In college we had to give a writing sample on a book that changed the way we view the world. I wrote about Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I failed that writing test in college and had to re-take the test with a different question (so as not to have to take remedial writing!) because I’m fairly sure the person who graded me didn’t like what I got out of it. I knew what I was supposed to get out of it, but the tired civilized man dystopia/ wild man utopia always seemed false to me and I felt it must have been tacked on because Aldous Huxley had created a world that, though frightening and different than our own, was too perfect. Huxley had to come up with a way to destroy its merits, and that destruction fell flat in my mind. 1984 is a far more obvious dystopia; Huxley had to work at destroying his utopia. Instead, I wrote about how I learned to think like an anthropologist from the book , though I didn’t phrase it as being thinking like an anthropologist. I just talked about how it showed me that culture shapes the way we view our world (using um, culture’s views of sex being a primary cause of rape as my primary example, which I still know to be correct– if there is no shame to sex, it can no longer be used as a weapon).*
I’ve been thinking about Brave New World and how what I got out of it is different than most literary theory about it. Anyhow, I think I got something different out of Brave New World for two main reasons: 1. Although none of the true main characters are women (the one main character woman is kind of a cog who exists to reflect the male main characters), women in that utopia world sure have a hell of a lot better life than women in the real world, even if men don’t necessarily and 2. I’m an alpha and when I read Brave New World life sucked so much as an alpha and if I rebelled against the social order in Brave New World my punishment would have been to go to a true island utopia populated only by other alphas and oh man oh man that was a dream world for middle-school me (one that came true in high school!).
So I looked up feminist criticisms of brave new world on google, and after adding the name “huxley” so as not to get so much stuff about modern sex that just uses the phrase, I came up with a few interesting articles. Margaret Atwood (who literally wrote the book on feminist dystopia) has an interesting article on how it has stood up after 75 years. This google book has some neat discussion questions from a feminist perspective.
And I wonder about how our perceptions in our current society shape what we view as utopia and dystopia, and how clear it is that we need more authors willing and able to write from different perspectives. How much literary theory only makes sense from a middle-class white male viewpoint? How many messages seem shallow when you’re not the intended audience? Feminist theory shouldn’t be relegated in its own niche and ignored by everybody who isn’t a feminist theorist. We could all benefit from a little anthropology in our world-views.
How often do you feel like you’re not the target audience? Do you feel like that has shaped your world-view for when you are the target? And what did you get out of reading Brave New World?**
*Despite not finishing the make-up test and freaking out about that, the writing instructor who graded the make-up told me that based on that writing, it didn’t make sense that I had to take the make-up in the first place, which made me feel better. I got asked to be a writing tutor a year later. So I’m pretty sure whoever graded me just didn’t like my arguments. Another reason for me to never go into the humanities. And yes, my formal writing is much less stream-of-consciousness than my blogging. I’m a big believer in outlines and topic sentences.
**It’s short! And not as traumatic as say, The Handmaid’s Tale (to me, anyway).