Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500
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.
Last Updated on May 14, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 989
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.
Irony and Satire
Brave New World is also considered a novel of ideas, otherwise known as an apologue: because the ideas in the book are what is most important, the characterization and plot are secondary to the concepts Huxley presents. In order to portray the absurdity of the future society’s values as well as our contemporary society’s values, he uses satire (holding up human folly to ridicule), parody (a humorous twist on a recognizable style of an author or work), and irony (words meaning something very different from what they literally mean, or what the characters think they mean). Ordinary scenes the reader can recognize, such as church services and dates, incorporate behavior, internal thoughts, and dialogue that reveal the twisted and absurd values of the citizens of the future. Because the roots of many of the practices seen in this futuristic society can be found in contemporary ideas, the reader is led to question the values of contemporary society. For example, people today are taught to value progress and efficiency. However, when taken to the absurd extreme of babies being hatched in bottles for maximum efficiency, the reader realizes that not all progress and efficiency is good. Huxley even satirizes sentimentality by having the citizens of the future sing sentimental songs about “dear old mom,” only they sing a version in which they fondly recall their “dear old bottle,” the one in which they grew as fetuses. Being sentimental about one’s origin in a test tube will strike many readers as funny, as well as ironic.
Throughout the book, evidence of Huxley’s vast knowledge of science, technology, literature, and music can be found. He makes frequent allusions to Shakespeare, mostly through the character of John, who quotes the bard whenever he needs to express a strong human emotion. Indeed, the title itself is from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which the sheltered Miranda first encounters some men and declares, “How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world / That has such people in’t!” Huxley also makes many allusions to powerful, influential people of his day, naming characters, buildings, and religions after them. For example, Henry Ford (1863–1947) is as a god; his name is used in interjections (Oh my Ford!), in calculating the year (A.F., or After Ford, instead of A.D., which stands for “anno domini”—in the year of our Lord). Even the Christian cross has been altered to resemble the T from the old Model T car built by Ford.
The character of the Savage is reminiscent of the Noble Savage—the concept that primitive people are more innocent and pure of heart than civilized people. However, Huxley is careful not to portray him as heroic or his primitive culture as ideal. The reader sympathizes with him because he is the person who most represents current values.
One of the more subtle influences on the story, however, is Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the founder of modern psychoanalysis. The Savage is a prime example of someone who suffers from what Freud termed the Oedipus complex, a powerful desire to connect with one’s mother. At one point, when he sees his mother with her lover, he identifies with Hamlet, who also had an Oedipal complex, an overattachment to his mother that prevented him from accepting her as sexually independent of him. Freud believed that childhood experiences shape adult perceptions, feelings, and behaviors, and the characters in the novel are all clearly compelled to feel and act according to the lessons they learned as children, even when faced with evidence that their behavior results in personal suffering.
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