Andrew reviews books and occasionally movies for online blogs and print magazines.
Aldous Huxley and Brave New World
Brave New World, a dystopian novel, is often among the top 50 on "Best Novel" lists. It has stood the test of time. In addition, it's a fascinating take on what might happen to our society in the not-too-distant future.
It's a must-read for those interested in science fiction, futurology and dystopian scenarios.
Aldous Huxley wrote several influential books over the course of a long writing career but none has caused as much controversy and debate as Brave New World.
Published in 1932, when fascism was beginning to raise its ugly head in Europe, the book went far beyond any totalitarian dream and introduced readers to a new nightmarish world controlled by cold, calculating scientific bureaucrats.
Biotechnology is king. All babies for example are 'hatched' and allocated their social destiny without question. You could say all inhabitants of this world have been manipulated from birth and are sleepwalking their way through uneventful lives.
Yet, there is a human twist midway through the book which adds spice to an already intriguing story.
It's a compelling satire on human destination where a population of 2,000 million share only 10,000 surnames between them.
In this article, I'd like to look at the themes in more detail, give some background to its creation and try to reach a sensible conclusion. Before that, there's the question of the title of the book.
Aldous Huxley chose Brave New World after reading William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. In Act 5 Scene 1, Miranda, daughter of the exiled magician Prospero, says:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't.
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Brave New World: Basic Outline
- It's the year of stability A.F. 632. The world is run by ten controllers who maintain happiness through various forms of intensive conditioning and a drug called soma.
- The majority are content to live with the status quo. Those who rebel are sent to islands or got rid of. No one is ever alone except when they take soma, and emotional engineering ensures that rebellious feelings are nullified.
- Sexual experiences are encouraged from an early age. Marriage, parenthood, family and home are long-lost concepts.
- There's no reason for outspoken individuality in this smoothly created linear social hierarchy of Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas and Epsilons.
- Illness and old age are a thing of the past.
- Recreation comes in the form of electromagnetic or Obstacle golf, tennis and flying around in special planes and helicopters.
- The only humans living outside of this conditional existence are the savages who follow traditional old-fashioned ways inside a Savage Reservation, based in New Mexico. Only elite members of the controlling majority are allowed into this special fenced-off area. Touch the fence and you die.
Brave New World: Main Characters
Huxley introduces us to several characters in the first three chapters:
- the Director (of the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre)
- a young worker Henry Foster
- a nurse Lenina Crowe
- the World Controller for Western Europe, Mustapha Mond.
These opening paragraphs help set the scene for the development of Henry and Lenina, who happen to be in a bit of an odd relationship. After four months they're still 'having each other' which causes quite a stir amongst Lenina's friends and colleagues.
In this Brave New World promiscuity is encouraged and anyone becoming too familiar in a partnership might be viewed with suspicion.
Yes, everyone belongs to everyone else! This may seem odd to the majority of us today but don't forget the history of humankind is full of odd twists, turns and perversities!
Eventually, Lenina Crowne meets up with another man, Bernard Marx, a psychologist who also happens to be an Alpha Plus intellectual. But this Bernard is seen as a bit of a loner. He doesn't play Obstacle golf for one, and he sometimes spends time alone! Bernard has a male friend, another high flyer Alpha Plus, Helmholtz Watson, a Synthetic Composer of hypnopaedia messages.
Both are somehow different from the average Brave New Worlder in that they want something more than society can give them.
Bernard Marx invites Lenina to travel with him to the New Mexican Reservation. We're not told exactly why he wants to go—to look at the savages—but the trip is too good an opportunity for Lenina to miss. Not many ordinary people get the chance to visit a Savage Reservation.
He gets the necessary signature from his Director who, it's revealed, happened to visit the same Reservation many years ago and in doing so 'lost' his then female partner, who was never seen again.
This seemingly trivial anecdote turns out to be the pivotal part of the whole human story.
Once inside the savage's enclosure, Bernard and Lenina encounter Linda and her son John, the 'lost' female and the son of none other than Bernard's boss, the Director. To cut a long and absorbing story short, Bernard and Lenina return to the 'Other Place'—their modern world—with Linda and John. John takes with him the one item he cherishes and quotes from—The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
This turns out to be a disastrous move for all concerned. John the savage becomes a kind of cult celebrity, paraded in front of dignitaries and important people at Bernard's parties, whilst John's mother Linda sinks slowly away into a soma-fed fantasy world. It's all very disturbing.
Lenina becomes infatuated with John but cannot understand his aggressive reactions in the face of her advances. He comes from a culture which promotes loyalty to one partner only, and she from just the opposite.
Over time, John becomes tired of his newfound status and rebels against stability and happiness, despite the close friendship of Helmholtz Watson, who loves to read from Shakespeare :
'Why was that old fellow such a marvellous propaganda technician?'
During a fracas at the hospital all three—John Savage, Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson—are arrested, following John's demonstrations amongst the workers there.
'But do you like being slaves?' he rants in a mad rage.
Bernard and Helmhotz are exiled to islands whilst John goes off to live by himself in a lighthouse out in the Surrey countryside. Here he reverts back to type, makes bows and arrows, hunts, and, as he did on the Reservation, regularly whips himself to bloodiness.
Without giving too much away this is the end of the road for John. His quest for solitude is spoiled when reporters and media crews start to invade his personal space, greedy for images of the celebrity savage who whips himself.
Crowds gather to witness the spectacle, eager to experience a human in real pain, for they know nothing of this sensation.
'The Savage of Surrey' finds this all too much and is found hanging the day after an orgy of atonement, which makes the news in all the papers. A tragic end for a young man who, born naturally to a confused but loving mother, could not face a sterile future in this Brave New World.
The Most Important Theme?
This book raises all sorts of questions about where our society is heading and how it will be shaped.
An important theme throughout is stability; how to maintain happiness for the majority and keep subversive elements away from the mainstream. Control of individuals begins at birth. Babies are grown or farmed in huge numbers and brainwashed from a very early age.
Whilst Huxley's vision of the future may disgust and revolt some readers, there's no doubt that there is a grain of truthful reality in his fiction. For starters, test-tube babies are here. Clones also. Genetic research and manipulation seem to be taking us down the path toward perfecting forms. Plus, our increasingly high-tech world means we have less time to enjoy nature, appreciate our inner emotional energies and form lasting, wholesome partnerships.
Is this Brave New World already taking shape inside us?
On the 14th floor of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre babies are being brainwashed through the process of hypnopaedia, or sleep teaching. A loudspeaker relays suggestive messages as the director inspects the sleeping infants.
'We also predestine and condition. We decant our babies as socialised human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons . . . the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too—all his life long.'
Soma: A Drug For All Seasons
'Every soma-holiday is a bit of what our ancestors used to call eternity.'
In the book people take a gramme or two of the drug soma if they happen to feel unhappy. It is also part of what's called the Solidarity Service, a pseudo-religious ritual also involving music and rhythm performed by a group of 12. The aim of this circle is to invoke the Greater Being. Bernard Marx tries this but is dissatisfied with the hollow outcomes.
In chapter 16, Mustapha Mond, a World Controller, tells John the Savage :
'The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.'
Nightmare scenario or future paradise?
Brave New World: Science Fiction At Its Best
You can understand how this novel has become a classic. Not only does Huxley set out with imagination and detail a future world dominated by biotechnology, but he also makes it plausible and real enough for the reader to instantly 'get' it.
Here is mass production of human embryos on a colossal scale and they're all destined to know their place in life. The pre-determined caste system ensures stability for all. Or does it?
Aldous Huxley takes the reader further into his Brave New World and gradually introduces us to the main characters who are going to carry the human side of the story.
In a glossy, efficient, illness-free community, it's the Alpha Plus intellectuals who start to question the validity of their existence. This is where the book comes alive, when flesh and blood enter the scene, and doubts begin to seed.
There are certain aspects of this book that will certainly disturb, such as the sexual freedom and conditioning that begins at a very early age and continues into adulthood.
You'll need to take some passages with a pinch of salt, as when the character Benito Hoover starts handing the sex hormone chewing gum around! But overall, the futuristic elements work, and fascinate, so that the reader has several levels to go at.
You've got the ongoing struggle of Bernard and Helmhotz, who are wanting more than society can give them. You have John the Savage, brought back from New Mexico to London, to suffer the outrageous slings and arrows of his fate.
There's the tension Huxley builds as all three realise that the system, in the end, will win. What future does the individual human spirit have? What role is there for the outsider, for those who seek alternative happiness?
Brave New World is science fiction at its best it could be argued because it focuses on the mixed-up evolution of the human on this our only home, planet Earth.
If you're interested in the concepts of freedom, human rights, political systems and social trends you'll love this story.
© 2013 Andrew Spacey
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on September 13, 2014:
Thank you for the visit and comment HeidiThorne, much appreciated. Brave New World certainly shocked many when it first appeared -even today it's an eye opener - a must read for those interested in the way our society is evolving.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 13, 2014:
I read Brave New World many, many years ago and I can STILL remember some of the scenes and details. Soma, going to the feelies... how ahead of his time Huxley was. Voted up and interesting!
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on January 20, 2013:
Thank you again for your kind comments and vote. Appreciate that.
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on January 20, 2013:
Many thanks for the comment and vote. This book is a real challenge to us all as we move into ever growing consumerism and global this that and the other! When you read certain passages you think..oh no, this is awful. When you look around the world as it is now you think...maybe it's not so bad in Huxley's Brave New World!
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on January 20, 2013:
Thank you very much suzanne. Your visit and comment is appreciated. It is an eye opener this book, makes me think about just where I am in society and how society actually 'works'. So many questions it raises!
Anne Harrison from Australia on January 20, 2013:
Thank you for an interesting hub, it's time to read the novel again. THe system might win i the end, but even the system changes, however slowly, and humanity has survived - despite the bleakness, there is hope. Voted up, keep reviewing!
justmesuzanne from Texas on January 20, 2013:
I just listened to a radio version of this on tape from 1956 with Aldous Huxley narrating. Fascinating and too prophetic. I will have to read the book! Good in depth review! Voted up and interesting! :)
Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on January 19, 2013:
Many thanks for the visit and comment Lisa. This book asks so many questions! I totally enjoyed going through the text again, revisiting old friends and feeling so sad for John the Savage, who couldn't handle civilisation. Such a powerful book.
I hope you get to read it again soon.
Lisa from WA on January 19, 2013:
This is really well done. Brave New World is one of my top favorite books of all time, although I haven't read it for some time now. You've made some great points here and I like the facts you've added to the right of the text that really enhances what you're saying. Now you've made me want to read it again!