Introducing Artsweek’s new literature crossing! From the haunting opening of Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World to the gripping narrative of Richard Wright’s Native Son, check out what’s got Artsweek turning up by turning pages.
Jason Chun on Brave New World
Even after more than eight decades in print, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World has aged well. As one of the first novels to place the timeless individual-against-society motif in the middle of a dystopian world, it’s bound to intrigue today’s science fiction fans as much as it shocked its earliest readers. Brave New World opens with a haunting scene in which the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning explains how babies are mass-produced in test tubes, some purposefully stunted into “semi-morons.” The story’s progression reveals still more jarring prospects, such as children who are brainwashed in their sleep or conditioned to hate books through shock therapy. Good thing these are all concepts of fantasy — or are they?
Brave New World hits closer to home than we might like to admit. Science has come a long way since the novel debuted in 1932, enough that today we wouldn’t bat an eye at news about the invention of an instant-vacation hallucinogen called soma. To a certain extent, a number of people have resorted to drugs as an escape like the characters in the novel. But in the age of Internet, we are more drawn to instant gratification through social media, like broadcasting our thoughts to the world through Twitter or that one last glance at Facebook.
Maybe our current obsession with dystopian fiction stems from habits that we’ve developed dangerously parallel to Huxley’s vision. We like to assume that society makes progress as it learns from its mistakes, but what if we’re progressing towards a world more like that of, say, The Giver or The Hunger Games? Brave New World, and the many books and movies it has influenced, continues to help us to imagine the worse-case scenario — hopefully so that we can steer reality in the opposite direction.
Celie Hunt Mitchard on Native Son
Richard Wright, a mid-20th century African-American author, received controversy and merit for his eye-opening novel Native Son. This unrelenting and stimulating novel persuades the reader to root for a character with questionable morals and ethics. Bigger, a 20-year-old black man living in Chicago in the 1930s, is hired to be the chauffer of a wealthy, white family who ironically own the tenements that Bigger’s lowly family live in. Things turn sour for Bigger when he accidently kills his boss’s radical daughter. The plot follows Bigger’s reactions to the crimes he continues to commit preceding and following the murder. The historical book progresses down this dark road for Bigger, highlighting ideas of communism, religion and racism. The decline and deterioration of Bigger is complex, but the novel is so cleverly written that the reader is left conflicted and unsure about what outcome to root for. Bigger is a character that is carefully planned out and made relatable, and he forces the reader to question humanity and the constraining effects of society. This is a book that was written for the Great Depression, but is still relevant today during the era of Black Lives Matter; with topics of police brutality and racism arising in the novel, the book remains modern and current.