Brave New World sold more than fifteen thousand copies in its first year and has been in print ever since. It has joined the ranks of utopian/dystopian satires such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945). The author himself has said that he wanted to warn against the conditioning of human beings by a manager class with the latest technology at its fingertips. Humanity could lose its soul through such a process, Aldous Huxley feared, trading in its unique qualities in exchange for security and for drugged and directed “happiness.”
There cannot have been a year since its publication in which this novel has not been compared to the present condition of humanity and found to be a perspicacious guess at the shape of things to come. Huxley, for example, did not exactly predict television, but he foresaw other means of mass hypnosis.
An ingenious and persuasive writer, Huxley renders his analogue quite credibly, although requirements of his genre necessitated more conflict than would be plausible in a state as well managed as the one the novel presents. The characters for the most part think too much like Huxley and too little like people who have been brainwashed into conformity.
Huxley’s vision of sexuality in this futuristic society anticipates the repressive desublimation of a world in which the social obligation to be sexual defuses passion. This vision runs into trouble because the only choices permitted to his protagonist are a sulky celibacy and a foreordained and regulated promiscuity. The liberating powers of a passionate sexuality are left out of Huxley’s equation even though, when he includes a few nonconformists, he allows that there can be exceptions in this totalitarian society. It becomes a question, then, of why some exceptions exist and not others; there is no reason for the lack of a female equivalent to Bernard or Helmholtz.
Huxley in essence equates happiness with barbarism and unhappiness with culture. The happiness, however, is shown to be false. Characters all evince signs of deep disturbance. True happiness must be what they are missing. One can ask why Huxley did not portray a more efficient society, one that was able to erase this distinction between the true and the false. It may be precisely this flaw in the novel that explains its continuing popularity.