Sunday, July 26, 2009

Brave New World

Most post-colonialism critics like to concentrate on novels in which a colonizer descends into the culture he is trying to colonize, and shows the steady decline from the colonizer as a civilized person (by his own standards) into a helpless being in a non-colonized, or partially-colonized, area. In Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, the exact opposite seems to happen; set in the mid-2500’s, the futuristic society is a technologically advanced one in which there is no shortage of food, expedited world travel is as simple as taking a bus, and where children are cloned and decanted instead of born naturally, which has been made illegal. John, a ‘savage’ from a reservation, where people still follow ‘old ways’ such as natural reproduction by sex and marriage and follow deities, has stumbled out into the ‘civilized’ world by way of an invitation to do so by two of the main characters of the book. So how would a post-colonialism critic read this book, in which the character that is apparently being colonized appears in the colonizer’s life?

In ‘Brave New World’, the world as a whole is governed by a group of top-ranking officials, so the utopia exists in every corner of the globe. For those who want to go back to the old ways, however, there are reservations scattered throughout the world that keep to old ways, sort of like the Indian reservations we have nowadays. This is where John, the protagonist of the story, comes from; he has never had a true brush with society, aside from the fact that his mother used to be in a high position in London before she moved to a reservation.

After John gains contact with civilization as the rest of the world knows it, he first finds it pleasing and joyful; at one point, when Bernard, the person who visited the reservation, tells him some of the finer points of the outside world, John quotes Shakespeare – “Oh brave new world that has such people in it.” (Huxley 130) As time goes on and he sees what he views as corruption, he turns this utterance, which he meant as a blessing, into a curse and a mantra against turning into one of the ‘civilized’ (Huxley 190). By the end of the book, John has been turned into a curiosity, exiled from the cities but still allowed contact; John, though, cannot live with his new understanding of civilization, and hangs himself, much to the chagrin and excitement of the civilized populace.

The demoralization of John due to his ‘ascent’ from a seemingly unstructured society to one of great advances is an issue that could be analyzed with post-colonialism criticism, if looked at from an opposite point of view. The colonized, or in this case, John, being forced into the colonizer’s world, and having world views pressed upon them, is almost more catastrophic than if it were the other way around, which is the run-of-the-mill post-colonial literature. Imagine Tarzan being torn from the jungle and placed in New York, or a 12th century bard trying to understand modern rock; it’s post-colonial literature, but from the viewpoint of the stranger in a strange land.

1 comment:

  1. Great opening--perhaps the opening to a potentially longer work. Love to have seen more evidence for why you think a post-modernist critic would see things this way--this evidence really only can come from the critics themselves. In order to suggest that someone would think a particular thing, you'd be better off quoting them, and making a more explicit connection between what you suspect 'they would say' and what they in fact have said (also, utilizing the theory was a requirement of the assignment).