Eyeless in Gaza, written in 1936, reflects people's concern for national and personal safety as well as their fears in regard to the meaning of life. Huxley presents a novel that deals with one man's quest for the validity of his existence in a seemingly pointless world. The novel moves from a skeptical view towards life to an acceptance of its vagaries and violence. Huxley's message consists of a way to live life spiritually and peacefully. The novel, at times pedantic, offers its readers a hopeful look at the world. In the nineteen twenties and thirties, Americans as well as the British were wary of international conflict because of the traumas inflicted by World War I. The novel attempts to assuage people's worries not by claiming that everything is fine but that one can live peacefully and his or her actions will be reflected in society and impact all nation's views toward war and violence in general. The Great Depression dealt a further blow to citizen's faith in government and many became disillusioned with life. Eyeless in Gaza offered its readers a spiritual path which, if followed, could lead them to salvation and freedom from fear and pain.
Anthony Beavis, the hero of the novel, fits into a common category of characters that many writers of the nineteen twenties studied. Beavis is an egoist and a hedonist, bent primarily on the fulfillment of his sensual desires. The way to live life according to him is to not think about it too much and to avoid discomfort if at all possible. "Enquiry and exploration would land him in heaven knew what quagmire of emotion, what sense of responsibility. And he had no time, no energy for emotions and responsibilities?he went on stubbornly playing the part he had long since assigned himself-the part of the detached philosopher, of the preoccupied man of science who doesn't see the things that to everyone else are obvious" (EG p.3). Anthony, at this point in the novel knows that he avoids emotion and realizes that it may have some use but decides to stick to the habit of ignoring it. A problem that faces Beavis throughout the novel is summed up here "Like all other human beings, I know what I ought to do, but continue to do what I know I oughtn't to do" (EG p.9). Huxley seems to believe that this is one of the most pervasive issues facing all people. His hero, Anthony Beavis is presented many opportunities throughout his life to adopt others' ways but he does not do so until he has his own, very personal realization.
Beavis, in adolescence, is positioned between three disparate visions of what one's life should consist of. His friend Brian's mother, Mrs. Foxe is extremely religious and Anthony considers her views as a possible outlet for his frustration at home. He lost his mother when he was about twelve and his father almost immediately remarried. Anthony's father represented a sensual being who was trapped in his own lust. Anthony rejected his father's way of life mainly because he saw him as a hypocrite. Just after his wife's death Anthony's father said to him, "We must stand together now, close together. Because we both?we both loved her?We'll always be true to her, never?never let her down?-will we?" (EG p.42). His family did not offer him any solutions for how to live happily. His fondness for Mrs. Foxe gave him a peek at his own compassion and also her religious stance affected Anthony. However, her radical views toward chastity and self-abnegation ultimately made her influence on Anthony fleeting. When Beavis entered high school, he came into contact with a group of boys who reveled in freedom from any type of restraint. Anthony did not shun their influence and began to look at the world skeptically and found ways of using it for his pleasure. He formed a relationship with Mary Amberley and, because of her pleasure-centered existence, Anthony viewed women as yet another means to sensual fulfillment.
Upon graduation from college and his venture into middle-life, Anthony persisted in viewing his existence as random sets of occurrences. Beavis explains his view as such, "Somewhere in the mind a lunatic shuffled a pack of snapshots and dealt them out at random, shuffled once more and dealt them out in different order, again and again, indefinitely?The thirty-five years of his conscious life made themselves immediately known to him as a chaos-a pack of snapshots in the hands of a lunatic" (EG p.17). In this quote we can see two important facets of Beavis's life and how they contribute to his ultimate salvation. The fact that his life seems to have no order can help the reader to understand why he views life as pointless and seeks only physical, transitory pleasure. Also, the statement itself reveals that Beavis longs for some order to his life. He is not content with his confused existence. It is in this state of mind that prepares Beavis for his realization and development into a spiritual, fulfilled person.
Two important factors which lead Anthony Beavis to spirituality exist in the realm of death. His friend Brian's suicide seems to have no large impact on his life even though Anthony was in part responsible for it (he betrayed their friendship by sleeping with Brian's fiancée). The repercussions of Brian's death become clear to Anthony when he sees a dead dog fall from an airplane and land bloodily near him; he recalls Brian's suicide plunge. Beavis's repulsion from blood and death trigger in him a desire to change his life. He meets a man named Miller who puts Anthony in touch with his fears and desires and aids him in attaining freedom from them.
Huxley's developed description of the mystical ideas posited by Miller in the novel lead the reader to believe that Huxley has a claim in our acceptance of them. In the final chapter of the novel, Beavis thinks to himself about what he has learned from Miller. Anthony was encouraged to live life as a pacifist which meant a lot more than him simply disliking war. Huxley presents the idea of mutual thought as being crucial to the success of the human race. Miller taught Beavis that ideas and feelings can be reproduced from one mind to another. Beavis thinks to himself, "The mental pattern of love can be transferred from one mind to another and still retain its virtue?And not only love, but hate as well?Divisive emotions; but the fact that they can be interchanged, can be transferred from mind to mind and retain all their original passion, is a demonstration of the fundamental unity of minds" (EG p.467-8). This unity that Beavis speaks about is the ultimate goal of Miller's pacifism. He believes that by attempting to reconcile diverging ideas and emotions like love and hate, one can come close to achieving peace in one's life. Beavis thinks that "Affection, compassion-and also, meanwhile, this contemplative approach, this effort to realize the unity of lives and being with the intellect, and at last, perhaps, intuitively in an act of complete understanding. From one argument to another, step by step, towards a consummation where there is no more discourse, only experience, only unmediated knowledge, as of a colour, a perfume, a musical sound" (EG p.471). The ultimate goal in Beavis's eyes is for all people to communicate through a mutual, unified acceptance of love and peace. Huxley seems to be entreating his readers to look at Anthony Beavis's transformation and to emulate his thinking.
Most readers of Eyeless in Gaza probably came to the novel with some knowledge of Huxley's work and ideas. Published three years before Eyeless, Brave New World caused a sensation in Europe and the United States. The novel's bleak look at the future captivated audiences. If readers were looking for a repeat of the 1932 novel, they were in for a surprise. Not only did Eyeless in Gaza end more optimistically, it also dealt with very contemporary issues. The generation of Huxley's characters and of his audience shared very similar histories. The conflict of World War I left many people nervous about international economics and policies. After the American depression these economic concerns were heightened. The fascist uprisings of Hitler and Mussolini struck a chord of fear into the hearts of many who retained faith in democracy. The readers of Eyeless found a suggestion of how to live life without giving up hope in themselves and the greater society.
Huxley, Aldous. Eyeless in Gaza. Harper and Brothers, New York and London. 1936.
Baker, Robert S. The Dark Historic Page: Social Satire and historicism in the Novels of Aldous Huxley. The University of Wisconsin Press, London 1982.
Tripathy, Akhilesh Kumar. The art of Aldous Huxley. Students' Friends, 1974.