'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
Created | Updated Mar 20, 2013
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in't!
– The Tempest Act V, Scene 1, William Shakespeare
Brave New World is a classic dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley first published in 1932. Although at first glance the future portrayed appears utopian, with war and hunger unknown, people experiencing the full benefits of youth until death, and even unhappiness unheard of, all of this has come at a cost. Mankind no longer enjoys family life, love, pregnancy, privacy, compassion and all emotions other than state and drug-controlled bliss. Even original thought has been all but eliminated, with conversations often consisting of the population repeating the World State's slogans.
The year is 2540 AD, now known as AF632 - After Ford1. Almost all Earth is united under the benevolent dictatorship of the World State; the only people excluded are the 'savages', technologically backwards people who live in Savage Reservations.
The World State
Most of the world is ruled following the ideals of Ford. Ford is Henry Ford, whose Model T car revolutionised mass-produced manufacturing in 1908. Using Ford's Model T as an ideal, everything is now mass-produced and manufactured, including people. Humans are no longer born but decanted and grown in bottles on conveyor belts. They are also categorised into different castes, labelled by Greek letters. The elite are the Alphas and to a lesser extent Betas, with Gammas and Deltas beneath them and at the very bottom of society, the Epsilons. The lower castes are cloned to make armies of identical servants. Each caste is colour-coded and as society is strongly stratified, the castes are programmed from birth not to mix, except Alpha males often take Beta females as sexual partners.
Everyone is conditioned via brainwashing known as hypnopaedia. The children unconsciously hear the World State's mottos and catchphrases while they sleep, and thus are programmed to uphold the values the World State assigns to their eugenic caste.
The worst punishment that the World State inflicts is banishment, permanent exile to an island. These islands include Iceland and the Falkland Islands. Although these are still within the World State, for example there are Hatchery and Conditioning Sub-Centres located there, they are depopulated and remote, away from the facilities the members of the World State enjoy. However they are populated with those who the World Controller describes as:
All the people who, for one reason or another, have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community-life. All the people who aren't satisfied with orthodoxy, who've got independent ideas of their own. Everyone, in a word, who's anyone.
The Savage Reservation
The Savage Reservation is a large, nearly worthless section of land in New Mexico that is allowed freedom from the World Controllers and kept in a state of technological backwardness. On the Reservations, the native Savages preserve their repulsive habits and customs. People are still born, they marry, observe superstitions, religions and observe violent, painful rituals including snake handling and self-harm. Not only are they so backward as to know who their ancestors were, they also worship them. They are kept within their reservations by a deadly electric fence and the threat of gas bombs. Their clothes are made from natural materials and not only do not contain zips, but are strangely long-lasting rather than disposable. Yet they are not plagued by the blandness and boredom that are pandemic in the World State's society.
O Brave New World, that has such people in't!
The novel's characters are named after influential political or economic figures of the early 20th Century. For example, one minor character, Benito Hoover, is named after both the Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini and the American President Herbert Hoover. Another, Dr Wells, is inspired by the father of science-fiction, HG Wells2. Major characters include:
Bernard Marx is a Psychologist. He is also an Alpha-Plus, but despite his intelligence his physical appearance is similar to the lower castes', rather than fellow Alphas, and so he is considered to be less desirable than other Alpha males. This is likely one of the reasons that he is very uncomfortable in the World State's society. He appreciates things that are normal in most modern societies but very unusual in the World State, such as romance before sex, having private thoughts and appreciating nature. Rather than oppose the World State, he jealously and hypocritically wishes to enjoy all of its benefits without experiencing any of the defects. His discovery of the Savage, John, brings him attention and celebrity status that he craves and revels in. Bernard Marx is, of course, named after Karl Marx and George Bernard Shaw.
Lenina is a vaccination worker at the London hatchery. Physically very attractive and pneumatic in the bedroom, she is sought after by the male characters including Bernard and John. As a Beta, she is much more thoroughly brainwashed and less intelligent than the Alpha characters, such as Bernard, or even John the Savage. She finds any discussion outside the accepted norms to be confusing and distressing. Her hobbies are having sex, taking Soma, fashion and chatting to her friend, Fanny. Lenina is named after Vladimir Lenin.
His Fordship Mustapha Mond is one of the ten World Controllers. As the Resident Controller for Western Europe, he is the ultimate authority figure in the book, ruling London and the surrounding area. Although outwardly a great proponent of the World State, he is revealed to secretly harbour severe doubts about whether human happiness is as important as his society says it is, and the possible existence of God.
Mustapha Mond is named after Sir Alfred Mond, Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries. Huxley visited ICI's vast Billingham plant shortly before writing Brave New World. 'Monde' is also French3 for World.
The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning
Normally referred to only by his official title 'The Director', though his first name is Thomas, he is one of the most influential people in London. He is Bernard and Lenina's boss and a colleague of Mustapha Mond. During the time the novel is set, he appears to be a model citizen of the World State, but a secret from his past is uncovered. When on a trip 18 years earlier with a particularly pneumatic Beta female named Linda, he unintentionally impregnated her and fathered John, despite the World State's strong taboo against vicarious animal reproduction. This horrific scandal forces the Director to resign.
John 'Mr Savage'
John, the son of Linda and the London Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, was born and raised in a Savage Reservation. As his mother Linda was from the World State, he grew up being told tales of London, though kept apart from it until the age of 18. He is intelligent, independently-minded, though considered an outcast both by the people of the Savage Reservation and later by the members of the World State, who consider him a novelty and label him The Savage. By nature he questions the world around him and believes in a God or something greater than Man. He also has a love of the work of Shakespeare, and it is he who labels the World State a 'Brave New World'.
Linda is a particularly pneumatic blonde Beta-minus woman. While still young and attractive, she accompanied the Director on a trip to the Savage Reservation. She fell, lost her way and was taken to Malpais, a Savage village in New Mexico. Finding herself pregnant, she raises John while drinking heavily throughout. Her encouragement of the sexual advances of the men of Malpais earns Linda the resentment and hatred of the local women. After her eventual rescue she is shunned by civilisation for her aged appearance, and seeks the oblivion of Soma. The character of Linda may have been inspired by the widow of Huxley's friend DH Lawrence, Frieda, who lived in New Mexico following Lawrence's death.
An intelligent Alpha friend of both Bernard and John. Despite being popular with women and being talented in his slogan-writing Emotional Engineer job, he is dissatisfied with his place in the World State and longs to overcome some form of obstacle in order to write something more meaningful. He is named after physicist Hermann von Helmholtz and the American hereditary behaviourist John B Watson4.
Almost all of the inhabitants of the World State are extremely promiscuous and one of the more common sayings of their world is everyone belongs to everyone else. It is expected for people to have intercourse on the first date, have multiple partners and frequently change partners within their caste. People who do not frequently change partners are told they are selfish, and it is their civic duty to be more licentious.
Even sex in the World State has become manufactured. Attractive, promiscuous women are described as being 'pneumatic', just like a car component. Sex takes place on schedule at regular Church-controlled orgies, where lyrics such as:
Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun,are recited, corrupting children's nursery rhymes. 70% of women are sterile, known as 'Freemartins', while those few fertile females wear 'Malthusian Belts5'. These are contraceptives adapted into a highly desirable fashion icon. All fertile females are brainwashed into regularly taking contraceptives, although as these do not always work, for those living in London there is a bright pink, attractive Abortion Centre tower in Chelsea.
Kiss the girls and make them One.
Boys at One with Girls at peace
Orgy-porgy gives release.
Although most societies today view recreational drug use as irresponsible at best, if not criminal, the fictional World State encourages all segments of society to use large amounts of the drug Soma. This is used to reinforce the World State's control and prevent individuality or people from taking too great an interest in the world around them. Taking tablets is labelled as a 'holiday', and are used purely to keep the population calm and placid or as escapism.
Many of the more memorable hypnopaedic sayings are about Soma's use. These brainwashed slogans reinforce that it is ideal for the World State's citizens to be in a drugged, euphoric state without the awareness of what is going on around them. Axioms include a gram is better than a damn, and that one cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments. This tells us that the World State considers all forms of unhappiness and realisation a disease to be cured.
The true controlling nature of Soma is revealed when the Savage disrupts the flow of the drug in a hospital, thus causing a riot. The World State reacts with police armed with Soma-vapour waterpistols, drugging all involved into submission.
In Brave New World Revisited, Huxley informs us that he named Soma6 after a legendary Indo-Aryan drug that was said to be so powerful and intoxicating, it even affected the sky-god Indra. He also felt that if Karl Marx's saying that Religion is the opiate [or drug] of the people were true, then mathematically, the opposite, that drugs are the religion of the people must therefore also be true.
The World State has adopted a religion based on the worship of Ford and Freud, who they believe to be the same historical figure. This includes ritual practices and sayings, which are often modified Christian traditions. The most notable aspect of Fordism is that instead of giving dates in terms of AD, Anno Domini, they use AF - After Ford. The Christian cross has been converted into the sign of the T, representing the Model T automobile. Instead of worshipping the Lord, people worship the Ford. The leader of Fordism is the Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury, while church services themselves have degenerated into orgies. Instead of Holy Communion, the bread and wine, attendees take Soma tablets.
Noticeable London landmarks have also been renamed in celebration of Ford, including Charing-T rather than Charing Cross and Big Henry instead of Big Ben. The World State is a cross between capitalism and communism, with Socialist ideals part of the whole, including Solidarity Services and the use of names associated with Marxism.
Is 'Happiness' the Ultimate Goal in Life?
This question is raised both implicitly through the book's depiction of the World State as making almost everyone happy while simultaneously being a society that most of his readers would consider a dystopia and explicitly by the characters Mustapha and John. Does 'happiness' have any value when it is thrust upon the population, who are drugged and hypnotised into happy bliss? Can 'happiness' truly exist without the possibility of sadness to counterbalance it?
Are the citizens of the 'Brave New World' truly happy? Linda's desire for Soma-induced satisfaction overrides her instinct for self-preservation. Bernard, though an Alpha-Plus, feels rejected by the World State and so has a hypocritical approach. He only pretends to enjoy the Solidarity Group Orgies, longs for romance before sex, dislikes both Obstacle and Electro-Magnetic Golf, yet enjoys the celebrity status his discovery of The Savage brings. At the end, he is ashamed of his actions.
Watson too is a successful Alpha-Plus fully integrated into the World State. Considered highly desirable, he instead longs to write more than World State slogans and write about something that matters, and overcome obstacles to do so. Even Mustapha Monds admits that he too in his youth was dissatisfied with his position and almost chose exile over his rise to World Controllership.
The inhabitants of the World State themselves recognise that life is repetitive and a pandemic blandness exists. This is why the unusual and out of the ordinary, such as the introduction to society of John the Savage, is seized upon with such enthusiasm. The media's attempts to capitalise on this and give some spice to a monotonous life cause the novel's ending.
The final judge of the 'happiness' of the World State is John the Savage. Realising that the World State's 'happiness' is nothing more than empty comfort and convenience, he would rather enjoy the right to be unhappy. Or, as the World Controller describes it, enjoy the right to:
grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.
John considers all these terrible fates preferable to the blank, mindless 'happiness' that the World State provides.
The Role of Women
The Brave New World is a superficial one, where women are judged purely by their looks, and youthful appearance lasts until death at the age of 60. Linda, having spent over 18 years outside civilisation and having aged, lost her figure, complexion and teeth is shunned by society. For example, Lenina despises Linda for her appearance and wrinkles. Even the character of Bernard, whose short physical appearance resembles someone of a lower caste, is quick to judge women on their outward appearance, disliking minor character Morgana Rothschild for her monobrow.
Women's work entails repetitious mundane tasks on conveyor belts in baby factories7. They may not be confined to kitchens, however they are making babies by following recipes, with different ingredients and cooking times depending on whether an Alpha or Epsilon is being created. This reflects the 1920s and 30s society, in which a woman's place was in the home, not being captains of industry.
Women in Brave New World are frequently portrayed as sex objects. The principal female characters that are met, Lenina, Fanny and Linda, are all Betas, and noticeably less intelligent and more brainwashed than the male Alphas. The female school children met by the Savage on his tour of the school in the Geography room are Betas. The desirable woman in the feely film is a Beta.
Considering the World State enforces a rigid social code by mental conditioning against socialising with those of a different caste, it would perhaps seem unlikely for Alpha males to fraternise with Beta females. After all, we are told that Linda considers the castes beneath hers to be nasty little Gammas and Deltas and Epsilons. Yet for Alpha males to cavort with Beta females is a common occurrence. The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning had a relationship with Linda. Even Lenina, a Beta female who is criticised for not being promiscuous enough, has had physical relationships with numerous Alphas8. It even occurs in the feely film that John and Lenina view, with the Beta female copulating with three Alpha males. All of this implies that it is common, accepted and indeed the desired practice for Alpha males to mate with Beta women, which raises the question as to whether there actually are any female Alphas in the Brave New World? And if not, is this intended as part of Huxley's satire?
Aldous Huxley was the grandson of Thomas Huxley9, one of the earliest proponents of the Theory of Evolution and nicknamed 'Darwin's Bulldog'. While Thomas Huxley had examined where mankind had come from, Aldous instead foretold where man's evolution might ultimately lead; mass-produced manufacture replacing Mother Nature.
Aldous Huxley was inspired to write a satire on the inevitable acceleration of American world domination after a long visit to America between September 1925 and June 1926, especially San Francisco. During this trip he wrote The thing which is happening in America is a revaluation of values, a radical alteration, for the worse, of established standards. On his voyage to America, the ship he was travelling on carried a copy of Henry Ford's autobiography, My Life and Work10, and this was the spark behind writing a satire on what an accelerated American way of life would be like in the future.
Instead of 'talkies', the cinema would be dominated with 'feelies', chewing gum is implanted with sex-hormones, jazz saxophones have evolved into sexophones and clothes all have zips, just as they did in 1920s America. And of course, complete with skyscrapers. When he finished, he wrote to his father to tell him he had completed what he described as a comic, or at least satirical, novel about the future and part of Brave New World's appeal is that it is full of so many hidden jokes buried in character names and subverted mottos.
Impact and Reception at Release
Although now considered a 20th Century classic, on its release the general public was at best lukewarm. Although some critics praised the novel, they were in the minority and most disliked the novel. Indeed some thought it unsuitable for general reading and should even be banned. Considering the highly sexual content, including sections explaining that in the World State, even children are encouraged to engage in what is termed 'erotic play' (although thankfully this aspect is not explored further) this almost universal condemnation of the book is understandable in the culture of the time.
Curiously, Huxley himself was never fully satisfied with this, his most famous work. In the 1946 edition, he wrote a Foreword in which he described his novel with the words its defects as a work of art are considerable. He expressed regret over the novel's unrepentant bleak nature, and even considered re-writing it to allow the Savage a third choice of life, representing Sanity, rather than a choice between insanity on one hand and lunacy on the other.
Huxley later published a series of essays in 1958 entitled Brave New World Revisited. In this he again expresses a desire to change his classic, and he concludes a section on subliminal messages by writing [the lack of subliminal messages] is a mistake of omission which, if I were to rewrite the book today, I should most certainly correct.
Despite this, Brave New World Revisited re-examines many of the themes of Brave New World in the light of the post-war world of the 1950s. Writing on topics including overpopulation, propaganda, brainwashing, drug use, subliminal persuasion and hypnopedia, Huxley concludes that many of the nightmarish scenarios he described in his novel are becoming closer and closer to reality. For example, he argues that the rise of Hitler shows how it is possible to brainwash an entire country's population into blindly obeying authority.
The book is now recognised as a literary classic and though it is less well known than George Orwell's similar later novel, 1984, it is still taught in many schools and well known to the general public.
Part of the novel's success was that for all its easily identifiable 1920s roots it feels it was written much later. The motto Ending is better than mending feels like it satirises Britain's Second World War home front slogan 'Make do and mend', but was written before it11. Similarly, as a social comment on frequent drug taking, contraceptive pills and casual sex, the style screams of the Swinging 60s, yet the truth is that Brave New World was over 30 years ahead of its time.
Other influences include:
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Aldous Huxley appears on the cover of the famous Beatles album and is third from the left on the second row from the back. John Lennon, in an interview with Disc journalist Ray Coleman, said that he considered his collection of Aldous Huxley books to be among his most treasured possessions. Huxley was very influential among musicians in the 1960s. Indeed, The Doors were named after Huxley's book The Doors of Perception, the title of which was inspired by a William Blake quote.
Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds, first released in 1978, contains a song entitled 'Brave New World'. In this song, the artilleryman expresses a desire to build railways and tunnels to the seaside where his population will play cricket, similar to the monorail trams that transport the lower castes to Stoke Poges to play Obstacle Golf in the novel of the same name. Just as Shakespeare is outlawed in Huxley's story, the artilleryman wants men [to] teach the kids. [But] not poems and rubbish.
David Brin's Uplift book series also owes a debt to Huxley. Brave New World explicitly inspires the characters' solution to one of the major conflicts in the first novel, Sundiver.
Brave New World was also a major influence on the 1970s-80s television series Blake's 7, in which a small group of freedom fighters face the all-powerful Federation. For example, Blake's 7 frequently refers to a relaxing drug named Soma, which the character Vila is very fond of.