Last Updated on April 1, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1732
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...
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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 therefore bred to work and associate only with people in their caste; they can never be corrupted by parents who might pass on views that are counter to the ethics of production and consumption.
Once “hatched” or “decanted,” infants are conditioned by hypnopaedia (repeated messages played during sleep) and negative stimulus (electric shock) to, for instance, hate nature. The reason for this desirable hatred of nature is simple: an appreciation of nature takes people away from their duties of production and consumption; citizens are therefore made to believe that they can live in a natural environment only if they are wearing special clothing. Continuously conditioned by repeated messages to be happy with their own caste and world, people are distracted from possible thoughts of rebellion by participating in sports, watching entertaining shows that also serve as subtle propaganda, enjoying casual and frequent sex, and by using the drug “soma,” a kind of mood-stabilizer regularly handed out free-of-charge in the workplace. Soma is named after a hallucinogenic drink used in Hindu sacrificial ceremonies.
However, there is one last impediment which must be overcome: old age. Because aging would interrupt work (production) and play (consumption) the five castes are kept young through chemical treatments, making them fully capable of producing and consuming until they die. London hospitals in A.F. 632 are only necessary for the dying, and no one grieves for the dying because they are conditioned not to and because lack of familial bonds makes people only friends at best. The maxim “ending is better than mending” applies to all products, including people, in this disposable society.
The total scientific control of the human organism might lead some readers to think that Brave New World is a denouncement of science. This is unlikely, since Huxley came from a family of eminent scientists and, before becoming blind, he wanted to be a doctor. As Keith May commented, “The chief illusion which Brave New World shatters has less to do with an unthinking faith in scientific progress than with the assumption that truth, beauty, and happiness are reconcilable goods on the plane of ordinary, unregenerate human activity.” One might also say, however, that truth and beauty have no place in A.F. 632, but must be, as Mustapha Mond says near the end of the book, hidden or eradicated. The trinity of truth, beauty, and happiness has been replaced by the holy pair, stability and happiness, necessary elements of production and consumption.
From birth to death, the life Huxley describes in Brave New World is a fully engineered existence in which both people and their environment are remade to society’s specifications. George Woodcock states that “it seemed evident to him [Huxley] that any human attempt to impose an ideal order on Nature or on men would be perverted by man’s limitations. So for all his love of order in geometry and architecture and music, he distrusted it in political or social planning.” Jerome Meckier characterizes over-engineering and mania for order as an excess of rationality: In Brave New World “the rational is raised to an irrational power until, for example, the goal of sanitation reform in the nineteenth century, namely cleanliness, replaces godliness.”
In A.F. 632 there are no schools or libraries because it is believed that thinking and learning lead to the instability and unhappiness of individuals and society and interrupt society’s greatest goods: consumption and production. Furthermore, there is no mention of money, wealth, or financial institutions. One might cautiously infer from these absences that differences of education and economic class have been replaced by biological castes, a system far more effective at insuring stability, the ideal atmosphere for practices of production and consumption.
For contrasts to Brave New World, the reader should consult Huxley’s last novel, Island (1962). Whereas the earlier novel creates a future dystopia, the latter describes a contemporary utopia. Both worlds have much in common: children are not the property of their parents, sex is open and shameless, peace and order reign, and drugs are accepted. What separates Brave New Dystopia from Island Utopia are the methods by which these ideals are accomplished. In Island children freely circulate among a village community of loving adults; sex is neither forced nor encouraged but simply accepted as normal; peace and order are not enforced, but result from the way children are raised; and a particular drug is used occasionally to pry open what artist and poet William Blake (1757-1827) called the “doors of perception” (the sense organs), which also happens to be the name of a nonfiction work by Huxley published in 1954.
In the end, Brave New World is an argument for individualism, but not the kind scornfully referred to by Marxists and socialists as “bourgeois individualism” (bourgeois is a French word referring to middle-class property owners, or those who want to be free of government regulations on wealth). Huxley, as is shown more clearly in Island, is against any society that encourages the bourgeois individual, a person who accrues wealth at the expense of workers, customers, and the community. Instead, he is interested in an economically free social individual, one who is free to be alone, one who can write, read, think, say, work, play, and otherwise do whatever he or she wants. Such an individual is the polar opposite of the characters in Brave New World in which it is said, “When the individual feels, the community reels.” For further evidence of Huxleyan individualism, the reader should also consult the nonfiction essays of Brave New World Revisited (1958) and the fascinating account of Huxley’s experience with the drug peyote in The Doors of Perception (1954).
Huxley’s lasting contribution to English literature is probably best characterized as the “novel of ideas” as defined by the fictional Philip Quarles in Huxley’s fourth novel, Point Counter Point (1928): “The character of each personage must be implied, as far as possible, in the ideas of which he is the mouthpiece. In so far as theories are rationalizations of sentiments, instincts, dispositions of the soul, this is feasible.” Frederick Hoffman says that while this might seem a monstrous way to construct a novel, “Ideas, as they are used in Huxley, possess … dramatic qualities. Dominating as they very often do the full sweep of his novels, they appropriate the fortunes and careers which ordinarily belong to persons.” Brave New World is living evidence that the novel of ideas can become a classic, applicable to its own time as well as today.
Source: Jhan Hochman, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999. Hochman teaches at Portland Community College.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2184
It is obvious why someone who believes in censorship might choose to object to Brave New World. This world is a world of sexual promiscuity, a world with a drug culture in the most literal sense of that expression, a world in which the traditional family—in fact, any family at all—has been vilified and rendered taboo, a world in which religion has been reduced to orgiastic rituals of physical expression. It is a world in which art panders to the sensations of mass communications and a world in which the positive values of Western democracy have been ossified into a rigid caste system, in which the members of each caste are mass produced to the specifications of assembly line uniformity.
Readers who have strict standards of sexual behavior, who believe in chaste courtships and monogamous, lifetime marriages confront in this novel a society in which sexual promiscuity is a virtue and in which the sole function of sexuality is pleasure, not reproduction. Since reproduction is achieved by an elaborate biogenetic mass production assembly line, the citizens of Brave New World do not need normal human sexual activity to propagate the species. In fact, such activity is discouraged by the state so that the carefully monitored population controls are not disrupted. Women are required to wear “Malthusian Belts”—convenient caches of birth control devices—in order to forego pregnancies. The sole function of sex in this society is pleasure, and the sole function of pleasure is to guarantee the happiness of Brave New World and thus assure a stable, controllable population. State encouraged promiscuity assures that loyalty to one’s lover or family will not undermine one’s loyalty to the state. Thus, “Everyone belongs to everyone else,” and the highest compliment a man can offer a woman is that she is “very pneumatic”—a euphemism suggesting that her movements during sexual intercourse are especially pleasurable. Unlike Orwell, who in the novel 1984 placed severe taboos on sexual activity, since as private and personal act it might permit or encourage rebellion against the state, Huxley prophesizes that in the future the state will use sex as a means of population control on the basis of the psychological truism that men and women condition themselves to avoid pain and to seek pleasure.
Lest the pleasure of frequent and promiscuous sexual activity not be sufficient to distract the population and dissuade them from rebellion, Huxley foresees a culture in which widespread and addictive use of drugs offers a second means of assuring a frictionless society. “A Soma in time saves nine,”—a hypnopaedic slogan drilled into the heads of Brave New Worldians from nursery days on—conveys the message that individuals are to protect themselves from normal pain by frequent doses of this widely available and socially acceptable narcotic.
One of the most important uses for Soma is to insulate people from the effects of rapid aging which afflict Brave New World inhabitants after an artificially induced period of extended youth. In this “perfect” society—the future as heaven—most of the human qualities of life have been altered and adapted so that they are devoid of crisis and pain. Just as the inhabitants of this world age only during a brief period shortly before death and just as the drug which eases them through this period has no unpleasant side effects, so they are insulated against the normal stresses and tensions of family life. They have no parents to contend with since in Huxley’s inspired anticipation of the consequences of biogenetic engineering, they are conceived through artificial insemination, carried in assembly line placentas made of sow’s peritoneum, and decanted rather than born. Brave New World inhabitants spend their nursery years in state-run institutions where they are conditioned for future life. Those normal mortals who recall the pain of adolescence would be spared such in Brave New World; there is no adolescence. As adults, the inhabitants enjoy youth and vitality until near the time of their deaths. People never have to contend with the stress of accommodating themselves to the authority of parents, nor do they know the stress, pain, heartache—nor the joy—of nurturing and raising children.
The birth and childhood of Brave New World inhabitants is greatly reduced from the human world in which we daily live. After perusing the early chapters of this novel, the sensitive reader becomes aware that reduction is one of its recurrent themes, and that this reduction usually involves those attributes of life which make us most human. The purpose behind these reductions is to make all existence subservient to the state. Such subservience requires that even such basic institutions of human civilization as religion and art be sapped of their vital force.
With lives so devoid of pain and so concentrated in the physical and the immediate present, the Worldians have little need for the comfort or solace of religion. If religion is that aspect of man’s culture which speaks to the spirit, then Worldians have an absence of spirit of which they are unaware. The reduction of religion is symbolized in the icon which replaces the cross as the dominant religious image—a T. The worship of a supernatural savior has been supplanted by worship of a lord of the assembly line, Henry Ford, and the sign of Our Ford is taken from the model name of one of his early cars. The four arms of the cross have been reduced to the three arms of the T.
Religion lends continuity to civilization, and so does art. Each is an important constituent of the emotional component of human life. But, like religion, art in Brave New World has been reduced to trafficking in sensation—slight, transitory, physical responses as opposed to the profound, sustained, psychological responses of emotion. The “Feelies”— Brave New World’s multi-sensory version of the movies—well illustrates this pandering to sensation; rather than celebrating the ideas and emotions of human life, the “Feelies” are designed to give its participants a sensory overload of neural stimulation—the sight and feel of bare flesh on a bearskin rug, for example.
Thus art and religion are controlled by the state and subordinated to the support of the state, but the nature of that state is quite different from what a contemporary reader might expect. In the 1990s, citizens of Western Democracies see their form of government as the best form yet developed by man. As Huxley projects this important facet of human life into the future, he foresees neither Western Democracy nor its historical competitor, Eastern Communism, as the most likely political system. Instead of either he sees a five-tiered caste system occasioned through the perfection of biogenetic engineering and other modern devices of social control. Every man is created biologically equal to all others in his caste. The leisured classes are conditioned to consume, and the working classes are conditioned to manufacture what those other classes consume. Society functions almost as simply as the physical law of equal and opposite reactions.
If Huxley had perversely set out to oversimplify and reduce the most important philosophical and scientific ideas of modern times to a facile society representing a serious projection of what the world will surely become, then one might at least understand the objections of those who seek to censor the book. Neither Marx nor the founders of Western Democracy prevail. The Worldians seem to extrapolate from some of the world’s great religions— Islam Christianity Judaism—such belief as is useful for their purpose. Freud’s insights into family relationships are read only in their negative connotations, and these connotations then become the basis for social organization. Darwin’s discoveries about adaptation and heredity are seen not as patterns for understanding how nature works but rather as patterns for manipulating nature to nefarious ends. The history of modern technology culminates in a culture where man eases his way through life on drugs, is free of painful involvement with other human beings, and is sustained by the state’s manipulation of mass consumption and mass communication.
But Huxley does not offer Brave New World as an ideal. Neither does he render it as an idle fantasy portraying what life might be like in the future. Brave New World is a satire, and the pleasurable perfection of society in A.F. 689 is measured against the norm of Twentieth Century society in general and against the norm of a particular primitive society still currently extant. Brave New World has its critics both from within and without. The critic from within is Bernard Marx. Because of some abnormality in his birthing process, he is not a perfect Alpha specimen, which suggests that human imperfection and mechanical malfunction have not been completely eliminated in this brave new world. The critic from without is John Savage. As the child of Linda from the dominant culture and the adopted son of a Native American on a reservation in the American Southwest, he is a halfbreed belonging to neither the progressive nor the traditional societies in the book.
Marx introduces some of the universal human norms in the book. He is in the society, but not of it. He is physically smaller than other members of his caste—the dominant Alphas—and this physical distinction seems to generate in him envy and alienation, which are uncommon in the society. He rebels against his superior, and when he finds Linda and her son on the reservation and discovers her past association with his superior, he brings them back to the “World” in order to humiliate his boss. Though he has a professional, psychological interest in the two, he is so flattered by the attention he receives because of his connection with the famous pair that he begins to pander to the society of which he has previously been so harshly critical. Marx is important in a technical sense because it is from his point of view that we see the activities of the society—activities which he both participates in and criticizes.
John, or the savage, articulates the values of both a minority culture, the Native Americans and of the culture of the past. To the degree to which he has assimilated the culture of the Native Americans, he is a child of nature communicant with the earth, sky, wind and water. He is free of the artificial and urban environment in which Bernard spends his life. Though his mother is from the dominant society, John is born outside that society and thus escapes its state-supported brainwashing nurture and its prescriptions against artifacts of earlier times. His education he obtains from the Bible and Shakespeare—two of the most important cultural forces in modern Western civilization. It is by the norms of this literature that he executes his criticism of this “Brave New World.”
Bernard and John convey to the reader the dilemma of modern life which Huxley expresses in the novel. Through their knowledge humans gain greater and greater control over their environment. As they gain control and are better able to manage their own destiny, they also greatly increase the danger of losing their humanity—the sum total of those facets of life by which people define and know themselves. This point is literally and symbolically illustrated through the tragic conclusion of the novel. John falls victim to that most human of human emotions—love. Yet he cannot reconcile his love for Lenina Crown in a satisfactory way. John cannot accept her as “pneumatic,” as “belonging to everybody else,” after the fashion of his mother’s culture. Nor can he remold her into the image of the beloved he holds from the Biblical and Shakespearean cultural guides he learned in his childhood. John is caught out of time. He cannot go back to his old culture, nor can he assimilate the new. His only option in a world where he has become a freak to be gawked at is suicide. As his body swings from the rope gyrating toward all points of the compass, Huxley suggests that we too may be creating a world in which ironically there is no place for human life and for human emotion.
One of the objectors to this novel comments on its pessimism and tragedy as reasons why it should not be taught. Such an objection overlooks the tone of the book. As satire, the book’s purpose is to examine the failings of human behavior in order to encourage reform. Such examinations are painful when we recognize our faults through them. But pain and growth and regeneration are part of the human condition and prove that Huxley’s prophesy has not yet come true. And certainly if we try to prevent people—especially young people—from being exposed to the tragic, we would have to eliminate much world literature which has been universally proclaimed great.
Source: Richard H. Beckham, “Huxley’s Brave New World as Social Irritant: Ban It or Buy It?” in Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints, edited by Nicholas J. Karolides, Lee Burress, and John M. Kean, Scarecrow, 1993, pp. 136–41.
Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2455
One of the chief problems Huxley had with Brave New World, according to Donald Watt [in Journal English and Germanic Philology, July, 1978], was with the characters. On the evidence of the revisions, Watt concludes that Huxley seems first to have thought of making Bernard Marx the rebellious hero of the novel but then changed his mind and deliberately played him down into a kind of anti-hero. After rejecting the possibility of a heroic Bernard, Huxley next seems to have turned to the Savage as an alternative. According to Watt, there are in the typescript several indications, later revised or omitted, of the Savage’s putting up or at least planning to put up violent resistance to the new world state, perhaps even of leading a kind of revolution against it. But in the process of rewriting the novel, Huxley also abandoned this idea in favor of having no hero at all, or of having only the vague adumbration of a hero in Helmholtz Watson.
Watt’s analysis of the revisions in Brave New World is very helpful and interesting; he shows convincingly, I think, that Huxley was unable to make up his mind until very late in the composition of the novel just what direction he wanted the story and the leading male characters to take. From this uncertainty, however, I do not think it necessary to leap to the further conclusion that Huxley had difficulty in creating these characters themselves. Huxley’s supposedly inadequate ability to create living characters, the result of his not being a “congenital novelist,” is a question that often arises in discussions of his fiction, and in connection with longer and more traditionally novelistic novels like Point Counter Point or Eyeless in Gaza (1936) appropriately so. But Brave New World is anything but a traditional novel in this sense. It is not a novel of character but a relatively short satirical tale, a “fable,” much like Voltaire’s Candide. One hardly demands fully developed and “round” characters of Candide, nor should one of Brave New World.
This is all the more the case because the very nature of the new world state precludes the existence of fully developed characters. Juliets and Anna Kareninas, or Hamlets and Prince Vronskys, are by definition impossibilities in the new world state. To ask for them is to ask for a different world, the very world whose absence Huxley’s novel so savagely laments. Character, after all, is shaped by suffering, and the new world state has abolished suffering in favor of a continuous, soma-stupefied, infantile “happiness.” In such an environment it is difficult to have characters who grow and develop and are “alive.”
Despite all this, it is surprising and noteworthy how vivid and even varied Huxley’s characters are. With all their uniformly standardized conditioning, Alphas and Betas turn out to be by no means alike: the ambitious “go-getter” Henry Foster is different from his easy-going friend Benito Hoover; the unconventional and more “pneumatic” Lenina Crowne from the moralistic and rather less pneumatic Fanny Crowne; the resentful and ugly Bernard Marx from the handsome and intelligent Helmholtz Watson. Huxley, in fact, seems to work consistently and consciously in terms of contrastive/ complementary pairs to suggest various possibilities of response to similar situations. So, too, Helmholtz and the Savage are another pair, as are the Savage and Mond, Mond and the DHC, Bernard and Henry Foster. The most fully developed instance of this pairing or doubling technique is the trip that Bernard and Lenina make to the Indian reservation, a trip that duplicates the one made some years earlier by the DHC and a “particularly pneumatic” Beta-Minus named Linda. Like the DHC, Bernard also leaves Lenina, another pneumatic Beta, (briefly) behind while returning to civilization, and during this interval she, too, is lusted after by a savage, much as Pope and the other Indians lust after Linda. Even the novel as a whole reveals a similar sort of doubling structure, with the new world state on the one hand and the Indian reservation on the other.
Within limits, the characters, even some of the minor and superficial characters like Henry Foster, are capable of revealing other and deeper facets of their personality. Returning with Lenina from the Stoke Poges Obstacle Golf Course, Henry Foster’s helicopter suddenly shoots upward on a column of hot air rising from the Slough Crematorium. Lenina is delighted at this brief switchback, but “Henry’s tone was almost, for a moment, melancholy. ‘Do you know what that switchback was?’ he said. ‘It was some human being finally and definitely disappearing. Going up in a squirt of hot gas. It would be curious to know who it was—a man or a woman, an Alpha or an Epsilon. . . .” Henry quickly jolts himself out of this atypical mood and reverts to his normally obnoxious cheerfulness, but for an instant at least there was a glimpse of a real human being.
Much more than Henry, Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson are capable of complexity of response. The latter especially and partly through his contact with the Savage grows increasingly aware of himself as a separate human entity and of his dissatisfaction with the kind of life he had led hitherto. As an Emotional Engineer and contriver of slogans, Helmholtz has been very successful, as he also has been in the capacities of lover and sportsman; but he despises this success and seeks for a satisfaction for which he has no name and which he can only dimly conceive. He comes closest to expressing it in the poem that eventually leads to his exile, the poem in which an ideal and absent woman becomes more real to him—in the manner of Mallarmé’s flower that is absent from all bouquets—than any woman he has ever actually met.
In the end Helmholtz agrees to being sent into frigid exile in the Falkland Islands. The reason he chooses such a place rather than possible alternatives like Samoa or the Marquesas is because there he will not only have solitude but also a harsh climate in which to suffer and to gain new and very different experiences. His aim, however, is not, as some critics have suggested, to seek mystic experience; he simply wants to learn how to write better poetry. “I should like a thoroughly bad climate,” he tells Mustapha Mond. “I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms for example. . . .” This hardly represents a search for mysticism and God; in this novel only the Savage, and he in only a very qualified way, can be described as seeking after such ends. Helmholtz merely wants more and better words. . . .
The same is true of Bernard Marx. Despite the apparent fact that Huxley once had more exalted intentions for him, Bernard belongs very much to the familiar Huxleyan category of the anti-hero, best exemplified perhaps by Theodore Gumbril, Jr., the so-called Complete Man of Antic Hay (1923). Like Gumbril, Bernard is able to envision and even seek after a love that is not merely sexual, but, like Gumbril again, his search is half-hearted. He is willing to settle for less because it is so much easier than trying to strive for more. Bernard is weak and cowardly and vain, much more so than Gumbril, and this makes him an unsympathetic character in a way that Gumbril is not. Nevertheless Bernard is undoubtedly capable of seeing the better, even if in the end he follows the worse.
Bernard is certainly a more fully developed character than Helmholtz; he is, in fact, with the exception of the Savage, the character about whom we know most in the entire novel. Just why this should be so is a question worth asking, just as it is worth asking why Bernard is the first of the novel’s three malcontents to be brought to our attention.
Bernard’s importance resides, I think, in his incapacity. The stability of the new world state can be threatened, it is clear, from above and from below. In the case of Helmholtz the threat is from above, from a surfeit of capacity; in Bernard’s case it is from below, from a lack of sufficient capacity. This is not simply to say that Bernard is more stupid than Helmholtz, which he probably is, but rather that because of his physical inferiority he has developed a compulsive need to assert his superiority. It is this incapacity which, paradoxically, seems to make Bernard the more dangerous threat, for it compels him to rise to a position of power in his society; he wants to be accepted by his society, but only on his own terms, terms that are not acceptable in the long run if stability is to be maintained. Helmholtz, on the other hand, is a loner who really wants to have nothing to do with the society at all, and in this sense he represents much less of a threat. The Savage, on the other hand, though most violent and uncompromising in his hatred of and desire to destroy the new world state, is really no threat at all, for he originates from outside the society and is a kind of lusus naturae. There is never likely to be another Savage, but it is very probable that there will be or that there are more Bernards and Helmholtzes.
Both Bernard and Helmholtz are fairly complex characters. What is surprising, however, is that the same is true of Lenina Crowne. She seems at first to be nothing more than a pretty and addlebrained young woman without any emotional depth whatever. And at first it is true that this is all she is; but she changes in the course of the novel into something quite different. She changes because she falls in love.
The great irony of Lenina’s falling in love is that she does not realize what it is that has happened to her; like Helmholtz she has no name for the new feeling and hence no way of conceiving or understanding what it is. She can only think of love in the physiological ways in which she has been conditioned to think of it; but her feeling is different.
So subtle is Huxley’s portrayal of the change in Lenina that, as far as I know, no critic has ever commented on it. Yet Lenina is clearly predisposed from the very beginning to a love relationship that is not sanctioned by her society. As we learn from her conversation with Fanny, Lenina has been going with Henry Foster for four months without having had another man, and this in defiance of what she knows to be the properly promiscuous code of sexual behavior. When Fanny takes her up on this point of unconventionality, Lenina reacts almost truculently and replies that she “jolly well [does not] see why there should have been” anyone other than Henry. Her inability to see this error in her sexual ways is what predisposes her for the much greater and more intense feeling that she develops for the Savage.
The stages of her growing love for the Savage and her increasing mystification at what is happening within herself are handled with a brilliantly comic touch. There is the scene following Lenina’s and the Savage’s return from the feelies when the Savage sends her off in the taxicopter just as she is getting ready to seduce him. There is the touching moment when Lenina, who had once been terrified of pausing with Bernard to look at the sea and the moon over the Channel, now lingers “for a moment to look at the moon,” before being summoned by an irritated and uncomprehending Arch-Songster. There is Lenina’s increasing impatience with the obtuseness of Henry Foster and his blundering solicitousness. There are the fond murmurings to herself of the Savage’s name. There is the conference with Fanny as to what she should do about the Savage’s strange coldness toward her. There is her blunt rejection of Fanny’s advice to seek consolation with one of the millions of other men. There is the wonderful scene in which she seeks out the Savage alone in his apartment, discovers to her amazement that he loves her, sheds her clothing, and receives, to her even greater amazement, insults, blows, and a threat to kill. There is the final terrible scene at the lighthouse when Lenina steps out of the helicopter, looks at the Savage with “an uncertain, imploring, almost abject smile,” and then “pressed both hands to her left side [i.e., to her heart], and on that peach-bright, doll-beautiful face of hers appeared a strangely incongruous expression of yearning distress. Her blue eyes seemed to grow larger, brighter; and suddenly two tears rolled down her cheeks.” Again the Savage attacks her, this time with his whip, maddened by desire, by remorse, and by the horde of obscenely curious sightseers. In the end, however, desire triumphs and the Savage and Lenina consummate their love in an orgy-porgian climax. When the Savage awakens to the memory of what has happened, he knows he cannot live with such defilement. For him the end is swift and tragic. For Lenina, however, there is no end; her tragedy—and for all the comedy and irony in which her love for the Savage is immersed, the word tragedy is not entirely inappropriate—her tragedy is that she has felt an emotion that she can never express or communicate or realize again.
The characters of Brave New World, it is safe to conclude, are not merely made of cardboard and papier-mâché. That they are nonetheless not full and complete human beings is quite true; but for all the technology and conditioning and impulses toward uniformity, there is still something profoundly human about them. As Lenina’s development in the novel indicates, it is possible, as it were, to scratch the plasticized “doll-like” surface of a citizen—at least of an Alpha or Beta citizen—of the new world state and draw actual blood. In this sense and to this degree, Huxley’s vision of the perfectly planned future is not without hope; for all the genetic engineering and conditioning, basic humanity remains much the same as it always was. Its imperfections and its needs, even under such greatly altered conditions, inevitably reappear. And it is for this reason, I think, that Huxley’s vision is so extraordinarily powerful and compelling; because in the people he portrays we can still somehow recognize ourselves.
Source: Peter Edgerly Firchow, in his End of Utopia: A Study of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Bucknell University Press, 1984, 154 p.