At a Glance

  • Brave New World depicts a dystopian future where the World Controllers brainwash, clone, and pacify citizens in the name of "the greater good." This raises important questions about power, class, and social inequality, forcing readers to think about whether state interests are more important than individual freedom.
  • Huxley took the title of the novel from Shakespeare's The Tempest, in which the naive Miranda is suddenly introduced to the world after years of growing up on a remote island. In her surprise and wonder, she says, "O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!"
  • Aldous Huxley tackles many important moral issues in Brave New World, including: the dangers of technological innovation, the social and scientific implications of human cloning, and the threat that unchecked political power poses to the world. He intended the novel to serve both as a satire of modern society and a warning of the dangers that lie ahead. 


(Novels for Students)

Point of View
Huxley tells the story of Brave New World in a third-person, omniscient (all-knowing) voice. The narrative is chronological for the most part, jumping backward in time only to reveal some history, as when the Director explains to Bernard Marx what happened when he visited the Indian reservation, or when John and Linda recall their lives on the reservation before meeting Bernard and Lenina. The first six chapters have very little action and are instead devoted to explaining how this society functions. This is accomplished by having the reader overhear the tour that the Director, and later the Controller, lead through the “hatchery,” or human birth factory, lecturing to some students.

Once familiarized with this future world, the reader learns more about the characters through their dialogue and interaction. For example, Bernard and Lenina’s conversation on their date shows how deeply conditioned Lenina is to her way of life and how difficult it is for Bernard to meet society’s expectations of how he should feel and behave. Throughout the rest of the book, Huxley continues to reveal the way the society functions, but instead of having the reader overhear lectures, he portrays seemingly ordinary events, showing how they unfold in this very different society. When Huxley finally presents the arguments for and against the compromises the society makes in order to achieve harmony, he does this in the form of a dialogue between Mustapha Mond and John the Savage. The book ends with a sober and powerful description of John’s vain struggle to carve out a life for himself as a hermit. This is contrasted with the humorous, satirical tone of much of the book, making it especially moving.

Set in London, England, six hundred years in Huxley’s future, Brave New World portrays a totalitarian society where freedom, diversity, and conflict have been replaced by efficiency, progress, and harmony. The contrast between our world and that of the inhabitants of Huxley’s futuristic society is made especially clear when Huxley introduces us to the Indian reservation in New Mexico where the “primitive” culture of the natives has been maintained. Huxley chose London as his main setting because it was his home, but he implies, by mentioning the ten world controllers, that the entire world operates the same way that the society in London does.


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Shakespeare References

Aldous Huxley’s title for the novel comes from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

Prospero, once the Duke of Milan, is deposed by his brother Antonio. Prospero and his two-year-old daughter are abandoned in a small boat at sea. They find an island to live on. Miranda grows up to be a lovely young woman who has no knowledge of the world. Her father uses his power as a magician to create a storm that brings a boat carrying his old enemies to the island so he can punish them for his exile.

Two supernatural characters become Prospero’s slaves on the island: Caliban, the deformed and base son of a dead witch, and Ariel, a spiritual being who had been imprisoned by Caliban’s mother. These are the only other two beings Miranda had known. When Miranda sees the various men who have come to the island, she says, “O Brave New World.” Prospero, who has worldly experience, replies, “Tis new to thee.”

The play is judged to have been written in 1610–1611, and shows the inner nature of human beings revealed in crisis and change.

Throughout the novel, John the Savage is drawn to two plays of Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet and Othello. Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of two young lovers. Juliet is a beautiful, virginal 14-year-old. Romeo is the handsome teenage son of the Montague family, sworn enemies of the...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In the totalitarian state of Brave New World, people are socially conditioned from conception; they are hatched from test tubes rather than being born. Something is wrong with Bernard Marx. Although he ought to be, in keeping with everyone else in this engineered society, an absolute conformist, he evinces certain quirks that his fellows find disturbing. They theorize that something must have gone wrong chemically during his incubation. Bernard dates Lenina Crowne, but he wants her all to himself. This is against the mores of their society, which prescribes communal sexual relations and proscribes monogamous pairing. Lenina is outraged by his request for monogamy. Any contravention of the societal motto of “Community, Identity, Stability” is regarded as a heinous offense.

Happiness is not an individual quest; it is a daily, community guarantee. Through early conditioning, people are educated to be happy for what they are allotted, with allotments made according to class, which is determined at conception. A drug called soma provides a haven from any temporary unhappiness.

Lenina and Bernard, on vacation, visit an Indian reservation in New Mexico that is a mixture of living museum and circus. There they find John, who was reared on the reservation by his mother, Linda, a woman from Western Europe. John later is revealed to be the illegitimate son of the director of the Bloomsbury Hatchery. As someone outside mainstream society, he is able to find flaws in it. He has escaped the universal conditioning and has steeped himself in the works of a forbidden author, William Shakespeare. A collection of Shakespeare’s works is the only book he has ever read. He is imbued with the spirit of drama and finds the utter placidity of the present world an affront to the human spirit: riskless, monotonous, and amoral. When Lenina, who fancies him, disrobes in preparation for a guiltless sexual episode, he rejects her for her whorishness even though he is in love with her.

After his mother’s death from an overdose of soma, John attempts to subvert some workers who are about to receive their allocation of the drug. This causes a riot, which results in the banishment to Iceland of Bernard and Helmholtz Watson, another “flawed” person. Mustapha Mond, controller of Western Europe, refuses to extend this sentence to John, wanting to keep him nearby so that he can study him.

John retreats from the world into a lighthouse, where he flagellates himself for his sins. He is recorded doing so by a reporter with a sound camera, and this footage is made into a “feelie,” a film with sensations added, that receives widespread attention. Tourists arrive in helicopters to gawk at this curious creature who cultivates his own pain. Among them is Lenina. John lashes her and, as she writhes on the ground, himself. This drives the onlookers into an orgiastic frenzy, which catches John up in its license. The next day, when he realizes to what degrading ends his self-mortification has been put, he hangs himself.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Great Britain

*Great Britain. In Huxley’s dystopian future, the British Isles are part of Western Europe, one of ten administrative divisions of the world supervised by resident controllers.

Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre

Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. Place where new citizens of London, the one-time capital of Britain, are produced. It has four thousand rooms. Life begins in the Fertilizing Room, after which cloned embryos are implanted in artificial wombs in the Bottling Room. Treatments administered in the Social Predestination Room determine the future status of the individuals delivered in the Decanting Room. The building’s upper floors contain the Infant Nurseries and Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms. The center includes pleasant gardens, where children are allowed to play, but their games are carefully designed to supplement their careful education. The hatchery is the core of Huxley’s sarcastic extrapolation of the principles of American automobile pioneer Henry Ford’s assembly-line production system and Frederick Winslow Taylor’s theories of applying scientific management to the organization of entire societies.

*Fleet Street

*Fleet Street. Real London street on which most British national newspapers were produced at the time Huxley wrote Brave New World. In the year A.F. (“after Ford”) 632 (the twenty-seventh century by regular calendars), the street is dominated by a sixty-six-story building whose lower floors accommodate the Bureau of Propaganda—encompassing Television, Feeling Pictures, and Synthetic Voice and Music as well as the three remaining newspapers—while the eighteen uppermost floors house the College of Emotional Engineering.

*Westminster Abbey

*Westminster Abbey. One of the two most famous churches in London in the twentieth century, the abbey is situated close to the Houses of Parliament, near the River Thames. In A.F. 632 it has become a cabaret serving a vast apartment complex. The site of the other famous London church, St. Paul’s Cathedral—at the top of Ludgate Hill—is occupied in A.F. 632 by the huge Fordson Community Singery, whose seven thousand rooms are used by Solidarity Groups for fortnightly services.

New Mexico Savage Reservation

New Mexico Savage Reservation. Fictional Indian reservation west of Albuquerque, New Mexico, encompassing the Malpais Valley. It is one of several set aside for the use of people—including Native Americans—who remain stubbornly dedicated to squalid, inefficient, and chaotic ways of life that have been rendered obsolete by Fordism. Its 560,000 square kilometers are divided into four sub-reservations, each surrounded by an electrified fence.


*Eton. Real village north of Windsor in England’s Berkshire region, the site of what is probably England’s most famous preparatory school. The school still exists in A.F. 632; it, the School Community Singery, and the fifty-two-story Lupton’s Tower form three sides of a quadrangle in whose center stands a chrome-steel statue of Our Ford.

Park Lane Hospital for the Dying

Park Lane Hospital for the Dying. Sixty-story building externally decorated with primrose-colored tiles, overlooking Hyde Park. Visits to such institutions are a routine part of the existential process, so that children may become accustomed to the idea of death—against which patients are not encouraged to put up undignified struggles.


*Cyprus. Large eastern Mediterranean island. In the novel, it is mentioned as the site of an experiment undertaken in the year A.F. 473, when twenty-two thousand Alphas were allowed to create a society of their own, unsupported by the ranks of mentally inferior Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, who were eight-ninths of the population in Fordist society. When nineteen thousand Alphas died in civil wars caused by their reluctance to do the menial work needed to maintain their society, the survivors petitioned the World Controllers to resume their government over the island.


Lighthouse. Ferroconcrete edifice intended for the guidance of air traffic, erected on a hill between the towns of Puttenham and Elstead in the English county of Surrey, south of the Hog’s Back ridge. In this improvised “hermitage” John the Savage tries, unsuccessfully, to isolate himself from the England of A.F. 632.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

When Huxley wrote Brave New World, foreshadowing a future characterized by sterility and an absence of individuality, he could not possibly have known about these newborn transgenic cows, 'created' in 1998 through cloning and genetic engineering. Published by Gale Cengage

When Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931 it was at the beginning of a worldwide depression. The American stock market crash of 1929...

(The entire section is 965 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

One of the achievements of Brave New World is the skill and inventiveness with which Huxley manages to create the technological...

(The entire section is 312 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

1. One of the obvious projects for a group discussing Brave New World would be to compare it to George Orwell's novel 1984.


(The entire section is 247 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Aldous Huxley has been compared to H. G. Wells as a popularizer of science but unlike Wells who perceived science as providing the...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

  • 1920s: Scientist Ivan Pavlov conducts behavioral experiments and shows that one can create a conditioned response in...

(The entire section is 220 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

  • Research Henry Ford’s development of the modern assembly line for producing Model T automobiles. Compare his ideas about efficient...

(The entire section is 112 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Utopian literature has long been a staple of western writing. Homer, Plato, Dante, Sir Thomas More, Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, H. G. Wells all...

(The entire section is 368 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

  • Brave New World was adapted as a made-for television movie in 1980, directed by Burt Brinckerhoff, and starring Kristoffer...

(The entire section is 33 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

  • 1984 (1948) George Orwell’s dystopian novel, was written after Brave New World and after the rise...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Baugh, Albert C., ed. A Literary History of England, 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1948.


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(Great Characters in Literature)

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.