By Ben Olson
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has been a topic of censorship ever since it was first published in 1932. The dystopian speculative novel explores societal and political structures where a distinct hierarchy exists. Huxley explores both utopia and dystopia in Brave New World.
Huxley’s writings have intrigued critics and fans alike for his entire career. Born into a prominent family in England, he graduated from the prestigious Balliol College in Oxford with a degree in English literature and found some success with the publication of short stories, poetry, travel writing, satires and screenplays. A self-proclaimed pacifist, Huxley was interested in philosophical mysticism and universalism — themes he included in many of his writings. Huxley was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature nine times and has been lauded as a seminal writer and thinker by generations of readers.
In Brave New World, children are born through artificial wombs and placed into pre-determined caste systems, with each class of people having certain things they can and can’t do, as well as other classes they can and can’t associate with.
Alphas are world leaders while Epsilons are bred to be menial laborers, with those classes in the middle filling out the rest of society. Sex no longer exists in its former state and the population regularly ingests a drug called soma that tunes them out from reality, which, coupled with the dependence on televised “stories,” helps keep the population from thinking or doing too much (sound familiar?).
Henry Ford is worshiped, since the World State views the efficiency of the assembly line as akin to god-like. Science and efficiency are what make the World State hum; emotions and individuality are conditioned out of children at a young age, making it so “every one belongs to every one else.”
When an Alpha named Bernard travels to the “savage reservation,” where people can view others who live outside the caste system in squalor, he meets a woman and her son (referred to as “the Savage”) who he assumes to be the lost family mentioned by his boss, the Director, who had recently threatened to send Bernard away for his antisocial behavior.
Bernard schemes to bring the woman and her son home with him, setting off a chain of events that follows the young wild boy as he is introduced to the dystopian society, with which he becomes more and more angry. After his mom dies an ignoble death, he tries to no avail to live in isolation to evade the tourists and reporters who have become infatuated with him.
Ultimately, the young boy decides his own fate and the book ends with a powerful statement of the difficult choices a person must make when their society has eradicated individualism.
Why it was banned
Brave New World has been banned in numerous countries for a variety of reasons, most notably because its themes clashed with familial and religious values, as well as addressing sexual promiscuity and drug use.
In Brave New World, children are encouraged to welcome sexual advances through erotic play with other children, and societal leaders promote polygamous relations instead of single partners. The use of the drug soma, which is often used as an escape for those experiencing the smallest amount of discomfort or unhappiness, was also a reason for many to encourage banning the book.
Others who requested Brave New World be banned cited offensive or derogatory language when referring to the “savages” on reservations.
Usually falling in the top three on the lists of most banned books of all time, Brave New World is one of those novels you should read whether or not you consider yourself a fan of science fiction. Along with George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World shows a vision of what might happen when individual thought and expression are bred out of the human race, leaving only compliant drones who rarely concern themselves with issues larger than themselves. But, more critically, each book in this trifecta includes a glimmer of hope. Without these books, perhaps people might not understand how good it is to use their minds without fear of retribution from the government.
The themes that Huxley explores are complicated and sometimes a bit much to handle for a delicate person, but so, too, is life.
Banning books that have the ability to make people think critically and independently might seem the easy answer, but, like trying to force the young “Savage” to live within the dystopian framework of the World Society, it will only work up to a certain point. Individualism and freedom of thought will always prevail, no matter how much muck and mire they have to slog through to be free.
More than 1,600 book titles across 32 states were banned from public schools during the 2021-’22 school year alone, which nearly doubled the amount of challenged books from the year prior. This is the fourth installment of the “Banned Books in Review” series for the Reader. Read the previous reviews on sandpointreader.com.
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