Title: The Classic: Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' Author(s)

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Title: The Classic: Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'

Author(s): Thomas D. Clareson

Publication Details: Extrapolation 3.1 (Dec. 1961): p33-40.

Source: Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1973. From Literature Resource Center.

Document Type: Critical essay

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Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1973 Gale Research, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning


The Classic: Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'

[(essay date December 1961) An American educator and critic, Clareson is an authority on science fiction. In the following excerpt, he analyzes Brave New World and praises the "universal" character of Huxley's futuristic society.]

The continued recognition given Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, including its widespread use in the classroom, certainly suggests that it be regarded as the classic anti-utopian novel.

Basic to the construction of Huxley's fable are three techniques: first, extrapolation; second, parody and juxtaposition of detail; third, sharp contrast of points of view. In both Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, Huxley is a humanist horrified by the theories and accomplishments of extremists of his own time, but in the novel by using contrasting points of view, he makes no explicit statement of his own position. Only in later prefaces and Brave New World Revisited does his emotion overcome his artistry so that he underscores his own position by direct statement.

First, then, he extrapolates. By 1931 some factual basis lay behind each ingredient in his "perfect" world. The most obvious is, of course, Henry Ford. In 1914 Ford installed a conveyor-belt assembly line that has since become one of the corner stones of our technology. (p. 34)

In regard to Huxley's science, by the second decade of this century the German Nobel Prize winner, Hans Speman, made experimental embryology one of the most exciting areas of study. ... Moreover, Pavlov and Watson had developed psychology into an experimental science. From 1902-03 to the late twenties Pavlov's experiments with the neural behavior of dogs established far-reaching principles. In 1913, from Pavlov's results and a smattering of his own data, Watson founded the Behaviorist School. He generalized about human behavior, reducing man to a complex network of stimuli and responses which could, of course, be formed into any end product the experimenter (conditioner) desired. He was of vast influence, though most psychologists never agreed with his sweeping declarations.

Actually, although Freud is mentioned explicitly only once in Brave New World, he is even more significant to the novel than Pavlov and Watson. With the possible exception of Mustapha Mond, Freudian concepts dominate the motivation of all the characters in the novel. The Savage, for example, is motivated fundamentally by the Oedipus Complex and by masochism. The passages that he quotes from Hamlet reinforce this interpretation.

As for the more obvious paraphernalia: hypnopaedia was a fad of the twenties and thirties. Since the development of the electroencyclograph which can measure depth of sleep, evidence of the effectiveness of sleep-teaching is largely negative. In Brave New World itself Huxley himself points out how inadequately it teaches information. Yet his suggestion that it be used to instill the moral conscience of a society may have something, for people "feel" what is right even when they do not know what is. The similarity between soma and modern tranquillizers seems obvious and needs no discussion, except to remind one that in Brave New World Revisited, Huxley points out that doctors now write prescriptions for tranquillizers at a rate of 48 million a year--most of them refillable. (pp. 34-5)

However intriguing these extrapolations, if the fable concentrated upon them only, it would lose much of its effectiveness. It would become a mere catalogue of "gadgets." Significantly--and I do not feel that drawing an analogy to Zola's Germinal, for example, is inappropriate--Huxley spends the first hundred pages of the novel creating his future world while minimizing plot action. Once this portrait has been drawn--by the time Bernard and Lenina leave for the Reservation in Chapter Six--the portrait of the Brave New World has been finished. No "gadgets" or problems that have not at least been referred to in this section are introduced later in the novel. In addition, unlike Zola, Huxley has little regard for verisimilitude; the Brave New World is portrayed selectively, non-representationally, with emphasis concentrated upon those aspects of the society he wishes us to remember. Basic here is his second technique--parody and juxtaposition of details. To aid our "willing suspension of disbelief" he includes a multitude of details common to our everyday knowledge, but he changes them, places them in new context and new combination so that while they remain familiar, they are also startlingly new. (p. 35)

In naming the citizenry, Huxley has paid tribute to all the scientists, industrialists, financiers, and Marxists responsible for creating the twentieth century. The most individual name is that of Mustapha Mond, and it is a pun. Yes, "Must staff a world."

Perhaps the most sustained and, for some, the bitterest irony occurs in the delineation of the Solidarity Service, which, of course, parodies Holy Communion, perhaps at a revival meeting. The significance of twelve in each group, of holding the service on Thursday, of the invocations--"I drink to my annihilation" and "I drink to the imminence of His Coming"--is obvious. ... Notice the echo of Anglican and Presbyterian hymns throughout the service; notice the despair Bernard expresses when he "foresaw for himself yet another failure to achieve atonement." How out of place seems the word atonement. Yet after so serious and deliberate a detailing, Huxley rises to high artistry by suddenly changing his entire tone as he perverts a familiar nursery rhyme--"Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun / Kiss the girls and make them One / Boys at one with girls at peace; / Orgy-porgy gives release."

This often startling parody and juxtaposition obviously contributes to his third technique--contrast. Without its contrasts Huxley's fable would lose its dramatic and intellectual impact. ... Most obviously there is the contrast of the Brave New World with contemporary society. In Chapter Three Huxley juxtaposes the Freudian-motivated world of A.D. 1931 with that of A.F. 632. But structurally the fable is dominated by the contrast between the Savage and the "Utopia." First Huxley constructs civilization in its gaudy, pleasurable detail. Then against the naked rock of Malpais he etches the Savage. Only when the two stand face to face in the last half of the novel is there sustained dramatic conflict, culminating in the Savage's suicide. Most important, however, is the contrast, the conflict, of philosophies. The Brave New World chooses to know no pain; the Savage, to know no pleasure. Indeed, he commits suicide after he indulges in what is probably the first pleasurable act of his life.

By and large the citizens of the Brave New World are incapable of constructive, imaginative thought; Mustapha Mond asserts that they have been so conditioned--in order to preserve the stability of their world. On the other hand, with the exception of the incident in which he builds his bow and arrow and puts into practice the knowledge old Mitsima taught him, the Savage shows himself incapable of constructive, imaginative action. He can act only in a frenzy, as when he pointlessly destroys the Soma of the Delta workers. It is on the horns of this complicated dilemma that Huxley's thesis lies.

He built his society and his characters upon two principles with which few psychologists would argue. First, that pleasure--that is, whatever the individual finds pleasurable--is the most powerful motivator of man. Secondly, as Huxley himself puts it, "Feeling lurks in that interval of time between desire and its consummation. Shorten that interval, break down all those old unnecessary barriers." (pp. 36-7)

The dialogue between Mustapha Mond and the Savage ... stands as the heart of the fable. (p. 37)

The Brave New World is mindless. The World Controller explains, however, that its citizens are "nice tame animals, anyhow." They have sacrificed the past and the future for the pleasure of the moment, shortening that time between desire and consummation to nothing, or escaping time and space with Soma. They have become, as Huxley symbolizes in Lenina, so much meat, however pneumatic. That is the price they have paid for "Community, Identity, Stability."

Amid this human debris it is perhaps tempting to call the Savage heroic and feel that he represents Huxley's point of view. To do so exposes our own conditioning rather than a close reading of the text. In any society in which he attempted to live, the Savage would commit suicide; even had he lived as a solitary in the hills near Malpais or at the lighthouse, eventually he would have tortured himself to death. ...

Yet because his is the only voice protesting the infantilism of the Brave New World, the reader wants to sympathize with him--as Huxley undoubtedly intended, perhaps only so that his central theme could be more effectively realized. The scenes at the lighthouse crystallize Huxley's theme. There, in the final chapters, he literally destroys the Savage--ending with an artistic finality of incident and language matched in few works.

Such brutal and final destruction of the Savage hardly suggests that Huxley had sympathy for him. And this is as it should be, for the Savage is the second horn of the dilemma--"the choice between insanity on the one hand and lunacy on the other," as Huxley states in his preface. The fable must be interpreted as an attack upon both the "utopian" civilization and the Savage. On the one hand, Huxley projects the end of the great multitude of men who live for bread and pleasure; on the other, ironically using the label Savage, he attacks those intellectuals who are both incapable of taking a constructive role in society and, at least since Rousseau, have sought escape in the simplicity and alleged truth of a benevolent nature. And yet this statement oversimplifies, for through his Penitente-ism the Savage also represents those men whose harsh religiosity has rejected the physical world. In short, then Aldous Huxley's Brave New World dramatizes several of the conflicts that have haunted western civilization during the past centuries. Against a backdrop of "gadgets" he thus gains a universality. (p. 39)

Source Citation

Clareson, Thomas D. "The Classic: Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'." Extrapolation 3.1 (Dec. 1961): 33-40. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Carolyn Riley. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale Research, 1973. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 May. 2011.

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