Written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, Brave New World presents us with a distant future. Utopian or dystopian? Huxley had a strong education in science and his passion for satirical work combined with his societal commentary led to this masterpiece. Brave New World will forever be compared with Orwell’s 1984 and for good reason; the parallels are obvious, with both dystopias predicting a reduction in individuality for the good of society. I couldn’t pick a favourite between the two (favourite might be the wrong word in this instance – it’s like choosing between the chair or the noose) but in terms of bleak, thought-provoking, eerily believable prophecies for the future these two novels are rightly at the top of the pile.
Huxley introduces the reader to the new world values by including us on a guided tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre with a group of school boys being shown around by the Director of the centre. In the year A.F.632 (After Ford, named after Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company. Ford is treated like a god, and shows that religion has almost been replaced by technology. A lifestyle mechanized by the efficient production that Ford pioneered) (A.D. 2540), The World State controls civilisation. Individuality and free will have been sacrificed, in order to promote happiness and consumerism for the good of society and civilisation. A totalitarian government which makes the rules, all the decisions purely for the benefit of society with the help of science and technology.
Life is created on a conveyor belt, eggs and sperm fused to create children which are ‘decanted’ and raised in the hatchery; basically assisted reproduction, with babies being ‘made’ in high-tech test tubes. Each fetus is predeterminately allocated into one of five ‘castes’; alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon. Alpha and beta are developed naturally along with stimulants, and generally become the more intelligent and attractive members of society. Gamma, delta and epsilon development cycles are deliberately interfered with to cause slightly lower intelligence and physical growth. They are effectively created to become working class – standard office work to repetitive factory or cleaning work (‘epsilon work’). And so every foetus, baby, child, is perfectly made to their role in society. Teaching is done through conditioning and hypnopaedic processes such as messages spoken aloud to them in their sleep that seeps into their subconscious. Citizens are never unhappy or unfulfilled with their role in society, as they have been ‘conditioned’ to be satisfied with their position.
So artificial reproduction has fully replaced natural reproduction as we know it now, in fact the natural method is verging on taboo – an almost unbelievable joke, an antiquated disgusting practice and contraception is mandatory. This is seen as a good thing, as sex and sexual promiscuity is actively encouraged, and from a young age. Partners are not taken, one is free to procreate with whoever they want, whenever they want and everyone belongs to everyone else.
Everyone is created for a role, and everyone is happy with this role – they don’t know any differently. Everyone is happy.
Well, nearly everyone. Bernard Marx is an alpha who is discontented with the World State. He has physical imperfections (for example, he is slightly shorter than the average alpha) that mean he is not as desirable as others. So in this world of promiscuity and recreational sex, he does not feel fulfilled. To make matters worse he feels love and attachment, to a beautiful woman named Lenina Crowne. He hears two of his colleagues talking about how they have ‘had’ Lenina, angering him that she is being treated like a piece of meat when in fact Bernard is the strange one – in the World State everyone belongs to everyone else. State organised ‘orgy-porgy’ is a biweekly event and people spend their free time on expensive dates, having casual sex with many different people while high on soma.
What’s more, Bernard is outspoken of his dissatisfaction of life in the World State. He openly criticizes soma, the government created and approved legal drug that allows the population to safely cope with anything unpleasant or upsetting. There are no side-effects, no health related problems; a hallucinogenic with no sign of a hangover. They have created a drug with no ill-effects, and so the population can use it whenever they are feeling down. Bernard however, would prefer real unhappiness than a fake happiness.
Bernard’s only true friend is another misfit, a man named Helmholtz. Like Bernard, he is unhappy with the control The World State has on its citizens. The difference is Helmholtz is physically perfect and handsome. He has to turn down offers of foursomes and various invites to prestigious dinners as they bore him. In a way, Bernard is disillusioned because, as an alpha he is too weak; Helmholtz because he is overpowered. He feels sympathy for Bernard – whereas Helmholtz can somewhat get away with his grumbles, Bernard’s inferiority makes him a target for rumours and ridicule (many within Bernard’s office speculate that alcohol was spilled during his incubation process as a foetus).
Lenina finds Bernard strange but intriguing, and agrees to visit a Savage Reservation with him. The Reservations are areas which for various geographical and economical reasons were not viable locations to ‘civilise’, like the rest of the world. So they remain as a reminder of what primitive life used to be like. Upon witnessing several old-world traditions (religious ceremonies, boys being beaten, old age, sickness and disease), Lenina is disgusted and severely disturbed whereas Bernard a twisted voyeur observes, fascinated. They are introduced to John, a white male with fair hair, in contrast to the dark skinned indigenous population, and his mother Linda, an overweight ‘disgusting’ alcoholic. We find out that the Director visited the Reservation some years ago with Linda and due to a storm Linda was stranded and abandoned to live the rest of her life in the Reservation. This hit her hard; having grown up in the World State, she was punished and outcast due to her conditioning, for instance having sex with the married men in the tribe.
John has suffered in the Reservation for being so different and therefore feels isolated and lonely. And when offered by Bernard a chance to see this ‘brave new world’ he jumps at the chance. Bernard may have an agenda however; knowing that the Director has planned to ship him away upon his return, realises a chance for blackmail against the Director by bringing back both John and Linda – the Director’s son along with John’s birth mother. The embarrassment this would cause; natural birth of course being utterly laughable, a hilarious awkward joke from the strange old world ways.
While Lenina, forcibly moved by the horrors she has witnessed, takes enough soma to knock her out for eighteen hours, Bernard gets permission from Mustapha Mond himself to bring John and Linda back, as a ‘social experiment’.
And so the narrative changes somewhat to accommodate John in this new environment, and he becomes the main protagonist. Rejected by both the ‘savage’ culture and alienated by the unfamiliar and strange ‘civilized’ World State, he is a true outsider. We as readers are interested and highly sympathetic towards him, eager to observe how he adapts. But Linda decides she has suffered enough and wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her days in a soma-induced coma, despite knowing this will shorten her life significantly. So it is with John, along with Bernard and Lenina, to experience modern civilisation. As you might expect it does not go well. For John, the words from Shakespeare’s Tempest “O Brave New World…”, at first uttered in excitement and wonder at the thought of escaping the Malpais and travelling to the World State, soon return to haunt him as he repeatedly mutters them bitterly and ironically as he experiences the new world and civilisation for what it truly is.
For once in his life Bernard is wanted and relevant, achieving celebrity status for bringing back the ‘savage’. But in reality the citizens who desire his company are still revolted by him and soon desert him when John refuses to be used as a circus act in order to keep Bernard popular, and Bernard is brought back down to earth and reality instantly.
As the novel progresses he comes across as increasingly cowardly and pathetic. Yet the reader is still interested in him as a protagonist and can have some sympathy as he is so different to the rest, and wants for things he cannot have.
At the despair of a jealous Bernard, Helmholtz and John are very similar and instantly have a connection far deeper than Bernard and John manage; both love poetry, are intelligent and critical of civilisation and the World State. As you might expect however there are still extreme cultural differences. John was given The Works of William Shakespeare as a child and, as one of the only books available to him, became like a bible to him. He learnt to read and is well spoken as a result. Even when Helmholtz sees the genius in Shakespeare’s poetry, he cannot help but laugh at the mention of mothers, fathers, and marriage—concepts that are vulgar and ridiculous in the World State. The conversations between Helmholtz and John illustrate that even the most reflective and intelligent World State member is defined by the culture in which he has been raised.
In my opinion, the pièce de résistance of Brave New World comes during a tremendous discussion of freedom, science, happiness and the World State’s control over civilisation between Mond and John the Savage. This after John goes mad and starts a riot in a factory by throwing soma rations out of a window, crying “Free! Free! You’re men at last! You’re free!” Along with Bernard and Helmholtz, they are taken into custody and a meeting with Mustapha Mond.
The bottom line of Mond’s point and the reasoning for The World State’s stance is there is a complete and utter incompatibility between truth and happiness. Trying to pick quotes is tough as the whole chapter is riveting. Each side (Mond vs Helmholtz, John and a quiet and tame Bernard) have their merits.
Mond discusses soma with John. He tries to convince him that, in soma, the World State have created a method in which humanity can deal with unpleasant emotions.
“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there’s always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is.”
John rejects this notion of soma as too easy, too simple. There needs to be suffering.
“All right then,” said the savage defiantly, I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
(Mond) “Not to mention 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.”
There was a long silence.
“I claim them all,” said the Savage at last.”
Bernard and Helmholtz meet with John after he is dismissed by Mond, and he confesses.
“I ate civilization. It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,” he added in a lower tone, “I ate my own wickedness.”
John realises ashamedly that he was wrong to initially show wonder and joy at some of the more superficial aspects of civilisation (and perhaps also, his encounter with Lenina, in which he very nearly gave into a lustrous urge and had sex with her – frowned upon in his culture but perfectly normal in the World State). Due to his learning and education leaning heavily on The Works of William Shakespeare during his youth, he struggles to cope with the lack of humanity and traditional values in The World State.
Eventually Mond decides to exile Bernard and Helmholtz from the World State to separate islands where some of the old world values remain, and which he somewhat envies as they will spend the rest of their lives free with like minded people. Mond had revealed that he was at one time a scientist and a free thinker, and was given the choice of exile or to step up into the World State and serve ‘happiness’.
John however is denied the punishment of exile. Mond, almost sadistically informs John that he cannot leave so that this ‘experiment’ can continue. John, determined to exist outside of the hell of this new world, escapes the city and takes up residence in an abandoned lighthouse in the country. A delegation of journalists, tourists and intrigued onlookers continue to pester him, shocked and awed by his ritualistic self beatings, savage and . Their bloodlust causes a riot, where Lenina arrives to try and comfort the Savage. In a confused and hateful rage he begins to whip himself, then Lenina, and in a frenzy the crowd of excited civilians beat each other and themselves. Before long the scene is rife with writhing people, induced with soma and arousal and violence.
In the brutal final scene, John awakens, remembering the orgy that he unwillingly participated in the night before. Disgusted at his part played in the debauchery and unable to cope with this brave new world, John hangs himself in the lighthouse and his swaying body is found by a crowd anticipating another night of drugs and sex.
The fundamental conflict within John of his values, his learnings, all he has taught and experienced against the vastly different reality that is modern civilisation is too much for him to bear. An insanity which he could not adapt to.
The disturbing aspect is how logical this brave new world is. Forget freedom, everyone is happy. Everyone has a purpose. There is no unrest because people are conditioned to be happy with what they are ‘designed’ to do. As a society it’s efficient and a well oiled machine. It’s unnatural and automated…but ashamedly I can nearly see the sense behind it.