Brave New World Historical and Social Context
by Aldous Huxley

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Background

British life in 1932 was very different from American life. Almost an entire generation of men had been lost in World War I. Oxford University enrollment was only 491 in 1917, down from 3,181 in 1914. Among many of the upper-class poets and writers of the time—sometimes called the Auden Generation, after the poet W. H. Auden—there was a sense of disillusionment and futility. Britain’s foreign investments had been depleted by war debts and loans. Higher living standards, prices, wages, and taxes became the order of the day in post-war Britain. By 1922 overpopulation had caused passage of the Empire Settlement Act to encourage and finance settlement in the dominions.

The 1920s were also years of mass unemployment, and the Communist Soviet Union was making inroads into the labor movement. After many wars, those on the homefront who had sacrificed for the war effort felt they deserved their just rewards.

In 1908, Henry Ford introduced the Model-T, in “any color you choose so long as it’s black.” In 1914, he opened his Highland Park, Michigan factory, equipped with the first electric conveyor belt assembly line. A Model-T could now be assembled in 93 minutes. Consequently, Ford had 45 percent of the new automobile market. He paid his workers the highest wages in the industry—a whopping five dollars a day. In return, he demanded that his workers live by his standards: wives were not to work or take in boarders, employees were not to drink in local bars, and families were to attend church each Sunday. He sent men out into the workers’ neighborhoods to make sure his rules were being followed. Ford was considered a bigot and was also paranoid; he feared for his family’s lives. By creating Greenfield Village near Detroit, he tried to recapture and reproduce what he viewed as a simple, happy past—the good old days.

Thus, science not only gave man a better knowledge of his world, and the technology to make living “easier,” but it also gave him new means of destroying himself. The same gasoline engine used to propel automobiles and trains was reinvented for use in airplanes that could drop bombs—as early as World War I. Science and technology together began recreating industry, which for more people than Henry Ford meant bigger profits and anxieties.

Additionally, the advent of electrical lighting in both home and factory created shift work, which of course, interferes with established biological rhythms. Electricity also created a brighter night-life with more possibilities, and it gave the middle and upper classes new appliances to make living easier and more comfortable.

The assembly lines, with their shift work, forced workers to meet the demands of both man and machine. Workers could spend an entire shift in one place along the assembly line, repeating the same action again and again. Thus, a worker answered to two bosses—one human, one mechanical. Only one understood pain and fatigue, however, and only one could stop the other. Consequently, most workers were more likely to be driven by machines than to actually drive them.

This was the newly mechanized, scientific, controlled world which became the model for Huxley’s Brave New World, which one critic regarded as “an exercise in pessimistic prognostication, a terrifying Utopia.”

In 1958, Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited, in which he discussed what he perceived as the threats to humanity that had developed since the publication of his novel in 1932. These threats were overpopulation, propaganda, scientific advancement, and his belief that man must not give up his freedom for the unthinking ease of a life organized by the power of a few over the masses. This was something that had happened in Germany, Soviet Russia, and Communist China since 1932.

Huxley saw scientific progress as a vain deceit which would produce a world with no joy—one in which endeavors are frustrated and sexual satisfaction becomes ashes. Brave New World  is the utopian...

(The entire section is 2,320 words.)