Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Creepiness Factor - Teaching Huxley's Brave New World

Aldous Huxley's dystopian novel Brave New World is one of the most significant and alluded to literary works of the contemporary era.  Huxley's satire of a technology and consumerism is a powerful reminder of the fragile nature of individuality in a world of increasing control by both business and government.  As such it is commonly taught in many high schools, and it remains a popular work with teachers and with students.  However, it is a creepy novel to say the least, and teachers should make certain to handle it delicately and professionally with an eye for potentially uncomfortable situations in the classroom.

The most obvious and potentially creepiest component of the novel is the hyper-sexualized nature of the World State. With a society containing such standards as "erotic play" for young children and an "Orgy-Porgy" of sexual hysteria at the culmination of the society's "religious" service, teachers must prepare students for these potentially awkward and confusing references.  Arguably, this book is more well suited for the high school level, and most aptly at the upper levels.  However, my school has taught this work at the honors freshman level for years with little conflict.  The key is preparation.

Contemporary teens are not aloof to the hypersexualized nature of their own world, and thus can most likely handle Huxley's satirizing of it.  But it doesn't hurt to prepare them for it.  In doing so, I spend the  introductory day telling the kids "this is a creepy novel."  In referencing it as satire, I introduce the terms horation and juvenalian to prepare them for the dark sinister side of satire.  It's helpful to give them some examples of a dark satire - I like explaining some elements of the movie Fight Club.  The scene where Tyler Durden explains making soap from the fat in a liposuction clinic is a pretty vidid one, and they get it.  Students should also know the terms "erotic play" and "Orgy-Porgy" before they encounter them in the text.

Brave New World is undoubtedly a great piece of literature and a significant one for any study of literature.  But it is creepy, and students need to be prepared for that.

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