“O brave new world that has such people in’t!” (a quote from William Shakespeare in honor of his birthday)
My son was just assigned the book Brave New World by Aldous Huxley for his English class. The book is a dystopian novel about the future written in 1932. The title is taken from William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, in which a band of sojourners encounters the strange creatures of the island on which they have been shipwrecked. In Brave New World, people live primarily for pleasure. They have plenty of drugs and emotionless sex as well as harmless pastimes in a world whose motto is, “Community, Identity, Stability.” There are no attachments, and words like “love” and “mother” are considered profane. But when the main character, Henry Foster, meets “the Savage” – a man living in the wild who has passions and loves poetry – he begins to questions this Brave New World in which he lives.
By sheer coincidence, I just finished an award-winning young adult novel titled The Giver. In this futuristic book, society knows no pain, no suffering, no hunger. Life is placid and predictable. But the people also have no colors, no choices, and most importantly, no love. Once again the main character, Jonas, starts to realize what is missing when he begins to receive memories of the past from the Giver.
Dystopian fiction, while imagining the future, is really a commentary about the present. In both of these works, we are shown that humans are capable of terrible evil and often subject to horrific suffering. Life is hard. Yet our human spirit gives us great works of literature, a sense of purpose and the ability to love others.
Perhaps no one captured the great variety of human foibles, passions and emotions as well as William Shakespeare. His plays are filled with murder, lust, greed, jealousy, duplicity, love, and honor. Some of his characters – Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Iago, Shylock, and Ariel, to name a few – are among the most beloved in literary history. And his soaring poetry and prose gave life to his depictions of the human condition. We are much richer for having had William Shakespeare’s works in our lives.
So raise a glass to the Bard on his birthday and enjoy the messiness that is life in our brave new world.