Brave New World by Aldous Huxley Book Review


Aldous Huxley’s, Brave New World (1932), centers around a false utopian World State, where humans are genetically engineered, controlled by caste, and conditioned to be fed endless pleasures. Through characters such as John the Savage, the novel displays the struggle of the individual in a world where conformity overrides much of the human experience. With that being said, some of the central themes to the novel are: individuality, technology, religion, and the cost of happiness. Throughout this paper, it will be argued that meaningful happiness arises from suffering. This is due to the essential role that suffering has in love and creativity. Furthermore, suffering allows for growth, whereas constant pleasure undermines the individual. Lastly, through the acceptance of suffering, a lasting happiness can be achieved.     

The meaningful happiness one acquires through love or creativity is owed to the suffering behind such things. Since there is no suffering in the Brave New World, there is also “no love, family, science, art, religion, and history” (Gehlhaus). Instead, these are sacrificed for an artificial happiness, created by human conditioning and the mind-altering substance called soma. More specifically, the World State sacrificed love for conditioned promiscuity, as this maintains satisfaction and stability. So, the only “connections” people have in this world are through soma or sex/orgies. However, there is a subtle love shown in the novel, and suffering plays a crucial role in that experience: the characters Bernard, Helmholtz, and John form this ironic closeness to each other, because they share in the suffering that comes from individuality and loneliness. Huxley expresses this when he states that “In spite of their sadness—because of it, even; for their sadness was the symptom of their love for one another—the three young men were happy” (242). This displays the intertwining of suffering and love, as the suffering these men felt in life allowed them to form this bond with each other, and understand each other’s sorrows. Additionally, this love brings about more sadness, as the men must depart from each other, but despite this, they are happy because of this too. 

Now, as for art or creativity, it has also been relentlessly dulled in the World State, but characters come to recognize its value through realizing its connection to suffering. Exemplifying this, Helmholtz discovered within him this desire for artistic expression, causing him to clash with authority. Despite this, he finds meaningful happiness in taking on the suffering that comes with this, as shown in the part of the novel where Helmholtz is being exiled by one of World State controllers, Mustapha Mond. Helmholtz requests that Mond places him in an island with a bad climate, his reasoning being that “…one would write better if the climate were bad” (Huxley 229). Reflecting on this, one can come to realize that a lot of good art, containing genuine emotion, is often the result of a human who is intimate with suffering. Thus, Helmholtz wants a bad climate, because discomfort, harshness, and unpredictability produces something more powerful than the lack of struggle that would be found elsewhere. Helmholtz recognizes this connection between suffering and creativity, such that he would happily give up comfort in order to create something of the highest quality. Therefore, suffering plays an essential role in love and creativity. Devoid of suffering, love, and creativity, the World State may have gained comfort and stability, but this immense sacrifice comes with the removal of meaningful happiness in favor of an artificial one.  

Without suffering, humans would not be able to possess a sense of individuality, nor would they have the ability to grow. When suffering is replaced with constant pleasure, the individual is undermined, numbed, and reduced to a societal tool. Which is exactly the aim of the World State, as this technological society wants to preserve stability, and stability “demands robots, not people” (Gehlhaus). Living as a “robot” is not a happy or ideal way to live, as this dehumanization entails replaceability. Replaceability entails that the individual has no purpose or significance beyond serving their society. Ironically, this is expressed by Mustapha Mond, as he states that it is actually a reward to be exiled to an island, because “every one…who’s any one” (the people with a purpose) are the individuals who reject orthodoxy and have their own ideas (Huxley 227). It can be seen that Mustapha Mond is merely focused on creating stability by making humans happy, not creating the conditions for them to transcend to their highest selves. The latter requires the acknowledgement that one is an individual who is suffering under orthodoxy, but this creates instability within the World State. Thus, there is a need for islands so that individuality can be dealt with without stability being threatened. Islands are preferable to the World State, unless the individual truly enjoys being undermined for the promise of eternal pleasure. Therefore, the individual who wants a meaningful happiness and existence should reject constant pleasure, as it prevents them from having a purpose or improving themselves. Instead, they should acknowledge their suffering, choose the island, and pursue transcendence. 

Through patience, humans can accept their suffering and attain a meaningful, lasting happiness. Sadly, the citizens of the World State have no ability or patience to accept their suffering. Instead, they rely on soma or constant pleasure to operate as a distraction, not a solution, to their suffering. An opposing perspective to this comes from John, who grew up in Malpais, an Indian Reservation that is the antithesis to the World State. Due to John’s religious conditioning from Malpais, he sees God as a reason to deal with things patiently and with courage, rather than to be degraded by pleasure (Huxley 236). Thus, he has this perspective that allows him to see suffering as something to deal with, not something to ignore, which is similar to the Buddhist conception of suffering. Similar to the patience John finds through God, within Buddhism there is this practice of patience that “facilitates inner peace by accepting all suffering, and ultimately promotes authentic and lasting happiness” (J. Deng et al. 236). However, unlike Buddhism, John has this unnecessary standard with his suffering, because he rejects pleasure entirely. This standard is brought to an extreme when John commits suicide after feeling immense shame from experiencing the pleasure of soma and orgy. Within Buddhism, patience does not entail that one has to be like John, rather, it is simply about accepting all possible experiences and emotions. Meaning the individual does not need to perform self-flagellation or inevitability commit suicide. The goal is not to pursue extremes, as Buddhism has what is called Sukha which shows that happiness is not from fleeting emotions and moods, but from mental balance (J. Deng et al. 225). Therefore, Buddhism presents this alternative direction to take, one that is neither contained within the World State nor Malpais, but instead, one that utilizes patience to accept suffering and move towards a meaningful, lasting happiness. 

Overall, a meaningful happiness arises from suffering, whether it be through the role of suffering in love, creativity, and growth or through learning to be patient with suffering itself. Now, connecting this paper to the real world, it is not uncommon for the modern human to seek out pleasure and to avoid suffering, similar to the citizens in the Brave New World. Especially during this pandemic, there is an understandable need for pleasurable distractions to pass time until there is a return to “normalcy.” While people may be inclined to have a pessimistic outlook on technology like Huxley, there is good to be found in this technological era, where bountiful entertainment and stimulus can be found via the internet. Keeping people entertained while they stay indoors could lessen social interaction, thereby lessening the spread of covid-19. Furthermore, people are able to stay connected with family, friends, and people all over the world via cellular devices, social media, or any form of online communication. Therefore, this world has not become entirely like the Brave New World, as technology and distractions can be used for good. 

However, this does not mean Huxley is entirely wrong with his prophecies. Humans’ current reliance on the internet and smartphones is strikingly similar to the citizens’ reliance on soma in the World State. Similar to soma, smartphones and the internet operate as distractions from suffering rather than genuine solutions to it. For example, staying on social media for most of one’s day hardly allows one to develop as a human being. Yet, this is far more common of a lifestyle nowadays than practicing something such as Buddhist patience. Furthermore, there exists a similar swapping of love for promiscuity found through technology, as apps such as Tinder are more often used for hookups than genuine connection. Social media might also stunt artistic expression, as this endless amount of pleasure and content is a pitiful environment for powerful art to be created. Through simply appealing to this new age addiction, one can see how easy it would be to create a Huxleian future. So, unless humans prefer a future of constant pleasure over one with meaning and purpose, there needs to be ethical systems in place, perhaps policies as well, that will prevent this technology from heading in this direction.

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