The Fail Safe In A Perfect World
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World creates a perfectly happy society, built on a platform of efficiency, pleasure, and stability. Negative emotions, such as pain, grief, and anger, are an obstacle to these goals, and have been conditioned out of each person to maximize their pleasure. However, within this world exists a drug known as soma, taken when someone feels unhappy.
This is peculiar because the people in this world do not have independent thought and shouldn’t be able to feel this unhappiness. So why does soma exist? Every once in while, someone’s conditioning might not offer an answer to an unpleasant feeling, so soma fills in these gaps. Without soma, the society would crumble because emotion and independent thought are too unpredictable. Huxley’s world is black and white, but the world we know isn’t. Soma cannot be understood by the “uncivilized” outsiders of the society, but the “civilized” people depend on it. Huxley wants his readers to know that there is no substitute for happiness, and he does this by showing us the differences between the uncivilized and civilized worldview of the Brave New World.
The civilized people within the society have been conditioned to take soma whenever they face an unpleasant feeling. As a part of their conditioning, they will also remind others when to take soma, giving them a sort of brainwashed response to unhappiness. They would choose from saying either, “‘What you need is a gramme of soma’”, “‘One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments’”, or “‘a gramme is better than a damn. ’” (Huxley 54-55). They would rather forget their “gloom” and replace it with temporary happiness, than try to understand the emotion and face the facts. Taking a “holiday from the facts” is exactly what every person in the civilized world is trained to do. They cannot understand or process truth, so instead they pop a tablet that melts it all away. Without soma, a civilized person starts to decay, and we see this in Linda. After being stranded on the Reservation, Linda is forced to live without the comforts of civilization. She is cast out from the uncivilized people, forced to have a child, and faces alcoholism and obesity. Her son John would have never existed if she were in the civilized world, but without an abortion clinic she was forced to have him. John brought her some comfort, but mostly pain and confusion. Linda is torn between what she is conditioned to do, and what little instinct she has left. She beats John in response to him calling her his mother, and seconds later hugs and kisses him. (Huxley 127).
With John she is able to tell stories of the civilized world, and this brings her some comfort, but not nearly as much as soma would. She only turns to alcohol to drown her sadness because it offered a similar relief like soma would. When she finally returns to civilization, it’s soma that she runs to; “The return to civilization was for her the return to soma” (Huxley 154). She, unlike all of the civilized people, was forced to live with her unhappiness, and did not know how to live with it. She could have adapted to an “uncivilized” way of life, but because of her conditioning, and because of her taste for soma, she simply doesn’t want to make the effort when she knows how easy happiness can be achieved with a gramme of soma. Having faced brutal reality she puts herself into a soma coma, and ultimately dies from what she desired most. From her death and John’s reaction to it, we start to see the uncivilized view of soma.
The civilized people cannot stand to imagine living without soma, while in contrast John cannot imagine a world with it. As a result of Linda’s death, John takes a firm stance that soma is a poison taking away the freedom of every person in the civilized world. (Huxley 210). Soma is distracting them from a happier more virtuous life, so John attempts to rid the people of soma and free them from them from their enslavement. However, as he tosses boxes of soma onto the floor, the people rise up in anger. “the khaki mob was silent, petrified, at the spectacle of this wanton sacrilege, with amazement and horror.
A great shout suddenly went up from the mob; a wave of movement drove it menacingly toward the Savage. ” (Huxley 213). John believes that everyone should be exposed to literature, religion, and emotion as he was, and that a world thrives on the right to be unhappy. (Huxley 240). But what he can’t see, is that the happiness that he believes in, is not the happiness that exists for the civilized people. They will never understand Shakespeare nor will they want to; their society has everything that they could possibly need because they have soma. What John sees of soma is a loss of humanity and a loss of genuine happiness. We as humans need to be able to feel every emotion, good and bad, in order to become more virtuous. Huxley created John to challenge his perfect Brave New World, and without him, we would not see soma as a loss of happiness, culture, or religion, but instead as an answer to all life’s problems. Without John, we might read the novel and try to recreate soma in our day to day lives. But would something like soma be good for society, or would it cause us to deteriorate and suffer like Linda? Of course soma doesn’t really exist, and we must face our emotions day after day. Some days are good, some days we can barely get out of bed, but when we learn what it is that makes us feel this way, we become stronger. We survive without soma, and yet we still find happiness.
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