12 Classics: Brave New World

I would not quite believe Suzanne Collins if she said she took no inspiration from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World for her Hunger Games series of books. Some of the elements in the books are too close to one another for it to be a coincidence.

Moving on.

I read a classic book looking for that one element that explains why said book is classified as a classic. Sometimes it is the quality of the writing, or the twisted, complex plot that you never thought someone could come up with. There are too many elements of a classic book to write about them all, but I will mention one more, sometimes it is a particular passage, which resonates more strongly than any other portion of the book. For me, this was the element in Brave New World that made it a classic.

The passage I am speaking of takes place near the end of the book, when the Savage is speaking with Mustapha Mond. The Savage is challenging Mond on the decision to “civilize” a society in the way that Mond and other directors have. Mond attempts to justify why he and other directors/controllers are correct. Both men frequently reference Othello to support their arguments, although Othello benefits the Savage’s points more appropriately.

The Savage speaks of the “feelies” the “civilized,” modern equivalent of a book or movie, i.e. mass entertainment. He says, “Othello’s good, Othello’s better than those feelies.”

“Of course it is,” the Controller agreed. “But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We’ve sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead.”

Mond later mentions science as being in the same category as high art:

“Yes,” Mustapha Mond was saying, “that’s another item in the cost of stability. It isn’t only art that’s incompatible with happiness; it’s also science. Science is dangerous; we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.”

What a prescient passage. Keeping science under lock and key has become a huge task for climate change deniers, oil companies, and pleasant men like Senator Jim Inhofe who brought a snowball into Congress to support his argument that global warming is a hoax. Mind you, it was February…in Washington D.C.

The Savage and Mond argue back and forth for quite a few pages. The Savage closes with a point about the inconveniences in life, the inconveniences Mond and others have tried so hard to eliminate.

“But I like the inconveniences.”

“We don’t,” said the Controller. “We prefer to do things comfortably.”

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

“In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”

“Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” There was a long silence.

“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.

Mustapha Mond shrugged his shoulders. “You’re welcome,” he said.

This discussion is why Brave New World is, at least for me, a classic. Inconveniences are certainly not all pleasant, but they are the price we pay for freedom. They make for a fuller, richer life; a life, which thanks to inconveniences, produces high art. I like high art.

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