Photo of Aldous HuxleyAldous Huxley

Brave New World

1932

  

(In the future, comfort and efficiency reign-- but they reign with a frightening tyranny.)

 
All text except quotations is copyright 2000 by David Lahti, and represents his views alone.
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CONTENTS:

Summary

Reflection

Tidbits of Significance

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Summary

1. A world of six centuries from now (7th century of our Ford), is portrayed. The Director gives a tour of the Hatchery (of humans) and the Conditioning Centre, which takes ova and sperm through the embryonic stages.

 

2. Infant Conditioning is described, which employs shock and hypnopaedia ("sleep-teaching"). People are divided into a caste system, ranging from the privileged alphas to the manually laboring and intellectually defunct epsilons.

 

3. The new sexual ethic is such that promiscuity and adolescent exploration is mandatory. Some history of the transition to this New World is provided.

 

4. The central characters are described: Lenina and Henry Foster, Bernard Marx and Helmholtz.

 

5. Soma is the drug to which the entire society is addicted (and is legally required to be). A synthetic music concert is performed. Bernard attends an orgiastic meeting of the Ford religion, and does not find it at all inspiring.

 

6. Bernard demonstrates the failure of his conditioning-- he's a real person! He and Lenina go to a "Savage Reservation".

 

7. Bernard and Lenina learn about the primitive lifestyle, and talk with a boy named John was once “civilized”.

 

8. John tells of his early life on the reservation, and how he discovered Shakespeare, Time, Death, and God.

 

9. Bernard arranges to have John and his mother Linda come back to London as curiosities. John, reacting emotionally to finding Lenina asleep, shows that he is acquainted with Beauty and Love.

 

10. Just as the Director is about to dismiss Bernard, Bernard introduces him to Linda and John. John calls him "father", an obsolete and even obscene word, which results in an uproar of laughter in the room.

 

11. Bernard becomes popular because of this interesting new savage. John comes to dislike civilization and refuses Lenina's sexual advances.

 

12. John refuses to see Bernard's guests. Bernard starts to lose his popularity. Helmholtz and John become friends, and John reads Shakespeare.

 

13. Lenina talks with John, who reveals his love to her. Promiscuity meets morality, which ends in a fight.

 

14. Linda, John's mother, dies. John mourns her in public, endangering the conditioning of 20 children.

 

15. John causes a riot at a public soma distribution, trying to free people from the drug. He, Helmholtz, and Bernard are arrested.

 

16. The three subversives are told by the world leader Mustapha Mond the reason for the things that are done in the Brave New World.

 

17. Mustapha Mond and John debate the Brave New World, existence, and God. John decides finally to go back to the old life.

 

18. Bernard and Helmholtz are taken to penal islands. John starts a primitive existence at some distance from London, but is interrupted by civilization-- reporters, tourists, and mockers. Overcome by the savagery of civilization and loneliness, and guilt for how he had treated Lenina, John hangs himself.

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Reflection

The title of this novel, taken from Shakespeare's The Tempest, enjoys the rare and astonishing circumstance of having been made a household phrase. A "brave new world", according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is "a utopia produced by technological and social advance (usually ironic)." To add irony to irony, this phrase has been fused into our culture even as our culture plods ahead towards the fulfilment of the prophecies Huxley made of it in that book. It is as if we know where we are going but don't know how to avoid it, or don’t care to do so.

 

In fact, this inevitability is the sense that Huxley himself portrays in the novel. We are given no alternative to the scary utopia except for a reversion to primitivism. As Huxley later admitted, he foresees a choice between insanity and lunacy. The book makes the coherent argument that anyone who wishes technology and applied scientific knowledge to be the end for which we exist is insane. But what is not made so plain in the book, is that anyone who suggests that we as a culture could or would ever abandon technology and science for a return to an existence where we pretend we don't know what we really do know, is advocating a world of make-believe, and has got to be a lunatic (however well-intentioned). So, are we doomed to march towards the land of technocracy; of genetic engineering of human life and civilization; of totalitarianism of thought, word, and deed; of the deification of comfort and a flat kind of happiness; and of the subjugation of beauty and truth? Huxley leaves these questions open in Brave New World, although anyone familiar with his philosophy will know that he would like to see some sort of "decentralized" or quasi-anarchal society, something like Marx envisioned (hence Marx is the last name of the main character, whose first name is after George Bernard Shaw). But as far as the novel is concerned, this alternative is left out of the picture. As such, the book offers no solution: its aim is primarily negative. It can be criticized for this, and indeed has been. Even though I was disappointed in this aspect of the book myself, on second thought I would suggest that if a solution had been offered, the book would not have made such a significant impact. It would perhaps have been seen as political ideology parading as a novel, propaganda rather than a prophetic warning. Perhaps it was best that Huxley just portrayed the problem, and let us worry about the solution.

 

As a novel, that is, as a work of creativity as distinct from its value as a social statement, I think the book is mediocre. We expect Bernard to be the main character in the beginning, and we perhaps even come to like him, but the author gradually seems to lose interest in him until he fades into oblivion and our gaze is directed instead to "The Savage", John. I found myself not at all involved in the plot, but only in the message. My points of highest interest while reading the book were the brief interaction between John and the world leader Mustapha Mond, and the recognition that many of Huxley's prophecies are coming true already. But, granted, the book isn't supposed to be beautiful, and perhaps it doesn’t even matter if the plot is very creative or the prose elegant. The book does what Huxley wanted it to do. It gives us a picture of what things might be like if we don't shape up. For that-- for effectively warning us and scaring us with a poignant portrayal of a future-- we owe it a spot among the classics.

 

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Tidbits of Significance

 

"And they died miserably ever after"

-Preface (1946).

 

"...though I remain no less sadly certain than in the past that sanity is a rather rare phenomenon, I am convinced that it can be achieved and would like to see more of it."

-Preface (1946).

 

"Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath, they had been made for man, not (as at present and still more so in the Brave New World) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them."

-Preface (1946).

 

"In a few years, no doubt, marriage licenses will be sold like dog licenses, good for a period of twelve months, with no law against changing dogs or keeping more than one animal at a time."

-Preface (1946).

 

"Today it seems quite possible that the horror may be upon us within a single century. That is, if we refrain from blowing ourselves to smithereens in the interval. Indeed, unless we choose to decentralize and to use applied science, not as the end to which human beings are to be made the means, but as the means to producing a race of free individuals, we have only two alternatives to choose from: either a number of national, militarized totalitarianisms, having as their root the terror of the atomic bomb and as their consequence the destruction of civilization (or, if the warfare is limited, the perpetuaation of militarism); or else one supra-national totalitarianism, called into existence by the social chaos resulting from rapid technological progress in general and the atomic revolution in particular, and developing, under the need for efficiency and stability, into the welfare-tyranny of Utopia. You pays your money and you takes your choice."

-Preface (1946).

 

"Then, in a resolutely cheerful voice, 'Anyhow,' he concluded, 'there's one thing we can be certain of; whoever he may have been, he was happy when he was alive. Everybody's happy now.'

"'Yes, everybody's happy now,' echoed Lenina. They had heard the words repeated a hundred and fifty times every night for twelve years."

-Henry and Lenina, on seeing a man die, ch.5.

 

"'I'd rather be myself,' he said. 'Myself and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly.'"

-Bernard, ch.6.

 

"The more the boys pointed and sang, the harder he read. Soon he could read all the words quite well. Even the longest. But what did they mean? He asked Linda; but even when she could answer it didn't seem to make it very clear. And generally she couldn't answer at all.

"'What are chemicals?' he would ask.

"'Oh, stuff like magnesium salts, and alcohol for keeping the Deltas and Epsilons small and backward, and calcium carbonate for bones, and all that sort of thing.'

"'But how do you make chemicals, Linda? Where do they come from?'

"'Well, I don't know. You get them out of bottles. And when the bottles are empty, you send up to the Chemical Store for more. It's the Chemical Store people who make them, I suppose. Or else they send to the factory for them. I don't know. I never did any chemistry. My job was always with the embryos.'

"It was the same with everything else he asked about. Linda never seemed to know. The old men of the pueblo had much more definite answers.

"'The seed of men and all creatures, the seed of the sun and the seed of earth and the seed of the sky-- Awonawilona made them all out of the Fog of Increase. Now the world has four wombs; and he laid the seeds in the lowest of the four wombs. And gradually the seeds began to grow...'"

-John and Linda, ch.8.

 

"'O brave new world,' he repeated. 'O brave new world that has such people in it. Let's start at once.'

"'You have a most peculiar way of talking sometimes,' said Bernard, staring at the young man in perplexed astonishment. 'And, anyhow, hadn't you better wait till you actually see the new world?'"

-John and Bernard, ch.8.

 

"'I'm interested in truth, I like science. But truth's a menace, science is a public danger.'"

-the Controller, ch.16.

 

"...shift the emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness."

-the Controller, ch.16.

 

"'They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; for now that all that gave to the world of sensations its life and charm has begun to leak away from us, now that phenomenal existence is no more bolstered up by impressions from within or from without, we feel the need to lean on something that abides, something that will never play us false-- a reality an absolute and everlasting truth. Yes, we inevitably turn to God; for this religious sentiment is of its nature so pure, so delightful to the soul that experiences it, that it makes up to us for all our other losses.'"

-Mustapha Mond (reading from a book in order to disagree with it), ch.17.

 

"'The religious sentiment will compensate us for all our losses.' But there aren't any losses for us to compensate; religious sentiment is superfluous.'"

-Mustapha Mond, ch.17.

 

 "'God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must take your choice.'"

-Mustapha Mond, ch.17.

 

 “'Finding bad reasons for what one believes for other bad reasons-- that's philosophy.'"

-Mustapha Mond, ch.17.

 

 "'But God's the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God...'

"'My dear young friend,' said Mustapha Mond, 'civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic.'"

-John and Mustapha Mond, ch.17.

 

 "'Christianity without tears-- that's what soma is.'"

-Mustapha Mond, ch.17.

 

 "'What you need,' the Savage went on, 'is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.'"

-John, ch.17.

 

 "'But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.'"

-John, ch.17.

 

 "'Did you eat something that didn't agree with you?' asked Bernard.

"'The Savage nodded. 'I ate civilization.'"

-Bernard and John, ch.18.

 

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Read this when...

...you are exasperated or unnerved by the way our civilization is going, and wonder what the future might look like if applied biotechnology and a supreme emphasis on comfort and efficiency continue.

 

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If you like this, you'd also like...

(for the modern Cato, warning of a frightening future with science fiction:)

-H. G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895).

-George Orwell, 1984 (1948).

-Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953).

  

(for the critic of the shortcomings of civilization:)

-Juvenal, Satires (early 2nd century)

-Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels (1726).

-Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906).

-Anatole France, Penguin Island (1908).

 

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