Soma, the drug used widely by characters in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," symbolizes a replacement for religion in society. In this new world, soma allows people to escape from reality by thinking less critically. The novel, which was published in 1932, refers to the drug as having "all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects."
Huxley took the name soma from an intoxicating drink Aryan invaders discovered 3,500 years ago in India. The fermented beverage, according to historians, was traditionally used as an offering to Hindu gods. It made the Aryans feel bold, strong and euphoric. The word is also Latin for "sleep."
In "Brave New World," soma serves as a potent hallucinogen that creates a strong sense of well-being and calm. In this way, soma suppresses feelings of discontent, fear and anger, thereby preventing people from discovering the causes of those feelings. The novel takes the sentiment behind the Karl Marx quotation, "religion is the opiate of the masses" to a literal level.
Toward the end of the novel, the character John the Savage rebels against society, focusing his anger on soma, which he sees as the primary means of oppression in the future state.