Not really Prozac, but Soma. Not exactly an anti-depressant, but a drug for instant gratification. This is a novel about a society peopled with drugged and genetically engineered citizens. A dystopian novel, yes, much like another version of 1984 where the future is speculated. What happens if the state manipulates the society using the advancements in biology and genetics? What happens if people relentlessly wallow in gratification of all sorts? What happens if an outsider is brought inside this society?
Before all, I have a need to say that this may be a further or accompanying read to 1984, but I don’t think it’s better in terms of writing. My edition has an introduction of the author, explaining that yes, this is far from a brilliant novel. However, he’d rather not wish to harbor to guilty feelings for the gaping holes that are found in it. Let it be like that, untouched and unchanged, for in the process of undoing the imperfections, his theme and his art form will change considerably.
Let it stand for what it is. I don’t really know if this is a defense to the more vicious of the criticisms that the novel received, but hey, I agree.
Helmholtz shook his head. “Not quite. I’m thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I’ve got something important to say and the power to say it–only I don’t know what it is, and I can’t make any use of the power. If there was some different way of writing … Or else something else to write about …” He was silent; then, “You see,” he went on at last, “I’m pretty good at inventing phrases–you know, the sort of words that suddenly make you jump, almost as though you’d sat on a pin, they seem so new and exciting even though they’re about something hypnopaedically obvious. But that doesn’t seem enough. It’s not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too.”
As I’ve mentioned, the inhabitants of this futuristic society are manipulated. Moreso, reproduction is strictly controlled through artificial means. Giving birth is akin to sin in this world. Ironically, the state encourages sex, promiscuity even. Women have their reproductive systems frozen or totally scraped to avoid the possibility of conceiving.
And people who date exclusively are weird, almost a threat to the society.
The characters that I remember are Bernard, ugly yet intelligent; Helmholtz, handsome and intelligent; Lenina, the lead woman but I’m not too sure if she’s ugly or not; and John, the savage. I think the latter is the lead character here although he appears much later in the novel. We first read about this world where Bernard, Helmholtz, and Lenina live. It is worry-free. If you start to feel something bad, you just pop a Soma in your mouth. And the world will spin without a care in the world.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Should we rather shy away from the harsher truths in life or face them squarely? The state believes the former. If people are happy, very, very happy, order in the society is attained. To make people happy, they have to be conditioned to detest things that can revert happiness or to engineer them to feel happy about themselves.
I mentioned engineer. In this state, test tube babies are uhm, manufactured. While the future people are in the test tube stage, they are assigned their castes. So you see, if the test tube baby has bad genes, he will be assigned to a lower caste, say a factory worker. In the future, he will be conditioned to hate intellectual things, say books, and he will, through the same methods of conditioning, learn to love being a factory worker. This way, he will no longer think about higher aspirations, making him avoid the depression of being stuck as a factory worker and making him perfectly contented. And happy.
The danger presented here is that people are dehumanized. They are only humans in form, but really, they are robots. Once they are done with their factory work, they will line up for their daily dose of soma. And they can have a good time during their days off. And so on.
So when John, the savage, is brought to this world, he is amazed. First, he is astounded with the new things that he sees, building all around instead of the thick jungle foliage of his previous home. Soon enough, the feeling dies out. People in this brave new world are shallow. People here do not read Shakespeare. People do not experience pain, suffering, love, enlightenment. People do not know what is life and how it is to live it.
We now have the major themes of the novel: the dangers of an all-controlling society and the effects of induced happiness. I’ll stop there because I can no longer think of any other themes. Really, I can’t remember much aside from things that might spoil your reading of this, so I’ll proceed to the writing.
The narrative is terrible. There is an abundant use of clichés. I’ve often encountered “straight from the horse’s mouth,” which isn’t so bad if used sparingly and if used to depict a character’s mannerism. But no. It was abused to death that I cringed every time I pass through that phrase. There were even moments that I anticipated the phrase, and this was not in vain.
Perhaps this is one of the things that the author is talking about in his introduction. As far as themes are concerned, this is a must read. Read it for the insights that you will be able to formulate. I remember reading this with some of my friends at our book club. One of them is a teenager fresh out of high school, and I have to admit that she was able to glean better things than I did. I was very much impressed and satisfied that people in their teens would pick this up during their summer vacation.
That satisfaction that I had is indeed counted as true happiness.