Brave New World
Written in 1931 and published the following year, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a
dystopian—or anti-utopian—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 dominate 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
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.
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 distractions 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.
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.
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 over attachment 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.
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.
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 also 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
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.
Critical Essay #1
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.
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 Woodcock 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.
Critical Essay #2
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.