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Paulo Coelho

Themes

The Consequences of the Totalitarian State

Most dystopian novels feature some version of a totalitarian government that maintains political stability at the expense of personal freedom. Apart from Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984 is perhaps the most famous English-language novel of this type. It is useful to note the differences in Huxley’s and Orwell’s version of a totalitarian world government. In 1984, the government maintains its control over the governed primarily by means of intimidation, through the use of 24-hour surveillance, threats, secret police, and both physical and psychological torture. Though the human desire for individual freedom may well exist in Orwell’s world, it is aggressively suppressed through these means. In Brave New World, on the other hand, the citizens of the World State are under government control from the moment of their conception in a Hatchery test tube until the moment of their death, rendering the use of force unnecessary. The World State uses its advanced genetic and psychological technologies to create a populace who are incapable of rebellion because they truly do not desire it. The use of soma is an important tool in maintaining a constant level of complacence and shallow pleasure-seeking. The citizens of Huxley’s dystopia believe that they are happy, but Huxley makes it clear to the reader that this version of happiness comes at the expense of their freedom. They are not capable of feeling real emotions, experiencing genuine connections with one another, or thinking independently. The consequences of Huxley’s totalitarian state include the loss of all that makes us human.

Technology as a Means of Social Control

From its opening chapter, Brave New World paints the picture of a world where State-controlled technology has replaced the most fundamentally intimate and personal of human endeavors—reproduction. In the Hatchery, humans are mass-produced and then psychologically conditioned through the means of powerful technologies. The complete social control maintained by the World State in Huxley’s dystopia would be impossible without these technologies, and the novel cautions us of this danger. Useless kinds of technological innovations, such as the elaborate ball game Centrifugal Bumble-puppy and the Feelies, also play an important role in maintaining stability by keeping the population in a state of numb, mindless entertainment. Technology helps to control society by preventing people from actually connecting with nature or one another. Huxley is careful to distinguish between science and technology. His dystopia does not support science as a humanistic pursuit of knowledge; therefore, as Mustapha Mond explains, theoretical speculation is discouraged unless it is for the direct purpose of developing a technology to support State control. Thus, authentic science is censored while technology is essential. The use of technology as a distraction and an opiate, particularly in the case of soma and the Feelies, is an important element of Huxley’s satire on modern life. He is commenting on the ease with which we may be taken in by these appealing technologies, but how ultimately we do so at the expense of some part of ourselves, of losing the ability to think or feel for ourselves.

Consumerism

As a work of satire, Brave New World is not merely a speculative novel about a possible future; it is very much grounded in the present in which it was written. The importance of consumerism is stressed throughout the novel as a State-mandated and deeply conditioned form of appropriate social behavior. It is better to by something new than to try to fix something old: “an ending is better than a mending.” Huxley deliberately takes consumerism to this extreme in the novel to illustrate the logical development of our own contemporary cultural values. Even in the 1930s, and very much more so in today’s world, buying things functioned as an opiate, and the accumulation of material goods was and still is seen as a sign of wealth and equated, falsely, with happiness. Huxley satirizes the modern era by demonstrating how this attitude can easily be translated into an insidious and oppressive form of government control.

Knowledge versus Happiness

The well-known adage, “Ignorance is bliss; ‘tis folly to be wise,” might well have been a motto of Huxley’s World State. The characters who suffer do so because they have acquired, whether accidentally or intentionally, some form of knowledge that makes it impossible for them to exist in a state of numbed-out contentment. Bernard’s and Helmholtz’s sense of being different from other people is the knowledge that keeps them from happiness. Linda’s knowledge of a world other than the one in which she was raised destroys her happiness. John’s self-knowledge and experience of life outside the dystopia keeps him from having any happiness in the brave new world.

The function of soma is to keep people from dealing with unpleasant thoughts, to help them avoid the truth of their reality and their feelings. Knowledge, Mustapha Mond suggests, is incompatible with happiness. During his debate with John, Mond explains that knowledge is a threat to stability, which is why the World State suppresses and censors history, science and literature. This is the only way, he explains, to keep people in a state of stability, which he equates with happiness. Mond’s definition of happiness is certainly open to debate, and in fact this is one of the questions the novel raises on the whole.

Pain as Necessary for Being Fully Human

Conventional citizens of the dystopia maintain life by avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure. They do not experience the primal physical pain of childbirth, and advanced technologies and drugs keep them from experiencing the pain of aging, of growing old and dying. All of these natural human processes are sanitized and managed in a way that eliminates physical suffering. Emotional pain, too, is eliminated through conditioning that prohibits them from desiring things they cannot have, or forming deep emotional connections with one another. If they experience an uncomfortable feeling or a twinge of dissatisfaction, the drug soma quickly eases the feeling and keeps them in a pain-free state. Huxley’s satire conveys the message that this is a dehumanized existence, and that to live without pain prevents the development of a fully human identity. The characters in the novel who embrace their humanity, or at least have the desire to be more fully realized human beings, pay a price for this in pain. At times, Bernard prefers to suffer through his feelings of alienation rather than to numb his pain with soma. Helmholtz rejects the pleasures of soma and sex, preferring the clarity of mind that allows him to experience dissatisfaction, longing and emptiness. John, who utterly rejects the pain-denying society of the dystopia, chooses instead to embrace a life of self-denial, physical pain and material want in order to hold onto his humanity. On the other extreme, Linda’s desperate need to avoid pain leads her to languish slowly to death on an extended soma holiday, during which time she is so dehumanized she may as well be dead already. All of these choices highlight the idea that pain is an essential part of what it means to be human.

Motifs

References to Henry Ford

Henry Ford, the famous twentieth-century American auto manufacturer, is the closest thing the World State has to “god.” The repeated references to Ford throughout the novel are a prime example of Huxley’s satire. The name “Ford” is substituted wherever we, in our modern world, might say “Lord” or “God.” The crucifix has been transformed into a “T” with reference to Ford’s Model T automobile and the leader of Bernard’s Solidarity Service reverently makes “the sign of the T” rather than the “sign of the cross.” This motif serves to make the point that religion has been completely replaced by a worship of technology and a reverence for the kind of efficient mass production of products made possible by the innovations of Henry Ford, which included interchangeable parts and the assembly line.

The Word “Pneumatic”

Usually meaning “airy, full of air,” the word pneumatic is applied unusually to describe Lenina and several pieces furniture in the novel. The furniture may well be full of compressed air, making it particularly comfortable. In Lenina’s case, we must take it to mean that she is full-figured, voluptuous. The frequent use of this word to describe attractive women throughout the novel highlights that in this dystopia, human beings are reduced to the level of objects.

The Works of Shakespeare

Shakespeare is John’s only context for understanding the world beyond the Reservation. He associates his mother’s world with a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “o, brave new world! That has such people in it!” Having been denied participation in the culture of the Reservation because of his outsider status, John has internalized the world of Shakespeare and it has become his own cultural frame of reference. He identifies his feelings of rage toward his mother’s lover with lines from Hamlet, in which Hamlet curses his own mother for taking his uncle into her bed. His concept of romantic love comes from Romeo and Juliet, and he invokes Othello to support his argument with Mustapha Mond. As a motif, the rich poetic language of Shakespeare provides a sharp contrast to the hollow propaganda and shallow imagery of the World State’s songs and mottos. The intense emotion, moral complexity, drama and passion which pervade the works of Shakespeare exemplify precisely the kinds of attitudes and behaviors which the World State most despises as threats to stability.

Symbols

The Drug Soma

A constant presence throughout the novel, the drug soma symbolizes the use of technology—in this case, pharmaceutical technology—as a force of social control. Any dissatisfaction or emotional urges that the citizens of the World State may experience, even after their genetic engineering and powerful psychological conditioning, is mitigated by taking a dose of soma. The drug represents the idea that as long as people are superficially content, or disconnected from reality, they are unable and unwilling to pursue individual freedom.

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