Summary of the Novel
Brave New World begins in the year A.F. (After Ford) 632, which is approximately the twenty-sixth century, in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. The Director is taking a group of students through the Hatchery. As the Director is explaining the process of creating humans, the Resident Controller appears to finish the lesson.
Bernard Marx works in the Hatchery. He very much wants to have sex with Lenina Crowne, another worker in the Hatchery. Birth control has virtually been perfected, allowing everyone to be sexually free and totally available for anyone.
Lenina decides to accept Bernard’s invitation to spend a week at the Savage Reservation in New Mexico. Her friend Fanny is not in favor of the idea because Bernard is so different from the other Alpha group members. Bernard himself feels alienated because his physical appearance is different from that of the other Alphas, and he often talks with Helmholtz Watson, another slightly alienated Alpha.
Bernard receives permission from the Director to visit the Reservation with Lenina. The Director remembers once visiting the place with his companion, from whom he became separated. Consequently, he returned from the Reservation alone.
At the Reservation, Bernard and Lenina are shocked by the primitive conditions. Bernard tries to remain scientific, while Lenina desires escape through soma, a drug that produces a dream-intoxicated state with no after- or side-effects. While watching Indian/Savage rituals, a semi-Indian creature approaches them, speaking in strange, ancient words. This is John the Savage.
John’s mother, Linda, is from the Other Place, or the New World of Lenina and Bernard. She has grown old, fat, and quite ugly. She has used alcohol to replace the soma she once had. Bernard realizes that this must be the lost companion of the Director, then pregnant with his child, John. Bernard resolves to return John and Linda, which will both disgrace the Director and bring fame to Bernard.
Bernard’s plan works. The Director is humiliated and resigns. In this New World, children are generated in bottles and conditioned scientifically. Words like “mother,” “father,” and “family” are considered pornographic. Bernard exposes the New World to the Savage and becomes an instant celebrity with John, the freak everyone must meet. John finally refuses to meet any more people, and Bernard’s pseudo-celebrity dissipates quickly. Helmholtz and Lenina attempt to understand this Savage John and his unorthodox ideals. John does move them somewhat, but all their years of conditioning cannot truly be overcome. Finally, everyone becomes embarrassed by John’s grief when his mother dies, after falling into a soma-induced coma and failing to recognize him.
In order to preserve the stability of the community, Mustapha Mond must remove the irritants. Bernard is exiled to Iceland, and Helmholtz to the Falkland Islands. The Savage also wants to be exiled, but Mond refuses, choosing instead to continue social experiments with him. John takes over a lighthouse on the southern coast of England near Portsmouth. He desires solitude, preferring to be alone with his thoughts and memories. He resorts to various methods of self-flagellation to cleanse his soul. His hideaway is discovered and he again becomes the object of public curiosity, his privacy destroyed.
John takes what he sees as his only escape. He commits suicide.
British life in 1932 was very different from American life. Almost an entire generation of men had been lost in World War I. Oxford University enrollment was only 491 in 1917, down from 3,181 in 1914. Among many of the upper-class poets and writers of the time—sometimes called the Auden Generation, after the poet W. H. Auden—there was a sense of disillusionment and futility. Britain’s foreign investments had been depleted by war debts and loans. Higher living standards, prices, wages, and taxes became the order of the day in post-war Britain. By 1922 overpopulation had caused passage of the Empire Settlement Act to encourage and finance settlement in the dominions.
The 1920s were also years of mass unemployment, and the Communist Soviet Union was making inroads into the labor movement. After many wars, those on the homefront who had sacrificed for the war effort felt they deserved their just rewards.
In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model-T, in “any color you choose so long as it’s black.” In 1914, he opened his Highland Park, Michigan factory, equipped with the first electric conveyor belt assembly line. A Model-T could now be assembled in 93 minutes. Consequently, Ford had 45 percent of the new automobile market. He paid his workers the highest wages in the industry—a whopping five dollars a day. In return, he demanded that his workers live by his standards: wives were not to work or take in boarders, employees were not to drink in local bars, and families were to attend church each Sunday. He sent men out into the workers’ neighborhoods to make sure his rules were being followed. Ford was considered a bigot and was also paranoid; he feared for his family’s lives. By creating Greenfield Village near Detroit, he tried to recapture and reproduce what he viewed as a simple, happy past—the good old days.
Thus, science not only gave man a better knowledge of his world, and the technology to make living “easier,” but it also gave him new means of destroying himself. The same gasoline engine used to propel automobiles and trains was reinvented for use in airplanes that could drop bombs—as early as World War I. Science and technology together began recreating industry, which for more people than Henry Ford meant bigger profits and anxieties.
Additionally, the advent of electrical lighting in both home and factory created shift work, which of course, interferes with established biological rhythms. Electricity also created a brighter night-life with more possibilities, and it gave the middle and upper classes new appliances to make living easier and more comfortable.
The assembly lines, with their shift work, forced workers to meet the demands of both man and machine. Workers could spend an entire shift in one place along the assembly line, repeating the same action again and again. Thus, a worker answered to two bosses—one human, one mechanical. Only one understood pain and fatigue, however, and only one could stop the other. Consequently, most workers were more likely to be driven by machines than to actually drive them.
This was the newly mechanized, scientific, controlled world which became the model for Huxley’s Brave New World, which one critic regarded as “an exercise in pessimistic prognostication, a terrifying Utopia.”
In 1958, Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited, in which he discussed what he perceived as the threats to humanity that had developed since the publication of his novel in 1932. These threats were overpopulation, propaganda, scientific advancement, and his belief that man must not give up his freedom for the unthinking ease of a life organized by the power of a few over the masses. This was something that had happened in Germany, Soviet Russia, and Communist China since 1932.
Huxley saw scientific progress as a vain deceit which would produce a world with no joy—one in which endeavors are frustrated and sexual satisfaction becomes ashes. Brave New World is the utopian nightmare of scientific deceit, unlike the futuristic novels of H. G. Wells whose optimism held that man falls to rise again.
List of Characters
The Director—In charge of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. He has a secret to reveal.
Henry Foster—A Supervisor in the London Hatchery. He loves facts, figures, and statistics.
Mustapha Mond—The Resident Controller for Western Europe. He is one of ten Controllers in the World. He possesses some of the now forbidden books, like the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.
Lenina Crowne—A Beta Nurse in the Hatchery. She is well-conditioned to this New World—until she meets the Savage.
Bernard Marx—An Alpha-Plus expert in hypnopaedia who does not meet the physical standards of his group. He thus yearns for acceptance, which he hopes the Savage will grant him.
Fanny Crowne—A friend of Lenina, but not related. She works in the Bottling Room of the Hatchery and is well-conditioned.
Benito Hoover—An Alpha Worker at the Hatchery. He is an acceptor of conditioning and life as it exists and spends time with Lenina, which irritates Bernard.
George Edzel—Another Alpha Worker who is friendly with Lenina.
Helmholtz Watson—An Alpha-Plus lecturer and writer for the College of Emotional Engineering. His overly superior intelligence has alienated him from society in the same respect as Bernard’s physical inferiority.
The Warden—An Alpha-Minus. He is in charge of the Savage Reservation.
The Indian Guide—He takes Lenina and Bernard into the Reservation.
John the Savage—Considered an outsider in his world of the Reservation. His mother Linda was from the Old World, thus rendering them both unacceptable.
Linda—John’s mother. Left at the Reservation by the Director. She has aged as a normal human being and shocks the New World when she returns. She was a Beta Worker in the Hatchery.
Popé—He appears only in Linda and John’s memories. He had been Linda’s Indian lover and abuser. He supplied her with the alcohol she craved.
Mitsima—An Indian who tries to teach Indian skills to John.
Dr. Shaw—He supervises Linda’s care when she returns from the Reservation, authorizing unlimited soma until her death.
Human Element Manager—He shows John the Electrical Equipment Corporation.
Dr. Gaffney—The Provost of the Upper School at Eton. He shows the Savage the school system.
Miss Keate—Head Mistress at Eton. She supervises the girls’ training.
Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury—Leads the Ford’s Day Celebration. A special guest of Bernard’s at the reception for the Savage.
Nurse—Attending nurse in Ward 81. She does not understand John’s concern about Linda.
Deputy Sub-Bursar—He is called to distribute soma to the workers. He also calls Bernard about the Savage.
Reporter—A representative of The Hourly Radio who violates the Savage’s seclusion. The Savage literally gives him the boot.
Darwin Bonaparte—Photographer for the feelies. Uses footage of the Savage at the lighthouse to create The Savage of Surrey feely.
The following are members of Bernard’s Solidarity Service group. They meet every Thursday to reinforce moral and cultural training:
Estimated Reading Time and Reading Guide
The average reader should be able to complete Brave New World in approximately four to five hours. Once one becomes accustomed to a scientific vernacular and British spellings of some words, reading should progress smoothly.
The chapters of the novel can be grouped to aid the reader in understanding the progression of the plot. Chapters I through III introduce the themes of scientific advancement and technology through the Director’s lecture to his students and the appearance of the Resident Controller Mustapha Mond. The rigidly controlled organization of the society is evident. Chapter III may cause some difficulty; the back-and-forth aspect of the scenes here is a complex, yet effective, literary device.
Chapters IV through VI advance the plot and begin to hint at some of the underlying tensions that exist in what the Director has portrayed as a perfect utopian world.
Chapters VII through X introduce John the Savage as the antagonist who will hold a mirror to this seeming utopian society and reveal its flaws. John’s mother, Linda, has given him his preconceived ideas about her world.
Chapters XI through XV follow John’s progression through and gradual rejection of the society his mother has told him is perfect. The imperfections of individuals in this world are also revealed.
Chapters XVI through XVIII carry the plot into the denouement of the last chapter with the philosophic debate between Mond and the Savage about the personal sacrifices that must be made to maintain a utopian society. The fates of the main characters are also decided.