Brave New World Analysis
- Brave New World presents a different vision of a dystopian future than works like George Orwell’s 1984. Rather than ruling through fear and violence, the World State maintains control by cultivating apathy and conformity in its citizenry.
- Individuality and intellectual freedom are incompatible with life in the World State. Even Bernard and John come to view their nonconformity as more of a burden than a blessing.
- World State citizens’ roles within society are predetermined. Rather than suppressing human nature, the World State has essentially altered it by conditioning people to crave conformity and reject critical thought.
Last Reviewed on May 13, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 894
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is often compared with George Orwell’s 1984, as both novels depict elaborate dystopian futures within which the majority of humanity has come under the control of an authoritarian government. Both Orwell and Huxley were inspired by the trends they witnessed in society at the time that they were writing (Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, and Huxley wrote Brave New World in the early 1930s), and their respective novels seem to offer a warning of what might come to pass if these trends continue unchecked. However, the novels present differing visions of a dystopian future: whereas the Party in 1984 uses overt brutality and fear to maintain control, the World State in Brave New World brainwashes citizens until they believe that their desires are genuinely aligned with those of the government.
Orwell was inspired by his experiences during World War II, during which he witnessed the devastating impacts of a violent authoritarian regime on its citizens. The brutality and scarcity in 1984 evoke the anxieties of those living in a postwar society. By contrast, Huxley originally devised Brave New World as a way of satirizing the more hopeful utopian novels of his contemporaries, who presented technological advancement as a positive. The World State represents an extreme vision of how the increasing mechanization and commercialization of society will rob people of their individuality without them ever realizing it.
In Brave New World, individuality is the enemy. It is the enemy of the state, which requires its citizens to perform, without complaint, the specific roles for which they have been created—but it is also the enemy of the people, who have been designed to conform and for whom nonconformity is terrifying. Though Bernard is disillusioned by his role in society and wonders whether he might be happier if he were allowed to be more individualistic, when he is given the opportunity to live on an island with other supposedly free thinkers, he recoils in terror. He does not really want to be an individual, nor does he view individualism as something to strive for; he sees his individuality as a punishment and feels burdened by the emotions that people in his society are not supposed to experience.
Basic physical feelings, such as pleasure, are encouraged in the world of the novel: even young children engage in “sex play,” and going to “the feelies,” a multisensory equivalent of the trip to the movies, is a common pastime. The idea of feeling on an emotional or intellectual level, however, is considered repulsive and contemptible. The inhabitants of the World State are not required to think; they ingest soma in order to numb themselves to anything other than base, physical pleasure. Occasionally, a person emerges who wants to think freely and resist their predetermined role in society, such as Helmholtz. For Helmholtz, the ability to think for himself is so important that he is willing to suffer to retain his individuality. However, most of the citizens of the World State cannot even conceptualize individuality or intellectual freedom. Instead, they mindlessly consume the various distractions provided by the government, suggesting that as a society becomes more rigidly capitalist and industrialized, individual desires erode.
The other key freethinker in Brave New World is John, called “the Savage.” John is unique in the context of the narrative in that he was not designed to fit into this new society. Rather than being made in a lab, he was born through a natural process that is regarded as abhorrent by the World State. John is perceived as a savage because he has values that are incompatible with the hedonistic apathy of the World State citizenry. He was not grown in a test tube to fulfill a certain purpose, nor was he taught to desire conformity. Instead, he was brought up reading the works of Shakespeare. This is a stroke of ironic humor from Huxley, as an encyclopedic knowledge of Shakespeare would, to most contemporary readers, mark someone as intelligent and civilized. In the World State, however, Shakespeare is a banned writer, as his works often revolve around strong emotions and individualism.
Interestingly, though, John is not portrayed as a superior or more emotionally intelligent character than those with whom he interacts. The theatrical and intense emotions presented in Shakespeare’s works are presented as no more authentic, ultimately, than the cultivated apathy of the World State. John believes that he wants to retain his agency, and he fights violently for it in the only way he knows how: through self-denial. In the end, however, he can no longer remember why he sought to deny himself pleasure. John begins to wonder whether it might not be simpler to be like everyone else: blind to truth, but content.
Huxley’s dystopia is unusual in that those who live within it have been designed for it. In Brave New World, society has become so dependent on technology that humanity itself has morphed into a new race: humans are no longer able to feel strong emotions or imagine a lifestyle other than the controlled hedonism of the World State. Human reliance on technology has become so extreme that even reproduction now requires mechanical assistance. John’s suicide indicates that this changed, post-individualistic world is not compatible with more traditional belief systems and lifestyles. Once humanity has changed in this way, there can be no return.
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