Brave New World

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Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)

Contributed by Arnold Leitner

In the World State of the twenty-sixth century (Anno Ford 632) a homogenous society lives a carefree and peaceful, albeit state-controlled, life. Natural reproduction has been eliminated and replaced by a mechanised process which allows embryos to be fertilised, pre-conditioned according to their future spheres of activity, and grown in "bottles", i.e. in artificial wombs. The permanence of this new society is guaranteed by hypnopaedia and government indoctrination, and its happiness and contentment are secured by "soma", an antipsychotic drug. When John, a "savage" from the Malpais Savage Reservation in New Mexico, appears and challenges the norms of this Brave New World, the stability of its society seems temporarily jeopardised.

Author

Born Aldous Leonard Huxley on 26 July 1984 in Surrey, Huxley came from a distinguished family background. Indeed, his grandfather was the biologist T.H. Huxley, whilst his father, Leonard Huxley, was the editor of Cornhill Magazine. Furthermore, within the female line, Huxley´s mother, Judith Arnold, was the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold and the niece of Matthew Arnold. Having graduated from Balliol College, Oxford in 1916, he went on to marry Maria Nys in 1919 with whom he had a son, Matthew, in 1920. Following a four year period in Italy between 1923-1927, Huxley moved to Hollywood in 1937. When his first wife died in 1955, Huxley subsequently married Laura Archera in 1956. Although a prolific writer, Huxley is best known for Brave New World, which, since its first publication, has never gone out of print.

Selected publications

Novels

Crome Yellow (1921); Antic Hay (1923); Those Barren Leaves (1925); Point Counter Point (1928); Brave New World (1932); Eyeless in Gaza (1936); After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (1939); Time Must Have a Stop (1944); Ape and Essence (1948); The Genius and the Goddess (1955); Island (1962)

Short Stories

Limbo: Six Stories and a Play (1920); Mortal Coils: Five Stories (1922); Little Mexican and Other Stories (1924); Young Archimedes and Other Stories (1924); Two or Three Graces: Four Stories (1925); Brief Candles (1930); The Gioconda Smile (1938); The Crows of Pearblossom (1968)

Poetry

The Burning Wheel (1916); The Defeat of Youth and Other Poems (1918); Leda and Other Poems (1920); Selected Poems (1925); Arabia Infelix and Other Poems (1929); Apennine (1930); The Cicadas and Other Poems (1931)

Plays

Francis Sheridan's The Discovery, Adapted for the Modern Stage (1924); The World of Light: A Comedy in Three Acts (1931); The Gioconda Smile (adapted from his short story) (1948); Now More than Ever (2000)

Non-Fiction (a selection)

Along the Road: Notes and Essays of a Tourist (1925); Essays New and Old (1926); Proper Studies: The Proper Study of Mankind Is Man (1927); Holy Face and Other (1929); Vulgarity in Literature: Digressions from a Theme (1930); Music at Night and Other Essays (1930); On the Margin: Notes and Essays (1932); 1936 ... Peace? (1936); The Olive Tree and Other Essays (1936); Encyclopedia of Pacifism (1937); The Most Agreeable Vice, (1938); Words and Their Meanings (1940); Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics (1941); The Art of Seeing (1942); The Perennial Philosophy (1945); Science, Liberty, and Peace (1946); (with Sir John Russell) Food and People (1949); Themes and Variations (1950); The Devils of London (1952); The French of Paris (1954); The Doors of Perception (1954); Heaven and Hell (1956); Adonis and the Alphabet and Other Essays (1956); A Writer's Prospect–III: Censorship and Spoken Literature (1956); Brave New World Revisited (1958); On Art and Artists: Literature, Painting, Architecture, Music (1960); The Politics of Ecology: The Question of Survival (1963); Literature and Science (1963); America and the Future (1970); The Human Situation: Lectures at Santa Barbara, 1959 Ed. Piero Ferrucci (1977); Aldous Huxley's Hearst Essays (1994); Complete Essays (2000)

Screenplays

A Woman’s Vengance (based on the short story The Gionconda Smile) (1948); (with Christopher Isherwood) Jacob's Hands (1998); (with others) Pride and Prejudice (1940), Madame Curie (uncredited) (1943), Jane Eyre (1944), Alice in Wonderland (uncredited) (1951)

Creative reception

Brave New World, US TV film (1980); Brave New World, US TV film, (1998)

Main Characters

Thomas, Director of the Central London Hatchery (D.H.C.) – self-assured ideologue; maintains order by rigorously espousing and implementing the doctrines of the World State; turns out to be John the Savage's father

Henry Foster – administrator at the Central London Hatchery; loves to quote facts and figures; Lenina's current partner

Mustapha Mond – Resident Controller for Western Europe; touts the values and the advantages of the present state of mankind over that of the ‘pre-moderns’, but maintains a huge cache of banned books in his study

Bernard Marx – an Alpha-plus, but small and thin; specialist in sleep-teaching; critical of the government’s teachings

Lenina Crowne – a beautiful, "pneumatic" Beta; works in the hatchery; leans toward monogamy (after having slept with hundreds of men), but otherwise obeys the government’s policies without much question

Fanny Crowne – also a Beta; Lenina's friend

Helmholtz Watson – Alpha-plus lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering and government wordsmith; well above average intelligence and physique; desires to break free from the stifling constraints of government writing and to begin writing for himself, Bernard's only friend

John the Savage – son of Thomas and Linda, born in the Malpais Savage Reservation where he remained an outcast; appalled by the amorality of the World State

Linda – originally a Beta from London, but was left behind in the Malpais Reservation during a thunderstorm

Setting

The novel is set in A.F. (Anno Ford) 632 in London and on a New Mexico Reservation for Savages. It abounds in reference to existing territories and cities (Iceland, Falklands, Singapore, Mombasa, etc.) while transforming the face of these territories in the light of its dystopian theme of total governmental control.

Summary

During an orientation, Thomas, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning for Central London (D.H.C), takes a group of new workers on a tour of the hatchery, where all babies in the civilised world are created and divided into one of the five castes (designated with the first letters of the Greek alphabet) according to their prospective tasks in society.

As their shift in the hatchery ends, Lenina and Fanny discuss their relations with men. When Lenina mentions that she has a weakness for Bernard, Fanny is incredulous. She repeats a popular rumour according to which Bernard’s non-Alpha physique is due to a prenatal mistake, and alludes to his antisocial behaviour as he spends too much time alone. Unmoved by Fanny’s admonishing, Lenina tells Bernard she has decided to join him on his trip to New Mexico to see the Savages.

After getting his permit for the New Mexican Reservation signed, Bernard travels to New Mexico with Lenina. At an evening religious ceremony, which is a mixture of pagan and Christian ritual, Bernard and Lenina meet John. He looks different from the indigenous people and addresses them in flawless English. He takes them to meet his mother Linda, who originally is a Beta, but got lost in the reservation twenty years before.

Bernard invites John to return with him to London along with his mother. Once back in London, Linda rekindles her love for soma, an antipsychotic drug, regularly ingesting potentially lethal quantities.

Because so many upper-caste workers want to see "the Savage", Bernard is able to gain the popularity that he has always desired. As a trained psychologist, he analyses John's behaviour as he adapts to life in London. His connection to the Savage provides Bernard with the contact with women he has always desired. However, his self-aggrandising behaviour causes tension in his relationship with his only friend, Helmholtz Watson.

Meanwhile, Lenina feels attracted to John. She even goes to the Feelies (interactive cinema) with him, but her desires remain unfulfilled. At one of the many parties staged so that Bernard's guests can meet John, the latter refuses to make his customary appearance. At work the next day, Bernard realises that his fifteen minutes of fame have come to an abrupt end.

When Lenina shows up at John's apartment unannounced, John declares his love for her, talking of his desire to marry her and his wish to perform a task in order to prove his worthiness. But as she begins to undress in front of him, John curses her as a strumpet and threatens her with violence if she does not leave immediately. After their dispute John is informed that his mother has been taken to the Hospital for the Dying.

John rushes to the hospital only to witness the death of his mother. When he leaves the hospital grief-stricken, he sees hospital workers receiving their daily soma ration. John delivers an impassioned speech about the evils of conformity and the need for rebellion. Unable to convince the workers of the necessity for change, John begins hurling boxes of soma tablets out of the window. The enraged mob of workers attacks John, but he fights them off valiantly until Bernard and Helmholtz arrive. The police arrive, arrest John, Bernard and Helmholtz and take them to Mond.

Mustapha Mond informs the men that they will be sent to an island populated with like-minded individuals who were also too free-spirited to survive in the conformist society of the World State. Left alone with John, Mond talks openly to John about the absence of God in the civilised world. John finally rejects the civilised world and claims 'the right to be unhappy'.

John flees London to live an ascetic life in an abandoned lighthouse in the country. He hunts, tends his garden and prays. When the image of Lenina thrusts itself into John's thoughts, he whips himself. After a group of Deltas spy the flagellant savage, the news of his actions and whereabouts reaches London, which prompts an incessant stream of visitors to the lighthouse. When John discovers Lenina in the crowd of visitors, he attacks and whips her frantically, but then succumbs to a soma-induced orgy of drugs and sex. Driven insane by his feelings of shame and guilt, John hangs himself over the doorway to the lighthouse.

Interest Areas

Life Creation

In Brave New World the process of creating life is reduced to an asexual, artificial reproduction technique called ectogenesis. In the fertility room of the Central London Hatchery a week's supply of female ova is kept at blood temperature, while the male gametes are preserved at only 35° Celsius in order to keep them fertile. Female eggs are derived from excised ovaries – an operation which is undergone voluntarily and compensated with half a year's salary. The excised ovaries are kept alive and active in a saline solution so that thousands of female egg cells can be derived from a single ovary. The eggs are then inspected for abnormalities and immersed in free-swimming spermatozoa. The fertilized ova are transferred to incubators and later to artificial wombs, called "bottles". In the "bottles" the morula, i.e. four day old embryos containing ten to thirty cells, are placed on sow's peritoneum, immersed in a saline solution and fed with a blood surrogate. To thwart the embryo's tendency to develop anemia, it must be supplied with doses of hog's stomach extract and foetal foal's liver.

More than half of all female embryos receive doses of male sex-hormones, so that they become sterile freemartins.

Among the women of the Brave New World fertility is considered a nuisance (only 30% of females are allowed to develop normally), and giving birth or being a "other" or a "father" is considered obscene. Birth-control is therefore rendered automatic by early 'Malthusian drill' (three times a week from the age of twelve to seventeen).

Childhood

In the World State of Brave New World children spend their childhood in State Conditioning Centres. There they are conditioned (by being administered electric shocks) e.g. to hate books and flowers. Hypnopaedic lessons repeated thousands of times between the age of three and sixteen impose certain rules of conduct on the children. Children are also encouraged to engage in early sexual and erotic games.

Maturation

In Brave New World the scientists of the Central London Hatchery are working on a technique for compressing the period of maturation of mankind. The guiding thought is that the long years of superfluous immaturity should be shortened and the physical development sped up. However, an experiment with individuals sexually mature at four and fully grown at six and a half failed, because the young adults were socially useless and not able to perform the simplest tasks. The ideal would be a compromise between adults of twenty and adults of six.

Ageing

The inhabitants of the World State are spared diseases and old age. The physiological signs of old age have been abolished and it is impossible to determine if someone is thirty or fifty-five years old. Old age is conquered by keeping the internal secretions of humans (e.g. gonadal hormones) and their magnesium-calcium ratio artificially at a youthful equilibrium. In order to stay young people receive transfusions of young blood and their metabolism is permanently stimulated. Permanent youth, however, has its price. People don't reach old age. They die around the age of sixty (see death).

Death

Due to death conditioning (which begins at the age of eighteen months), death is taken as a matter of fact: all children have to spend time in the Hospital for the Dying (which is like a first-class hotel) and are conditioned with toys and chocolate cream on death days to view death as something pleasant. Consequently, there is no grief, no tears, and no mystery connected with death.

The patients die in the company of up to twenty people and are supplied with all the modern conveniences, such as TV, music and a constantly changing mix of perfume in the air. The faces of the dying are fresh and unwithered, because death strikes so rapidly (only the internal organs are affected) that it doesn't affect their looks.

After death the corpses are brought in gaily coloured hearses to a crematorium. The remains are burnt, and the phosphorus emitted (more than one and a half kilo per adult corpse) is recovered. The phosphorus is used for fertilizing plants and crops.

Life Extension

Methods to prolong life, e.g. by rejuvenation have not yet been discovered, but death is no longer feared due to death-conditioning.

Gender

In the year A.F. 632 gender issues still play a decisive role in the work environment. All executive positions are held by men, the only exception to the rule is Miss Keate, the Head Mistress of Eton. Women perform more basic jobs such as nurses or assembly-line workers.

In a society where promiscuity is encouraged – 'everyone belongs to everyone else' – gender issues on a personal level are almost irrelevant: men and women are equal when it comes to choosing sexual partners or taking the initiative in sexual encounters. Men and women boast about the number of their lovers and equally discuss their lovers' respective assets (e.g. being "pneumatic" [see beauty]) and drawbacks (e.g. having a hairy back).

Only 30% of women are allowed to develop normally, the rest become freemartins (i.e. genetically female, but infertile) by receiving a dose of male sex-hormone during the embryo stage. The others have to exercise constant birth-control rendered automatic by early Malthusian drill. If the Malthusian drill fails and a woman gets pregnant, she can still resort to one of the Abortion Centers.

Behaviour

Human behaviour in Brave New World is largely determined by conditioned reflexes. Individuality is suppressed and even punished. While Alphas and Betas are capable (within limits) of making free choices and assuming responsibilities, lower-caste members of society (Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons) are conditioned to conform in their behaviour to a predetermined standard.

The proper standard of emotional behaviour in the Brave New World corresponds to the attitude of children, e.g. desires need to be gratified instantly. Lower caste members are conditioned to be infantile in their emotional behaviour; Alphas are expected to be infantile even against their inclination.

Beauty

In the World State smallness is associated with belonging to a low caste, whereas corporeal mass is associated with social superiority.

Being "pneumatic" epitomizes the ideal of female beauty. It means having a well-proportioned, curvaceous and womanly figure especially with regard to bust size.

Some inhabitants of the Brave New World are described as brachycephalic, others as dolychocephalic. These characteristics, which originate from craniometry and designate broad and respectively longish shapes of the head, are attributed both to Alphas and Deltas. There is no indication as to whether one or the other form of the skull corresponds to an ideal of beauty in the Brave New World.

Body Transformations

In Brave New World the "natural" functions of the human body are manipulated in many ways.

The most widespread and frequent method of manipulation is through the euphoriant soma. Soma provides happiness and makes people oblivious to any discomfort they might be experiencing. People resort to soma when they feel depressed, angry or have intrusive negative thoughts. Depending on the dose taken (from half a gram to more than four grams), soma can exert a quiescent effect of happiness and serenity or make people drift pleasantly off to sleep for several days. These soma induced "holidays" don't have any side effects. If soma is taken in excess, however, it acts as a respiratory depressant and eventually leads to death.

Other forms of changing the way the body functions consist of chewing a sex-hormone chewing gum, taking pregnancy substitutes and violent passion surrogates: Sex-hormone chewing gum apparently stimulates sexual appetite – and is masticated only by men in Brave New World.

At the age of twenty-one, pregnancy substitutes are compulsory for every woman in the Brave New World. They consist of corpus luteum syrup, ovarin, mammary gland extract, and placentin. The pregnancy substitute thwarts the negative effects of constant birth control - presumably psychological discomfiture, as especially 'brunettes with wide pelvises' are advised to take the medication against periods of melancholy. Taking a pregnancy substitute implies sexual abstinence for a certain period of time.

In Brave New World people are also required to undergo Violent Passion Surrogate treatments. They have their systems flooded with adrenaline, which provides them with their ration of fear and rage, without actually having to act on any of it.

Bioengineering

Bioengineering is an established branch of medical science in the World State.

Podsnap's Technique, i.e. the accelerated artificial maturation of female ova (see life creation), guarantees at least 150 mature eggs from one ovary within two years. Without bioengineering it would take thirty years for the same number of ova to reach maturity. Thirty-six hours after fertilization (see life extension), a number of egg cells undergo Bokanovsky's Process: by being alternately bombarded with x-rays (for eight minutes), chilled, and drowned in alcohol, egg cells are forced to divide and multiply, eventually creating up to ninety-six identical twins. (The average number of identical twins from one Bokanovskified egg is seventy-two.)

All embryos have to undergo prenatal specialization, which in some cases is a deliberate degeneration of species, e.g. through oxygen deprivation. Future chemical workers are trained to tolerate poisonous chemicals, miners and steel workers are conditioned to thrive on heat, and the future rocket-plane engineers' sense of balance is improved during embryo stage. Thus the embryos are tailored to fit society's needs and are physically modified to assume their predestined places among the tiers of the caste system.

(eugenics) VPS (Violent Passion Surrogate) treatments are given to counterbalance the monotony potentially resulting from constant happiness.

Critical Commentary

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931 while living in England. It was his fifth novel and first attempt at a utopian novel. Huxley himself referred to his book as a 'negative utopia'. Although the novel is set in the future, the issues raised are heavily influenced by contemporary topics of the early twentieth century in Europe: The after-effects of the Industrial Revolution, urbanization and mass production were changing the lives of people. In 1917 the Russian Revolution had brought about a totalitarian government, threatening the individuals' freedom and independence. Huxley used his futurist novel to express widely held concerns, particularly the fear of losing individual identity in the fast-paced world of the future and raised fundamental issues of social organisation, cultural and personal identity.

In his earlier writings, both fictional and non-fictional, Huxley had already criticized the results of unchecked scientific advancement, intensive social conditioning, the loss of traditional values, and the single-minded pursuit of pleasure.

Brave New World stands in the literary tradition of utopian novels of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries introducing a high dose of satire due to its pervasive reference to capitalist Western societies and the political rift between East and West. Scientific progress and Darwin's Theory of Evolution, whilst shattering fundamental beliefs and provoking a great deal of criticism, also prompted a mass of utopian writings culminating in H.G. Wells' positive utopia Men Like Gods (1932), where war, crime, disease, poverty and suffering are overcome, William Morris's socialist utopia News from Nowhere (1890) or Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1871). The number of negative utopias (or dystopias) increased at the beginning of the 20th century. Recurrent topics are the loss of individuality and freedom, the drawbacks of material comfort and the manipulation of the human psyche.

Brave New World appears to have been conceived by Huxley as a parody of Wells's positive utopias. Like others of his generation, Huxley was sceptical about the belief in evolutionary progress embraced by Wells. The latter's belief in the impartiality and inherent benevolence of science and technology raised doubts in Huxley and led him to depict in Brave New World an ultimate technocracy where all aspects of human existence are controlled by scientific manipulation. Progress is eventually viewed in terms of trial and error. Thus the present structure of the Brave New World is the result of constant experiments with human individuals, nature and social organisations, suggesting a disconcerting vision of all government control, most of all totalitarian regimes that allow of no checking processes, and exposing the ultimate arbitrariness of totalitarian leaders' decisions.

Huxley's distancing himself from the utopian society presented in Brave New World is achieved by the introduction of authorial comments which create the satirical tone of the novel. Many literary critics still suspected that Huxley approved of the Brave New World and complained about his lack of moral indignation and his evident delight in intellectual coquetry. In the foreword to the 1946 edition Huxley felt that he had to introduce an explanation that he rejected both extreme forms of society presented in Brave New World.

The characters of Brave New World are ill-defined and remain shallow throughout the novel. Serving mainly to advance the themes Huxley wishes to explore, they are one-dimensional. The novel's real main protagonist John is introduced only half way through the novel replacing Bernard Marx, who dominates the first half, but loses the readers' sympathy when he – formerly one of the few individuals in a world of conformity – becomes homogenized with the political system without any apparent motivation.

Huxley's scientific terminology is only partly rooted in actual science, theories and discoveries pertinent at Huxley's time. Huxley had taken out a subscription of Nature and was eager to achieve authenticity and scientific probability by accumulating academic details and expressions. But Huxley also coined his own terminology, e.g. Bokanovsky's Process and Podsnap's Technique, introducing subtle irony in the latter case. (Podsnap is a character in Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, whose favourite line is "I don't want to know about it. I don't choose to discuss it.")

Brave New World ranks with George Orwell's novel 1984 as the archetypal work of dystopian literature. Although Huxley published ten novels, not one of them attained the popularity or provoked the commentary occasioned by Brave New World. Huxley's title continues to be a catchword which writers and speakers often employ to express concern or disdain for the direction society has taken, or for its lack of direction. Still, many readers and critics consider Brave New World simply as an above-average example of science fiction or an entertaining fantasy.

The novel sold well in England: 13,000 copies in the first year and 10,000 copies in the second. Initial sales in the United States were only 3,000 in the first year. The novel has never been out of print since its publication in 1932. Brave New World was voted 'one of the nation's 100 best-loved novels' by the British public as part of the BBC's 'The Big Read' in 2003. The American Library Association ranks Brave New World as number fifty-two on their list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000.

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