Brave New World was criticized when first published in 1932 for having a weak plot and characterization. “Nothing can bring it alive,” one review quoted; but it is now considered a classic. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked “Brave New World” fifth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel, set in London in the year 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), has also become one of the most frequently censored books in literary history. It was #52 of the 100 most banned books of 1990-2001 and one of the 10 most frequently challenged books of 2010 according to the ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom for themes of sexuality, drugs, and suicide. Incidentally, it was the only classic on the list for that year.
Censors have long sought to prevent students from reading the book, but “Brave New World” is both one of the finest science fiction books and one of the most brilliant works of social satire ever written, as Huxley creates a forceful blend of bizarre comedy, futuristic foresight, and philosophical dialogue. The scariest thing about it is how much humanity seems to be moving closer to Huxley’s dystopian vision.
The story centers on a drugged, dreary, and mass-produced future society that parodies H.G. Wells’ “Men Like God.” Huxley’s disdain for the consumer culture of America is expressed in one respect by the symbolism of chewing gum. While we commonly equate gum with the American teenager, it appears in the book as a way to deliver sex hormones and subdue anxious adults. Pornographic films called “Feelies” (a movie that stimulates the senses of sight, hearing, and touch) are another popular concession in Huxley’s vision of the 26th century. Henry Ford is also the new God. Worshippers say “Our Ford” instead of “Our Lord,” and the carmaker’s concept of mass production has been applied to human reproduction.
The book was banned immediately upon publication in 1932 in Ireland for its language, and for claims of being anti-family and anti-religion.
In 1980, it was removed from classrooms in Miller, Missouri, for “making promiscuous sex look like fun.”
In 1993, a group of parents attempted to ban the book in Corona-Norco, California, because it “focused on negativity.”
The school board in Baxley, Georgia, banned “Brave New World,” along with John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, and Richard Wright’s “Native Son” because a local church minister objected to the contexts, despite many of the community’s parents and teachers approving of the book.
Other reasons for banning it throughout the years in the United States include insensitivity and racism.
“Brave New World” has been challenged in Glen Burnie, Maryland for too much sexual content; while on the opposite coast it found itself in trouble in Seattle after a parent complained that the book has a “high volume of racially offensive, derogatory language, and misinformation on Native Americans. In addition to the inaccurate imagery, and stereotype views, the text lacks literary value which is relevant to today’s contemporary multicultural society.”
Perhaps Huxley foreshadowed the onslaught of censorship attempts his novel would endure in one of the most memorable dialogues of “Brave New World,” which is a fitting discussion point for any debate on censorship and book banning. Remembering Shakespeare, the character, John, says, “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you- getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them… But you don’t do either.”
John also claims the “right to be unhappy,” and Mustapha says it’s also “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 might happen tomorrow.”
The common thinking is that utopia is some far-off goal of the future, a state of being far removed from that of the present day; but utopia and dystopia are merely two sides of the same coin.
Part of what makes this book so controversial is the very thing that makes it so timeless- we want to believe that technology has the power to cure all, but Huxley shows the dangers all too well.
By removing all of the world’s sorrows and ills, humanity also rids itself of the true pleasures in life. There’s no real passion in a fixed and engineered society; no creativity; and no individuality. To know the pleasure, you must first know the pain. That’s the difference between having a life and living a life.
So, still think this work has no relevance to “today’s contemporary multicultural society?”
For a complete list of titles covered and more information about the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project, please visit www.deepforestproductions.com
Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, Associated Press, Time, American Library Association, Washington Post
© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions