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freedom is expanded, in large part because the repressive family group, largely the result of biological accident, has been replaced by a looser, societywide care of children.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...
(The entire section is 492 words.)