I wasn’t feeling very insightful at our meeting for this one so I found little to add to the conversation about this one but it was interesting enough without my input.
Some background and plot information for the book can be found here.
Things we wound up discussing –
The similarities between Bernard and the Savage.
Bernard lives in a highly technological society where everyone’s genetically tweaked to be perfect people for their positions in life, be they the elite Alphas or lower-class Epsilons. For whatever reason, something went a little wrong when he was made, and the result of that has left him feeling like he doesn’t quite belong. Sometimes he relishes being a bit different but other times the craving to be like everyone else overcomes him. Like when he meets the Savage. The Savage is the child of a woman from Bernard’s society who got lost while on a holiday and wound up raising the boy in a reservation where all the traditional beliefs and natural human behaviours (like parenting, falling in love) still persist. The boy grew up as something of an outcast, not invited to participate in the same rituals other boys his age did with pride. Bernard winds up trying to use the Savage to boost his own reputation among his people. The Savage winds up not making it easy for him.
How bad is that world, really?
One of the purposes behind the society built in the book is to reduce suffering. Envy over status doesn’t exist because everyone’s conditioned from birth to love their social standing and enjoy their labours. Jealousy doesn’t exist because people don’t form monogamous relationships and can have sex as often as they want with anyone they want. They’re all encouraged to pop soma pills whenever they feel a mite frustrated or stressed and they wake from the trip happy and refreshed. There are few reasons to be unhappy and plenty of ways to be delightfully distracted.
How good is that world, really?
The Savage’s mother told him all she could about that culture so he was beside himself when the opportunity came to see it. For him, it didn’t live up to the hype. He saw how his mother was treated upon their return (ignored and happily doped up on soma until the day she died) and was appalled by all aspects of this so-called great civilization. They were only innovative in terms of thinking up new distractions. They didn’t seem to have any purpose to life or goals beyond being happy. They didn’t understand his culture (or want to), they didn’t appreciate Shakespeare, and, in the end, he willingly chose to be a hermit rather than live with them or even go back to the place he once thought of as home.
We touched on a few other things (how the “civilized culture” had scrapped religion, how media today caters to our desire to be distracted), but this was the gist, at least.
I think it’s a book people should read, but I don’t think it’s a well written book. Interesting ideas all over it, but not overly engaging. I couldn’t get interested in the fates of any characters or care about what they were going through.
Next book, 1984.