Brave New World
Brave New WorldIntroduction
For Further Study
Written in 1931 and published the following year, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a dystopian—or antiutopian—novel. In it, the author questions the values of 1931 London, using satire and irony to portray a futuristic world in which many of the contemporary trends in British and American society have been taken to extremes. Though he was already a best-selling author, Huxley achieved international acclaim with this now-classic novel. Because Brave New World is a novel of ideas, the characters and plot are secondary, even simplistic. The novel is best appreciated as an ironic commentary on contemporary values.
The story is set in a London six hundred years in the future. People all around the world are part of a totalitarian state, free from war, hatred, poverty, disease, and pain. They enjoy leisure time, material wealth, and physical pleasures. However, in order to maintain such a smoothly running society, the ten people in charge of the world, the Controllers, eliminate most forms of freedom and twist around many traditionally held human values. Standardization and progress are valued above all else. These Controllers create human beings in factories, using technology to make ninety-six people from the same fertilized egg and to condition them for their future lives. Children are raised together and subjected to mind control through sleep teaching to further condition them. As adults, people are content to fulfill their destinies as part of five social classes, from the intelligent Alphas, who run the factories, to the mentally challenged Epsilons, who do the most menial jobs. All spend their free time indulging in harmless and mindless entertainment and sports activities. When the Savage, a man from the uncontrolled area of the world (an Indian reservation in New Mexico) comes to London, he questions the society and ultimately has to choose between conformity and death.
Aldous Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, in Laleham near Godalming, Surrey, England, but he grew up in London. His family was well-known for its scientific and intellectual achievements: Huxley's father, Leonard, was a renowned editor and essayist, and his highly educated mother ran her own boarding school. His grandfather and brother were top biologists, and his half-brother, Andrew Huxley, won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for his work in physiology. When he was sixteen, Aldous Huxley went to England's prestigious Eton school and was trained in medicine, the arts, and science. From 1913 to 1916 he attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he excelled academically and edited literary journals. Huxley was considered a prodigy, being exceptionally intelligent and creative.
There were many tragedies in Huxley's life, however, from the early death of his mother from cancer when he was just fourteen to nearly losing his eyesight because of an illness as a teenager, but Huxley took these troubles in stride. Because of his failing vision, he did not fight in World War I or pursue a scientific career but focused instead on writing. He married Maria Nys in 1919, and they had one son, Matthew. To support his family, Huxley pursued writing, editing, and teaching, traveling throughout Europe, India, and the United States at various points.
Huxley published three books of poetry and a collection of short stories, which received a modest amount of attention from critics, before he turned to novels: Crome Yellow (1921), set on an estate and featuring the vain and narcissistic conversations between various artists, scientists, and members of high society; Antic Hay (1923) and Those Barren Leaves (1925), both satires of the lives of upper-class British people after World War I; and Point Counter Point (1928), a best-seller and complex novel of ideas featuring many characters and incorporating Huxley's knowledge of music. As in Brave New World, ideas and themes domi-nate the style, structure, and characterization of these earlier novels.
Huxley's next novel, Brave New World (1932), brought him international fame. Written just before the rise of dictators Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, the novel did not incorporate the kind of dark and grim vision of totalitarianism later found in George Orwell's 1984, which was published in 1948. Huxley later commented on this omission and reconsidered the ideas and themes of Brave New World in a collection of essays called Brave New World Revisited. (1958). He wrote other novels, short stories, and collections of essays over the years which were, for the most part, popular and critically acclaimed. Despite being nearly blind all his life, he also wrote screenplays for Hollywood, most notably an adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.
Always fascinated by the ideas of consciousness and sanity, in the last ten years of his life Huxley experimented with mysticism, parapsychology, and, under the supervision of a physician friend, the hallucinogenic drugs mescaline and LSD. He wrote of his drug experiences in the book The Doors of Perception (1954). Huxley's wife died in 1955, and in 1956 he married author and psychotherapist Laura Archera. In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with cancer, the same disease that killed his mother and his first wife, and for the next three years his health steadily declined. He died in Los Angeles, California, where he had been living for several years, on November 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Huxley's ashes were buried in England in his parents' grave.
Brave New World opens in the year 2495 at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, a research facility and factory that mass-produces and then socially-conditions test-tube babies. Such a factory is a fitting place to begin the story of mass-produced characters in a techno-futurist dystopia, a world society gone mad for pleasure, order, and conformity. The date is A.F. 632, A.F.—After Ford—being a notation based on the birth year (1863) of Henry Ford, the famous automobile manufacturer and assembly line innovator who is worshipped as a god in Huxley's fictional society.
Five genetic castes or classes inhabit this futurist dystopia. In descending order they are named for the first five letters of the Greek alphabet: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. While upper castes are bred for intellectual and managerial occupations, the lower castes, bred with less intelligence, perform manual labor. All individuals are conditioned by electric shock and hypnopaedia (sleep conditioning) to reject or desire what the State dictates. For example, infants are taught to hate flowers and books, but encouraged to seek out sex, entertainment, and new products. Most importantly, they are conditioned to be happiest with their own caste and to be glad they are not a member of any other group. For instance, while eighty Beta children sleep on their cots in the Conditioning Centre, the following hypnopaedic message issues from speakers placed beneath the children's pillows:
"Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able…."
The director pushed back the switch. The voice was silent. Only its thin ghost continued to mutter from beneath the eighty pillows.
"They'll have that repeated forty or fifty times more before they wake; then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months. After which they go on to a more advanced lesson."
The story begins in the London Hatchery's employee locker room where Lenina Crowne, a Beta worker, discusses men with another female coworker, Fanny Crowne. The subject of their conversation is Bernard Marx, an Alpha-Plus who is considered abnormally short, a defect rumored to be from an excess of alcohol added to the "blood surrogate" surrounding his developing embryo. Generally perceived as antisocial and melancholic, Bernard is unusually withdrawn and gloomy, despite the fact that social coherence and mood enhancement—especially through promiscuity and regular dosages of the drug "soma"—is State-sanctioned and encouraged. Still, despite Bernard's oddness, Lenina finds him "cute" and wants to go out with him. After all, Lenina has been going out with the Centre's research specialist, Henry Foster, for four months—unusually long in that society. In need of a change from the places they always go—the feelies, which are like films with the sense of touch, and dance clubs with music produced from scent and color instruments—Lenina and Bernard go on holiday to the New Mexico Savage Reservation, a "natural" area populated by "sixty thousand Indians and half-breeds" living without television, books, and hot water, still giving birth to their own children, and still worshiping an assortment of Christian and pagan gods. To prevent the "savages" from escaping, the whole reservation is surrounded by an electrified fence.
Wandering around the Reservation, Lenina is horrified by the sight of mothers nursing their own infants, elderly people who actually look their age because they have not been chemically treated, and a ritual of sacrifice in which a boy is whipped, his blood scattered on writhing snakes. After witnessing this ceremony, Lenina and Bernard meet John, who, unlike them and all they know, was not born from a test tube. His mother, Linda, gave birth to him on the Reservation. On a previous visit from civilization to the Reservation years before, Linda, while pregnant with John, was abandoned by John's father, who returned to civilization after Linda disappeared and was thought to have died. Bernard realizes that John's father is none other than Bernard's archenemy, the Director of Hatching and Conditioning, the man who has tried to exile Bernard to Iceland for being a nonconformist. John's mother, Linda, has always resented the Reservation, and John, though he wants to become a part of "savage" society, is ostracized because he is white, the son of a civilized mother, and because he reads books, especially Shakespeare's works.
John's status as an outcast endears him to Bernard. John, meanwhile, is becoming infatuated with Lenina, and like Linda, he is excited about going to civilization. At Bernard's request, John and Linda go with Bernard and Lenina to, as John puts it (quoting from Shakespeare's The Tempest), the "brave new world" of London. Bernard wonders if John might be somewhat hasty calling London a "brave new world."
Back in London, Bernard suddenly finds himself the center of attention: he uses Linda's impregnation and abandonment, and her son, to disgrace the Director. He then introduces the exotic John (now known as "the Savage," or "Mr. Savage") to Alpha society, while Linda begins to slowly die from soma abuse. John comes to hate the drug that destroys his mother, and he becomes increasingly disenchanted with this "brave new world"'s open sexuality, promiscuity, and contempt for marriage. When John finally confesses his love to Lenina, she is overjoyed and makes overt sexual advances. Because he is appalled at the idea of sex before marriage, however, John asks Lenina to marry him. Now it is her turn to be shocked. "What a horrible idea!" she exclaims.
In the aftermath of this aborted romance, John must face another crisis. He rushes to the Park Lane Hospital in time to see his mother die, and he is shocked when a class of children come in for their conditioning in death acceptance. Lenina's rejection and his mother's death finally drive John over the edge. At the hospital, he begins ranting in the hallways, and then he takes the staff's daily soma ration and dumps it out a window. The angry soma-dependent staff of 162 Deltas attack John. Bernard's friend, Helmholtz Watson, rushes to John's defense as Bernard timidly watches. The police arrive in time to quell the disturbance, arrest the three nonconformists, and deliver them to the office of the Controller, Mustapha Mond. The Controller tells John he must remain in civilization as an ongoing experiment. Bernard and Helmholtz, on the other hand, are to be exiled to separate islands because, says Mond, "It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own."
In the last portion of the novel, John, unable to tolerate the Controller's judgment, flees to the countryside to live a life close to nature without incessant and artificial happiness, a life with a bit of truth, beauty, and even pain. But John is seen one day ritually whipping himself and becomes the center of overwhelming media attention. In a final welter of events, John succumbs to the temptation of the crowd's spontaneous orgy of violence, sex, and soma. The next day, unable to live with himself in this brave new world, John hangs himself.
Like her coworker, Lenina Crowne, Fanny is a nineteen-year-old Beta. Though she shares Lenina's last name and is genetically related to her, she is just a friend. Family connections have no meaning in civilization. Her character is never really developed, serving only as a foil to contrast society's values—which she accepts completely—with Lenina's unconventional behavior.
Lenina Crowne is, like Linda, a Beta. Young and beautiful, she has auburn hair and blue eyes; however, she also suffers from the immune system disorder lupus, which causes skin lesions. Employed at the Embryo Room of the Hatchery, Lenina is a shallow person, completely accepting the values of her society without question. However, part of her longs to form a lasting relationship with one man, a desire that is considered ugly and dirty in a society that believes promiscuity is healthy. For this reason, while she is attracted to Henry Foster, she chooses to date Bernard Marx, too. Bernard is a little unusual because he is discontented, and she finds this attractive in spite of herself and in spite of the warnings from her friend Fanny to stay away from him. When she meets John the Savage, she feels tremendous sexual attraction to him, but she has been taught to look down upon love, passion, and commitment. Unable to escape her conditioning, she fears his attraction to her.
The Director loves to hear himself talk, and, therefore, greatly enjoys giving guided tours of the Hatchery to visiting students, as he does at the beginning of the book. Like many intelligent Alphas, the Director secretly used to wonder about life out-side of the society over which he has so much control. We find that he once took a trip with a young woman named Linda to the New Mexico Indian reservation to see how the "primitive" people lived. Once there, Linda, who was carrying his child, disappeared. He assumed she was dead and returned without her. The Director tells this story to Bernard, but quickly realizes his revelation is unseemly for a man of his great reputation and returns to acting professionally, even gruffly, with Bernard.
When Linda's baby, John the Savage, comes to London as an adult, he faces the Director and calls him Father. Everyone reacts as if it were an obscene joke. The Director is horrified and humiliated at the public revelation that he fathered a child, just like a primitive person. His reputation is irreparably ruined.
Henry Foster is a fair-haired, blue-eyed, ruddy-complected scientist in the London Hatchery and a model citizen. He is efficient, pleasant, and cooperative, working hard at his job and spending his leisure time engaging in mindless, if harmless, ac-tivities, such as watching feelies (movies), playing new forms of golf, and having casual sex. Lenina Crowne has been dating him exclusively for four months, a practice that raises eyebrows because romantic commitments are frowned upon. Henry does not realize that Lenina has been faithful to him and would be upset if he knew because, as Fanny points out to Lenina, he is "the perfect gentleman." He expects nice girls to sleep around just as he does. Huxley uses the character of Henry Foster to explain how the Hatchery functions and how average citizens are supposed to behave.
Huxley took the name Hoover from U.S. President Herbert Hoover, and Benito from the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. A friend and colleague of Henry Foster, Benito is one of many men who would like to have sex with Lenina Crowne. He is disapproving of Bernard Marx until Bernard introduces the Savage around. Then, like many other people, Benito fawns over Bernard, bringing him gifts.
John the Savage
John the Savage is the central character in Brave New World through whom Huxley compares the primitive and civilized societies of the future. He is the son of the Director and Linda, and was born and raised on an Indian reservation in New Mexico after an accident stranded Linda there (the Director had mistakenly assumed she was dead and returned to civilization without her). John, now twenty, tall, and handsome, was raised in the Indian culture. He has a utopian view of civilization that is based on his mother Linda's tales, and he has a vast knowledge of Shakespeare because he learned to read using the only book available to him: Shakespeare's Complete Works. Shakespeare greatly influences John the Savage's perception of the world around him and what it means to be human.
Sometimes called just "the Savage," John represents the idea of the Noble Savage: that a person raised in a primitive world, away from western civilization, has a purity of heart that civilized people lack (although Huxley does not portray the primitive world as a paradise). John the Savage cannot understand why civilized people think that having been born to and raised by your parents is an abomination, or why they do not feel sorrow when confronted with death. He very much loves his mother, and cannot understand why his father rejects him. After several discussions with Mustapha Mond, he quickly realizes that because his values are completely different from other people's, no place exists for him within civilization.
A Beta-minus, Linda had worked contentedly in the Fertilizing Room until an incident that occurred twenty years earlier while on a date with the Director. They had visited the New Mexico Indian reservation, where she fell, injuring her head. When she regained consciousness the Director was gone. Pregnant with his child, she was taken in by the Indians, but she never really fit into their world because she had been conditioned to live in civilization. For example, Linda continued to be sexually promiscuous, having sex with the other women's mates, because that was the way a proper girl behaved where she came from—the "Other Place," as she called it.
Linda was very embarrassed to give birth to her son, John, and tried to teach him that civilization was superior to life on the reservation. However, she could not explain why it was superior. Because she had not been conditioned to understand the reasons behind the way things worked in the Other Place, she never lost the values she had been conditioned to accept.
- Brave New World was adapted as a made-for-television movie in 1980, directed by Burt Brinckerhoff, and starring Kristoffer Tabori as John Savage, Bud Cort as Bernard Marx, and Marcia Strassman as Lenina Crowne.
When Linda meets Bernard and Lenina she is anxious but thrilled to return to civilization, but she cannot emotionally handle the return. The embarrassment of being a mother, of being old and fat and no longer physically beautiful, is too much for her, so she chooses to drug herself with soma, eventually dying from an overdose. Her inability to handle the contrast between the primitive world and the civilized one foreshadows her son John's final decision to commit suicide.
Like other members of civilization, Bernard Marx is named after a person whose ideas greatly influenced the society in Brave New World: Karl Marx. Bernard Marx, an Alpha, is a very intelligent man and a specialist in sleep-teaching. However, he is discontented with society and does not completely accept its values—he hates the casual attitude toward sex, dislikes sports, and prefers to be alone. Some people think Bernard was improperly conditioned—that the chemistry of the womb-like bottle he lived in as a fetus was somehow altered. They point to the fact that Bernard is eight centimeters shorter and considerably thinner than the typical Alpha as evidence that a physical reason exists for his emotional differences. This physical inadequacy makes Bernard self-conscious, and he is particularly uncomfortable around lower-class people, since they remind him that he physically resembles his inferiors.
Bernard is a selfish person, trying to bend the rules of society for his own needs and using other people to boost his own fortune. He vacillates between boasting and self-pity, which annoys his friend Helmholtz Watson. When Bernard discovers the Savage, he realizes that by bringing him back to society he will be able to get revenge against the Director, who has been threatening him with exile to Iceland. The Director's reputation will be ruined when it is revealed he is a father. Bernard also realizes that the Savage will be the key to his acceptance into society, a sort of plaything that everyone will want to see.
Indeed, Bernard brings the Savage home, and suddenly everyone wants to meet and spend time with him and the Savage. Bernard tells himself that people like him because of his discovery, unaware that behind their backs they are gossiping about him, saying that anyone so odd and so self-absorbed is bound to come to a bad end. He relishes his new popularity with women and gets angry at John for not cooperating with his attempts to show him off; he believes John is ruining his chances of finally being accepted. Bernard's popularity is predictably short-lived, and in the end he is indeed exiled to Iceland, which makes him very unhappy.
Mitsima is the Indian elder who teaches John the Savage the ways of the Indian people.
Mustapha Mond is the Controller of world society and an intellectual who secretly indulges his own passion for knowledge, literature, and history, all of which are denied to ordinary citizens in order to keep people from questioning the structure and values of the society that has been created for them. Of medium height and with black hair, a hooked nose, large red lips, and piercing dark eyes, Mustapha Mond has a name that is a play on the words "Must staff a mond." ("Mond" is derived from the French word "monde," which means world.) He is a friendly and happy fellow, faithful to his job and his vision of a utopian society. He enjoys discussing Shakespeare with John the Savage, and treats him like a favorite pupil. Formerly a scientist, as a young man he was given the choice of becoming a controller or an exiled dissident, so he chose the former. As the Controller, he has free will, but he denies it to others. Mond understands the frustrations of Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, who have trouble accepting all of the restrictions of their carefully controlled lives. In the end, however, Mustapha Mond's loyalty is to the society rather than to individuals, so he banishes Marx, Watson, and the Savage to isolated areas where they cannot influence others.
Pope is an Indian man with whom Linda forms a bond, sleeping with him regularly despite her feeling that she ought to be promiscuous. Pope is amused by John's jealousy and hatred toward him. He introduces Linda to mescal, an alcoholic drink made by the Indians, which Linda thinks is a sorry substitute for soma because it gives her a hangover.
Watson (named by Huxley after John B. Watson, the founder of the Behaviorist School of psychology) is an Alpha-plus, a highly intellectual writer and lecturer. He is a powerfully built, broad-shouldered man with dark curly hair. Although he is a typical handsome Alpha male, he is, like his friend Bernard Marx, a little different from his peers. Watson is just a bit smarter than he is supposed to be, a fact he has only recently discovered.
Watson has a distinguished career as an emotional engineer and writer, penning snappy slogans and simplistic rhymes designed to promote the values of society and pacify people. However, he is frustrated by the limitations of his writing and believes that something more meaningful to write must exist. Because of this unconventional desire, he feels a little like an outsider. He befriends Bernard Marx because he sees in him a similar sense of not belonging, of dissatisfaction, but he is disturbed by Bernard's self-pitying and boastful behavior.
Watson is brilliant, but when the Savage introduces him to Shakespeare's works, he can't completely understand the plays because he is so limited by his conditioning. Watson accepts his exile to the isolated Falkland Islands, hoping that being around other outsiders and living in uncomfortable conditions will inspire his writing.
Brave New World is Huxley's satirical look at a totalitarian society of the future, in which the trends of Huxley's day have been taken to extremes. When an outsider encounters this world, he cannot accept its values and chooses to die rather than try to conform to this "brave new world."
Free Will versus Enslavement
Only the Controllers of society, the ten elite rulers, have freedom of choice. Everyone else has been conditioned from the time they were embryos to accept unquestioningly all the values and beliefs of the carefully ordered society. Upper-class Alphas are allowed a little freedom because their higher intellect makes it harder for them to completely accept the rules of society. For example, they are occasionally allowed to travel to the Indian reservation to see how outsiders live. It is hoped that exposure to an "inferior" and "primitive" society will finally squelch any doubts about their own society's superiority.
Beyond this, however, no room exists in "civilized" society for free will, creativity, imagination, or diversity, all of which can lead to conflict, war, and destruction. Therefore, dissidents who want these freedoms are exiled to remote corners of the earth. Anyone who feels upset for any reason quickly ingests a dose of the tranquilizer "soma."
John the Savage believes that the price to be paid for harmony in this society is too great. He sees the people as enslaved, addicted to drugs, and weakened and dehumanized by their inability to handle delayed gratification or pain of any sort. He exercises his freedom of choice by killing himself rather than becoming a part of such a world.
Topics for Further Study
- Research Henry Ford's development of the modern assembly line for producing Model T automobiles. Compare his ideas about efficient manufacturing and factory management to the Controller's philosophy of creating humans in factories.
- Compare and contrast the values of the Indians on the Zuni reservation with those of the Londoners in Huxley's novel.
- Discuss Huxley's views of class as revealed in Brave New World, and compare his fictional class system with those of real-life societies, such as Victorian England and modern India.
- Research the scientific process of cloning plants and animals and compare your findings with Huxley's description of the "Bokanovsky Process"; discuss the social implications of cloning.
As a result of conditioning, class conflict has been eliminated in Huxley's future world. The Controllers have decided there should be five social classes, from the superior, highly intelligent, and physically attractive Alphas—who have the most desirable and intellectually demanding jobs—to the inferior, mentally deficient, and physically unattractive Epsilons, who do the least desirable, menial jobs. Huxley makes the Alphas tall and fair and the Epsilons dark-skinned, reflecting the common prejudices at the time the novel was written. All people are genetically bred and conditioned from birth to be best adapted to the lives they will lead and to accept the class system wholeheartedly.
Members of different classes not only look physically different but wear distinctive colors to make sure that no one can be mistaken for a member of a different group. Here, Huxley points out the shallowness in our own society: members of different social classes dress differently in order to be associated with their own class. Only John the Savage can see people as they really are because he has not been conditioned to accept unquestioningly the rigid class structure. Thus, when he sees a dark-skinned person of a lower caste, he is reminded of Othello, a Shakespearean character who was both dark-skinned and admirable. John does not think to judge a person by his appearance. Because Huxley was from a distinguished, educated, upper-class British family, he was very aware of the hypocrisies of the privileged classes. The Controller and Director represent the arrogant hypocrisy of the ruling class.
The inhabitants of Huxley's future world have very unusual attitudes toward sex by the standards of contemporary society. Promiscuity is considered healthy and superior to committed, monogamous relationships. Even small children are encouraged to engage in erotic play. The Controllers realize that strong loyalties created by committed relationships can cause conflicts between people, upsetting productivity and harmony. Since the needs of society are far more important than the needs of the individual, the Controllers strongly believe that sacrificing human attachments—even the attachment between children and their parents—is a small price to pay for social harmony. Women use contraception to avoid pregnancy, and if they do get pregnant accidentally, they hurry to the abortion center, a place Linda recalls with great fondness. She regrets bitterly having had to give birth in what she feels was a "dirty" affair.
People in Huxley's day were becoming more accepting of casual sex than previous generations, and they had much greater access to birth control. However, as Huxley shows, even with the best technology to prevent pregnancy, people can only maintain their loose sexual mores by sacrificing intimacy and commitment.
Science and technology provide the means for controlling the lives of the citizens in Brave New World. First, cloning is used to create many of human beings from the same fertilized egg. The genetically similar eggs are placed in bottles, where the growing embryos and fetuses are exposed to external stimulation and chemical alteration to condition them for their lives after being "decanted" or "hatched."
Babies and children are subject to cruel conditioning. They are exposed to flowers, representing the beauty of nature, and given electric shocks to make them averse to nature. They are brought to the crematorium, where they play and are given treats so that they will associate death with pleasantness and therefore not object when society determines it is time for them to die. Also, hypnopaedia, or sleep teaching, is used to indoctrinate children. All of these extreme methods of conditioning could conceivably work.
Adults use "soma," a tranquilizer, to deaden feelings of pain or passion. Frivolous gadgets and hi-tech entertainment provide distractions, preventing the childlike citizens from engaging in rich emotional and intellectual lives or from experiencing challenges that might lead to emotional and intellectual growth. Indeed, the Controller feels that technology's purpose is to make the distance between the feeling of desire and the gratification of that desire so short that citizens are continually content and not tempted to spend their time thinking and questioning.
Since books are taboo and knowledge restricted only to the powerful elite minority, the citizens are unaware that technology has been used to limit their lives. In fact, in writing this novel of ideas Huxley aims to make contemporary citizens question the ethics of using technology for social purposes and to realize the dangers of misuse of technology by totalitarian governments.
Knowledge and Ignorance
To control the citizens, the Controllers make sure people are taught only what they need to know to function within society and no more. Knowledge is dangerous. Books are strictly forbidden. Art and culture, which stimulate the intellect, emotions, and spirit, are reduced to pale imitations of the real thing. Existing music is synthetic and characterized by absurd popular songs that celebrate the values of society. Movies appeal to the lowest common denominator. Citizens are conditioned to believe that wanting to be alone is strange. They seek shallow relationships with each other, minus intimacy and commitment, rather than spending time alone thinking. If they did spend time in contemplation, they might, like Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, start questioning the meaning of their lives and the function of the society.
Only the Controller has access to the great literature and culture of the past. He enjoys discussing Shakespeare with John the Savage. Huxley, by making his primitive character have only Shakespeare's works on which to base his perceptions, shows the power of such great literature: that it can capture an enormous range of human experience, to which the citizens of the brave new world are completely oblivious. In the end, however, the people who accidentally attain knowledge have only two choices if they are to survive: they can become oppressors or outcasts.
Point of View
Huxley tells the story of Brave New World in a third-person, omniscient (all-knowing) voice. The narrative is chronological for the most part, jumping backward in time only to reveal some history, as when the Director explains to Bernard Marx what happened when he visited the Indian reservation, or when John and Linda recall their lives on the reservation before meeting Bernard and Lenina. The first six chapters have very little action and are instead devoted to explaining how this society functions. This is accomplished by having the reader overhear the tour that the Director, and later the Controller, lead through the "hatchery," or human birth factory, lecturing to some students.
Once familiarized with this future world, the reader learns more about the characters through their dialogue and interaction. For example, Bernard and Lenina's conversation on their date shows how deeply conditioned Lenina is to her way of life and how difficult it is for Bernard to meet society's expectations of how he should feel and behave. Throughout the rest of the book, Huxley continues to reveal the way the society functions, but instead of having the reader overhear lectures, he portrays seemingly ordinary events, showing how they unfold in this very different society. When Huxley finally presents the arguments for and against the compromises the society makes in order to achieve harmony, he does this in the form of a dialogue between Mustapha Mond and John the Savage. The book ends with a sober and powerful description of John's vain struggle to carve out a life for himself as a hermit. This is contrasted with the humorous, satirical tone of much of the book, making it especially moving.
Set in London, England, six hundred years in Huxley's future, Brave New World portrays a totalitarian society where freedom, diversity, and conflict have been replaced by efficiency, progress, and harmony. The contrast between our world and that of the inhabitants of Huxley's futuristic society is made especially clear when Huxley introduces us to the Indian reservation in New Mexico, where the "primitive" culture of the natives has been maintained. Huxley chose London as his main setting because it was his home, but he implies, by mentioning the ten world controllers, that the entire world operates the same way that the society in London does.
Irony and Satire
Brave New World is also considered a novel of ideas, otherwise known as an apologue: because the ideas in the book are what is most important, the characterization and plot are secondary to the concepts Huxley presents. In order to portray the absurdity of the future society's values as well as our contemporary society's values, he uses satire (holding up human folly to ridicule), parody (a humorous twist on a recognizable style of an author or work), and irony (words meaning something very different from what they literally mean, or what the characters think they mean). Ordinary scenes the reader can recognize, such as church services and dates, incorporate behavior, internal thoughts, and dialogue that reveal the twisted and absurd values of the citizens of the future. Because the roots of many of the practices seen in this futuristic society can be found in contemporary ideas, the reader is led to question the values of contemporary society. For example, people today are taught to value progress and efficiency. However, when taken to the absurd extreme of babies being hatched in bottles for maximum efficiency, the reader realizes that not all progress and efficiency is good. Huxley even satirizes sentimentality by having the citizens of the future sing sentimental songs about "dear old mom," only they sing a version in which they fondly recall their "dear old bottle," the one in which they grew as fetuses. Being sentimental about one's origin in a test tube will strike many readers as funny, as well as ironic.
Throughout the book, evidence of Huxley's vast knowledge of science, technology, literature, and music can be found. He makes frequent allusions to Shakespeare, mostly through the character of John, who quotes the bard whenever he needs to express a strong human emotion. Indeed, the title itself is from Shakespeare's The Tempest, in which the sheltered Miranda first encounters some men and declares, "How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in't!" Huxley also makes many allusions to powerful, influential people of his day, naming characters, buildings, and religions after them. For example, Henry Ford (1863–1947) is as a god; his name is used in interjections (Oh my Ford!), in calculating the year (A.F., or After Ford, instead of A.D., which stands for "anno domini"—in the year of our Lord). Even the Christian cross has been altered to resemble the T from the old Model T car built by Ford.
The character of the Savage is reminiscent of the Noble Savage—the concept that primitive people are more innocent and pure of heart than civilized people. However, Huxley is careful not to portray him as heroic or his primitive culture as ideal. The reader sympathizes with him because he is the person who most represents current values.
One of the more subtle influences on the story, however, is Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the founder of modern psychoanalysis. The Savage is a prime example of someone who suffers from what Freud termed the Oedipus complex, a powerful desire to connect with one's mother. At one point, when he sees his mother with her lover, he identifies with Hamlet, who also had an Oedipal complex, an overattachment to his mother that prevented him from accepting her as sexually independent of him. Freud believed that childhood experiences shape adult perceptions, feelings, and behaviors, and the characters in the novel are all clearly compelled to feel and act according to the lessons they learned as children, even when faced with evidence that their behavior results in personal suffering.
When Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931 it was at the beginning of a worldwide depression. The American stock market crash of 1929 had closed banks, wiped out many people's savings, and caused unemployment rates to soar. To make matters worse, American farmers were suffering from some of the worst droughts in history, leading to widespread poverty and migration out of the farming belt. People longed for the kind of economic security that Huxley gives to the citizens of his fictional world.
The effects of the crash were beginning to be felt worldwide, including in England, where Huxley lived. However much economic issues were on his mind, Huxley was also very much aware of the social and scientific changes that had begun to sweep the world in the beginning of the century, and particularly through the 1920s. Technology was rapidly replacing many workers, but politicians promised that progress would solve the unemployment and economic problems. Instead, workers were forced to take whatever jobs were available. More often than not, unskilled or semi-skilled laborers worked long hours without overtime pay, under unsafe conditions, and without benefits such as health insurance or pensions. Unlike the inhabitants of the brave new world, they had no job guarantees and no security. Furthermore, they often had little time for leisure and little money to spend on entertainment or on material luxuries.
In order to increase consumer demand for the products being produced, manufacturers turned to advertising in order to convince people they ought to spend their money buying products and services. Also, Henry Ford, who invented the modern factory assembly line, was now able to efficiently mass produce cars. For the first time, car parts were interchangeable and easily obtained, and Ford deliberately kept the price of his Model T low enough so that his workers could afford them. In order to pay for the new automobiles, many people who did not have enough cash needed to stretch out payments over time, and thus buying on credit became acceptable. Soon, people were buying other items on credit, fueling the economy by engaging in overspending and taking on debt.
All of these economic upheavals affected Huxley's vision of the future. First, he saw Ford's production and management techniques as revolutionary, and chose to make Ford not just a hero to the characters in his novels but an actual god. Huxley also saw that technology could eventually give workers enormous amounts of leisure time. The result could be more time spent creating art and solving social problems, but Huxley's Controllers, perceiving those activities as threatening to the order they've created, decide to provide foolish distrac-tions to preoccupy their workers. These future workers do their duty and buy more and more material goods to keep the economy rolling, even to the point of throwing away clothes rather than mending them.
In Huxley's day, people's values and ideas were changing rapidly. The 1920s generation of youth rejected the more puritanical Victorian values of their parents' generation. Men and women flirted with modern ideas, such as communism, and questioned the rigid attitudes about social class. Some embraced the idea of free love (sex outside of marriage or commitment), as advocated by people like author Gertrude Stein (1874–1946). Others were talking publicly about sex, or using contraceptives, which were being popularized by Margaret Sanger (1883–1966), the American leader of the birth-control movement. Women began to smoke in public, cut their hair into short, boyish bobs, and wear much shorter, looser skirts. These new sexual attitudes are taken to an extreme in Brave New World.
Scientists were also beginning to explore the possibilities of human engineering. Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936) showed that one can create a conditioned response in animals. For example, he rang a bell whenever he fed a group of dogs, and over time Pavlov's dogs began to salivate at the sound of a bell, even when no food was presented to them. Pavlov's fellow scientist, John B. Watson (1878–1958), founded the Behaviorist School of psychology: he believed that human beings could be reduced to a network of stimuli and responses, which could then be controlled by whoever experimented on them. In the 1930s, German Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann (1869–1941) developed the controversial science of experimental embryology, manipulating the experience of a human fetus in the womb in order to influence it. The eugenics movement—which was an attempt to limit the childbearing of lower-class, ethnic citizens—was popular in the 1920s as well.
Compare & Contrast
- 1920s: Scientist Ivan Pavlov conducts behavioral experiments and shows that one can create a conditioned response in animals. John B. Watson, establishes the Behaviorist School of thought: he believes that human beings can be reduced to a network of stimuli and responses, which can be controlled by the experimenter.
- 1930s: German Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann develops the controversial science of experimental embryology, manipulating the experience of a human fetus in the womb in order to influence it.
- Huxley's London 731 A.D.: All humans are cloned from a small number of fertilized eggs, incubated in artificial wombs (bottles), and conditioned as embryos and fetuses for their future lives.
- Today: In 1978, the first human baby conceived in vitro (in a test tube) is born. In 1997, a sheep is cloned for the first time, raising the possibility of cloning humans.
- 1920s: Totalitarian rulers Joseph Stalin in Russia and Benito Mussolini in Italy come to power.
- 1931: Totalitarian rulers Francisco Franco (Spain) and Adolf Hitler (Germany) are a few years away from power. In China, communist dictator Mao Tse-tung is fighting for dominance but will not win power until the late 1940s.
- Huxley's London 731 A.D.: The world is a totalitarian state ruled by the Controllers, who use technology, brainwashing, and pre-birth conditioning rather than violence and intimidation to control their citizens.
Meanwhile, the fad of hypnopaedia, or sleep teaching, was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. People hoped to teach themselves passively by listening to instructional tapes while they were sleeping. Although the electroencephalograph, a device invented in 1929 that measures brain waves, would prove that people have a limited ability to learn information while asleep, it also proved that hypnopaedia can influence emotions and beliefs. Meanwhile, the ideas of Viennese physician Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the father of modern psychoanalysis, were also becoming popular. He believed, among other things, that most psychological problems stem from early childhood experiences. Huxley incorporated all of these technological and psychological discoveries into his novel, having the Controllers misuse this information about controlling human behavior to oppress their citizens.
Brave New World was written just before dictators such as Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy, Joseph Stalin in Russia, and Mao Tse-tung in China created totalitarian states in countries that were troubled by economic and political problems. These leaders often used extreme tactics to control their citizens, from propaganda and censorship to mass murder. Huxley could not have predicted what was on the horizon. The grim totalitarian state that would come about would be incorporated into author George Orwell's futuristic anti-utopian novel 1984 (1948) and strongly influenced by Huxley's Brave New World.
When Brave New World was published in 1932 it sold well in England and modestly in the United States, but it eventually brought Huxley international fame on both sides of the Atlantic. It was clear to critics that Huxley had written a novel of ideas, in which the characters and plot were not as well-developed as the book's themes, which bring up many important concepts, from freedom to class structure. Huxley used humor and satire to point out the excesses and shallowness of contemporary culture.
Today, Brave New World is considered an archetypical dystopian novel portraying a seemingly utopian world that is, upon closer inspection, a horror. Critics generally agree that while Huxley was not a particularly innovative writer, his ideas were provocative and fresh and his writing eloquent. He was appreciated for both his analysis of post-World War I English life and, on a larger scale, his promotion of humanistic values through literature.
Hochman, who teaches at Portland Community College, provides an overview of the unique setting Huxley constructed for his novel and how the work is an argument for individualism.
Aldous Huxley's most enduring and prophetic work, Brave New World (1932), describes a future world in the year 2495, a society combining intensified aspects of industrial communism and capitalism into a horrifying new world order. Huxley's title, taken from Shakespeare's play The Tempest, is therefore ironic: This fictional dystopia is neither brave nor new. Instead, it is so controlled and safe that there is neither need nor opportunity for bravery. As for being "new," its unrelenting drives toward management and development, and its obsessions with predictable order and consumption, are as old as the Industrial Revolution. Coupling horror with irony, Brave New World, a masterpiece of modern fiction, is a stinging critique of twentieth-century industrial society.
Huxley's observations about capitalist and communist societies show that what are usually thought of as vastly different systems also have some similarities. James Sexton calls the common denominator "an uncritical veneration of rationalization." The common denominator might also be characterized as the drive to ensure the industrialization of society by forms of propaganda and force, either frequent and obvious (as with the former Soviet Union) or more infrequent and subtle (such as in the United States and Europe). For proof that Huxley was commenting on modern societies, the reader need look no farther than the names of the characters residing in his futuristic London. There is Bernard Marx (named after Karl Marx, 1818–1883, the philosopher and economist whose theories were adopted by communist societies), Sarojini Engels (named after Friedrich Engels, 1820–1895, Marx's colleague and supporter), Lenina Crowne (named after V. I. Lenin, 1870–1924, the leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and Premier from 1918–24), and Polly Trotsky (named after Leon Trotsky, 1879–1940, the Russian revolutionary and writer).
The most damning critique of Western industrialism is indicated by the "God" worshipped in this future world-society: American car manufacturer and assembly line innovator, Henry Ford (1863–1947). In Huxley's dystopia, not only does calendar time begin with Ford's birth (the novel takes place in "A.F. 632"—A.F. stands for "After Ford"), but industry board rooms are sanctuaries for worshipping the Lord, Ford. Even a former religious locale, Stoke Poges (a famous English Christian cemetery), is made over into a golf course, and the Christian-named London square and district, Charing Cross, is renamed "Charing T." The letter "T" (referring to Ford's popular automobile, the "Model T"), is mounted, like a decapitated crucifix, on public buildings and necklaces. Because Ford was a man and the Model T was a car named by a letter in the alphabet (whose small letter resembles a crucifix), one might infer that salvation can only be had in this world, not the next. And the way to this non-eternal salvation is found through the production and consumption of products made in factories not so unlike those once producing Ford's Model T, the first successfully mass-produced car from an assembly line.
One special product that is mass-produced on assembly lines in A.F. 632 is the human being. To insure that there are enough-but not too many—workers and consumers, human life is carefully controlled from conception to death by two methods: outright control of the numbers and types of babies born and subconscious conditioning of people's thoughts. Factories with conveyor belts containing bottled embryos of the five preordained castes are inoculated against all future disease, treated with hormones and proteins, and placed in different environments to influence their growth. In this way, embryos are fashioned to have different levels of intelligence and different physical attributes, depending on the caste for which they have been selected. The factory, The Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, makes viviparous reproduction (live birth from parents) obsolete. Huxley develops here the impersonal generation of children he began in his first novel, Crome Yellow (1921). Children are therefore bred to work and associate only with people in their caste; they can never be corrupted by parents who might pass on views that are counter to the ethics of production and consumption.
Once "hatched" or "decanted," infants are conditioned by hypnopaedia (repeated messages played during sleep) and negative stimulus (electric shock) to, for instance, hate nature. The reason for this desirable hatred of nature is simple: an appreciation of nature takes people away from their duties of production and consumption; citizens are therefore made to believe that they can live in a natural environment only if they are wearing special clothing. Continuously conditioned by repeated messages to be happy with their own caste and world, people are distracted from possible thoughts of rebellion by participating in sports, watching entertaining shows that also serve as subtle propaganda, enjoying casual and frequent sex, and by using the drug "soma," a kind of mood-stabilizer regularly handed out free-of-charge in the workplace. Soma is named after a hallucinogenic drink used in Hindu sacrificial ceremonies.
However, there is one last impediment which must be overcome: old age. Because aging would interrupt work (production) and play (consumption) the five castes are kept young through chemical treatments, making them fully capable of producing and consuming until they die. London hospitals in A.F. 632 are only necessary for the dying, and no one grieves for the dying because they are conditioned not to and because lack of familial bonds makes people only friends at best. The maxim "ending is better than mending" applies to all products, including people, in this disposable society.
The total scientific control of the human organism might lead some readers to think that Brave New World is a denouncement of science. This is unlikely, since Huxley came from a family of eminent scientists and, before becoming blind, he wanted to be a doctor. As Keith May commented, "The chief illusion which Brave New World shatters has less to do with an unthinking faith in scientific progress than with the assumption that truth, beauty, and happiness are reconcilable goods on the plane of ordinary, unregenerate human activity." One might also say, however, that truth and beauty have no place in A.F. 632, but must be, as Mustapha Mond says near the end of the book, hidden or eradicated. The trinity of truth, beauty, and happiness has been replaced by the holy pair, stability and happiness, necessary elements of production and consumption.
What Do I Read Next?
- 1984 (1948) George Orwell's dystopian novel, was written after Brave New World and after the rise and fall of Hitler and Stalin. It paints a far more grim, violent, and oppressive picture of the future. Unlike Huxley, who wrote his novel before television began to appear in American homes, Orwell incorporates into his futuristic vision a role for television, an invention whose influence and possibilities, good and bad, were just beginning to be imagined at the time the book was written.
- Brave New World Revisited (1958) is a collection of essays Aldous Huxley published to expand upon the trends explored in Brave New World. In it, Huxley talks about the social and scientific developments since writing the book, and he reveals what he would change in the book if he were to rewrite it. Most significantly, he says in retrospective he wishes he would have incorporated some of the grimmer aspects of totalitarianism, which revealed themselves in the 1930s, and would have given the Savage more than just two choices, sanity or insanity. He would have allowed the Savage some sort of compromise, a way to live within a flawed society.
- Point Counter Point (1928) is a novel Huxley wrote before Brave New World, and it is considered one of his finest. The complex narrative structure imitates the rhythms, harmonies, and dissonance in music (counterpoint is a musical term referring to a contrasting melody structure). The main character, Philip Quarles, wants to write novels like the one he is in, which incorporate musical ideas. Other characters, his wife and friends, have very different experiences, dreams, and perceptions, and are mouthpieces for Huxley's many ideas.
- This Perfect Day (1970) by Ira Levin is another futuristic novel about a totalitarian society with very different values from that of contemporary society. As in Brave New World, citizens dull their pain and fears through drugs and are genetically very similar. Those who have some genetic differences have a greater tendency to be dissatisfied with the pacified society, which is controlled by a huge computer that dispenses mood-altering drugs.
- The Handmaid's Tale (1985) by Margaret At-wood is the story of a woman named Offred who lives in the Republic of Gilead, an oppressive society of the future in which women's roles are severely limited. Gilead is, in fact, America in the future after right-wing extremists have taken over and virtually enslaved women in service to men.
From birth to death, the life Huxley describes in Brave New World is a fully engineered existence in which both people and their environment are remade to society's specifications. George Wood-cock states that "it seemed evident to him [Huxley] that any human attempt to impose an ideal order on Nature or on men would be perverted by man's limitations. So for all his love of order in geometry and architecture and music, he distrusted it in political or social planning." Jerome Meckier characterizes over-engineering and mania for order as an excess of rationality: In Brave New World "the rational is raised to an irrational power until, for example, the goal of sanitation reform in the nineteenth century, namely cleanliness, replaces godliness."
In A.F. 632 there are no schools or libraries because it is believed that thinking and learning lead to the instability and unhappiness of individuals and society and interrupt society's greatest goods: consumption and production. Furthermore, there is no mention of money, wealth, or financial institutions. One might cautiously infer from these absences that differences of education and economic class have been replaced by biological castes, a system far more effective at insuring stability, the ideal atmosphere for practices of production and consumption.
For contrasts to Brave New World, the reader should consult Huxley's last novel, Island (1962). Whereas the earlier novel creates a future dystopia, the latter describes a contemporary utopia. Both worlds have much in common: children are not the property of their parents, sex is open and shameless, peace and order reign, and drugs are accepted. What separates Brave New Dystopia from Island Utopia are the methods by which these ideals are accomplished. In Island children freely circulate among a village community of loving adults; sex is neither forced nor encouraged but simply accepted as normal; peace and order are not enforced, but result from the way children are raised; and a particular drug is used occasionally to pry open what artist and poet William Blake (1757–1827) called the "doors of perception" (the sense organs), which also happens to be the name of a nonfiction work by Huxley published in 1954.
In the end, Brave New World is an argument for individualism, but not the kind scornfully referred to by Marxists and socialists as "bourgeois individualism" (bourgeois is a French word referring to middle-class property owners, or those who want to be free of government regulations on wealth). Huxley, as is shown more clearly in Island, is against any society that encourages the bourgeois individual, a person who accrues wealth at the expense of workers, customers, and the community. Instead, he is interested in an economically free social individual, one who is free to be alone, one who can write, read, think, say, work, play, and otherwise do whatever he or she wants. Such an individual is the polar opposite of the characters in Brave New World in which it is said, "When the individual feels, the community reels." For further evidence of Huxleyan individualism, the reader should also consult the nonfiction essays of Brave New World Revisited (1958) and the fascinating account of Huxley's experience with the drug peyote in The Doors of Perception (1954).
Huxley's lasting contribution to English literature is probably best characterized as the "novel of ideas" as defined by the fictional Philip Quarles in Huxley's fourth novel, Point Counter Point (1928): "The character of each personage must be implied, as far as possible, in the ideas of which he is the mouthpiece. In so far as theories are rationalizations of sentiments, instincts, dispositions of the soul, this is feasible." Frederick Hoffman says that while this might seem a monstrous way to construct a novel, "Ideas, as they are used in Huxley, possess … dramatic qualities. Dominating as they very often do the full sweep of his novels, they appropriate the fortunes and careers which ordinarily belong to persons." Brave New World is living evidence that the novel of ideas can become a classic, applicable to its own time as well as today.
Source: Jhan Hochman, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999.
Richard H. Beckham
In the following excerpt, Beckham argues against censoring Brave New World, claiming that the satire provides an insightful reflection of our human behavior and societal values.
It is obvious why someone who believes in censorship might choose to object to Brave New World. This world is a world of sexual promiscuity, a world with a drug culture in the most literal sense of that expression, a world in which the traditional family—in fact, any family at all—has been vilified and rendered taboo, a world in which religion has been reduced to orgiastic rituals of physical expression. It is a world in which art panders to the sensations of mass communications and a world in which the positive values of Western democracy have been ossified into a rigid caste system, in which the members of each caste are mass produced to the specifications of assembly line uniformity.
Readers who have strict standards of sexual behavior, who believe in chaste courtships and monogamous, lifetime marriages confront in this novel a society in which sexual promiscuity is a virtue and in which the sole function of sexuality is pleasure, not reproduction. Since reproduction is achieved by an elaborate biogenetic mass production assembly line, the citizens of Brave New World do not need normal human sexual activity to propagate the species. In fact, such activity is discouraged by the state so that the carefully monitored population controls are not disrupted. Women are required to wear "Malthusian Belts"—convenient caches of birth control devices—in order to forego pregnancies. The sole function of sex in this society is pleasure, and the sole function of pleasure is to guarantee the happiness of Brave New World and thus assure a stable, controllable population. State encouraged promiscuity assures that loyalty to one's lover or family will not undermine one's loyalty to the state. Thus, "Everyone belongs to everyone else," and the highest compliment a man can offer a woman is that she is "very pneumatic"—a euphemism suggesting that her movements during sexual intercourse are especially pleasurable. Unlike Orwell, who in the novel 1984 placed severe taboos on sexual activity, since as private and personal act it might permit or encourage rebellion against the state, Huxley prophesizes that in the future the state will use sex as a means of population control on the basis of the psychological truism that men and women condition themselves to avoid pain and to seek pleasure.
Lest the pleasure of frequent and promiscuous sexual activity not be sufficient to distract the population and dissuade them from rebellion, Huxley foresees a culture in which widespread and addictive use of drugs offers a second means of assuring a frictionless society. "A Soma in time saves nine,"—a hypnopaedic slogan drilled into the heads of Brave New Worldians from nursery days on—conveys the message that individuals are to protect themselves from normal pain by frequent doses of this widely available and socially acceptable narcotic.
One of the most important uses for Soma is to insulate people from the effects of rapid aging which afflict Brave New World inhabitants after an artificially induced period of extended youth. In this "perfect" society—the future as heaven—most of the human qualities of life have been altered and adapted so that they are devoid of crisis and pain. Just as the inhabitants of this world age only during a brief period shortly before death and just as the drug which eases them through this period has no unpleasant side effects, so they are insulated against the normal stresses and tensions of family life. They have no parents to contend with since in Huxley's inspired anticipation of the consequences of biogenetic engineering, they are conceived through artificial insemination, carried in assembly line placentas made of sow's peritoneum, and decanted rather than born. Brave New World inhabitants spend their nursery years in state-run institutions where they are conditioned for future life. Those normal mortals who recall the pain of adolescence would be spared such in Brave New World; there is no adolescence. As adults, the inhabitants enjoy youth and vitality until near the time of their deaths. People never have to contend with the stress of accommodating themselves to the authority of parents, nor do they know the stress, pain, heartache—nor the joy—of nurturing and raising children.
The birth and childhood of Brave New World inhabitants is greatly reduced from the human world in which we daily live. After perusing the early chapters of this novel, the sensitive reader becomes aware that reduction is one of its recurrent themes, and that this reduction usually involves those attributes of life which make us most human. The purpose behind these reductions is to make all existence subservient to the state. Such subservience requires that even such basic institutions of human civilization as religion and art be sapped of their vital force.
With lives so devoid of pain and so concentrated in the physical and the immediate present, the Worldians have little need for the comfort or solace of religion. If religion is that aspect of man's culture which speaks to the spirit, then Worldians have an absence of spirit of which they are unaware. The reduction of religion is symbolized in the icon which replaces the cross as the dominant religious image—a T. The worship of a supernatural savior has been supplanted by worship of a lord of the assembly line, Henry Ford, and the sign of Our Ford is taken from the model name of one of his early cars. The four arms of the cross have been reduced to the three arms of the T.
Religion lends continuity to civilization, and so does art. Each is an important constituent of the emotional component of human life. But, like religion, art in Brave New World has been reduced to trafficking in sensation—slight, transitory, physical responses as opposed to the profound, sustained, psychological responses of emotion. The "Feelies"—Brave New World's multi-sensory version of the movies—well illustrates this pandering to sensation; rather than celebrating the ideas and emotions of human life, the "Feelies" are designed to give its participants a sensory overload of neural stimulation—the sight and feel of bare flesh on a bearskin rug, for example.
Thus art and religion are controlled by the state and subordinated to the support of the state, but the nature of that state is quite different from what a contemporary reader might expect. In the 1990s, citizens of Western Democracies see their form of government as the best form yet developed by man. As Huxley projects this important facet of human life into the future, he foresees neither Western Democracy nor its historical competitor, Eastern Communism, as the most likely political system. Instead of either he sees a five-tiered caste system occasioned through the perfection of biogenetic engineering and other modern devices of social control. Every man is created biologically equal to all others in his caste. The leisured classes are conditioned to consume, and the working classes are conditioned to manufacture what those other classes consume. Society functions almost as simply as the physical law of equal and opposite reactions.
If Huxley had perversely set out to oversimplify and reduce the most important philosophical and scientific ideas of modern times to a facile society representing a serious projection of what the world will surely become, then one might at least understand the objections of those who seek to censor the book. Neither Marx nor the founders of Western Democracy prevail. The Worldians seem to extrapolate from some of the world's great religions—Islam, Christianity, Judaism—such belief as is useful for their purpose. Freud's insights into family relationships are read only in their negative connotations, and these connotations then become the basis for social organization. Darwin's discoveries about adaptation and heredity are seen not as patterns for understanding how nature works but rather as patterns for manipulating nature to nefarious ends. The history of modern technology culminates in a culture where man eases his way through life on drugs, is free of painful involvement with other human beings, and is sustained by the state's manipulation of mass consumption and mass communication.
But Huxley does not offer Brave New World as an ideal. Neither does he render it as an idle fantasy portraying what life might be like in the future. Brave New World is a satire, and the pleasurable perfection of society in A.F. 689 is measured against the norm of Twentieth Century society in general and against the norm of a particular primitive society still currently extant. Brave New World has its critics both from within and without. The critic from within is Bernard Marx. Because of some abnormality in his birthing process, he is not a perfect Alpha specimen, which suggests that human imperfection and mechanical malfunction have not been completely eliminated in this brave new world. The critic from without is John Savage. As the child of Linda from the dominant culture and the adopted son of a Native American on a reservation in the American Southwest, he is a half-breed belonging to neither the progressive nor the traditional societies in the book.
Marx introduces some of the universal human norms in the book. He is in the society, but not of it. He is physically smaller than other members of his caste—the dominant Alphas—and this physical distinction seems to generate in him envy and alienation, which are uncommon in the society. He rebels against his superior, and when he finds Linda and her son on the reservation and discovers her past association with his superior, he brings them back to the "World" in order to humiliate his boss. Though he has a professional, psychological interest in the two, he is so flattered by the attention he receives because of his connection with the famous pair that he begins to pander to the society of which he has previously been so harshly critical. Marx is important in a technical sense because it is from his point of view that we see the activities of the society—activities which he both participates in and criticizes.
John, or the savage, articulates the values of both a minority culture, the Native Americans and of the culture of the past. To the degree to which he has assimilated the culture of the Native Americans, he is a child of nature communicant with the earth, sky, wind and water. He is free of the artificial and urban environment in which Bernard spends his life. Though his mother is from the dominant society, John is born outside that society and thus escapes its state-supported brainwashing nurture and its prescriptions against artifacts of earlier times. His education he obtains from the Bible and Shakespeare—two of the most important cultural forces in modern Western civilization. It is by the norms of this literature that he executes his criticism of this "Brave New World."
Bernard and John convey to the reader the dilemma of modern life which Huxley expresses in the novel. Through their knowledge humans gain greater and greater control over their environment. As they gain control and are better able to manage their own destiny, they also greatly increase the danger of losing their humanity—the sum total of those facets of life by which people define and know themselves. This point is literally and symbolically illustrated through the tragic conclusion of the novel. John falls victim to that most human of human emotions—love. Yet he cannot reconcile his love for Lenina Crown in a satisfactory way. John cannot accept her as "pneumatic," as "belonging to everybody else," after the fashion of his mother's culture. Nor can he remold her into the image of the beloved he holds from the Biblical and Shakespearean cultural guides he learned in his childhood. John is caught out of time. He cannot go back to his old culture, nor can he assimilate the new. His only option in a world where he has become a freak to be gawked at is suicide. As his body swings from the rope gyrating toward all points of the compass, Huxley suggests that we too may be creating a world in which ironically there is no place for human life and for human emotion.
One of the objectors to this novel comments on its pessimism and tragedy as reasons why it should not be taught. Such an objection overlooks the tone of the book. As satire, the book's purpose is to examine the failings of human behavior in order to encourage reform. Such examinations are painful when we recognize our faults through them. But pain and growth and regeneration are part of the human condition and prove that Huxley's prophesy has not yet come true. And certainly if we try to prevent people—especially young people—from being exposed to the tragic, we would have to eliminate much world literature which has been universally proclaimed great.
Source: Richard H. Beckham, "Huxley's Brave New World as Social Irritant: Ban It or Buy It?" in Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, Lee Burress, and John M. Kean, Scarecrow, 1993, pp. 136-41.
Peter Edgerly Firchow
In the following excerpt, Firchow discusses how Huxley faced a distinct challenge in developing unique and interesting characters in a world where uniformity is strictly enforced.
One of the chief problems Huxley had with Brave New World, according to Donald Watt [in Journal English and Germanic Philology, July, 1978], was with the characters. On the evidence of the revisions, Watt concludes that Huxley seems first to have thought of making Bernard Marx the rebellious hero of the novel but then changed his mind and deliberately played him down into a kind of anti-hero. After rejecting the possibility of a heroic Bernard, Huxley next seems to have turned to the Savage as an alternative. According to Watt, there are in the typescript several indications, later revised or omitted, of the Savage's putting up or at least planning to put up violent resistance to the new world state, perhaps even of leading a kind of revolution against it. But in the process of rewriting the novel, Huxley also abandoned this idea in favor of having no hero at all, or of having only the vague adumbration of a hero in Helmholtz Watson.
Watt's analysis of the revisions in Brave New World is very helpful and interesting; he shows convincingly, I think, that Huxley was unable to make up his mind until very late in the composition of the novel just what direction he wanted the story and the leading male characters to take. From this uncertainty, however, I do not think it necessary to leap to the further conclusion that Huxley had difficulty in creating these characters themselves. Huxley's supposedly inadequate ability to create living characters, the result of his not being a "congenital novelist," is a question that often arises in discussions of his fiction, and in connection with longer and more traditionally novelistic novels like Point Counter Point or Eyeless in Gaza (1936) appropriately so. But Brave New World is anything but a traditional novel in this sense. It is not a novel of character but a relatively short satirical tale, a "fable," much like Voltaire's Candide. One hardly demands fully developed and "round" characters of Candide, nor should one of Brave New World.
This is all the more the case because the very nature of the new world state precludes the existence of fully developed characters. Juliets and Anna Kareninas, or Hamlets and Prince Vronskys, are by definition impossibilities in the new world state. To ask for them is to ask for a different world, the very world whose absence Huxley's novel so savagely laments. Character, after all, is shaped by suffering, and the new world state has abolished suffering in favor of a continuous, soma-stupefied, infantile "happiness." In such an environment it is difficult to have characters who grow and develop and are "alive."
Despite all this, it is surprising and noteworthy how vivid and even varied Huxley's characters are. With all their uniformly standardized condi-tioning, Alphas and Betas turn out to be by no means alike: the ambitious "go-getter" Henry Foster is different from his easy-going friend Benito Hoover; the unconventional and more "pneumatic" Lenina Crowne from the moralistic and rather less pneumatic Fanny Crowne; the resentful and ugly Bernard Marx from the handsome and intelligent Helmholtz Watson. Huxley, in fact, seems to work consistently and consciously in terms of con-trastive/complementary pairs to suggest various possibilities of response to similar situations. So, too, Helmholtz and the Savage are another pair, as are the Savage and Mond, Mond and the DHC, Bernard and Henry Foster. The most fully developed instance of this pairing or doubling technique is the trip that Bernard and Lenina make to the Indian reservation, a trip that duplicates the one made some years earlier by the DHC and a "particularly pneumatic" Beta-Minus named Linda. Like the DHC, Bernard also leaves Lenina, another pneumatic Beta, (briefly) behind while returning to civilization, and during this interval she, too, is lusted after by a savage, much as Pope and the other Indians lust after Linda. Even the novel as a whole reveals a similar sort of doubling structure, with the new world state on the one hand and the Indian reservation on the other.
Within limits, the characters, even some of the minor and superficial characters like Henry Foster, are capable of revealing other and deeper facets of their personality. Returning with Lenina from the Stoke Poges Obstacle Golf Course, Henry Foster's helicopter suddenly shoots upward on a column of hot air rising from the Slough Crematorium. Lenina is delighted at this brief switchback, but "Henry's tone was almost, for a moment, melancholy. 'Do you know what that switchback was?' he said. 'It was some human being finally and definitely disappearing. Going up in a squirt of hot gas. It would be curious to know who it was—a man or a woman, an Alpha or an Epsilon…." Henry quickly jolts himself out of this atypical mood and reverts to his normally obnoxious cheerfulness, but for an instant at least there was a glimpse of a real human being.
Much more than Henry, Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson are capable of complexity of response. The latter especially and partly through his contact with the Savage grows increasingly aware of himself as a separate human entity and of his dissatisfaction with the kind of life he had led hitherto. As an Emotional Engineer and contriver of slogans, Helmholtz has been very successful, as he also has been in the capacities of lover and sportsman; but he despises this success and seeks for a satisfaction for which he has no name and which he can only dimly conceive. He comes closest to expressing it in the poem that eventually leads to his exile, the poem in which an ideal and absent woman becomes more real to him—in the manner of Mallarmé's flower that is absent from all bouquets—than any woman he has ever actually met.
In the end Helmholtz agrees to being sent into frigid exile in the Falkland Islands. The reason he chooses such a place rather than possible alternatives like Samoa or the Marquesas is because there he will not only have solitude but also a harsh climate in which to suffer and to gain new and very different experiences. His aim, however, is not, as some critics have suggested, to seek mystic experience; he simply wants to learn how to write better poetry. "I should like a thoroughly bad climate," he tells Mustapha Mond. "I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms for example…." This hardly represents a search for mysticism and God; in this novel only the Savage, and he in only a very qualified way, can be described as seeking after such ends. Helmholtz merely wants more and better words….
The same is true of Bernard Marx. Despite the apparent fact that Huxley once had more exalted intentions for him, Bernard belongs very much to the familiar Huxleyan category of the anti-hero, best exemplified perhaps by Theodore Gumbril, Jr., the so-called Complete Man of Antic Hay (1923). Like Gumbril, Bernard is able to envision and even seek after a love that is not merely sexual, but, like Gumbril again, his search is half-hearted. He is willing to settle for less because it is so much easier than trying to strive for more. Bernard is weak and cowardly and vain, much more so than Gumbril, and this makes him an unsympathetic character in a way that Gumbril is not. Nevertheless Bernard is undoubtedly capable of seeing the better, even if in the end he follows the worse.
Bernard is certainly a more fully developed character than Helmholtz; he is, in fact, with the exception of the Savage, the character about whom we know most in the entire novel. Just why this should be so is a question worth asking, just as it is worth asking why Bernard is the first of the novel's three malcontents to be brought to our attention.
Bernard's importance resides, I think, in his incapacity. The stability of the new world state can be threatened, it is clear, from above and from below. In the case of Helmholtz the threat is from above, from a surfeit of capacity; in Bernard's case it is from below, from a lack of sufficient capacity. This is not simply to say that Bernard is more stupid than Helmholtz, which he probably is, but rather that because of his physical inferiority he has developed a compulsive need to assert his superiority. It is this incapacity which, paradoxically, seems to make Bernard the more dangerous threat, for it compels him to rise to a position of power in his society; he wants to be accepted by his society, but only on his own terms, terms that are not acceptable in the long run if stability is to be maintained. Helmholtz, on the other hand, is a loner who really wants to have nothing to do with the society at all, and in this sense he represents much less of a threat. The Savage, on the other hand, though most violent and uncompromising in his hatred of and desire to destroy the new world state, is really no threat at all, for he originates from outside the society and is a kind of lusus naturae. There is never likely to be another Savage, but it is very probable that there will be or that there are more Bernards and Helmholtzes.
Both Bernard and Helmholtz are fairly complex characters. What is surprising, however, is that the same is true of Lenina Crowne. She seems at first to be nothing more than a pretty and addle-brained young woman without any emotional depth whatever. And at first it is true that this is all she is; but she changes in the course of the novel into something quite different. She changes because she falls in love.
The great irony of Lenina's falling in love is that she does not realize what it is that has happened to her; like Helmholtz she has no name for the new feeling and hence no way of conceiving or understanding what it is. She can only think of love in the physiological ways in which she has been conditioned to think of it; but her feeling is different.
So subtle is Huxley's portrayal of the change in Lenina that, as far as I know, no critic has ever commented on it. Yet Lenina is clearly predisposed from the very beginning to a love relationship that is not sanctioned by her society. As we learn from her conversation with Fanny, Lenina has been going with Henry Foster for four months without having had another man, and this in defiance of what she knows to be the properly promiscuous code of sexual behavior. When Fanny takes her up on this point of unconventionality, Lenina reacts almost truculently and replies that she "jolly well [does not] see why there should have been" anyone other than Henry. Her inability to see this error in her sexual ways is what predisposes her for the much greater and more intense feeling that she develops for the Savage.
The stages of her growing love for the Savage and her increasing mystification at what is happening within herself are handled with a brilliantly comic touch. There is the scene following Lenina's and the Savage's return from the feelies when the Savage sends her off in the taxicopter just as she is getting ready to seduce him. There is the touching moment when Lenina, who had once been terrified of pausing with Bernard to look at the sea and the moon over the Channel, now lingers "for a moment to look at the moon," before being summoned by an irritated and uncomprehending Arch-Songster. There is Lenina's increasing impatience with the obtuseness of Henry Foster and his blundering solicitousness. There are the fond murmurings to herself of the Savage's name. There is the conference with Fanny as to what she should do about the Savage's strange coldness toward her. There is her blunt rejection of Fanny's advice to seek consolation with one of the millions of other men. There is the wonderful scene in which she seeks out the Savage alone in his apartment, discovers to her amazement that he loves her, sheds her clothing, and receives, to her even greater amazement, insults, blows, and a threat to kill. There is the final terrible scene at the lighthouse when Lenina steps out of the helicopter, looks at the Savage with "an uncertain, imploring, almost abject smile," and then "pressed both hands to her left side [i.e., to her heart], and on that peach-bright, doll-beautiful face of hers appeared a strangely incongruous expression of yearning distress. Her blue eyes seemed to grow larger, brighter; and suddenly two tears rolled down her cheeks." Again the Savage attacks her, this time with his whip, maddened by desire, by remorse, and by the horde of obscenely curious sightseers. In the end, however, desire triumphs and the Savage and Lenina consummate their love in an orgy-porgian climax. When the Savage awakens to the memory of what has happened, he knows he cannot live with such defilement. For him the end is swift and tragic. For Lenina, however, there is no end; her tragedy—and for all the comedy and irony in which her love for the Savage is immersed, the word tragedy is not entirely inappropriate—her tragedy is that she has felt an emotion that she can never express or communicate or realize again.
The characters of Brave New World, it is safe to conclude, are not merely made of cardboard and papier-mâché. That they are nonetheless not full and complete human beings is quite true; but for all the technology and conditioning and impulses toward uniformity, there is still something profoundly human about them. As Lenina's development in the novel indicates, it is possible, as it were, to scratch the plasticized "doll-like" surface of a citizen—at least of an Alpha or Beta citizen—of the new world state and draw actual blood. In this sense and to this degree, Huxley's vision of the perfectly planned future is not without hope; for all the genetic engineering and conditioning, basic humanity remains much the same as it always was. Its imperfections and its needs, even under such greatly altered conditions, inevitably reappear. And it is for this reason, I think, that Huxley's vision is so extraordinarily powerful and compelling; because in the people he portrays we can still somehow recognize ourselves.
Source: Peter Edgerly Firchow, in his End of Utopia: A Study of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Bucknell University Press, 1984, 154 p.
Frederick J. Hoffman, "Aldous Huxley and the Novel of Ideas," in Aldous Huxley: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert E. Kuehn, Prentice Hall, 1974, pp. 8-17.
M. May Keith, Aldous Huxley, Harper & Row, 1972.
Jerome Meckier, Aldous Huxley: Satire and Structure, Chatto & Windus, 1969.
Guinevera A. Nance, Aldous Huxley, Continuum, 1988.
James Sexton, "Brave New World and the Rationalization of Industry," in Critical Essays on Aldous Huxley, edited by Jerome Meckier, G.K. Hall, 1996, pp. 88-102.
Grover Smith, editor, Letters of Aldous Huxley, Chatto & Windus, 1969.
Philip Thody, Huxley: A Biographical Introduction, Scribner's, 1973.
George Woodcock, Dawn and the Darkest Hour: A Study of Aldous Huxley, Faber & Faber, 1972.
Robert S. Baker, The Dark Historic Page: Social Satire and Historicism in the Novels of Aldous Huxley, 1921–1939, University of Wisconsin Press, 1974.
Baker discusses Huxley's aversion to "historical thought."
Sybille Bedford, Aldous Huxley: A Biography, Knopf, 1974.
Bedford's biography is based on published works, documentaries, and personal accounts.
Milton Birnbaum, Aldous Huxley's Quest for Values, University of Tennessee Press, 1971.
This is an exploration of Huxley's ability to articulate the pulse of twentieth century thought.
Peter Bowering, Aldous Huxley: A Study of the Major Novels, Oxford University Press, 1969.
Bowering examines nine of Huxley's eleven novels.
Lawrence Brander, Aldous Huxley: A Critical Study, Bucknell University Press, 1970.
Brander's study is of Huxley's novels, essays, short stories, and travelogues.
Thomas D. Clareson, "The Classic: Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'," in Extrapolation, Vol. 3, no. 1, December, 1961, pp. 33-40.
An analysis of Brave New World, praising the universalism of Huxley's vision and ideas, by an American educator and critic. Clareson is also considered an authority on the genre of science fiction.
Peter Firchow, Aldous Huxley: Satirist and Novelist, University of Minnesota Press, 1972.
Firchow's focus is satire in Huxley's essays and novels.
Sisirkamar Ghose, Aldous Huxley: A Cynical Salvationist, Asia Publishing, 1962.
Ghose studies Huxley's times, religious world-view, and his novels.
Alexander Henderson, Aldous Huxley, Russell and Russell, 1964.
This is a study of Huxley's life, four novels, criticism, poetry, and travel books.
Julian Huxley, editor, Aldous Huxley: 1894–1963, Harper & Row, 1965.
This is a book of tributes to Huxley made by friends, family, and admirers after his death.