Publication Details: an Essay for Exploring Novels. Gale, 1998.
Source: Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale. From Literature Resource Center.
Document Type: Work overview, Critical essay
Bookmark: Bookmark this Document
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning
An overview of Brave New World
[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.
Hochman, Jhan. "An overview of Brave New World." an Essay for Exploring Novels. Gale, 1998. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 May. 2011.