Brave New World is a 1932 novel by Aldous Huxley. Set in the London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. Huxley answers this book with a reassessment in an essay, Brave New World Revisited (1958), and with his final work, a novel titled Island (1962), both summarized below.
Huxley wrote in 1930 a Utopia, presented satirically where humanity lives in a carefree, healthy, and technologically advanced society; however, art, science, religion, and all other forms of human expression, as we know, have been replaced to create the "Brave New World". Warfare and poverty have been eliminated and everyone is permanently happy due to being grown in a society where there is no antagonistic thought. All of these things have been achieved by eliminating many other things that humans consider to be central to their "identity" - family, culture, art, literature, science, religion - although there's an idolization of "our Ford", Henry Ford, who is seen as the father of their society (that function as an irony of what the culture idolatrize). It is also a hedonistic tale, ruled by a government that rations the in-take of hallucinatory drugs that induce fantasies. Additionally, social stability has been achieved and is maintained via deliberately engineered and rigidly established social stratification.
However, a derivation not only more recent but more apposite occurs in Rudyard Kipling's 1919 poem The Gods of the Copybook Headings:
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932 while he was living in France and England (a British writer, he moved to California in 1937). By this time, Huxley had already established himself as a writer and social satirist. He was a contributor to Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines, had published a collection of his poetry (The Burning Wheel, 1916) and four successful satirical novels: Crome Yellow in 1921, Antic Hay in 1923, Those Barren Leaves in 1925 and Point Counter Point in 1928. Brave New World was Huxley's fifth novel and first attempt at a dystopian work.
Brave New World was inspired by the H. G. Wells' Utopian novel Men Like Gods. Wells' optimistic vision of the future gave Huxley the idea to begin writing a parody of the novel, which became Brave New World. Contrary to the most popular optimist utopian novels of the time, Huxley sought to provide a frightening vision of the future. Huxley referred to Brave New World as a "negative utopia" (see dystopia), somewhat influenced by Wells' own The Sleeper Awakes and the works of D. H. Lawrence. Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel We, completed ten years before in 1921, has been suggested as an influence, but Huxley stated that he had not known of the book at the time.
Huxley visited the newly-opened and technologically-advanced Brunner and Mond plant, part of Imperial Chemical Industries, or ICI, Billingham and gives a fine and detailed account of the processes he saw. The introduction to the most recent print of Brave New World states that Huxley was inspired to write the classic novel by this Billingham visit.
Although the novel is set in the future, it contains contemporary issues of the early 20th century. The Industrial Revolution was bringing about massive changes to the world. Mass production had made cars, telephones and radios relatively cheap and widely available throughout the developed world. The Russian Revolution of 1917 and the First World War (1914-1918) were resonating throughout the world. Many characters in the story are named after influential people of the time, for example, Benito Hoover and Bernard Marx.
Huxley was able to use the setting and characters from his futuristic fantasy to express widely held opinions, particularly the fear of losing individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future. An early trip to the United States gave Brave New World much of its character. Not only was Huxley outraged by the culture of youth, commercial cheeriness, sexual promiscuity, and inward-looking nature of many Americans, he also found a book by Henry Ford on the boat to America. There was a fear of Americanization in Europe, so to see America firsthand, as well as read the ideas and plans of one of its foremost citizens, spurred Huxley to write Brave New World with America in mind. The "feelies" are his response to the "talkie" motion pictures, and the sex-hormone chewing gum is parody of the ubiquitous chewing gum, which was something of a symbol of America at that time. In an article in the May 4, 1935 issue of Illustrated London News, G. K. Chesterton explained that Huxley was revolting against the "Age of Utopias" - a time, mostly before World War I, inspired by what H. G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw were writing about socialism and a World State.
After the Age of Utopias came what we may call the American Age, lasting as long as the Boom. Men like Ford or Mond seemed to many to have solved the social riddle and made capitalism the common good. But it was not native to us; it went with a buoyant, not to say blatant optimism, which is not our negligent or negative optimism. Much more than Victorian righteousness, or even Victorian self-righteousness, that optimism has driven people into pessimism. For the Slump brought even more disillusionment than the War. A new bitterness, and a new bewilderment, ran through all social life, and was reflected in all literature and art. It was contemptuous, not only of the old Capitalism, but of the old Socialism. Brave New World is more of a revolt against Utopia than against Victoria.
For Brave New World, Huxley received nearly universal criticism from contemporary critics, although his work was later embraced. Even the few sympathetics tended to temper their praises with disparaging remarks.
All members of society are conditioned in childhood to hold the values that the World State idealizes. Constant consumption is the bedrock of stability for the World State; everyone is encouraged to consume the ubiquitous drug, soma. Soma is a mild hallucinogen that makes it possible for everyone to be blissfully oblivious. It has no short-term side effects and induces no hangover; long-term abuse leads to death by respiratory failure.
Heterosexual sex is also widespread. In The World State, sex is a social activity rather than a means of reproduction and is encouraged from early childhood; the few women who could reproduce are conditioned to take birth control. As a result, sexual competition and emotional, romantic relationships are obsolete. Marriage is considered an antisocial dirty joke and natural birth or pregnancy is smut of the most vulgar kind. To call someone a mother is the lowest possible insult; calling someone a father is not as bad (it will even produce laughs), but still insulting.
Reading and spending time alone are considered outrageous wastes of time. People are taught to associate in groups and consume entertainment.
In The World State, people typically die at age 60 having maintained good health and youthfulness their whole life. Death isn't feared; children are conditioned to view hospitals as happy playgrounds. Since no one has family, they have no ties to mourn.
Consumption is encouraged; no one waits for what they want. The conditioning system eliminates the need for professional competitiveness; people are literally bred to do their jobs and cannot desire another. There is no competition within castes; each caste member receives the same food, housing, and soma rationing as every other member of that caste.
To grow closer with members of the same class, citizens participate in mock religious services called Solidarity Services. Twelve people consume large quantities of soma and sing hymns. As the ritual progresses, the participants lose their individuality and become one unified body. This is symbolized when the group breaks out into an orgy and the Arch-Community Songster sings orgy-porgy hymns.
In geographic areas non-conducive to easy living and consumption, The World State allows well controlled, securely contained groups of "savages" to live. (One such "Savage Reservation" is located in the western desert of the United States.)
In its first chapters, the novel describes life in the World State and introduces Lenina and Bernard. Lenina, a Beta, is a socially accepted woman, normal for her society, while Bernard, a psychologist, is an outcast. Although an Alpha, Bernard is shorter in stature than the average of his caste -- a quality shared by the lower castes, which gives him an inferiority complex. He defies social norms and despises his equals. His work with sleep-teaching has led him to realize that what others believe to be their own deeply held beliefs are merely phrases repeated to children while they sleep. Courting disaster, he is vocal about being different, once stating he dislikes soma because he'd "rather be himself, sad, than another person, happy". Bernard's differences fuel rumors that he was accidentally administered alcohol while incubated, a method used to keep Epsilons short.
Bernard is obsessed with Lenina, attributing noble qualities and poetic potentials to her which she does not have. A woman who seldom questions her own motivations, Lenina is reprimanded by her friends because she is not promiscuous enough. Both fascinated and disturbed by Bernard, she responds to Bernard's advances to dispel her reputation for being too selective and monogamous.
Bernard's only friend is Helmholtz Watson, an Alpha-Plus lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering (Department of Writing). Helmholtz is also an outcast, but unlike Bernard, it is because he is too gifted, too handsome. Helmholtz, successful, charming, attractive, is drawn to Bernard as a confidant: he can talk to Bernard about his desire to write poetry. Bernard likes Helmholtz because, unlike anyone else, Helmholtz likes Bernard. He is also, Bernard realizes, everything Bernard will never be.
In typical tourist fashion, Bernard and Lenina watch what at first appears to be a quaint native ceremony. The village folk, whose culture resembles that of the Pueblo peoples such as the Hopi and Zuni, begin by singing, but the ritual quickly becomes a passion play where a village boy is whipped to unconsciousness.
Soon after, the couple encounters Linda, a woman formerly of The World State who has been living in Malpais since she came on a trip and became separated from her group and her date, whom she refers to as "Tomakin", but who is revealed to be Bernard's boss, Thomas. She became pregnant because she mistimed her "Malthusian Drill" and there were no facilities for an abortion. Linda gave birth to a son, John (later referred to as John the Savage) who is now eighteen.
Through conversations with Linda and John, we learn that their life has been hard. For eighteen years, they have been treated as outsiders; the natives hate Linda for sleeping with all the men of the village, as she was conditioned to do and John was mistreated for his mother's actions. John's one joy was that his mother had taught him to read although he only had two books: a scientific manual from his mother's job and a collection of the works of Shakespeare (a work banned in The World State). John has been denied the religious rituals of the village, although he has watched them and even has had some of his own religious experiences in the desert.
Old, weathered and tired, Linda wants to return to her familiar world in London; she is tired of a life without soma. John wants to see the "brave new world" his mother has told him so much about. Bernard wants to take them back as revenge against Thomas, who threatened to reassign Bernard to Iceland as punishment for Bernard's antisocial beliefs. Bernard arranges permission for Linda and John to leave the reservation.
Bernard's new pet savage makes him the toast of London. Pursued by the highest members of society, able to bed any woman he fancies, Bernard revels in attention he once scorned. Everyone who is anyone will endure Bernard to dine with the interesting, different, beautiful John. Even Lenina grows fond of the savage, while the savage falls in love with her. Bernard, intoxicated with attention, falls in love with himself.
The victory, however, is short lived. Linda, decrepit, toothless, friendless, goes on a permanent soma holiday while John, appalled by what he perceives to be an empty society, refuses to attend Bernard's parties. Society drops Bernard as swiftly as it had taken him. Bernard turns to the person he'd believed to be his one true friend, only to see Helmholtz fall into a quick, easy camaraderie with John. Bernard is left an outcast yet again as he watches the only two men he ever connected with find more of interest in each other than they ever did in him.
John and Helmholtz's island of peace is brief. John grows frustrated by a society he finds wicked and debased. He is moved by Lenina, but also loathes her sexual advances, which revolt and shame him. He is heartbroken when his mother succumbs to soma and dies in a hospital. John's grief bewilders and revolts the hospital workers, and their lack of reaction to Linda's death prompts John to try to force humanity from the workers by throwing their soma rations out a window. The ensuing riot brings the police who soma-gas the crowd. Bernard and Helmholtz arrive to help John, but only Helmholtz helps him, while Bernard stands to the side.
When they wake, Bernard, Helmholtz and John are brought before Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller for Western Europe. Bernard and Helmholtz are told they will be sent to Iceland and the Falkland Islands, two of several island colonies reserved for exiled citizens. Helmholtz looks forward to living on the remote Falkland Islands, where he can become a serious writer but Bernard is devastated. Mond reveals that exile to the islands is not so much a threat to force freethinkers to reform and rejoin society but a place where they may act as they please, because they will not be an influence on the population. After Bernard and Helmholtz leave the room, a philosophical argument between Mustapha and John leads to the decision that John will not be sent to an island. Mustapha says that he too once risked banishment to an island because of some experiments that were deemed controversial by the state.
In the final chapters, John isolates himself from society in a lighthouse outside London where he finds his hermit life interrupted from within by lust for Lenina. To atone, John brutally whips himself in the open, a ritual the Indians in his own village had said he wasn't capable of. His self-flagellation, caught on film and shown publicly, destroys his hermit life from without as hundreds of gawking sightseers, intrigued by John's violent behavior, fly out to watch the savage in person. Even Lenina comes to watch, crying a tear John does not see. The sight of the woman whom he both adores and blames, is too much for him; John attacks and whips her. This sight of genuine, unbridled emotion drives the crowd wild with excitement, and – handling it as they are conditioned to – they turn on each other, in a frenzy of beating and chanting that devolves into a mass orgy of soma and sex. In the morning, John, hopeless, alone and horrified by his drug use, debasement and attack on Lenina, makes one last attempt to escape civilization and atone. When thousands of gawking sightseers arrive that morning, frenzied at the prospect of seeing the savage perform again, they find John dead, hanging by the neck.
From birth, members of every class are indoctrinated by recorded voices repeating slogans while they sleep (called "hypnopædia" in the book) to believe that their own class is best for them. Any residual unhappiness is resolved by an antidepressant and a hallucinogenic drug called soma (Greek for "body"), distributed by the Arch-Community Songster of Canterbury, a secularised version of the Sacrament of Communion ("The Body of Christ").
Contrary to what modern readers would expect, the biological techniques used to control the populace in Brave New World do not include genetic engineering. Huxley wrote the book in the 1920s, thirty years before Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA. However, Mendel's work with inheritance patterns in peas had been re-discovered in 1900 and the eugenics movement, based on Darwinian 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. In light of this, the fact that Huxley emphasizes conditioning over breeding is notable (see nature versus nurture). As the science writer Matt Ridley put it, Brave New World describes an "environmental not a genetic hell." Human embryos and fetuses are conditioned via 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.
Journalist Christopher Hitchens, who has himself published several articles on Huxley and a book on Orwell, notes the difference between the two texts in the introduction to his 1999 article "Why Americans Are Not Taught History":
Brave New World Revisited (Harper & Row, 1958), written by Huxley almost thirty years after Brave New World, was a non-fiction work in which Huxley considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision of the future from the 1930s. He believed when he wrote the original novel that it was a reasonable guess as to where the world might go in the future but in Brave New World Revisited he concluded that the world was becoming much more like Brave New World much faster than he thought.
Huxley analyzed the causes of this, such as overpopulation as well as all the means by which populations can be controlled. He was particularly interested in the effects of drugs and subliminal suggestion. Brave New World Revisited is different in tone due to Huxley's evolving thought, as well as his conversion to Vedanta in the interim between the two books.
|Island||Brave New World|
|Drug use for enlightenment, and self-knowledge||Drug use for pacification|
|Group living (in the form of Mutual Adoption Clubs) so that children would not have unalloyed exposure to their parents' neuroses||Group living for the elimination of individuality.|
|Trance states for super learning||Trance states for indoctrination|
|Assisted reproduction (low-tech artificial insemination)||Assisted reproduction (high-tech artificial womb)|
|Natural methods of contraception, expressive sex||Universal forced sterilization, meaningless sex|
|Dangerous climb to a temple as spiritual preparation||Violent Passion Surrogate|
|Parrots trained to utter uplifting slogans||Ubiquitous loud speakers|
The culture of the fictional Southeast Asian island, Pala, is the offspring of Scottish Secular Humanism and Mahayana Buddhism, making Huxley's ideal fusion of East and West. A central element of Palanese society is restrained industrialization, undertaken with the goal of providing fulfilling work and time for leisure and contemplation. For the Palanese, progress means a selective attitude toward technology. The Palanese also circumspectly incorporated the use of "moksha medicine", a fictional entheogen taken ceremonially in rites of passage for mystical and cosmological insight.
Also publications for NSW HSC Students.