Where is your Iceland?

Posted on December 06, 2014. Filed under books

I just finished “Brave New World,” a novel written in 1932 which describes the “perfection” of society through science.

Parallel to the advancement of science, “Brave New World” deals in the retardation of creativity and individuality. Humans in civilized society are expected to fit in. “Everyone belongs to everyone else,” is the mantra (indeed, people are bred, with no concept of parentage or family). The masses are tranquilized with regular access to a drug called soma. No one needs to step out of line, because everyone is artificially happy. They worship a God called “Ford,” after Henry Ford, the car manufacturer who championed the assembly line method of production.

Two of the main characters – Bernard Marx and Hermholtz Watson – are misfits who have a lingering distaste for the society in which they live.  Both have been threatened in the past with being forced to leave it. The standard threat is to exile them to an island (usually Iceland), away from civilization, to live with others who have been exiled.

Due to an unfortunate event, these threats come true, and Bernard is dragged out of a room screaming for mercy.  After he leaves, “The Controller” (a man who was a bit of a subversive himself in his younger days) says this:

“One would think he was going to have his throat cut,” said the Controller, as the door closed. “Whereas, if he had the smallest sense, he’d understand that his punishment is really a reward. He’s being sent to an island. That’s to say, he’s being sent to a place where he’ll meet the most interesting set of men and women to be found anywhere in the world. All the people who, for one reason or another, have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community-life. All the people who aren’t satisfied with orthodoxy, who’ve got independent ideas of their own. Every one, in a word, who’s any one. I almost envy you, Mr. Watson.”

The Controller understands that beauty is not in conformity, but in individuality and creativity.  Bernard is being sent to an uncontrolled environment, to live with people just like him: “…the most interesting set of men and women to be found anywhere in the world.”

Hermholtz accepts his fate with more stoicism, as all he has ever wanted to be was a poet:

The Controller smiled. “[…] would you like a tropical climate? The Marquesas, for example; or Samoa? Or something rather more bracing?”

Helmholtz rose from his pneumatic chair. “I should like a thoroughly bad climate,” he answered. “I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms, for example ...”

The Controller nodded his approbation. “I like your spirit, Mr. Watson. I like it very much indeed. As much as I officially disapprove of it.” He smiled. “What about the Falkland Islands?”

“Yes, I think that will do,” Helmholtz answered.

May we all find our Iceland or our Falkland Islands someday.

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