The Unique Setting of Huxley's Novel
Aldous Huxley’s most enduring and prophetic work, Brave New World (1932), describes a future world in the year 2495, a society combining intensified aspects of industrial communism and capitalism into a horrifying new world order. Huxley’s title, taken from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, is therefore ironic: This fictional dystopia is neither brave nor new. Instead, it is so controlled and safe that there is neither need nor opportunity for bravery. As for being “new,” its unrelenting drives toward management and development, and its obsessions with predictable order and consumption, are as old as the Industrial Revolution. Coupling horror with irony, Brave New World, a masterpiece of modern fiction, is a stinging critique of twentieth-century industrial society.
Huxley’s observations about capitalist and communist societies show that what are usually thought of as vastly different systems also have some similarities. James Sexton calls the common denominator “an uncritical veneration of rationalization.” The common denominator might also be characterized as the drive to ensure the industrialization of society by forms of propaganda and force, either frequent and obvious (as with the former Soviet Union) or more infrequent and subtle (such as in the United States and Europe). For proof that Huxley was commenting on modern societies, the reader need look no farther than the names of the characters residing in his futuristic London. There is Bernard Marx (named after Karl Marx 1818-1883, the philosopher and economist whose theories were adopted by communist societies), Sarojini Engels (named after Friedrich Engels, 1820-1895, Marx’s colleague and supporter), Lenina Crowne (named after V. I. Lenin, 1870- 1924, the leader of the Russian Revolution in 1917 and Premier from 1918-24), and Polly Trotsky (named after Leon Trotsky 1879-1940, the Russian revolutionary and writer).
The most damning critique of Western industrialism is indicated by the “God” worshipped in this future world-society: American car manufacturer and assembly line innovator, Henry Ford (1863-1947). In Huxley’s dystopia, not only does calendar time begin with Ford’s birth (the novel takes place in “A.F. 632”—A.F. stands for “After Ford”), but industry board rooms are sanctuaries for worshipping the Lord, Ford. Even a former religious locale, Stoke Poges (a famous English Christian cemetery), is made over into a golf course, and the Christian-named London square and district, Charing Cross, is renamed “Charing T.” The letter “T” (referring to Ford’s popular automobile, the “Model T”), is mounted, like a decapitated crucifix, on public buildings and necklaces. Because Ford was a man and the Model T was a car named by a letter in the alphabet (whose small letter resembles a crucifix), one might infer that salvation can only be had in this world, not the next. And the way to this non-eternal salvation is found through the production and consumption of products made in factories not so unlike those once producing Ford’s Model T, the first successfully mass-produced car from an assembly line.
One special product that is mass-produced on assembly lines in A.F. 632 is the human being. To insure that there are enough—but not too many—workers and consumers, human life is carefully controlled from conception to death by two methods: outright control of the numbers and types of babies born and subconscious conditioning of people’s thoughts. Factories with conveyor belts containing bottled embryos of the five preordained castes are inoculated against all future disease, treated with hormones and proteins, and placed in different environments to influence their growth. In this way, embryos are fashioned to have different levels of intelligence and different physical attributes, depending on the caste for which they have been selected. The factory, The Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, makes viviparous reproduction (live birth from parents) obsolete. Huxley develops here the impersonal generation of children he began in his first novel, Crome Yellow (1921). Children are...
(The entire section is 1732 words.)