Brave New World

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Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, into a family that included some of the most distinguished members of that part of the English ruling class made up of the intellectual elite. Aldous father was the son of Thomas Henry Huxley, a great biologist who helped develop the theory of evolution. His mother was the sister of Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the novelist; the niece of Matthew Arnold, the poet; and the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, a famous educator and the real-life headmaster of Rugby School who became a character in the novel Tom Browns Schooldays.
Undoubtedly, Huxleys heritage and upbringing had an effect on his work. Gerald Heard, a longtime friend, said that Huxleys ancestry brought down on him a weight of intellectual authority and a momentum of moral obligations.” Throughout Brave New World you can see evidence of an ambivalent attitude toward such authority assumed by a ruling class.
Like the England of his day, Huxleys Utopia possesses a rigid class structure, one even stronger than Englands because it is biologically and chemically engineered and psychologically conditioned. And the members of Brave New Worlds ruling class certainly believe they possess the right to make everyone happy by denying them love and freedom.
Huxleys own experiences made him stand apart from the class into which he was born. Even as a small child he was considered different, showing an alertness, an intelligence, what his brother called a superiority. He was respected and loved–not hated–for these abilities, but he drew on that feeling of separateness in writing Brave New World. Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, both members of the elite class, have problems because theyre different from their peers. Huxley felt that heredity made each individual unique, and the uniqueness of the individual was essential to freedom. Like his family, and like the Alphas of Brave New World, Huxley felt a moral obligation–but it was the obligation to fight the idea that happiness could be achieved through class-instituted slavery of even the most benevolent kind.
Another event that marked Huxley was his mothers death from cancer when he was 14. This, he said later, gave him a sense of the transience of human happiness. Perhaps you can also see the influence of his loss in Brave New World. The Utopians go to great lengths to deny the unpleasantness of death, and to find perpetual happiness. But the cost is very great. By denying themselves unpleasant emotions they deny themselves deeply joyous ones as well. Their happiness can be continued endlessly by taking the drug soma by making love, or by playing Obstacle Golf, but this happiness is essentially shallow. Standing in contrast to the Utopians are the Savages on the Reservation in New Mexico: poor, dirty, subject to the ills of old age and painful death, but, Huxley seems to believe, blessed with a happiness that while still transient is deeper and more real than that enjoyed by the inhabitants of London and the rest of the World State.
When Huxley was 16 and a student at the prestigious school Eton, an eye illness made him nearly blind. He recovered enough vision to go on to Oxford University and graduate with honors, but not enough to fight in World War I, an important experience for many of his friends, or to do the scientific work he had dreamed of. Scientific ideas remained with him, however, and he used them in many of his books, particularly Brave New World. The idea of vision also remained important to him; his early novels contain scenes that seem ideal for motion pictures, and he later became a screenwriter.
He entered the literary world while he was at Oxford, meeting writers like Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell and becoming close friends with D. H. Lawrence, with whom you might think he had almost nothing in common.
Huxley published his first book, a collection of poems, in 1916. He married Maria Nys, a Belgian, in 1919. Their only child, Matthew Huxley, was born in 1920. The family divided their time between London and Europe, mostly Italy, in the 1920s, and traveled around the world in 1925 and 1926, seeing India and making a first visit to the United States.
Huxley liked the confidence, vitality, and generous extravagance” he found in American life. But he wasnt so sure he liked the way vitality was expressed in places of public amusement, in dancing and motoring… Nowhere, perhaps, is there so little conversation… It is all movement and noise, like the water gurgling out of a bath–down the waste. Yes, down the waste.” Those thoughts of the actual world, from the book Jesting Pilate, were to color his picture of the perpetual happiness attempted in Brave New World.
His experiences in fascist Italy, where Benito Mussolini led an authoritarian government that fought against birth control in order to produce enough manpower for the next war, also provided materials for Huxleys bad Utopia, as did his reading of books critical of the Soviet Union.
Huxley wrote Brave New World in four months in 1931. It appeared three years after the publication of his best-seller, the novel Point Counter Point. During those three years, he had produced six books of stories, essays, poems, and plays, but nothing major. His biographer, Sybille Bedford, says, It was time to produce some full-length fiction–he still felt like holding back from another straight novel–juggling in fiction form with the scientific possibilities of the future might be a new line.”
Because Brave New World describes a bad Utopia, it is often compared with George Orwells 1984, another novel you may want to read, which also describes a possible horrible world of the future. The world of 1984 is one of tyranny, terror, and perpetual warfare. Orwell wrote it in 1948, shortly after the Allies had defeated Nazi Germany in World War II and just as the West was discovering the full dimensions of the evils of Soviet totalitarianism.
Its important to remember that Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, before Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany and before Joseph Stalin started the purges that killed millions of people in the Soviet Union. He therefore had no immediate real-life reason to make tyranny and terror major elements of his story. In 1958 Huxley himself said, The future dictatorship of my imaginary world was a good deal less brutal than the future dictatorship so brilliantly portrayed by Orwell.”
In 1937, the Huxleys came to the United States; in 1938 they went to Hollywood, where he became a screenwriter (among his films was an adaptation of Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice, which starred the young Laurence Olivier). He remained for most of his life in California, and one of his novels caricatures what he saw as the strange life there: After Many a Summer Dies the Swan. In it the tycoon Jo Stoyte tries to achieve immortality through scientific experimentation, even if it means giving up humanity and returning to the completely animal state–an echo of Brave New World.
In 1946 Huxley wrote a Foreword to Brave New World in which he said he no longer wanted to make social sanity an impossibility, as he had in the novel. Though World War II had caused the deaths of some 20 million inhabitants of the Soviet Union, six million Jews, and millions of others, and the newly developed atomic bomb held the threat of even more extensive destruction, Huxley had become convinced that while still rather rare,” sanity could be achieved and said that he would like to see more of it. In the same year, he published The Perennial Philosophy, an anthology of texts with his own commentaries on mystical and religious approaches to a sane life in a sane society.
He also worried about the dangers that threatened sanity. In 1958, he published Brave New World Revisited, a set of essays on real-life problems and ideas youll find in the novel–overpopulation, overorganization, and psychological techniques from salesmanship to hypnopaedia, or sleep-teaching. Theyre all tools that a government can abuse to deprive people of freedom, an abuse that Huxley wanted people to fight. If you want to further relate his bad new world to the real world, read Brave New World Revisited.
In the 1950s Huxley became famous for his interest in psychedelic or mind-expanding drugs like mescaline and LSD, which he apparently took a dozen times over ten years. Sybille Bedford says he was looking for a drug that would allow an escape from the self and that if taken with caution would be physically and socially harmless.
He put his beliefs in such a drug and in sanity into several books. Two, based on his experiences taking mescaline under supervision, were nonfiction: Doors of Perception (1954) and Heaven and Hell (1956). Some readers have read those books as encouragements to experiment freely with drugs, but Huxley warned of the dangers of such experiments in an appendix he wrote to The Devils of Loudun (1952), a psychological study of an episode in French history.
Another work centering on drugs and sanity was Island (1962), a novel that required 20 years of thought and five years of writing. Among other things, Island was an antidote to Brave New World, a good Utopia. Huxley deplored the drug he called soma in Brave New World–half tranquilizer, half intoxicant–which produces an artificial happiness that makes people content with their lack of freedom. He approved of the perfected version of LSD that the people of Island use in a religious way.
Huxley produced 47 books in his long career as a writer. The English critic Anthony Burgess has said that he equipped the novel with a brain. Other critics objected that he was a better essayist than novelist precisely because he cared more about his ideas than about plot or characters, and his novels ideas often get in the way of the story.
But Huxleys emphasis on ideas and his skin as an essayist cannot hide one important fact: The books he wrote that are most read and best remembered today are all novels–Crome Yellow, Antic Hay, and Point Counter Point from the 1920s, Brave New World and After Many a Summer Dies the Swan from the 1930s. In 1959 the American Academy of Arts and Letters gave him the Award of Merit for the Novel, a prize given every five years; earlier recipients had been Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Mann, and Theodore Dreiser.
The range of Huxleys interests can be seen from his note that his preliminary research” for Island included Greek history, Polynesian anthropology, translations from Sanskrit and Chinese of Buddhist texts, scientific papers on pharmacology, neurophysiology, psychology and education, together with novels, poems, critical essays, travel books, political commentaries and conversations with all kinds of people, from philosophers to actresses, from patients in mental hospitals to tycoons in Rolls-Royces….” He used similar, though probably fewer, sources for Brave New World.
This list gives you some perspective on the wide range of ideas that Huxley studied. He also wrote an early essay on ecology that helped inspire todays environmental movement. And he was a pacifist. This belief prevented him from becoming an American citizen because he would not say his pacifism was a matter of his religion, which might have made him an acceptable conscientious objector.
Huxley remained nearly blind all his life. Maria Huxley died in 1955, and Huxley married Laura Archera a year later. He died November 22, 1963, the same day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He was cremated, and his ashes were buried in his parents grave in England.
Brave New World is partly a statement of ideas (expressed by characters with no more depth than cartoon characters) and only partly a story with a plot.
The first three chapters present most of the important ideas or themes of the novel. The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning explains that this Utopia breeds people to order, artificially fertilizing a mothers eggs to create babies that grow in bottles. They are not born, but decanted. Everyone belongs to one of five classes, from the Alphas, the most intelligent, to the Epsilons, morons bred to do the dirty jobs that nobody else wants to do. The lower classes are multiplied by a budding process that can create up to 96 identical clones and produce over 15,000 brothers and sisters from a single ovary.
All the babies are conditioned, physically and chemically in the bottle, and psychologically after birth, to make them happy citizens of the society with both a liking and an aptitude for the work they will do. One psychological conditioning technique is hypnopaedia, or teaching people while they sleep–not teaching facts or analysis, but planting suggestions that will make people behave in certain ways. The Director also makes plain that sex is a source of happiness, a game people play with anyone who pleases them.
The Controller, one of the ten men who run the world, explains some of the more profound principles on which the Utopia is based. One is that history is bunk”; the society limits peoples knowledge of the past so they will not be able to compare the present with anything that might make them want to change the present. Another principle is that people should have no emotions, particularly no painful emotions; blind happiness is necessary for stability. One of the things that guarantees happiness is a drug called soma, which calms you down and gets you high but never gives you a hangover. Another is the feelies,” movies that reach your sense of touch as well as your sight and hearing.
After Huxley presents these themes in the first three chapters, the story begins. Bernard Marx, an Alpha of the top class, is on the verge of falling in love with Lenina Crowne, a woman who works in the Embryo Room of the Hatchery. Lenina has been dating Henry Foster, a Hatchery scientist; her friend Fanny nags her because she hasnt seen any other man for four months. Lenina likes Bernard but doesnt fall in love with him. Falling in love is a sin in this world in which one has sex with everyone else, and she is a happy, conforming citizen of the Utopia.
Bernard is neither happy nor conforming. Hes a bit odd; for one thing, hes small for an Alpha, in a world where every member of the same caste is alike. He likes to treasure his differences from his fellows, but he lacks the courage to fight for his right to be an individual. In contrast is his friend Helmholtz Watson, successful in sports, sex, and community activities, but openly dissatisfied because instead of writing something beautiful and powerful, his job is to turn out propaganda.
Bernard attends a solidarity service of the Fordian religion, a parody of Christianity as practiced in England in the 1920s. It culminates in a sexual orgy, but he doesnt feel the true rapture experienced by the other 11 members of his group.
Bernard then takes Lenina to visit a Savage Reservation in North America. While signing his permit to go, the Director tells Bernard how he visited the same Reservation as a young man, taking a young woman from London who disappeared and was presumed dead. He then threatens Bernard with exile to Iceland because Bernard is a nonconformist: he doesnt gobble up pleasure in his leisure time like an infant.
At the Reservation, Bernard and Lenina meet John, a handsome young Savage who, Bernard soon realizes, is the son of the Director. Clearly, the woman the Director had taken to the Reservation long ago had become pregnant as the result of an accident that the citizens of Utopia would consider obscene. John has a fantasy picture of the Utopia from his mothers tales and a knowledge of Shakespeare that he mistakes for a guide to reality.
Bernard gets permission from the Controller to bring John and Linda, his mother, back to London. The Director had called a public meeting to announce Bernards exile, but by greeting the Director as lover and father, respectively, Linda and John turn him into an obscene joke. Bernard stays and becomes the center of attention of all London because he is, in effect, Johns guardian, and everybody wants to meet the Savage. Linda goes into a permanent soma trance after her years of exile on the Reservation. John is taken to see all the attractions of new world society and doesnt like them. But he enjoys arguing with Helmholtz about them, and about Shakespeare.
Lenina has become popular because she is thought to be sleeping with the Savage. Everyone envies her and wants to know what its like. But, in fact, while she wants to sleep with John, he refuses because he, too, has fallen in love with her–and he has taken from Shakespeare the old-fashioned idea that lovers should be pure. Not understanding this, she finally comes to his apartment and takes her clothes off. He throws her out, calling her a prostitute because he thinks shes immoral, even though he wants her desperately.
John then learns that his mother is dying. The hospital illustrates the Utopias approach to death, which includes trying to completely eliminate grief and pain. When John goes to visit Linda he is devastated; his display of grief frightens children being taught that death is a pleasant and natural process. John grows so angry that he tries to bring the Utopia back to what he considers sanity and morality by disrupting the daily distribution of soma to lower-caste Delta workers. That leads to a riot; John, Bernard, and Helmholtz are arrested.
The three then confront the Controller, who explains more of the Utopias principles. Their conversation reveals that the Utopia achieves its happiness by giving up science, art, religion, and other things that we prize in the real world. The Controller sends Bernard to Iceland, after all, and Helmholtz to the Falkland Islands. He keeps John in England, but John finds a place where he can lead a hermits life, complete with suffering. His solitude is invaded by Utopians who want to see him suffer, as though it were a sideshow spectacle; when Lenina joins the mob, he kills himself.
Because this is a Utopian novel of ideas, few of the characters are three-dimensional people who come alive on the page. Most exist to voice ideas in words or to embody them in their behavior. John, Bernard, Helmholtz, and the Controller express ideas through real personalities, but you will enjoy most of the others more if you see them as cartoon characters rather than as full portraits that may seem so poorly drawn that they will disappoint you.
The Director opens the novel by explaining the reproductive system of the brave new world, with genetically engineered babies growing in bottles. He loves to throw scientific data” at his listeners so quickly that they cant understand them; he is a know-it-all impressed with his own importance. In fact, he knows less and is less important than the Controller, as you see when he is surprised that the Controller dares to talk about two forbidden topics–history and biological parents.
The Director comes alive only when he confesses to Bernard Marx that as a young man he went to a Savage Reservation, taking along a woman who disappeared there. She was pregnant with his baby, as a result of what the Utopia considers an obscene accident. The baby grows up to be John; his return to London leads to the total humiliation of the Director.
The Directors name is Thomas, but you learn this only because Linda, his onetime lover and Johns mother, keeps referring to him as Tomakin.
Henry is a scientist in the London Hatchery, an ideal citizen of the world state: efficient and intelligent at work, filling his leisure time with sports and casual sex. He is not an important character but helps Huxley explain the workings of the Hatchery, show Leninas passionless sex life, and explore the gulf between Bernard and the normal” citizens of Utopia.
Lenina is young and pretty despite having lupus, an illness that causes reddish-brown blotches to appear on her skin. She is, like Henry Foster, a happy, shallow citizen, her one idiosyncracy is the fact that she sometimes spends more time than society approves dating one man exclusively.
Like all well-conditioned citizens of the World State, Lenina believes in having sex when she wants it. She cant understand that John avoids sex with her because he loves her and does not want to do something that he thinks–in his old-fashioned, part-Indian, part-Christian, part-Shakespearean way–will dishonor her. She embodies the conflict he feels between body and spirit, between love and lust.
Lenina is more a cartoon character than a real person, but she triggers Johns emotional violence and provides the occasion for his suicide when she comes to see him whip himself.
Mond is one of the ten people who control the World State. He is good-natured and dedicated to his work, and extremely intelligent; he understands people and ideas that are different, which most Utopians cannot do. He has read such forbidden books as the works of Shakespeare and the Bible, and knows history and philosophy. Indeed, he resembles the Oxford professors that Huxley knew, and his discussion of happiness with the Savage resembles a tutorial between an Oxford don and his most challenging student.
Once a gifted scientist, the Controller made a conscious choice as a young man to become one of the rulers instead of a troublesome dissident. He is one of the few Utopians who can choose, who has free will, and this makes him more rounded and more attractive than most of the characters youll meet in the book. It also makes him concerned with morality, but he uses his moral force and his sanity for the immoral and insane goals of the Utopia. You may decide that he is the most dangerous person in Brave New World.
A specialist in sleep-teaching, Bernard does not fit the uniformity that usually characterizes all members of the same caste. He is an Alpha of high intelligence and therefore a member of the elite, but he is small and therefore regarded as deformed. Other people speculate that too much alcohol was put into his bottle when he was still an embryo. He dislikes sports and likes to be alone, two very unusual traits among Utopians. When he first appears, he seems to dislike casual sex, another departure from the norm. He is unhappy in a world where everyone else is happy.
At first Bernard seems to take pleasure in his differentness, to like being a nonconformist and a rebel. Later, he reveals that his rebellion is less a matter of belief than of his own failure to be accepted. When he returns from the Savage Reservation with John, he is suddenly popular with important people and successful with women, and he loves it. Underneath, he has always wanted to be a happy member of the ruling class. In the end, he is exiled to Iceland and protests bitterly.
Helmholtz, like Bernard, is different from the average Alpha-plus intellectual. A mental giant who is also successful in sports and sex, hes almost too good to be true. But he is a nonconformist who knows that the world is capable of greater literature than the propaganda he writes so well–and that he is capable of producing it. When John the Savage introduces him to Shakespeare, Helmholtz only appreciates half of it; despite his genius, hes still limited by his Utopian upbringing. He remains willing to challenge society even if he cant change it, and accepts exile to the bleak Falkland Islands in the hope that physical discomfort and the company of other dissidents will stimulate his writing.
John is the son of two members of Utopia, but has grown up on a Savage Reservation. He is the only character who can really compare the two different worlds, and it is through him that Huxley shows that his Utopia is a bad one.
Johns mother, Linda, became pregnant accidentally, a very unusual event in the brave new world. While she was pregnant, she visited a Savage Reservation, hurt herself in a fall, and got lost, missing her return trip to London. The Indians of the Reservation saved her life and she gave birth to John. The boy grew up absorbing three cultures: the Utopia he heard about from his mother; the Indian culture in which he lived, but which rejected him as an outsider; and the plays of Shakespeare, which he read in a book that survived from pre-Utopian days.
John, in short, is different from the other Savages and from the Utopians. He is tall and handsome, but much more of an alien in either world than Bernard is. John looks at both worlds through the lenses of the religion he acquired on the Reservation–a mixture of Christianity and American Indian beliefs–and the old-fashioned morality he learned from reading Shakespeare. His beliefs contradict those of the brave new world, as he shows in his struggle over sex with Lenina and his fight with the system after his mother dies. Eventually, the conflict is too much for him and he kills himself.
Linda is Johns mother, a Beta minus who sleeps with the Director and becomes pregnant accidentally, 20 years before the action of the book begins. She falls while visiting a Savage Reservation, becomes unconscious, and remains lost until the Director has to leave. She is then rescued by Indians, gives birth to John, and lives for 20 years in the squalor of the Reservation, where she grows old, sick, and fat without the medical care that keeps people physically young in the Utopia. Behaving according to Utopian principles, she sleeps with many of the Indians on the Reservation and never understands why the women despise her or why the community makes John an outcast. When she returns to London, she takes ever-increasing doses of soma and stays perpetually high–until the drug kills her.
Setting plays a particularly important role in Brave New World. Huxleys novel is a novel of Utopia, and a science-fiction novel. In both kinds of books the portrayal of individual characters tends to take a back seat to the portrayal of the society they live in. In some ways, the brave new world itself becomes the books main character.
The story opens in London some 600 years in the future–632 A. F. (After Ford) in the calendar of the era. Centuries before, civilization as we know it was destroyed in the Nine Years War. Out of the ruins grew the World State, an all-powerful government headed by ten World Controllers. Faith in Christ has been replaced by Faith in Ford, a mythologized version of Henry Ford, the auto pioneer who developed the mass production methods that have reached their zenith in the World State. Almost all traces of the past have been erased, for, as Henry Ford said, History is bunk.” Changing names show the changed society. Charing Cross, the London railroad station, is now Charing T Rocket Station: the cross has been supplanted by the T, from Henry Fords Model T. Big Ben is now Big Henry. Westminster Abbey, one of Englands most hallowed shrines, is now merely the site of a nightclub, the Westminster Abbey Cabaret.
The people of this world, born from test tubes and divided into five castes, are docile and happy, kept occupied by elaborate games like obstacle golf, entertainments like the feelies,” and sexual promiscuity. Disease is nonexistent, old age and death made as pleasant as possible so they can be ignored.
Some parts of the earth, however, are allowed to remain as they were before the World State came to power. With Bernard and Lenina, you visit one of these Savage Reservations, the New Mexican home of the Zuni Indians. It is a world away from civilized London: the Zunis are impoverished, dirty, ravaged by disease and old age, and still cling to their ancient religion.
The settings in Brave New World, then, seem to offer only the choice between civilized servitude and primitive ignorance and squalor. Are these the only choices available One other is mentioned, the islands of exile–Iceland and the Falkland Islands–where malcontents like Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson are sent. But Huxley does not discuss these places in enough detail to let us know whether or not they provide any kind of alternative to the grim life he has presented in the rest of the book.
This novel is about a Utopia, an ideal state–a bad ideal state. It is therefore a novel about ideas, and its themes are as important as its plot. They will be studied in depth in the chapter-by-chapter discussion of the book. Most are expressed as fundamental principles of the Utopia, the brave new world. Some come to light when one character, a Savage raised on an Indian reservation, confronts that world. As you find the themes, try to think not only about what they say about Huxleys Utopia, but also about Huxleys real world–and your own.
Community, Identity, Stability is the motto of the World State. It lists the Utopias prime goals. Community is in part a result of identity and stability. It is also achieved through a religion that satirizes Christianity–a religion that encourages people to reach solidarity through sexual orgy. And it is achieved by organizing life so that a person is almost never alone.
Identity is in large part the result of genetic engineering. Society is divided into five classes or castes, hereditary social groups. In the lower three classes, people are cloned in order to produce up to 96 identical twins.” Identity is also achieved by teaching everyone to conform, so that someone who has or feels more than a minimum of individuality is made to feel different, odd, almost an outcast.
Stability is the third of the three goals, but it is the one the characters mention most often–the reason for designing society this way. The desire for stability, for instance, requires the production of large numbers of genetically identical individuals,” because people who are exactly the same are less likely to come into conflict. Stability means minimizing conflict, risk, and change.
Brave New World is not only a Utopian book, it is also a science-fiction novel. But it does not predict much about science in general. Its theme is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals,” Huxley said in the Foreword he wrote in 1946, 15 years after he wrote the book. He did not focus on physical sciences like nuclear physics, though even in 1931 he knew that the production of nuclear energy (and weapons) was probable. He was more worried about dangers that appeared more obvious at that time–the possible misuse of biology, physiology, and psychology to achieve community, identity, and stability. Ironically, it becomes clear at the end of the book that the World States complete control over human activity destroys even the scientific progress that gained it such control.
Genetic engineering is a term that has come into use in recent years as scientists have learned to manipulate RNA and DNA, the proteins in every cell that determine the basic inherited characteristics of life. Huxley didnt use the phrase but he describes genetic engineering when he explains how his new world breeds prescribed numbers of humans artificially for specified qualities.
Every human being in the new world is conditioned to fit societys needs–to like the work he will have to do. Human embryos do not grow inside their mothers wombs but in bottles. Biological or physiological conditioning consists of adding chemicals or spinning the bottles to prepare the embryos for the levels of strength, intelligence, and aptitude required for given jobs. After they are decanted” from the bottles, people are psychologically conditioned, mainly by hypnopaedia or sleep-teaching. You might say that at every stage the society brainwashes its citizens.
A society can achieve stability only when everyone is happy, and the brave new world tries hard to ensure that every person is happy. It does its best to eliminate any painful emotion, which means every deep feeling, every passion. It uses genetic engineering and conditioning to ensure that everyone is happy with his or her work.
Sex is a primary source of happiness. The brave new world makes promiscuity a virtue: you have sex with any partner you want, who wants you–and sooner or later every partner will want you. (As a child, you learn in your sleep that everyone belongs to everyone else.”) In this Utopia, what we think of as true love for one person would lead to neurotic passions and the establishment of family life, both of which would interfere with community and stability. Nobody is allowed to become pregnant because nobody is born, only decanted from a bottle. Many females are born sterile by design; those who are not are trained by Malthusian drill” to use contraceptives properly.
Soma is a drug used by everyone in the brave new world. It calms people and gets them high at the same time, but without hangovers or nasty side effects. The rulers of the brave new world had put 2000 pharmacologists and biochemists to work long before the action of the novel begins; in six years they had perfected the drug. Huxley believed in the possibility of a drug that would enable people to escape from themselves and help them achieve knowledge of God, but he made soma a parody and degradation of that possibility.
This society offers its members distractions that they must enjoy in common–never alone–because solitude breeds instability. Huxley mentions but never explains sports that use complex equipment whose manufacture keeps the economy rolling–sports called Obstacle Golf and Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. But the chief emblem of Brave New World is the Feelies–movies that feature not only sight and sound but also the sensation of touch, so that when people watch a couple making love on a bearskin rug, they can feel every hair of the bear on their own bodies.
The combination of genetic engineering, bottle-birth, and sexual promiscuity means there is no monogamy, marriage, or family. Mother” and father” are obscene words that may be used scientifically on rare, carefully chosen occasions to label ancient sources of psychological problems.
The brave new world insists that death is a natural and not unpleasant process. There is no old age or visible senility. Children are conditioned at hospitals for the dying and given sweets to eat when they hear of death occurring. This conditioning does not–as it might–prepare people to cope with the death of a loved one or with their own mortality. It eliminates the painful emotions of grief and loss, and the spiritual significance of death, which Huxley made increasingly important in his later novels.
Some characters in Brave New World differ from the norm. Bernard is small for an Alpha and fond of solitude; Helmholtz, though seemingly every centimetre an Alpha-Plus,” knows he is too intelligent for the work he performs; John the Savage, genetically a member of the World State, has never been properly conditioned to become a citizen of it. Even the Controller, Mustapha Mond, stands apart because of his leadership abilities. Yet in each case these differences are crushed: Bernard and Helmholtz are exiled; John commits suicide; and the Mond stifles his own individuality in exchange for the power he wields as Controller. What does this say about Huxleys Utopia
This Utopia has a good side: there is no war or poverty, little disease or social unrest. But Huxley keeps asking, what does society have to pay for these benefits The price, he makes clear, is high. The first clue is in the epigraph, the quotation at the front of the book. It is in French, but written by a Russian, Nicolas Berdiaeff. It says, Utopias appear to be much easier to realize than one formerly believed. We currently face a question that would otherwise fill us with anguish: How to avoid their becoming definitively real”
By the time you hear the conversation between the Controller, one of the men who runs the new world, and John, the Savage, youve learned that citizens of this Utopia must give up love, family, science, art, religion, and history. At the end of the book, John commits suicide and you see that the price of this brave new world is fatally high.
Although Huxleys writing style makes him easy to read, his complex ideas make readers think. Even if youre not familiar with his vocabulary or philosophy, you can see that, as the critic Laurence Brander says, The prose was witty and ran clearly and nimbly.”
Huxleys witty, clear, nimble prose is very much an upper-class tradition. Brave New World–like all of Huxleys novels–is a novel of ideas, which means that the characters must have ideas and must be able to express them eloquently and cleverly. This demands that the author have considerable knowledge. In pre-World War II England such novels were more likely to have been written by members of the upper class, simply because they had much greater access to good education. Huxley, we remember, attended Eton and Oxford.
Huxley, like other upper-class Englishmen, was familiar with history and literature. He expected his readers to know the plays of Shakespeare, to recognize names like Malthus and Marx, to be comfortable with a word like predestination.” (Literally predestine” means only to determine in advance,” but it is most importantly a word from Christian theology–describing, in one version, the doctrine that God knows in advance everything that will ever happen, and thereby decides who will be saved and who will be damned.)
Although Huxley was very serious about ideas, he never stopped seeing their humorous possibilities. His biographer, Sybille Bedford, says that in 1946 he gave the commencement speech at a progressive school in California, where he urged the students not to imitate the young man of that ancient limerick… who
….said Damn,
It is borne in on me that I am
A creature that moves
In predestinate grooves;
Im not even a bus, Im a tram!”
To appreciate this joke, you have to remember how a tram or trolley car moves on its tracks. Its a reminder that youll have much more fun with Brave New World and get much more out of it if you dont let the language scare or bore you. Use the glossary in this guide and your dictionary as tools. See how many of the words you know. See if you can guess what some words mean from their spelling and the context in which you find them. Look them up and see how close you are. Look up the ones whose meaning you cant guess. If you put even a few of the words you meet for the first time in Brave New World into your vocabulary, youll be winning a great game.
Games were an important part of an upper-class English education in Huxleys day. Many elite students developed a readiness to make jokes with words and ideas. You may find some of Huxleys jokes funny, while you may think the humor has vanished from others. But youll have more fun with the book if you try to spot the humor. Youll find big jokes like the Feelies, movies that you can feel, as well as see and hear. Youll also find little jokes like plays on words–as in calling the process for getting a baby out of its bottle decanting,” a word ordinarily used only for fine wine. There is humor in orgy-porgy,” a combination of religious ritual and group sex, a parody of a childs nursery rhyme.
In Brave New World Huxley plays many games with his characters names. He turns Our Lord into Our Ford, for Henry Ford, the inventor of the modern assembly line and the cheap cars that embodied the machine age for the average man. He names one of his main characters for Karl Marx, the father of the ideas of Communism. His heroine is called Lenina, after the man who led the Russian Revolution. Benito Hoover, a minor character, has the first name of the dictator of fascist Italy and the last name of the President of the United States who led the nation into the Great Depression, but he is notoriously good-natured.” Look up any names you dont recognize.
Huxleys point of view in Brave New World is third person, omniscient (all-knowing). The narrator is not one of the characters and therefore has the ability to tell us what is going on within any of the characters minds. This ability is particularly useful in showing us a cross section of this strange society of the future. Were able to be with the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning in the Central London Conditioning and Hatchery Centre, with Lenina Crowne at the Westminster Abbey Cabaret, with Bernard Marx at the Fordson Community Singery. The technique reaches an extreme in Chapter Three, when we hear a babble of unidentified voices–Leninas, Fanny Crownes, Mustapha Monds–that at first sound chaotic but soon give us a vivid understanding of this brave new world.
Brave New World fits into a long tradition of books about Utopia, an ideal state where everything is done for the good of humanity as a whole, and evils like war and poverty cannot exist.
The word Utopia” means no place” in Greek. Sir Thomas More first used it in 1516 as the title of a book about such an ideal state. But the idea of a Utopia goes much further back. Many critics consider Platos Republic, written in the fourth century B. C., a Utopian book.
Utopia” came to have a second meaning soon after Sir Thomas More used it–an impractical scheme for social improvement.” The idea that Utopias are silly and impractical helped make them a subject for satire, a kind of literature that makes fun of something, exposing wickedness and foolishness through wit and irony. (Irony is the use of words to express an idea that is the direct opposite of the stated meaning, or an outcome of events contrary to what was expected.)
In this way two Utopian traditions developed in English literature. One was optimistic and idealistic–like Mores, or Edward Bellamys Looking Backward (1888), which foresaw a mildly socialist, perfect state. H. G. Wells, an important English writer, believed in progress through science and wrote both novels and nonfiction about social and scientific changes that could produce a Utopia.
The second tradition was satiric, like Jonathan Swifts Gullivers Travels (1726), in which both tiny and gigantic residents of distant lands were used to satirize the England of Swifts day. Another satiric Utopia was Samuel Butlers Erewhon (1872; the title is an anagram of nowhere”), which made crime a disease to be cured and disease a crime to be punished.
In Brave New World, Huxley clearly belongs in the satiric group. (Though toward the end of his career he wrote a nonsatiric novel of a good Utopia, Island.) He told a friend that he started to write Brave New World as a satire on the works of H. G. Wells. Soon he increased his targets, making fun not only of science but also of religion, using his idea of the future to attack the present.
As in most works about Utopia, Brave New World lacks the complexity of characterization that marks other kinds of great novels. The people tend to represent ideas the author likes or dislikes. Few are three-dimensional or true to life; most resemble cartoon characters. As do many writers of Utopian works, Huxley brings in an outsider (John the Savage) who can see the flaws of the society that are invisible to those who have grown up within it.
As Huxley worked on his book, his satire darkened. The book became a serious warning that if we use science as an instrument of power, we will probably apply it to human beings in the wrong way, producing a horrible society. Brave New World belongs firmly in the tradition of Utopian writing, but the Utopia it portrays is a bleak one, indeed.
The novel begins by plunging you into a world you cant quite recognize: its familiar but theres something wrong, or at least different from what youre used to. For example, it starts like a movie, with a long shot of a building–but a squat” building only” thirty-four stories high. The building bears a name unlike any youve heard in real life–Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre”–and the motto of a World State you know doesnt exist.
The cameras eye then moves through a north window into the cold Fertilizing Room, and focuses on someone you know is a very important person from the way he speaks. He is the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, and hes explaining things to a group of new students who still have only a very limited understanding of what goes on here.
You may find the Director and his Hatchery strange, but you probably know how the students feel as they try to note everything the Director says, even his opening remark, Begin at the beginning.” You know how anxious you can be to make sure you dont miss something a teacher says, something that will be important later on.
In fact, the functions of the Hatchery are hard to understand because Huxley has the Director throw large amounts of scientific data” at you without giving you time to figure out their meaning. Huxley thereby undermines one of his intentions here–to use the Director as a cartoon character who expounds some of the scientific ideas that the author wants you to think about. He also wants to satirize a world that makes such a know-it-all important and powerful. Sometimes the real world gives such people power, too. You may meet scientists like the Director in college or businesspeople like him at work.
The Director talks about incubators and fertilizing, about surgically removing the ovary from the female and keeping it alive artificially. He talks about bringing together ova (the unfertilized eggs of a female) and male gametes (the cells or spermatozoa containing the fathers half of the genetic material needed to make a new being) in a glass container. He talks about a mysterious budding process that turns one egg into 96 embryos. The Director mentions all these things and more before Huxley tells you that the Hatchery hatches human beings.
The Director takes that fact for granted, but Huxley surprises you all the more by letting it sneak up on you. Do you think its frightening or disgusting to breed human beings like chickens on a farm In this Utopia, the price is worth paying to control the total population; it breeds as many or as few people as the world controllers decide are needed. Huxleys imaginary world is thus dealing with a real world problem–overpopulation. Youve probably read or heard warnings about this, warnings that the world, or the United States, or a developing country like Kenya, has more people than it can feed. China is trying to reward families that have only one child and penalize those that have more, but no country has yet tried to do what Huxleys brave new world does.
The Director talks less about stemming overpopulation than he does about increasing population in the right way. In the real world, its unusual for a woman to produce more than ten children, and the average American family has two or fewer. In Huxleys world, Bokanovskys budding process and Podsnaps ripening technique can produce over 15,000 brothers and sisters from a single ovary. You may know this idea from the word cloning,” used in science fiction and to describe look-alike clothing styles. Identical clones will make a stable community, the Director says, one without conflict.
In the world of Bokanovsky and Podsnap, babies are not born. They develop in bottles and are decanted”–a word that usually refers to pouring wine gently out of its bottle so that the sediment at the bottom is not disturbed.
The Director takes you and the students to the bottling room, where you learn that the clone-embryo grows inside the bottle on a bed of sows peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen of an adult female pig). In the embryo room, the bottled embryos move slowly on belts that travel over three tiers of racks–a total of 2136 meters (about 1 1/3 miles) during the 267 days before decanting. Huxley makes a point of the distance because each meter represents a point at which the embryo is given specific conditioning for its future life.
The 267 days are approximately equal to the nine months it takes a baby to develop inside its mother in the real world, but neither Director nor students mention that kind of birth. Mother” is an unmentionable and obscene word in this brave new world, as youll see in the next chapter. Although Huxley doesnt state it yet, if you think about it youll see that bokanovskifying and bottling mean that nobody becomes pregnant. This gives you a hint of what will be said concerning sex and family life.
In this world, a persons class status is biologically and chemically engineered. The genes that determine brains and brawn are carefully selected. Then, a bottled embryo undergoes the initial conditioning that will determine its skills and strength, in keeping with its destiny as an Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, or Epsilon.
These names are letters in the Greek alphabet, familiar to Huxleys original English readers because in English schools they are used as grades–like our As, Bs, etc.–with Alpha plus the best and Epsilon minus the worst. In Brave New World, each names a class or caste. Alphas and Betas remain individuals; only Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are bokanovskified. Alpha embryos receive the most oxygen in order to develop the best brains; Epsilons receive the least because they wont need intelligence for the work theyll do, like shoveling sewage.
Embryos predestined to be tropical workers are inoculated against typhoid and sleeping sickness. Bottles containing future astronauts are kept constantly in rotation to improve their sense of balance. Theres a conditioning routine for every function in this society. Nobody complains about having to do hard, dirty, or boring work; everyone is conditioned to do their job well and to like it.
In this chapter you meet two people besides the Director, though you hardly notice them in the barrage of scientific information, and you dont get to know them very well until later. One is Henry Foster, a Hatchery scientist, one of the cardboard characters that Huxley pushes to keep the plot moving. The other is Lenina Crowne, one of only two women who are important in the story. She is as close as Brave New World comes to having a heroine, but she is so completely a creature of the system that she barely has any personality. She is a technician in the embryo room, which like a photographic darkroom can be lit only with red light. Everybody who works in this room has purple eyes and lupus, a disease that causes large red or brown patches to appear on the skin. Huxley doesnt tell you whether this is a result of the red light or a way of matching the workers to the workplace, but neither purple eyes nor blotched skin prevents Lenina from being uncommonly pretty.” Thus, the author shows you that standards of beauty and sex appeal are different in this world of the future.
NOTE: Brave New World is a novel about a Utopia, an ideal state in which everything is done for the good of humanity, and evils like poverty and war cannot exist.
Perhaps you, too, have created stories about imaginary countries in which everything happens the way you think it should, countries that could be called ideal states if you looked at them closely. Or you may have seen the television program, Fantasy Island,” which is a modern, mass-audience twist on the theme of Utopia, a place that grants you your fondest wishes.
Some aspects of Brave New World may seem attractive to you. Everybody is happy, hygienic, and economically secure. There is little sickness and no old age, poverty, crime, or war. But notice how the Director emphasizes that bokanovskifying is one of the major instruments of social stability,” and how he reminds his students that the motto of the World State is Community, Identity, Stability.”
The most important events in this novel all center around conflicts between people like the Director, who want to maintain stability, and people whose actions might threaten this stability, even unintentionally. The Director never questions what people have to give up to achieve the World States goals. Later in the book, other characters do ask this question, and they provide some answers. As you read Brave New World, keep asking yourself this question. What price would we have to pay to live in this Utopia
This chapter takes you from the biological and chemical conditioning of embryos to the psychological conditioning of children in Huxleys world of the future. The Director shows the students how Delta infants, color-coded in khaki clothes, crawl naturally toward picture books and real flowers, only to be terrorized by the noises of explosions, bells, and sirens and then traumatized by electric shock. The babies learn to associate books and flowers with those painful experiences, and turn away from them.
NOTE: This section of the center is named the Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms for the Russian scientist, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936). In a classic experiment he trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell that was linked to memories of food, proving the theory of the conditioned reflex. Youll see how Pavlovs theories have been used–and misused–throughout the brave new world.
The reason for making the infants dislike books is psychological–if they read the wrong things, they might lose a bit of the conditioning that guarantees stability. The reason for making them dislike flowers is economic. If, as adults, they traveled to the country, they would consume transport.” Here Huxley makes fun of the way some economists use the word consume.” He means that when they travel to the country, people use cars, trains, or helicopters. Thus, consuming transport” is good for an economy that sells transport services and makes vehicles. But if they only went to enjoy nature, they would consume” nothing else. Instead, they are conditioned to dislike nature and love sports, which have been redesigned to involve elaborate mechanical and electronic equipment. They therefore consume” transport in traveling to the country to consume” sports equipment. This sounds as though they gobble it up, but in reality they are using it and wearing it out, thereby doubling the economic benefit.
In proceeding to the next kind of conditioning, the Director gives you your first clue to this worlds religion: the phrase Our Ford,” obviously used as religious people in the real world might say Our Lord.” You learn that the calendar year is no longer A. D. (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord) but A. F., After Ford. Instead of making the sign of the cross, the Director makes the sign of the T, from the Model T Ford.
NOTE: This is a parody of Christianity–not so much of its essential beliefs as of the way organized religion can be used to control society. In 1931 it seemed funnier and more daring than it does today, especially in England, where the Anglican church is established (linked to the state). Huxley made Ford the new Jesus because Ford became the best-known symbol of modern industry after he invented the automobile assembly line that produced cheap, basically identical cars. Watch for further elaboration of the Ford religion in later chapters.
The next conditioning technique is hypnopaedia, sleep-teaching. The Director tells the students it was discovered accidentally hundreds of years earlier by a little Polish boy who lived with his father” and mother,” two words that hit the students ears with much more force than obscene words hit your ears today. Would you be shocked if your high school principal, a middle-aged gentleman who spoke correct English with a proper accent, used a carefully enunciated obscene word during a school assembly Thats how the students feel when the Director utters those unmentionable words.
In the Directors story, little Reuben Rabinovitch discovered hypnopaedia by hearing in his sleep a broadcast by George Bernard Shaw, the British dramatist, and sleep-learning it by heart though he knew no English. Shaw thought himself a genius both as playwright and political thinker, as did many of his followers. Huxley makes a little joke at the expense of people who claim to recognize genius but really know no more about it than a sleeping child who cant speak the language its expressed in.
The Director goes on to explain that hypnopaedia doesnt work for teaching facts or analysis. It works only for moral education,” which here means conditioning peoples behavior by verbal suggestion when their psychological resistance is low–by repeated messages about whats good or bad, in words that require no intellectual activity but can be digested by a sleeping brain. (This is Huxleys own explanation in Brave New World Revisited, a book of essays written in 1958, a generation after the novel appeared. He also found that in the real world, sleep-teaching of both kinds shows mixed results.)
The Director gives you and the students an example of this kind of moral education, a sleep-lesson in class consciousness for Betas. They learn to love being Betas, to respect Alphas who work much harder than we do, because theyre so frightfully clever,” and to be glad theyre not Gammas, Deltas, or Epsilons, each more stupid than the preceding. Oh no,” the tape suggests to them, I dont want to play with Delta children.”
In other words, the Betas learn to love the system and their place in it. The lesson, repeated 120 times in each of three sessions a week for 30 months, seals them into that place. Huxley likens it to drops of liquid sealing wax, which the English upper classes used to seal envelopes, placing a drop of wax on the edge of the flap and pressing a design into it as the wax hardened. The envelope couldnt be opened without showing a break in the wax. Sealing wax is seen infrequently in the U.S. today, but if you imagine a candle dripping endlessly, you will understand the effect.
This chapter switches back and forth from place to place and from one set of characters to another in order to give you your first view of sex, love, and the nonexistent family in the brave new world.
In the first scene, the Director and some almost embarrassed students show you that sex is a game that children are encouraged to play. Later scenes make plain that for adults, sex is a wholesome source of happiness, rather like going to a health club. Nobody lives with or is married to one person at a time. in fact, there is no marriage. Everybody is expected to be promiscuous–to keep switching sexual partners without any important reason for distinguishing one partner from another.
Huxley expected his readers to be surprised or at least to giggle at the idea of promiscuity as a virtue. Some of them surely thought promiscuity meant happiness, as Huxleys characters do, but they had grown up with the idea that it was wicked. Today, many teachers and clergymen claim that high school and college students are promiscuous, but Time magazine says that Americans in general are becoming less so. Promiscuous” is a word that can make you feel a connection between the real world and Brave New World, and help you decide if you would like the novels world better than the one you live in.
In the first scene, the Director is upstaged by one of the ten men who run the world, the Resident Controller for Western Europe, Mustapha Mond. (Alfred Mond was a British chemist, economist, and cabinet minister; for Huxleys original readers the name probably had the same kind of ring that Rashid Rockefeller” would for Americans.) He tells the students, History is bunk.” This is an anti-intellectual quotation from Henry Ford, who believed that a person who wasted time studying history would never create anything as revolutionary as an assembly line. But the Resident Controllers tell people that history is bunk” for another reason: people who know history can compare the present with the past. They know the world can change, and that knowledge is a threat to stability. (George Orwell went a step further in 1984 and had the rulers of his state constantly rewrite history because they knew that if they controlled peoples memories of the past, it would be easier to control the present.) This quote shows Huxley to list the glories of history, from the Bible to Beethoven, in a single paragraph, thus showing what his new world has whisked away like dust.
Also whisked away is the family. The Controllers description of traditional families links fathers with misery, mothers with perversion, brothers and sisters with madness and suicide.
Mond says this is the wisdom of Our Freud, as Our Ford chose for some inscrutable reason… to call himself whenever he spoke of psychological matters.” This is another of the intellectual and serious jokes that Huxley loves to make. Sigmund Freud revolutionized psychology and invented psychoanalysis, but people misuse his name and twist his ideas to fit their dogmas, just as they do Christs.
Mond compares love to a pipe full of water that jets forth dangerously if you make just one hole in it. This is a metaphor for individual motherhood and monogamy, which he believes produces people who are mad (meaning insane,” not angry”), wicked, and miserable. The water only makes safe, piddling little fountains” if you put many holes in the pipe–a metaphor for the safety of growing up in a group and for being promiscuous.
After the Controller repeats the Directors lessons about the need for stability and population control, he adds something new–the elimination of emotions, particularly painful emotions. When he asks the students if theyve ever experienced a painful feeling, one says it was horrible” when a girl made him wait nearly four weeks before going to bed with him. Do you think thats real pain Or is it part of Huxleys satire
NOTE: Even as satire, this idea is very important in Huxleys book: the idea that people can live happily without emotional pain, and that the way to achieve this happiness is to eliminate as many emotions as possible, because even happy feelings carry the possibility of pain with them. Huxleys Utopia is built on this idea. Do you think its true that human beings can live this way Would it make you happy in the long run Make a note of your answer so you can see if you change your mind after you finish the book.
The Controller makes these points as the camera eye” of the novel switches back and forth from him to Lenina Crowne coming off work, changing clothes, and talking to her friend Fanny; from them to Henry Foster and other men, and back again. As the chapter continues, it becomes more and more difficult to tell which scene youre viewing because Huxley stops identifying the character who is speaking at any given moment, and you have to decide that from the nature of the remark.
Through Lenina and Fanny you learn more of the mechanics of feeling good, as they turn different taps for different perfumes and use a vibro-vacuum” for toning up skin and muscles. In a world where no woman bears a child, women need periodic Pregnancy Substitutes–chemical pills and injections to give them the hormonal benefits that pregnancy would give their bodies. And one fashion item is a Malthusian belt” loaded with contraceptives, rather like a soldiers bandolier with magazines of bullets. Thomas Malthus was a political economist who wrote in 1798 that population increases much more rapidly than does subsistence; later groups that wanted to limit population often invoked his name.
The two women also give you a closer look than the Controllers talk did at personal relations in a world that prizes promiscuity and makes monogamy impossible. Fanny reproaches Lenina for seeing nobody but Henry Foster for four months. She calls Henry a perfect gentleman” because he has other girlfriends at the same time.
After the scene switches to Henry, you meet another very important character: Berna

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