Although British by birth, Aldous Huxley moved to California in the late 1930’s, partly because the pacifism he expressed in works such as What Are You Going to Do About It?: The Case for Constructive Peace (1936) made conditions uncomfortable for him in an England preparing for war. Although critics often generalize that the “American Huxley” was more a religious mystic than a satirist, his novels about Los Angeles— After Many a Summer Dies the Swan (1939) and Ape and Essence—show that his harshly comic view of modern society had, if anything, grown sharper. Ape and Essence is, in part, a critique of a world in which art is disposable (like Tallis’ incinerator-bound script), in which scientists are manipulated by politicians into creating weapons of mass destruction (Huxley includes surreal visions of famous scientists led on leashes by baboons), in which sexuality is repressed while violence is not, and in which humanity poisons its habitat with by-products of scientific “progress.”
The novel has several obvious contextual relationships to the events of the time. The Holocaust and World War II showed that human beings are willing to destroy one another in massive numbers, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed that science was providing spectacular means for massive slaughter. Huxley had argued in his essays, especially Ends and Means (1937), that nationalism is the basic cause of...
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