Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 Summary
Huxley begins this novel in medias res, during a guided tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre that the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning (DHC, or simply Director) is giving a group of students. The Director takes them to the Fertilizing Room, where he gives an in-depth explanation of Bokanovsky's Process—the method by which they fertilize an egg, arrest its development, then force it to bud, creating up to ninety-six embryos, which in turn produce an entire batch of identical twins. This process has been perfected for the purpose of maintaining the social order through total homogenization. If there are only five classes (Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons), and if each class is conditioned so that they accept their lot in life, then the theory is that there will be no more social unrest. Their world motto is "Community, Identity, and Stability." This is achieved through biological mass production. They have Hatcheries like this in Singapore, Mombasa, and, presumably, elsewhere. Every single one of these characters has been produced in a lab.
Chapter 1 Analysis
This novel is clearly a satire of the modern world, which, in 1931, when the novel was published, was still feeling the aftershocks of World War I and of the devastation that the military-industrial complex wrought on society. Huxley, who found war dehumanizing and thought that science and technology (if implemented incorrectly) posed a threat to modern civilization, wrote the novel as a kind of thought experiment to examine what would happen if world leaders came together and mandated peace. Naturally, he thought, the peace would be artificial, and it would thus have to be maintained through artificial means. Hence, cloning and homogenization.
Circle. One of three symbols used in the labelling system for embryos. Circles represent females.
T. One of three symbols used in the labelling system for embryos. The "T" represents male embryos and may stand for "testosterone," the male hormone.
Question Mark. One of three symbols used in the labelling system for embryos. A "?" is used to label embryos as future freemartins (sterile women). Given that the process of sterilizing female embryos involves washing them with testosterone during the development process, the black question mark may be meant to indicate that the resulting embryo is neither male nor female in the traditional sense, but some other gendered class that is somewhere in between. See Themes: Gender for more on this.
Class. In this world, it's believed that social strife comes from conflict between the classes. The solution they've come up with is to homogenize the different social classes, biologically engineering, then psychologically conditioning them to accept their lot in life. Thus, the World Controllers have all but eliminated the social classes we're familiar with and instituted a caste system that, though it's entirely new, feels familiar, with the top 1% living in luxury and the rest slogging it out below.
Cloning. Unlike the world we live in today, the scientists in this brave new world have no moral qualms at all with human cloning and have, in fact, industrialized it on a large scale, producing big batches of clones in order to fill factories, offices, and fields with physiologically identical humans with a uniform set of physical characteristics and skills. There are no restrictions placed on cloning, and scientists are actively attempting to genetically engineer superior humans that mature as workers at a faster rate, thus expanding the potential workforce. This is all done in the name of the greater good, but seems abhorrent and absurd to most readers.
Gender. With the invention of cloning comes a simplification of gender and gender expression, which has been reduced to a now antiquated belief that there are only two genders—male and female—and that these genders should always be expressed in uniform ways. In this brave new world, there is no room for individuality, which means that there is no such thing as defying gender norms. The one possible exception to this is the existence of freemartins (sterilized women) who are labelled during the hatching process with a black question mark, indicating that they're different from the male and female embryos. However, given that the vast majority of the female population (about 70%) consists of these freemartins, it's safe to assume their gender expression is in line with that of "traditional" femininity.
Fertility. In part because cloning has made live birth obsolete, and in part because World Controllers have deemed it necessary to remove social structures like motherhood and families, fertility is heavily medically controlled in this world. Fertility (in particular, female fertility) is determined by those working in the hatchery, and bodies are policed according to strict rules, making it impossible for women to choose what they want to do with their own uteruses.
Homogenization. In order to maintain stability, World Controllers have homogenized the population, creating sets of identical clones to work identical jobs. Presumably, they're also homogenized all other aspects of life, including food, housing, and transportation, making everything uniform within a city and country. This homogenization makes it easier to control the masses.
Identity. Identity in this book isn't individual but communal, with everyone belonging to everyone, so that there are no unique experiences and no one has unique feelings. This creates an artificial sense of community built on the fact that everybody knows how everybody else thinks and feels. They've been engineered and conditioned this way, of course, which makes the question of whether or not they even have identities at all a philosophical one. This is one of the central themes of the novel, and Huxley will continue to develop it.
Industry. Neither cloning nor homogenization would be possible without a vast industry built on biological engineering. Thus, it becomes clear that Bokanovsky's Process is also a capitalist tool that is used to control and stimulate the world economy. Were it not so incredibly lucrative, it's likely that the entire system would be replaced with something better suited to exploit the masses.
Morality. By today's standards, there appears to be no morality whatsoever in the brave new world: science and industry go unchecked, large portions of the world's population are deliberately used as slave labor, and no one seems to have any rights with regards to their own bodies (let alone recourse to right any of these wrongs). Later, we'll find that there was some uneasiness about all of this when the system was first introduced, but the detractors were eliminated and the system has gone more or less unchallenged since.
Science and Technology. The brave new world is built on science and technology, without which the worldwide process of homogenization would be impossible. Human invention, the Director says, is vastly superior and far more interesting that nature, which they've circumvented through the cloning process. If there is any evolution at all in this world, then it takes place in the lab, under direct orders from World Controllers. Given how far in the future the novel is set, the technology in it seems fairly simple, even familiar, with modes of transportation and entertainment that are currently in use (or being developed). What's more, Huxley makes no mention of the effect that all of these advances have had on the environment, which makes this world feel even less realistic.