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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492

Island stands in counterpoint to Huxley’s most noted work, the dystopian novel Brave New World, and to the equally pessimistic Ape and Essence (1948). The earlier volumes are dark satires on human nature and society. Island presents a positive view of the potential of human culture, especially if that...

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Island stands in counterpoint to Huxley’s most noted work, the dystopian novel Brave New World, and to the equally pessimistic Ape and Essence (1948). The earlier volumes are dark satires on human nature and society. Island presents a positive view of the potential of human culture, especially if that potential is cultivated properly in a truly spiritual sense.

In Brave New World, Huxley posits a future society in which materialism, aided by technology, has come to dominate human life. A relatively small group of elite persons, the Alphas, controls the rest of society through appeals to their physical pleasures, including widespread distribution of the drug soma. Although the world is peaceful and technologically advanced on the surface, the peace is largely illusory, and technology actually serves to limit, rather than enhance, human freedom and the human spirit.

Ape and Essence explores the less cultivated, more animal aspects of human nature. It considers a world in which those aspects are not kept under control but are allowed to develop to their logical conclusions. The result is a nightmare situation in which the law of the jungle predominates.

Island presents a much more balanced and positive view. Individual freedom is expanded, in large part because the repressive family group, largely the result of biological accident, has been replaced by a looser, societywide care of children. Human sexuality, which was viewed with some dismay by Huxley in his earlier works, is accepted as a path toward complete spiritual enlightenment. The key to this utopia, as exemplified in the strange but productive collaboration of the Scots doctor and the Buddhist raja, is the link of the best of Western technological advances and Eastern spiritual discipline.

Island is a fantasy novel premised on a voyage to an unknown land, where society is much better ordered than in traditional Western culture. Although not unknown in classical literature, the genres first great modern work was Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). More’s work has a number of similarities with Huxley’s novel: Its location is an idyllic island; society there is arranged according to a humane, rational order that safeguards the dignity of the individual while restraining selfish pursuits; and physical sexual urges are accepted as natural and good, rather than being repressed.

Similar settings and themes emerge in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas (1759), and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872). The major notable difference between these works and Huxley’s novel is the care with which Huxley lays a plausible, realistic foundation for his imaginary island of Pala. The earlier utopias are merely stumbled upon and must be accepted as given, but Pala’s history, development, and underlying structure are presented in a fashion that allows the reader to believe that such a place, and such a society, are not only possible but also achievable. In Island, Huxley largely succeeds in a difficult undertaking, that of creating a fictional utopia that seems true to life.

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