Compare and contrast the use of drugs in Brave New World to how they are used in today's society.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In America, a renowned psychiatrist has stated on a talk show that realistic people would be diagnosed nowadays as "clinically depressed" while an author has recently written a book entitled, In Defense of Unhappiness because in American culture there is conventional wisdom that something "wrong" if a person is depressed or disconcerted. Often, then, this person is prescribed anti-depressants. These anti-depressants are not dissimilar to Huxley's soma that also induces a euphoric feeling. While these anti-depressants are not directly used to control people, they do de-sensitize people to their feelings of melancholy, feelings that may be legitimate and, left untreated, could actually lead a person to change an unhappy situation. Certainly, these anti-depressants and other soothing drugs are prevalent in mainstream America, desensitizing people to their genuine feelings, not unlike the dehumanizing of the residents of the New World.

The soma passed out at the Solidarity Service is likened to the communion of many Christian services as Huxley satirizes the revival and evangelical-type services which generate emotional excitement and create what Marx called "the opium of the people." So, here soma is compared to a hyper-emotional state generated by formal religion in Huxley's contemporary culture.

Unlike in the societies of today, there are incidents of forced soma intake, such as the time the Deltas become so agitated after John incites them. Nevertheless, nowadays there is a culture of drugs as people find solutions to their ills, both mental and physical, in outside sources, whether pharmaceutical or otherwise, rather than through introspection and development of virtue and character.

In his conversation with Mustapha Mond, John the Savage cries that he wants pain because he knows that to feel pain is to be fully human:

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin."

"In fact," said MustaphaMond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then,...I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

With the acceptance of panaceas for their ills, some modern citizens of America, indeed, feel as Lenina does that one should "take a holiday from reality."



Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is clear that in this novel drugs are used as a form of control but also as a form of escape for people who do not want to have to face unhappiness and sadness. Soma, the drug that is accepted within this strange new world of the future, and indeed promoted actively so that everybody wants it and uses it, is something that, as Mustapha explains to John in Chapter 17, is used to escape feeling certain emotions that would otherwise make people feel sad or result in conflict:

And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is.

Soma therefore plays a very important part in this dystopian culture, and, as the quote shows through Mustapha's description of soma as "Christianity without tears," there are at least certain overt benefits to the widespread use of soma in this society. However, John argues that the use of soma does not make this society more moral: in fact he argues that the use of soma only indicates a lack of morality and maturity, as people do not have to face the sadness of the world and only live in an artificial landscape.

The comparison with the use of drugs today is that in today's world, drugs is not mainstream in society, and is in fact something associated with the lower classes and, though not exclusively, the poor. Drugs in a way though can be said to be similar, because many turn to drugs as a form of escapism, because the reality of their own lives is too grim and unyielding. However, the nature of drugs is also very different. Soma is a drug that appears to have no side effects, whereas the drugs used in today's world are very injurious to one's health and addictive. In this sense they are linked very strongly to other crimes such as burglary and prostitution.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team