What is the atmosphere and setting of the opening chapter of "Brave New World"?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening chapter of Huxley’s Brave New World is set in a human hatchery.

 “A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.”

These opening lines from the novel introduce the reader to some of the essential premise upon which the society of the novel is built – the systematic science of clinical, mechanized, and fully intentional human reproduction.  

The central ethos that animates the politics of the society is also indicated here in the final three terms, “COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.” These three words reflect the aims and ideals of a society that values even-tempered, unreflective, simple joy above all else. And these specific values are precisely what Huxley’s novel calls into question as they are compared to the individuality, independence of mind and vivid emotional life of the Savage and Helmholtz later in the novel.

The opening chapter presents the methods of human reproduction with an ironic tone, lampooning the engineers and managers that are fully enrapt with their products and processes and rather smugly unaware of any other possibilities for organizing human life. As they explain the processes of reproduction and social inculcation (indoctrination), the people responsible for running the hatchery are depicted as petty, proud and self-satisfied, yet there is no counter-point for comparison in the chapter.

The atmosphere is clinical and the language is often technical, although humor is interspersed in the chapter as well as students taking the hatchery tour ask questions that  the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning finds laughable.

The hatchery staff is presented as a representative example set of personalities and a singular, universalized social philosophy.   

Far from questioning the methods and the ethics of human conditioning, the hatchery staff gladly explains in detail its methods for shaping the predilections and the lives of the humans hatched and indoctrinated in the facility.

 “They were predestined to emigrate to the tropics, to be miner and acetate silk spinners and steel workers. Later on their minds would be made to endorse the judgment of their bodies.”

The unreflective pride demonstrated by the Director and others on the staff serves to establish one of the important social statements of the novel relating to the difficulty in challenging an ideology.

The figures presented in this opening chapter are invested completely in the value system and outlooks that define their society. This dynamic is amplified by the methods of indoctrination utilized in the hatchery (“predestination” and “intellectual conditioning” as well as physical conditioning). Not only are these people happy with the status quo, they have almost literally been built to be happy with it.

Notably, the discourse presented in this chapter is superficial, focusing on visible outcomes, on class bias and on a rather shallow view of human life. This also is in keeping with the values and mores of the society. It is also perhaps the central concern of the novel. As science improves human life in terms of physical comfort, there is a danger of losing some of the things that once defined us as humans - - a depth of emotion and a willingness to feel more than a narrow range of satisfactions.

In a novel concerned about what science can do to us, the opening chapter establishes a number of important ideas as to what we can embrace about science and how a society might be shaped around ideas of what science can do for us.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The openng chapter introduces us to the Brave New World. In a rather cold, cynical and ironic atmosphere the Director of the Hacheries explains to a group of students how people are created inthe Brave New World and also gives a history lesson into how this process evolved. The DHC is obviously proud of all of his accomplishments, from test tube babies to being able to expand the number of people from just one egg. This generally makes the reader cringe, but the director is proud that parents have been eliminated from the Brave New World and that human production can be so mechanized. The students being given the tour of the hatchery are obviously impressed but the reader is stunned by the impersonalization of the entire process.