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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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The Controller makes these points as the "camera eye" of the novel switches back and forth from him to Lenina Crowne coming off work, changing clothes, and talking to her friend Fanny; from them to Henry Foster and other men, and back again. As the chapter continues, it becomes more and more difficult to tell which scene you're viewing because Huxley stops identifying the character who is speaking at any given moment, and you have to decide that from the nature of the remark.

Through Lenina and Fanny you learn more of the mechanics of feeling good, as they turn different taps for different perfumes and use a "vibro-vacuum" for toning up skin and muscles. In a world where no woman bears a child, women need periodic Pregnancy Substitutes-chemical pills and injections to give them the hormonal benefits that pregnancy would give their bodies. And one fashion item is a "Malthusian belt" loaded with contraceptives, rather like a soldier's bandolier with magazines of bullets. Thomas Malthus was a political economist who wrote in 1798 that population increases much more rapidly than does subsistence; later groups that wanted to limit population often invoked his name.

The two women also give you a closer look than the Controller's talk did at personal relations in a world that prizes promiscuity and makes monogamy impossible. Fanny reproaches Lenina for seeing nobody but Henry Foster for four months. She calls Henry a "perfect gentleman" because he has other girlfriends at the same time.

After the scene switches to Henry, you meet another very important character: Bernard Marx, a specialist in hypnopaedia. He's unusual in this world because he likes to be alone, and he despises Foster for conforming to the culture of promiscuity, drugs, and "feelies"- movies that appeal not only to your eyes and ears but also to your sense of touch. (Brave New World was written only a few years after silent films gave way to "talkies," as the first films in which audiences could hear the actors speak were called.)

Bernard is on the verge of falling in love with Lenina, and he hates Foster for talking about her as though she were a piece of meat. Lenina is also interested in Bernard, if only because he is a bit different in a world in which everybody conforms. Bernard is physically small for an Alpha, and Fanny repeats a rumor that his small stature was caused by someone adding too much alcohol to his blood-surrogate when he was an embryo. Lenina says "What nonsense," but later she'll wonder if this is true.


NOTE:

When Bernard becomes angry, Foster offers him a tablet of soma. Although this is one of the most important concepts in the book, Huxley doesn't signal it for you the first time he mentions it. A voice that can only be that of the Controller reviewing the history that produced the world state, says that five centuries earlier the rulers realized the need for the perfect drug. They put 2000 pharmacologists and biochemists to work, and in six years they produced the drug. The voice doesn't mention the name soma; Foster does that when he offers Bernard the tablet, and Foster's friend the Assistant Predestinator says, "One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments." A bit later, the Controller says that half a gram of soma is the same as a half-holiday, a gram equals a weekend, "two grams for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the Moon." In other words, soma makes you high-like marijuana or LSD-but has none of the dangerous side effects those drugs can have. This world couldn't function without soma, because the world can't be kept free of pain without a drug that tranquilizes people and makes them high at the same time-and never leaves them with hangovers.

The word soma, which Huxley always puts in italics, is from the Sanskrit language of ancient India. It refers to both an intoxicating drink used in the Vedic religious rituals there and the plant from whose juice the drink was made-a plant whose true identity we don't know. Soma is also the Greek word for body, and can be found in the English word "somatic," an adjective meaning "of the body, as distinct from the mind." Huxley probably enjoyed his trilingual pun.

The Controller's description of soma is part of a scene scattered over several paragraphs in which he explains that in this Utopia there is no old age. People remain physiologically young until they reach their sixties and die. Would you like to stay young and healthy until you die, and know that you would die in your sixties? Many people would say "yes" at first. But what price would you have to pay for a lifetime of youth? Huxley wants you to answer that question, too. If you never grow old, you never feel the pains of aging-but you never feel the positive emotions of achievement or contentment with the life you've lived, either. You never know the wisdom that comes from changes in your body, mind, and life, from the knowledge that death is approaching.

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