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Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) was published between the two World Wars. It was a time of heightened interest in and an increased reliance on technology1. Positioned as a dystopian view of the future, Brave New World highlights the potential downsides of a world with an uncritical acceptance of mass-adopted technology.
The novel created a stir and generated much controversy when it was released, and was promptly banned due to themes of promiscuity, drug-taking, genetic engineering, and a generally negative outlook about the future. Brave New World is still on some censored lists. There were also accusations of plagiarism made against Huxley, as the novel thematically resembles My (1920) by Yevgeny Zamyatin.
Despite these bans and criticism, Brave New World is considered a pioneering novel in the Dystopian Science Fiction genre and is Aldous Huxley’s most-read work. The subjects that he raised for consideration in the 1930s still resonate today.
Some of these technologies were part of an imaginary future in the 1930s, but many are part of our present-day realities. Scientists are already genetically modifying plants, animals, and humans. Huxley’s work is worth reading as an introduction to themes of science and technology and their impact on society.
Dystopian Science Fiction is a genre in which pessimistic versions of potential future societies are depicted. These are often centred around a society and its relation to power, science, and technology. Another example is George Orwell's 1984 (1949).
Set in London and New Mexico in AF 632, Brave New World is a cynical novel that depicts a future where efficiency, science, consumerism, and technology are all-encompassing. AF stands for After Ford, named after Henry Ford, the American inventor of both assembly-line mass production and the modern motor vehicle. He is widely revered, with the population saying ‘Thank Ford’ to show appreciation.
Ford's assembly line. 1913. Image: WikiCommons.
Huxley introduces a future controlled by the 'World State’. It is a future where the population is engineered and conditioned from embryotic stages, throughout childhood, and into adulthood. A rigid professional and social class system is artificially created at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre.
Each caste is named after a letter of the Greek alphabet. The pinnacle class of Alphas are created to lead. With a range of levels for professions in between, the lowest class, Elipsons, are created purely for manual labour.
Individuality is suppressed in the population by early psychological conditioning. Adults are kept positive with a calming, happiness-inducing drug called soma. Ultimately, universal happiness is a key objective of the World State, so any anti-social behaviour or signs of discontent are discouraged.
In addition, the population is encouraged to be what would generally be viewed as promiscuous. In Brave New World, ‘everybody belongs to everybody else’2 rather than developing long term relationships or even families.
Literature and the study of history are banned and replaced by entertainment like ‘Obstacle Golf or the 'Feelies', an interactive sensory film experience. The educational views of the leadership in Brave New World are summed up in a quote by Mustapha Mond:
History is bunk." - Chapter 3
Huxley turns mainstream 1930s societal taboos inside out to create a nightmarish potential future. Against this backdrop, the novel follows two protagonists: Bernhard Marx is a slightly different Alpha-plus; John is a ‘savage’ born naturally on a reservation outside of the Hatchery. The clash of their two worlds leads to the less-than-happy ending of Brave New World and creates a space to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each.
Do you think that there are pros and cons for the world that Bernhard lives in and the one John does? If so, what are they?
Huxley explores a variety of themes that still resonate today. Ranging from genetic engineering to mass-produced pharmaceuticals and consumerism, many of the issues he deals with in the future of Brave New World are our current reality.
From Dolly the Sheep, who was cloned in 1996, to genetically modified food and DNA editing, some of the science of Huxley's future is in our present reality. What are your views on these types of scientific advances?
In Brave New World, Huxley depicts a future where science has replaced or controlled all natural human emotions, thoughts, and bodily functions. Starting prior to birth, science is used to engineer certain human outcomes.
In the Hatchery, natural birth is redundant. Instead, embryos are conditioned en mass by exposure to various degrees of chemicals, hormones, and alcohol to create a caste system of people with just the right amount of intelligence and physical stature for their future profession.
In addition, families no longer exist. Children are raised by the World State and conditioned to ensure that they become unquestioning, pliable, and happy future citizens.
For adults, artificial versions of natural human functions are created and made compulsory. Examples include the ‘Violent Passion Surrogate’ and the ‘Pregnancy Substitute’. As heightened emotion is generally discouraged but considered necessary for human health, the population is required to attend monthly 'Violent Passion Surrogate’ experiences to compensate. As women no longer give birth, they are required to undergo 'Pregnancy Substitutes' to maintain their optimal health and happiness.
Technology and science are closely entwined in Brave New World. From entertainment like the 'Feelies' to the Hatchery, science and technology form the basis of the human experience.
Do you think that modern technology and science are tools for human control or tools for human betterment? Are these two concepts mutually exclusive?
The World State in Brave New World suppresses individuality, as it is viewed as counterproductive to a happy and cohesive society. This engineering starts with the embryonic stage 'Bokanovsky’s Process' to ensure that all humans are biological clones of each other, and continues up to recited slogans such as 'everyone belongs to everyone else'. 'Solidarity Services are also used to reinforce the sense of community over the individual and people are sent off to the islands,
Should they have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community life." - Chapter 16
Huxley’s approach to community and the individual is more nuanced than an all-good or all-bad portrayal. John exerts his individuality by choice while Bernhard has no choice. His individuality is the result of faulty conditioning. Bernhard does not necessarily always choose individuality, as in when he tries to resist being sent to the islands. For him, it is ultimately more a burden of circumstance and not something he would necessarily sacrifice comfort for. John, on the other hand often chooses individuality despite the consequences.
Brave New World raises questions about the interplay between individuals, communities, and ruling powers, represented by the World State.
What is your opinion on the role of the individual within society or communities?
Bernhard Marx is one of the two main protagonists. He is a faulty Alpha-Plus psychologist, whose blood surrogate was contaminated with alcohol. This resulted in shortness, which sets him apart from other Alpha- Plus members of society.
His original quest for and belief in individuality doesn’t quite hold up when he becomes suddenly popular for his friendship with John. Despite some resistance, he ends up being sent to the islands.
John ‘the savage’ is the only person in the novel who has been born the natural way. He is the protagonist who features most frequently in the second half of the book.
Born on a New Mexico reserve to an Alpha Londoner mistakenly left behind by her lover, John does not belong in London or Malpais. He is an idealistic loner, absorbed in the world of Shakespeare and the most complex character in Brave New World. He lives out his ideals, often at great personal expense. John is a flawed hero due to his own form of conditioning that steers him towards self-loathing and violence.
An 'awfully pneumatic' woman. On the surface she is an ideal member of a society geared towards consumerism, pleasure, and comfort. Despite appearances, Lenina is potentially more capable of seeing beyond conditioning than Bernhard is.
She rebels by having an almost long-term and exclusive relationship with Henry Foster. After returning to a more acceptable, nonexclusive approach, she rebels again by choosing relationships with outsiders Bernhard and John 'the Savage'.
A more complex and conflicted character than she originally appears, Lenina can be said to come the closest to actually experiencing some level of adult love.
Science and technology are a central themes in Brave New World. Huxley’s questions and views can be better understood by looking at some quotes from the novel.
I shall begin at the beginning," said the D.H.C. and the more zealous students recorded his intention in their notebooks: Begin at the beginning. "These," he waved his hand, "are the incubators." And opening an insulated door he showed them racks upon racks of numbered test tubes. "The week's supply of ova. Kept," he explained, "at blood heat; whereas the male gametes," and here he opened another door, "they have to be kept at thirty-five instead of thirty-seven. Full blood heat sterilizes. - Chapter 1
This quote by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning highlights both the precision of science and the replacement of natural human experiences with artificial ones. Just two degrees separate the scientific creation of a male and a female human.
Slowly, majestically, with a faint humming of machinery, the Conveyors moved forward, thirty-three centimeters an hour. In the red darkness glinted innumerable rubies."
- Chapter 3
Here Huxley draws attention to technology and its uses in replacing human functions. This quote describes the conveyor belt assembly line that transports the embryos in the Hatchery.
What is individuality? This is another theme within Brave New World that raises questions around the individual within the context of society.
One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress. - Chapter 1
Huxley depicts The Bokanov process as the ultimate scientific erasure of individuality at a cellular level. Each human is a clone of the other. It also ties into the theme of technology and mass production exemplified by Henry Ford. Here humans are made more efficiently, at a rate of 96:1.
1. Phillip Ball, In retrospect, Brave New World, Nature. (2013).
2. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Chatto&Windus, (1932).
Huxley wrote Brave New World (1932) partly due to his irritation after reading and disagreeing with H.G Wells' Men Like Gods (1923). He also wanted to write a novel highlighting the potential pitfalls of mass technology.
Brave New World (1932) is a cynical work of Dystopian Science Fiction that portrays a future society that is controlled by science and technology.
Brave New World can be viewed as a novel that warns of the potential downsides of a future that is controlled by science, technology and consumerism.
Yes, Brave New World is a pioneering example of the Dystopian Science Fiction genre.
No, Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World as a Dystopian Science Fiction novel.
What genre is Brave New World (1932)?
Dystopian Science Fiction
What are some key themes in Brave New World (1932)?
Key themes include science, technology, class, individuality and society.
Who are the two main protagonists in Brave New World?
John and Berhard Marx are the two main protagonists in Brave New World.
What year is Brave New World (1932) set in?
Brave New World is set in AF 632.
In Brave New World (1932), who is the inspiration for the After Ford calendar and the saying 'Thank Ford"?
Henry Ford, created of the assembly line method of mass production is the inspiration of the After Ford calendar in Brave New World.
Which of these elements does Brave New World make use of?
Which famous dramatist plays inspired John in Brave New World (1932)?
What is soma in Brave New World (1932)?
Soma is a mass produced drug that is used to keep the population happy and entertained.
Where is John from Brave New World (1932) born?
John is born on a reserve in New Mexico.
What other novels are categorised as Dystopian Science Fiction with Brave New World (1932)?
George Orwell's 1984.
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