Brave New World , by Aldous Huxley is a dystopian novel set in futuristic London. On our calendar it would be AD 2540.
The story opens in the year 632 A.F.—”Anno Ford” or rather 632 years since the year of the first Model T production. This future world is founded entirely on “Fordian” methods of mass production and consumption.
The events transpire in The World State, a benevolent dictatorship headed by ten World Controllers over a stable global society.
It is to all appearances a successful world in which everyone appears to be content and satisfied. It is a world of advanced technology and science, peaceful and stable. However, upon closer inspection, this stability is only achieved by sacrificing freedom in its true sense. Progressive efforts to eliminate any sorrow or disharmony have also eradicated any individual identity or responsibility.
We are introduced to Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx, members of the Alpha caste. They both work within the Hatcheries where human embryos are raised artificially. Bernard oversees the hypnopaedic process, a system of subconscious messaging to form growing children’s self-image.
Children are bred to fit into ranked castes with Greek letter names, from Alpha (the highest) to Epsilon (the lowest) each with different economic roles. The lower castes are bred for low intelligence and conditioned not to think but the more intelligent upper castes are socially conditioned by taboos.
Art and culture has ceased to exist, literature is banned as subversive, as is scientific thinking and experimentation.
Shallow and hedonistic lifestyles are promoted; recreational sex rather than emotional ties are celebrated. Any pain is reduced by the freely accessible hallucinogenic drug soma. Moreover, to maintain the World State’s economy, citizens are conditioned to promote consumption and hence production, reciting platitudes such as “spending is better than mending”
Bernard disapproves of society and is vocal about his differences and he is threatened with exile because of his nonconformity. On an outing to a Savage reservation outside of civilisation, he encounters Linda, a woman who has a biological son John. She had become pregnant by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, a societal taboo which leads her to hide away with shame.
Linda has taught John to read, although from only two books: a scientific manual from her job in the hatchery, and a Collected Works of Shakespeare. John, naive to the world, can only expound his feelings in terms of Shakespearean drama.
It is John’s desire to see the “brave new world” which inspires Bernard to take them to the Director of Hatcheries. Presenting him with his unknown son and past lover, Bernard humiliates the Director who resigns in shame.
Bernard and John are then brought before Mustapha Mond, the Resident “World Controller for Western Europe”. They are told they are to be punished for antisocial activity.
Mond outlines to them the events that led to the present society and his arguments for a caste system and social control. While Mond’s words are designed to convince, John rejects them and Mond sums up the dilemma by stating that in demanding freedom, John demands “the right to be unhappy“.
Huxley said that Brave New World was inspired in reaction to the utopian novels of H. G. Wells, especially, A Modern Utopia (1905). He rejected the enlightenment view that science and technology would progress society only onward and upward. Having lived through the First World War and observing concerning trends in his own industrial and modernist society, he posits a futuristic society grounded in these elements.
The prognosis is grim.
Huxley uses the irony in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, to make his point. He cites the passage in which Miranda exclaims:
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.— William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206
The excerpt is drawn from when Miranda, like John raised in isolation, sees other people for the first time, is overcome with excitement and utters the famous line above. However, what she is actually observing is representatives of the worst of humanity, traitors and manipulators.
Like other dystopian novels such as “The Giver” or “1984,” Huxley’s novel explores the relationship between advances in technology and the [in]credibility of creating a utopian society. He highlights concerns for the direction of his own society and hypothesises about the the controls necessary to manufacture a world without pain and suffering.
Freedom, individuality, relational ties, the arts, the ability to question. All of these are linked to feeling pain and suffering. Perhaps the “right to be unhappy” as John, steeped in Shakespeare, realises, is the greatest freedom we humans have?
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