you to keep reading as the characters begin to chafe against this awful future society, leaving you hoping for upheaval and change at every turn. Yet Huxley's vision is grimmer than that hope, the end passages of the book chilling in their finality.
It is unsurprising that Brave New World continues to place on ALA's Most Challenged Books list in recent years. The society of the book relishes in base sensation, casual sex, drug use, and has long since abandoned all religions in favor of revering Henry Ford and the industrial revolution. Yet a reader who thinks these concepts revered by the author would be wrong (even if Huxley was an atheist). We are constantly ill at ease with this frightening world, filled with antiseptic and sanitized horrors. Huxley strongly presents the idea that sex without emotion is infantile, that drugging away the little sadnesses of life is not truly happiness, and that the concept of God is ever present, even in his seeming absence.
The more merited criticism of the book in recent years focuses on the racism present in the book. An extended middle passage of Brave New World takes place in a 'Savage Reservation', a place where the world government has left people to remain 'uncivilized' due to the land not being worth development. Huxley's intent is clear, insomuch as any author's intent can be, trying to show the reservations as the last place where humanity and reason dwell, in the land of those considered uncivil. Yet Huxley's passage also paints the reservation as dank and disgusting, and the narrative focuses on the color of the natives' skin in ways that manage to other them. While there may be an argument that this would be the viewpoint of our 'civilized' visitors to the reservation, it is very telling that the 'savage' that is our compassionate and reasoned protagonist that enters the story from the reservation is a white man who simply happened to be born there.
Ultimately, Huxley's work is powerful, full of issues and ideas and worries for a future that the author thought all too possible. He presents a world where the past was banned in fear that the past might possibly make someone unhappy. It is this point that makes it all the more ironic that now some would seek to ban Brave New World itself. The work is simultaneously visionary and dated at once, worth reading for its forethought, though readers should be well aware of the challenging content of the book before embarking.
Tim @ Central