The story begins with the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning giving a guided tour of his baby factory to a group of students. He explains how four levels of humans are artificially created in bottles, each predestined for a specific role.
Bernard Marx is a discontented intellectual, vaguely bothered by the values of his culture, which emphasize promiscuous sex, conspicuous consumption, and thought control. He and Lenina take a holiday in New Mexico, inhabited by “savages” who live in families, worship Christ, suffer pain, and often die of old age.
There they find John, the son of the Director. John has learned English from his mother and a volume of Shakespeare’s plays. Bernard brings the savage to England where John becomes an instant celebrity. The savage, however, cannot reconcile his traditional Christian morality and Shakespearean humanism with the life he sees in England, where everyone is happy but no one is free.
After a clash with authorities over the practice of giving Soma (a hallucinatory but nonaddictive drug) to workers, John is permitted to live as a hermit in an isolated lighthouse.
However, his whereabouts are discovered, and he is hounded to suicide by a public that will not leave him alone.
Brave New World is often contrasted with George Orwell’s 1984, as each represents aspects of present society taken to their extreme. In Huxley’s dystopia, citizens are controlled less by force than by excess pleasure. Sleep teaching and controlled mass media ensure complete obedience to the state. In a celebrated passage, John the savage debates with the Controller, Mustapha Mond, arguing for man’s right to be unhappy in his own way.
Though often criticized as contrived and loosely written, Brave New World commands the attention of ordinary readers and serious thinkers for its clear depiction of the basic conflicts in modern society, particularly those involving science and technology as agents of social control and manipulation.
Bowering, Peter. Aldous Huxley: A Study of the Major Novels. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. Devotes a chapter to Brave New World, concentrating particularly on its themes of technological slavery and the limits of freedom. Includes substantial character analysis.
Firchow, Peter. Aldous Huxley: Satirist and Novelist. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1972. Devotes most of chapter 5 to discussion of Brave New World as a dystopian novel. Considers it as a satirical parable modeled on the Grand Inquisitor episode in The Brothers Karamazov.
Meckier, Jerome. “Debunking Our Ford: My Life and Work and Brave New World.” South Atlantic Quarterly 78, no. 2 (Autumn, 1979): 448-459. Examines the relationship between Henry Ford’s autobiography and Huxley’s dystopia. Huxley was alarmed by the parts of the American ethos that he thought Ford represented.
Murray, Nicholas. Aldous Huxley: A Biography. New York: St. Martin’s, 2003. Murray’s 500-plus page biography and intellectual history is a wide-ranging survey of Huxley’s writing and his social, personal, and political life. The book stretches from Huxley’s early satirical writing to his peace activism, from his close relations and friendships with Hollywood filmmakers and other intellectuals, to his fascination with spirituality and mysticism. Illustrations, bibliography, and index.
Nance, Guinevera. Aldous Huxley. New York: Continuum, 1988. Chapter 3 offers a critical summary and evaluation of the novel. Considers its themes and gives particular attention to the moral implications of the Savage.
Watts, Harold H. Aldous Huxley. Boston: Twayne, 1969. One chapter discusses the novel as dystopian fiction, examines its themes, structures, and characterizations, and considers its artistic value. A good general introduction to the novel.