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Reprise: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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Where Huxley takes note of the dangers of excess

By:  Sudipta Datta

Dystopian novels have seen a surge in sales since 2013, when government-sponsored surveillance programmes came to light in the U.S. With Donald Trump’s election, Brexit and the rise of totalitarian regimes around the world, books like George Orwell’s 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are being read with renewed interest for their eerily prescient words. Take for instance Huxley’s Brave New World, which was published in 1932, and set in the future, circa 632 AF (After Ford), of mindless consumerism.

In it, the earth is in the grip of ten World Controllers or a World State whose chilling motto is “Community, Identity, Stability.” A seemingly perfect society, bred in test tubes, works according to a caste system with the intelligent managerial class graded Alpha-Plus and serfs who do all the menial jobs an Epsilon-Minus.

While the Alphas and Betas — the upper classes — remain in incubators till they are bottled, the working classes including the Gammas, Deltas (who wear khaki) and Epsilons are brought out from time to time so that they can be indoctrinated for “social stability.” One of the ways to do it is teaching eight-month-old Delta babies to have “instinctive hatred of books and flowers” when they grow up. “A love of nature keeps no factories busy,” the director of the London Hatchery explains to a group of visiting students. “Wheels must turn steadily, but cannot turn untended. There must be men to tend them, men as steady as the wheels upon their axles, sane men, obedient men, stable in contentment.” Once they grow up, if they all appear to live in bliss — “everybody is happy now” — it’s largely to do with a drug, soma, which numbs the brain.

Capital consumption

The story revolves around Lenina Crowne, the blue-eyed beauty, and Bernard Marx, an unhappy Alpha-Plus who gets in a tourist from Mexico, a “Savage” called John. As the cat is set amid the proverbial pigeons, the controllers of the world are rattled, unprepared for a show of individualism. The signs are there of course, when Crowne complains to her friend, “Every man, woman and child compelled to consume so much a year. In the interests of industry...”

Huxley, who studied at Eton, uses Shakespeare freely, including a line from The Tempest for the title, from Prospero’s daughter Miranda, “O brave new world, that has such people in’t!” These were the post-World War I years, with America showing its industrial and military might, and Huxley takes note of the dangers of excess.

Margaret Atwood, in her introduction to the Vintage Classics edition of the text, calls it a “softer form of totalitarianism — one of conformity achieved through engineered, bottle-grown babies and hypnotic persuasion rather than through brutality; of boundless consumption that keeps the wheels of production turning...”

Courtesy The Hindu

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