Brave New World  

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"Soma: The perfect drug. Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant. All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects. Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology." --Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Brave New World is a dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley, first published in 1932. Set in London in 2540 (or AF 632), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, biological engineering, and sleep-learning that combine to change society. Huxley answers this novel with a reassessment in his 1958 non-fiction text, Brave New World Revisited, also summarized below.

The world the novel describes is a utopia, albeit an ironic one: humanity is carefree, healthy and technologically advanced. Warfare and poverty have been eliminated and everyone is permanently happy. The irony is that all of these things have been achieved by eliminating many things that humans consider to be central to their identity — family, culture, art, literature, science, religion, and philosophy. It is also a hedonistic society, deriving pleasure from promiscuous sex and drug use, especially the use of soma, a powerful drug taken to escape pain and bad memories through hallucinatory fantasies. Additionally, stability has been achieved and is maintained via deliberately engineered and rigidly enforced social stratification.

Brave New World is Huxley's most famous novel. The American Library Association ranks Brave New World as No. 52 on their list of most challenged books.

Contents

Themes and plot

Brave New World is a novel of ideas which takes place in a densely-imagined dystopian state.

The World State

The World State is a benevolent dictatorship headed by ten World Controllers. In this respect it is similar to the societies imagined by Huxley's near-contemporaries H G Wells and Olaf Stapledon. The World State has established a stable global society where the population is permanently limited. The basis of that stability is the conditioning of citizens to accept their station in life. This is achieved by:

  • abolition of natural reproduction. Human embryos are raised artificially in 'hatcheries and conditioning centres'. The breeding and development of children destines them to fit into one of five castes named Alpha (the highest) through Epsilon (as in the Greek alphabet) which fulfill different economic roles. While Alpha and Beta fetuses are allowed to develop relatively naturally, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon fetuses are subjected to chemical interference to stunt their intelligence and physical growth. Members of lower castes (but not Alphas and Betas) are created using 'Bokanovsky's Process' which allows up to 96 clones to be produced from one fertilized ovum.
  • children are educated via the hypnopaedic process, which provides each with appropriate subconscious messages to mold the child's self-image to that appropriate for their caste.
  • discouragement of critical thinking. The lower castes are bred for low intelligence and conditioned not to think; in the upper castes, this is achieved by conditioning and social taboos. "High" culture has ceased to exist, serious literature is banned as subversive, as is scientific thinking and experimentation. The only cultural element mentioned, movies with added tactile sensations, deal in pure emotion.
  • discouragement of individual action and initiative. Spending time alone is considered abnormal and even reprehensible, and well-adjusted citizens spend their leisure in communal activities requiring no thought. This leads to a lifestyle which readers may see as shallow and hedonistic. It is promoted by the ready availability and universally-endorsed consumption of the hallucinogenic drug soma (an allusion to a ritualistic drink of the same name consumed by ancient Indo-Aryans), and by the promotion of recreational sex, often as a group activity. Emotional, romantic relationships are obsolete; chastity and fidelity are cause for disapproval or mockery; and marriage, natural birth, parenthood, and pregnancy are considered too vulgar to be mentioned in polite conversation. Spiritual needs are met by mock religious services in which twelve people consume soma and sing hymns. The ritual progresses through group hypnosis and climaxes in a sex orgy. The symbol worshiped is the "T", in homage to Henry Ford who had recently introduced mass-production of automobiles with the Model T.
  • an abundance of material goods, though (presumably because of advanced technology) conditions of work are not onerous, in contrast to the contemporary Metropolis in which the workers are forced to arduous exertions. To maintain the World State's command economy, citizens are conditioned to promote consumption (and hence production) with platitudes such as "ending is better than mending".

The programme has been successful. The lower castes' restricted abilities, ambitions and desires make them contented with their lot. There is no dissatisfaction because each caste member receives the same workload, food, housing, and soma ration. Nor is there any desire to change caste; conditioning reinforces the individual's place in the caste system. The upper castes (with a few exceptions) revel in the hedonistic and materialistic lifestyle provided for them.

People enjoy perfect health and youthfulness until death at age 60 Death is not feared; the population is confident that everyone is happy, and since there are no families, there are no strong ties to mourn.

The vast majority of the population lives under the World State. In geographic areas not conducive to its system, 'savages' are left to their own devices. These "savage reservations" are similar to reservations established for the Native American population during the colonization of North America.

Plot

The novel opens in London in A.F. 632 (AD 2540 in the Gregorian calendar). The society described above is illuminated by the activities of two of the novel's central characters Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx, and the other characters with whom they come into contact. Lenina, a hatchery worker, is socially accepted and contented, but Bernard, a psychologist in the Directorate of Hatcheries and Conditioning, is not. He is shorter in stature than the average of his Alpha caste — a quality shared by the lower castes, which gives him an inferiority complex. His intelligence and his work with hypnopaedia allow him to understand, and disapprove of, the methods by which society is sustained. Courting disaster, he is vocal and arrogant about his differences. Bernard is mocked by other Alphas because of his stature, as well as for his individualistic tendencies, and is threatened with exile to Iceland because of his nonconformity. His only friend is Helmholtz Watson, a lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering. The friendship is based on their feelings of being misfits (in the context of the World State), but unlike Bernard, Watson's sense of alienation stems from being exceptionally gifted, intelligent, handsome, and physically strong. Helmholtz is drawn to Bernard as a confidant.

Bernard takes a holiday with Lenina at a Savage Reservation in New Mexico. (The culture of the village folk resembles the contemporary Native American groups of the region, descendants of the Anasazi, including the Puebloan peoples of Acoma, Laguna, and Zuni.) There they observe ceremonies including a ritual in which a village boy is whipped into unconsciousness. They encounter Linda, a woman originally from the World State who is living on the reservation with her son John, now a young man. She too visited the reservation on a holiday, and became separated from her group and was left behind. She had meanwhile become pregnant by a fellow-holidaymaker (who is revealed to be Bernard's boss, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning). She did not try to return to "civilization" because of her shame at her pregnancy. Neither Linda nor John is accepted by the villagers, and their life has been hard and unpleasant. Linda has taught John to read, although from only two books: a scientific manual from his mother's job in the hatchery, and a Collected Shakespeare. Ostracised by the villagers, John is able to articulate his feelings only in terms of Shakespearean drama, especially the Tragedies of Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. Linda now wants to return to London, while John wants to see the 'brave new world' his mother has told him about. Bernard sees an opportunity to thwart plans to exile him, and gets permission to take Linda and John back. On his return to London, Bernard is confronted by the Director, but turns the tables by presenting him with his long-lost lover and unknown son. John calls Thomas his "father", a vulgarity which causes a roar of laughter. The humiliated Director resigns in shame.

Bernard, as "custodian" of the "savage" John who is now treated as a celebrity, is fawned on by the highest members of society and revels in attention he once scorned. However, his triumph is short-lived. Decrepit and friendless, Linda goes on a permanent soma holiday while John refuses to attend social events organised by Bernard's parties, appalled by what he perceives to be an empty society. Society drops Bernard as swiftly as it had taken him.

Lenina and John are physically attracted to each other, but John's view of courtship and romance, based on Shakespeare, is uttely incompatible with Lenina's freewheeling attitude to sex. Lenina tries to seduce John, but he attacks her for being an 'impudent strumpet'. John is then informed that his mother is extremely ill. He rushes to her bedside, causing a scandal as this is not the "correct" attitude to death. Some Delta children who enter the ward for "death-conditioning" irritate John to the point where he attacks one physically. He then tries to break up a distribution of soma to a lower-caste group and is set upon by the outraged recipients. Helmholtz, who has been called by Bernard, also becomes involved in the fracas. Bernard, Helmholtz and John are brought before Mustapha Mond, the Resident "World Controller for Western Europe". Bernard and Helmholtz are told they are to be exiled to islands, seen as a punishment for antisocial activity. Bernard pleads grovelling for a second chance, but Helmholtz welcomes the opportunity to be an individual, and chooses the Falkland Islands as his destination, believing that their bad weather will inspire his writing. Mond outlines for John the events that led to the present society and his arguments for a caste system and social control. John rejects Mond's arguments, and Mond sums up by saying that John demands "the right to be unhappy". John concurs.

John moves to an abandoned hilltop 'air-lighthouse' (meant to warn and guide helicopters) near the village of Puttenham, where he intends to adopt an ascetic lifestyle in order to purify himself of civilization and amend for his mistreatment of his mother. He practises self-mortification, and his self-flagellation is witnessed by bystanders, turning him into a sensational spectacle. Hundreds of sightseers, hoping to witness his behaviour arrive at John's lighthouse; one of them is Lenina. At the sight of the woman whom he both adores and loathes, John attacks her with his whip. John is stricken with remorse and onlookers and journalists who arrive that evening find that he has hanged himself.

Characters

John – the illicit son of the Director and Linda, born and reared on the Savage Reservation ("Malpais") after Linda was unwittingly left behind by her errant lover. John ("the Savage," as he is often called) is an outsider both on the Reservation – where the natives still practice marriage, natural birth, family life and religion – and the ostensibly civilised World State, based on principles of stability and shallow happiness. He has read nothing but The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, which he quotes extensively, and, for the most part, aptly, though his allusion to "Brave New World" [Miranda's words in The Tempest] takes on a darker and bitterly ironic resonance as the novel unfolds. John is intensely moral according to a code that he has been taught by Shakespeare and life in Malpais but is also naïve: his views are as imported into his own consciousness as are the hypnopedic messages of World State citizens, and he is incapable of grasping that the men of Malpais whose admonishments taught him to regard his mother as a whore were the same men who continually sought her out despite their supposedly sacred pledges of monogamy. Because he is unwanted in Malpais, he accepts the invitation to travel back to London and is initially astonished by the comforts of the World State. However, he remains committed to values that exist only in his poetry, first spurning Lenina for failing to live up to his Shakespearean ideal and then the entire utopian society, asserting that its technological wonders and consumerism are poor substitutes for individual freedom, human dignity and personal integrity. He then ostracizes himself from society and attempts to purify himself of "sin" (desire), but is finally unable to do so and hangs himself in despair.

Bernard Marx – an Alpha-Plus sleep-learning specialist at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. Bernard is a misfit. He is unusually short for an Alpha; an alleged accident with alcohol in Bernard's blood-surrogate before his decanting has left him slightly stunted. Bernard's independence of mind stems more from his inferiority-complex and depressive nature than any depth of philosophical conviction. Unlike his fellow utopians, Bernard is often angry, resentful, and jealous. At times, he is also cowardly and hypocritical. His conditioning is clearly incomplete. He doesn't enjoy communal sports, solidarity services, or promiscuous sex. He doesn't even get much joy out of soma. Bernard is in love with Lenina but he doesn't like her sleeping with other men even though "everyone belongs to everyone else". Bernard's triumphant return to utopian civilisation with John the Savage from the Reservation precipitates the downfall of the Director, who had been planning to exile him. Bernard's triumph is short-lived. Success goes to his head. Despite his tearful pleas, he is ultimately banished to an island for his non-conformist behaviour.

Helmholtz Watson – handsome and successful Alpha-Plus lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering and a friend of Bernard. He feels unfulfilled writing endless propaganda doggerel and is restive to the stifling conformism and philistinism of the World State. Helmholtz is ultimately exiled to the Falkland Islands – a cold asylum for disaffected Alpha-Plus non-conformists – after reading a heretical poem to his students on the virtues of solitude and for helping John destroy some Delta's rations of soma after Linda's death. Unlike Bernard, he takes his exile in stride and comes to view it as an opportunity for inspiration in his writing.

Lenina Crowne – a young, beautiful nurse at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. Lenina is promiscuous and popular but somewhat quirky in their society: she normally dates only one person at a time. She is basically happy and well-conditioned but will use soma to suppress unwelcome emotions. Lenina has a date with Bernard, to whom she feels ambivalently attracted, and she goes to the Reservation with him. On returning to civilisation, she tries and fails to seduce John the Savage. John loves and desires Lenina but he is repelled by her forwardness and the prospect of pre-marital sex, rejecting her as an "impudent strumpet". Lenina visits John at the lighthouse but he attacks her, unwittingly inciting onlookers to do the same. Her exact fate is left unspecified.

Mustapha Mond – Resident World Controller of Western Europe, "His Fordship" Mustafa Mond presides over one of the ten zones of the World State, the global government set up after the cataclysmic Nine Years' War and great Economic Collapse. Sophisticated and good-natured, Mond is an urbane and hyperintelligent advocate of the World State and its ethos of "Community, Identity, Stability," being uniquely aware among the characters of the novel of the precise nature of the society he oversees and what it has given up to accomplish its gains. Mond argues that art, literature, and scientific freedom must be sacrificed to secure the ultimate utilitarian goal of maximising societal happiness and defends the genetic caste system, behavioural conditioning, and the lack of personal freedom in the World State; these, he says, are a price worth paying for achieving social stability, the highest social virtue because it leads to lasting happiness.

Fanny Crowne – Lenina Crowne's friend (they have the same last name because only ten thousand last names are in use in the World State). Fanny's role is mainly to voice the conventional values of her caste and society, particularly the importance of promiscuity: she warns Lenina that she should have more men in her life because it looks bad to concentrate on one man for too long, then warns her away from a new lover whom she considers undeserving, yet is ultimately supportive of Lenina's attraction to the savage John.

Henry Foster – One of Lenina's many lovers, he is a perfectly conventional Alpha male, casually discussing Lenina's body with his coworkers. His success with Lenina, and his casual attitude about it, infuriates the jealous Bernard. Henry ultimately proves himself every bit the ideal World State citizen, finding no courage to defend Lenina from John's assaults despite having maintained an uncommonly longstanding sexual relationship with her.

The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning (DHC) a.k.a. Thomas "Tomakin" – The Director administrates the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, where he is a threatening figure who intends to exile Bernard to Iceland. His plans take an unexpected turn, however, when Bernard returns from the Reservation with Linda (see below) and John, a child they both realize is actually his. This fact, scandalous and obscene in the World State not because it was extramarital (which all sexual acts are) but because it was procreative, leads the Director to resign his post in shame.

Linda – John's mother, decanted as a Beta-Minus in the World State and subsequently lost during a storm while visiting the New Mexico Savage Reservation with the Director many years before the events of the novel. Despite following her usual precautions, Linda became pregnant with the Director's son during their time together and was therefore unable to return to the World State by the time that she found her way to Malpais. Having been conditioned to the promiscuous social norms of the World State, Linda finds herself at once popular with every man in the pueblo (because she is open to all sexual advances) and also reviled for the same reason, seen as a whore by the wives of the men who visit her and by the men themselves (who come to her nonetheless). Linda is desperate to return to the World State and to soma, wanting nothing more from her remaining life than comfort until death.

The Arch-Community-Songster – The Arch-Community-Songster is the secular equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the World State society.

The Warden – The Warden, an Alpha-Minus, is the talkative chief administrator for the New Mexico Savage Reservation. He is blond, short, broad-shouldered, and has a booming voice.

Darwin Bonaparte – a "big game photographer" (i.e., film maker) who films John flogging himself. Darwin Bonaparte is known for two other works: "feely of the gorillas' wedding", and "Sperm Whale's Love-life". He has already made a name for himself but still seeks more. He renews his fame by filming the savage, John, in his newest release "The Savage of Surrey". His name alludes to Charles Darwin and Napoleon Bonaparte.

Others

  • Freemartins: These women have been deliberately made sterile by exposure to hormones during fetal development. In the book, government policy requires freemartins to form 70% of the female population.

Of Malpais

  • Popé, a native of Malpais. Although he reinforces the behaviour that causes hatred for Linda in Malpais by sleeping with her and bringing her mescal, he still holds the traditional beliefs of his tribe. John also attempts to kill him, in his early years. He gave Linda a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare.
  • Mitsima, an elder tribe shaman who also teaches John survival skills such as rudimentary ceramics (specifically coil pots, which were traditional to Native American tribes) and bow-making.

Background figures

These are non-fictional and factual characters who lived before the events in this book, but are of note in the novel:

  • Henry Ford, who has become a messianic figure to The World State. "Our Ford" is used in place of "Our Lord", as a credit to popularising the use of the assembly line. Huxley's description of Ford as a central figure in the emergence of the Brave New World might also be a reference to the utopian industrial city of Fordlândia commissioned by Ford in 1927.
  • Sigmund Freud, "Our Freud" is sometimes said in place of "Our Ford" due to the link between Freud's psychoanalysis and the conditioning of humans, and Freud's popularisation of the idea that sexual activity is essential to human happiness and need not be limited to procreation. It is also strongly implied that citizens of the World State believe Freud and Ford to be the same person.
  • H. G. Wells, "Dr. Wells", British writer and utopian socialist, whose book Men Like Gods was an incentive for Brave New World. "All's well that ends Wells" wrote Huxley in his letters, criticising Wells for anthropological assumptions Huxley found unrealistic.
  • Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, whose conditioning techniques are used to train infants.
  • William Shakespeare, whose banned works are quoted throughout the novel by John, "the Savage". The plays quoted include Macbeth, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida, Measure for Measure and Othello. Mustapha Mond also knows them because he, as a World Controller, has access to a selection of books from throughout history, including the Bible.
  • Thomas Robert Malthus, whose name is used to describe the contraceptive techniques (Malthusian belt) practised by women of the World State.
  • Reuben Rabinovitch, the character in whom the effects of sleep-learning, hypnopædia, are first noted.
  • John Henry Newman, Mustapha Mond discussed Cardinal Newman with the Savage after reading a quote from his book

Sources of names and references

The limited number of names that the World State assigned to its bottle-grown citizens can be traced to political and cultural figures who contributed to the bureaucratic, economic, and technological systems of Huxley's age, and presumably those systems in Brave New World:


Fordism and society

World state in Brave New World

The World State is built upon the principles of Henry Ford's assembly line: mass production, homogeneity, predictability, and consumption of disposable consumer goods. While the World State lacks any supernatural-based religions, Ford himself is revered as the creator of their society but not as a deity, and characters celebrate Ford Day and swear oaths by his name (e.g., "By Ford!"). In this sense, some fragments of traditional religion are present, such as Christian crosses, which had their tops cut off to be changed to a "T". The World State calendar numbers years in the "AF" era—"Anno Ford"—with year 1 AF being equivalent to AD 1908, the year in which Ford's first Model T rolled off his assembly line. The novel's Gregorian calendar year is AD 2540, but it is referred to in the book as AF 632.

From birth, members of every class are indoctrinated by recorded voices repeating slogans while they sleep (called "hypnopædia" in the book) to believe their own class is superior, but that the other classes perform needed functions. Any residual unhappiness is resolved by an antidepressant and hallucinogenic drug called soma (named for an intoxicating drink in ancient India) distributed by the Arch-Community Songster of Canterbury, a secularised version of the Christian sacrament of Communion ("The Body of Christ").

The biological techniques used to control the populace in Brave New World do not include genetic engineering; Huxley wrote the book before the structure of DNA was known. However, Gregor Mendel's work with inheritance patterns in peas had been re-discovered in 1900 and the eugenics movement, based on artificial selection, was well established. Huxley's family included a number of prominent biologists including Thomas Huxley, half-brother and Nobel Laureate Andrew Huxley, and brother Julian Huxley who was a biologist and involved in the eugenics movement. Nonetheless, Huxley emphasises conditioning over breeding (see nature versus nurture); human embryos and fetuses are conditioned through a carefully designed regimen of chemical (such as exposure to hormones and toxins), thermal (exposure to intense heat or cold, as one's future career would dictate), and other environmental stimuli, although there is an element of selective breeding as well.

Related works

  • The First Men in the Moon (1901) by H. G. Wells. The whole lunar population lives in a single harmonious society, where the offspring starts life in small containers. There it is decided what kind of caste they will belong to for the rest of their existence, and their development at this stage is affected to make sure they fit their caste perfectly.
  • We (1921) by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • Looking forward to Brave New World, Huxley's own Crome Yellow (1921), Ch V, has Mr Scogan, a believer in "the goddess of Applied Science," looking forward optimistically to "the next few centuries" when "In vaste state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply the world with the population it requires. The family system will disappear; society, sapped at its very base, will have to find new foundations; and Eros, beautifully and irresponsibly free, will flit like a gay butterfly from flower to flower through a sunlit world."
  • Men Like Gods (1923) by H. G. Wells. A utopian novel that was a source of inspiration for Huxley's dystopian Brave New World.
  • The Scientific Outlook (1931) by philosopher Bertrand Russell. When Brave New World was released, Russell thought that Huxley's book was based on his book The Scientific Outlook, released the previous year. Russell contacted his own publisher and asked whether or not he should do something about this "apparent plagiarism". His publisher advised him not to, and Russell followed this advice.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by George Orwell
  • Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952) he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."
  • Fahrenheit 451 (1953) by Ray Bradbury
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) by Neil Postman demonstrates how television is goading modern Western culture to be like what we see in Brave New World, where people are not so much denied human rights like free speech, but are rather conditioned not to care.
  • This Perfect Day (1970) by Ira Levin
  • Walden Two (1948) by B. F. Skinner Skinner was a Harvard Psychologist who put his formal research in Operant Conditioning and Behaviorism into fictional practice by creating a utopian society based on these scientific principles.

See also




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