Is Brave New World a tragedy? If so, how? If not, why?Citations, please!

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mstultz72's profile pic

mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

No.  Brave New World is a comedy.  Comedy is focused on society, while tragedy is focused on the individual.  Clearly, Huxley's targets are societal.

Brave New World is a dystopian science fiction satire to be exact.  The novel parodies several people, places, and things--namely totalitarianism.  Satires are meant to ridicule and exaggerate human weakness and folly.  Huxley's attacks are not subtle: he names names (Ford, Lenin, Marx, etc...)

A tragedy is much more focused than Brave New World.  Tragedies are streamlined for disaster from the start.  Brave New World doesn't even introduce its most important character, John, until about half-way through the novel.  Brave New World lacks the unity of place, unity of action, and unity of time to be a tragedy.  Brave New World is a novel of ideas: it doesn't conform to any rules or genres.  In fact, it tries to break them.

John is certainly not a tragic hero: he is too naive and immature, not noble enough, has too many weaknesses.  He's more of a Byronic Hero--wounded by love, self-destructive.  He does not have a tragic flaw or make a mistake in judgement that leads directly to his suffering and death.  He's more of a victim of social evil.

Although the novel has some tragic elements (John's death), the novel--as a whole--is definitely not a tragedy.  Here's some reasons why:

Tragedy VS. Comedy

  1. acceptance of life vs. rejection of life
  2. shows man's great potential vs. shows man's limitations, foibles
  3. shows the dignity and courage  of man vs. mocks excess
  4. high character vs. exaggeration and caricature
  5. man in godlike state vs. folly, incongruity of human behavior
  6. hero has a tragic flaw vs. hero has many weaknesses

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

While the death of John seems, indeed, tragic; Huxley's narrative of a dysutopia cannot be considered a tragedy by any definition.  For, John's death is more symbolic of the tragic effects of technology and science upon the human soul than it is the demise of a hero who has a tragic flaw.  John, from the area reserved for life as it once was--the "noble savage" of a Rousseau nature, has not been conditioned by science to love servitude as the others in the New World have. Thus, he becomes a sacrificial victim--a Christ-like figure--to the revolution in the souls and flesh of human beings in the Brave New World.

Just as tragedy has comic relief, so, too, in his satire--a division of comedy that ridicules ideas and conditions in the hope of reform--does Huxley impose tragic results.  These results are symbolized in the death of John.  Like John the Baptist, he heralds the end of true humanity in the completion of the theme stated by Huxley himself,

The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals.

Using the tragic death of John as symbol, therefore, Aldous Huxley seeks to move his readers toward understanding of his theme of Brave New World.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I would say that yes it is, but I guess it depends on your definition of tragedy.  I am using, as a definition, the idea that a tragedy is a story where a hero meets a bad end that is inevitable.

I think that John is the hero in the story whose end is bad and inevitable.  Once he gets to "civilization" there seems to me to be no way that he will get out alive.  He holds his convictions so strongly and they are so opposed to the ideas of the society where he has found himself that there is no real way he can live.

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