Chapter 4 – What life is like beyond work.
As we continue with our reading of Brave New World, we are led from the science and laboratories of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre and out into the world. We go from learning how these people came to be and show how they act. There is a lot of description of the “pre-programmed,” blissfully ignorant state of Henry and Lenina and the counter images of the struggling, self-aware Bernard and Helmholtz. A lot of the chapter is spent describing the environment, from the buildings to the rockets and especially the helicopters.
If we remember that Brave New World was published in 1932, then it should be interesting that Huxley picks helicopters as the main mode of transportation because they had barely been invented by that time. In fact:
On September 14, 1939, the VS-300, the world’s first practical helicopter, took flight at Stratford, Connecticut. Designed by Igor Sikorsky and built by the Vought-Sikorsky Aircraft Division of the United Aircraft Corporation, the helicopter was this first to incorporate a single main rotor and tail rotor design. Piloted by Sikorsky, the September 14 tethered flight lasted just a few seconds. – See more at: http://connecticuthistory.org/worlds-first-helicopter-today-in-history/#sthash.oQ60aHUY.dpuf
Now, let’s not get too excited because the book was written before the first helicopter flight. The first “practical helicopter” came well after many decades of other prototypes. There were several flights as far back as 1907, but were often tethered to the ground due to instability. However, the idea that Huxley created a whole world where this new technology was common place makes me think that he would be an “early adaptor” of tech if he was alive today. He would have been one of the first to get an Apple Watch and may have made the mistake of sporting around Google glasses for a while.
I wondered if Huxley’s description of the subways used by the lower caste was just as interesting, only to find out that subways have been around since the mid to late 1800s. But again, it was interesting to see that a world dedicated to Henry Ford and his Model T car, had no signs of cars at this point. No indication that anyone drove an automobile or if they were even in existence anymore.
Chapter 4 helps to translate from the “origin story” chapters to more of an introduction of everyday life. Chapter 5 is where we get the shock and awe of living in a pre-conditioned world.
Chapter 5 – Did someone say orgy?
Okay, can I admit that Chapter 5 is somewhat forgettable, even with the whole group orgy thing? But when I look back, there is a bunch of stuff going on, especially in part one. The whole conversation between Lenina and Henry about everyone being equal in death is odd. Huxley spends some time on it to drive home the fact that no one is unhappy with who they are, whether they are Alpha or Epsilons. They are all programmed to be happy with where they are in life. Then he paints a strange picture of Henry lamenting at the thought that, when you die, it doesn’t make a difference who you were because everyone ends up feeding the plants anyway. At times, I feel that this story is comparable to an Emo kid’s journal, but done with a masterful use of the literary devices.
At the end of Part 1 of the chapter, Huxley paints an amazing picture of the activities at the night club with the “Calvin Stopes and His Sixteen Sexophonists.” For me, it seemed a little drawn out, but I constantly have to remind myself that this book is over 80 years old. This was my grandparents’ time and there was very little passed down compared to later generations. In the 50s and definitely the 60s, when movies become big and mainstream, the feel for the times is easily captured in visual form and preserved for years to come. But the 20s and 30s only really exist in print form and still images where your own bias and expectations of life may alter the reality of the story. I found this clip of a 1950s movie called DON’T KNOCK THE ROCK (1956) depicting what 1920s jazz dancing would look. It shows the flashy dancing as well as the way mundane couples would dance. It sort of helps to bring home the scene at the end of Chapter 5 Part 1. How the music would have sounded, how the dancing would have been imagined. No matter how much this is a story about a fictitious future, it is also a story that reflects shadows of the past. There are times, especially in this chapter, where it is helpful to be reminded of what tools Huxley had to create the structure around the story.
The second part of the chapter is all about the weird orgy. I bet as a high schooler I found this part intriguing, but now it seems to remind me mostly of the odd cults you here about on TV every once in a while. I wonder if in Part 1 of the chapter, Huxley is raging against the excess and effects of drugs, with the soma induced dance part and late night romp of Lenina and Henry, and in Part 2 he is riling against religion in a very Marxist “”Religion is the opium of the people” kind of way. I was all but ready to continue reading this book with an obscured eye, thinking everything here was going to be the warnings against the evils of drugs and God, when I found out about Moksha: Aldous Huxley’s Classic Writings on Psychedelics and the Visionary Experience. I have only been able to read excerpts right now but there is a section which he states that we have times where we feel the need to…“escape from the prison of our individuality, an urge to self-transcendence. It is to this urge that we owe mystical theology, spiritual exercises and yoga — to this, too, that we owe alcoholism and drug addiction.” I have a sense that Huxley sees the value in all, but it is when we take them as the absolute answer is when we get into trouble. He mentions in the book that he is not for prohibition, but also not for unrestricted use of drugs. So, in this chapter, we definitely see the excess side of this in the drug induced dancing and orgy. I wonder now, as we get further, is if Bernard is the other side of that coin? I don’t think so because he is not 100% against taking soma. Okay, let’s get off this spiral of heavy evaluation and head into Chapter 6 where we get to see Lenina and Bernard together.
Chapter 6 – Rage against the machine…maybe.
We get to experience what it is like for Lenina and Bernard to be on a date. Oh. My. God. Bernard is essentially a brooding teenager. He complains how he wants to be something different and feel something special and be an individual. I think we all went through, or are still going through, the same phase as we transverse into adulthood. However here, Bernard has no choice via preconditioning. In our lives, we are often tied to a specific path due to family, work, socio-economic situations, or a slew of other possible life’s interferences. Maybe this is why Brave New World made such an impression on me when I was just a mere high school boy looking to make a mark in the world. Even now, as an almost 40 year old man STILL trying to make a mark in the world, I empathize with Bernard’s situation. It’s not the only thing I found familiar.
If you look at part 1 of the chapter, I saw so many comparison with the present day. The further description of how soma keeps everyone happy and prevents them feeling for the pangs of wanting to be an individual. Sort of like the issue with over medication of children and even adults with pharmaceutical drugs. Like modern day soma, I know a number of friends who have been treated for mental health and hated their meds because they make them feel emotionally numb. Also in the first part of this chapter, Lenina’s constant regurgitation of Hypnopaedia lessons reminds me of all the political chatter you see on Facebook. I have friends who only post articles that fit their political belief and every comment seems to be taken from a script prepared by that party. These are extremely smart people who let 24 hour news networks coach them on how to think on national, local and even international issues. I assume Huxley experienced the same things in his own way and that provided a driving force behind the development of the “normal” life in the Brave new World. Wait….I see a soap box ahead of me. Let me jump off this rant and onto Part 2 of the chapter.
What can I say about part 2? The scene between Bernard and the director just reminds me of everything about the corporate world. (Except for my company of course. They are the shining exception to the rule. An example for all to follow.) Anyway. The interest promoted by the Director’s story about his visit to the Savage Reservation and essentially losing his date in the wilderness only made me want to have the story move on faster. “Is the woman still there? Was she kidnapped by the Savages? Is this some foreshadowing going on?” As those questions lingered, the outburst by the Director seemed painfully familiar. The Director’s warning that Bernard better essentially ship up or be shipped out, due to a lack of conformity, was more entertaining than his story about his adventures to the reservation and leaving his partner in the wild to die. Bernard’s reaction is classic, with a sense of exhilaration of being the one to rage against the machine and causing waves. I think we have all been there, especially in our youth when we think we know everything and our way is better than everyone else’s. But it is also the badge of those who truly try to fight the system. I grew up on comic books and I joke that “This who formed their morality based on superheroes, who always try to do the right thing, are not cut out for corporate life.” As we move onto the Reservation in Part 3 of the chapter, we feel proud of Bernard but hope he knows what he is getting himself into as he takes the mantel of anti-establishment.
We finally make it to the Savage Reservation, almost. More images of Lenina’s soma induced bliss and Bernard’s melancholy demeanor. What I found interesting after some research is that I think Huxley truly meant that the people in the reservation were all Native American and Spanish Indians. This whole time I thought they were always referring to anyone that somehow did not take to the assimilation. So it could have been that anyone of any race or culture could end up there and be a “savage.” But no, I think this is the similar play on the old prejudicial view of Indians. It triggered when the Warden of the reservation was explaining about the people who lived there. The “extinct languages, such as Zuni and Spanish and Athapascan…”Those were all languages of Indians. I don’t remember the rest of the book so I am now interested in whether my assumption is correct. Is this just a wacked out Indian Reservation or is it actually a place that those who reject their conditioning or unaffected by it end up?
At the end of the chapter, Bernard finally falls apart when he learns that the Director was serious about sending him to Iceland. (I wonder what Huxley had against Iceland to make that such an undesirable place to go?) And this is the true test. If you want to push against authority, fight the machine, what do you do when it takes its big meaty hand and smacks you around? Here we see that Bernard folds. He admits that he didn’t expect anything to happen, that was why he was so boastful and invigorated in Part 2 of the chapter. But now that he saw that he was actually going to have to pay his dues, his hope to walk out head held high and stoic went straight out the door. He pounds some soma and finds comfort in lala land. It is the proverbial “A nail that sticks out will be hammered.” I remember many times, especially in the Marine Corps, when people decided to go against authority. The common question was “Are you willing to take the hit?” In the Corps that could mean on hit on rank, on pay, on your free time. However, in respect to Bernard, he had no examples to learn from when it comes to fighting the system. The question we are left with at the end of Chapter 6 is what happens now? Does Bernard conform and leave his ideology behind and accept the code of COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILTY or does he gather himself from the initial shock, regain his wits and forges on as the system comes down on him?
I suspect we will learn our answer to this in the coming chapters.
Next week, we review chapters 7 -9. So, until then, go out, have some fun and enjoying some reading and don’t forget to check out the other topics on this blog, such as Monday Cinema Club, Bookworm Tuesday, Anything Can Happen Wednesday, Throwback Thursday and Friday’s Week in Review.