Discussion Topic

The relevance and reflection of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" in contemporary society and its connection to Huxley's life

Summary:

Brave New World remains relevant today as it explores themes like technological control, loss of individuality, and consumerism, which resonate with contemporary societal issues. Huxley's life, marked by his experiences with scientific advancements and personal struggles, influenced his perceptions of a dystopian future, reflecting his concerns about the dehumanizing potential of technology and societal trends.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Huxley's "Brave New World" reflect progress in our modern world as depicted in utopian literature?

My first inclination would be to focus on medication and "pill-popping" and draw a parallel between the novel and the world we live in today.

Medicating ourselves is a way of life in the real world, at least to some degree, and this is a result of medical advances as well as a political/commercial re-definition of controlled substances (Prozac, Valium, Ibuprofen, etc.) as non-specialty, a-conditional drugs, open to anyone regardless of medical condition. 

This is an over-simplification of a wide-spread, complex phenomenon, but there is room, I think, for a connection to be made on this point.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Huxley's "Brave New World" reflect progress in our modern world as depicted in utopian literature?

The whole point of this book is that progress is not such a great thing.  We love material progress today but we (Huxley is saying) can take it too far.  In BNW, you have the world having gone crazy due to their desire for material things.  You can argue that today we have lost our spiritual values and our moral values and our love for other people because all we care about is money and material things just as is true in BNW.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Aldous Huxley's Brave New World relate to our 2013 world?

It would be rather difficult to picture a world Aldous Huxley portrays in Brave New World in 2013. In his dystopian world, mankind has taken everything to extremes. No one works. People spend time "wallowing" in materialistic wealth and personal pleasures. One man, John the Savage, decides to question everything. In his questioning, Savage must decide if his challenges are worth his life. 

Despite the extremes depicted in the novel, one could connect it to 2013. We, as a race, do question the things around us. We scrutinize and analyze how things are, why things are, and how they could be changed to make life better. In this sense, Savage represents the only realistic thing one could bring forth from the text to the world today. While some people live in excess, the vast majority do not (in the real world). We, as a global culture, tend to be beings which are concerned with the betterment of our lives and (although most would vehemently deny this) are not happy "vegging out" all of the time (at least not on a whole). 

Essentially, the novel connects to 2013 because we are not content with our world as it is. We wish to fight disease, oppression, lack of empowerment, and idleness. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What message does Aldous Huxley convey in Brave New World to contemporary readers?

As Huxley was writing this novel in the early 1930s, the stock market crash of 1929 had collapsed the world's economies and totalitarianism was on the rise. The world seemed to many to be falling apart, and many people were turning to authoritarianism to solve their problems.

The novel is a satire of a dictator's, Mustapha Mond's, vision of a perfectly calibrated World State where everyone is "happy" because they are conditioned (brainwashed) and drugged to be so. They have no real power or control over their lives, and their happiness is shallow. It is based on denying their full humanity, which is the capacity to enter into deep relationships with others, suffer, produce art, worship, and ask hard questions about life and meaning. Instead, people indulge in constant consumerism rather than relationship, participate in the group orgies that have replaced religion, take soma rather than ask questions, and accept programmed lives. They do this, Mind explains to the Savage, because after the Nine Years' War they were quite willing to trade their freedom for peace and security.

The question of "what price freedom" remains relevant today. The temptation to embrace an authoritarian government that promises to solve all our problems is still with us. The modern world lures us into a realm of constant consumerism that makes Huxley's brave new world look quaint. People are often accused of having turned from citizens to consumers. Because of how easy technology makes our lives, it is easy to find mindless diversions rather than grapple with real issues.  Huxley's message is that we need to hold on to our deepest humanity, even if it makes life harder. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What message does Aldous Huxley convey in Brave New World to contemporary readers?

Given that Huxley wrote a book entitled Brave New World Revisited, in which he explicates all that he sought to communicate in Brave New World, he did, indeed, have a message of paramount importance to future readers.  This theme is clearly stated in his "Foreword" to Brave New World:

The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals. (BNW, Foreword, xi)

Satire, by its very definition, is "a kind of literature that ridicules human folly or vice with the purpose of bringing about reform or of keeping others from falling into similar folly or vice.As such, Huxley's satire, Brave New World sends a warning of the potential dehumanization of man in a technological world that supersedes him. This very warning has been echoed by others who have analyzed our modern society.  Within this last year, for instance, journalist Glenn Beck, who interviewed an author who has written about life in the twenty-first century, asked the author, "Have we now gone past 1984?  Are we not, now, living Brave New World?"  The author concurred.

The concern of Huxley with technology's potential to remove humans from what is most human--love, friendship, struggle, happiness--is a message for future generations, not merely his contemporaries.  If this satiric novel is not of worth for his future readers, how can it even be considered satire, and how is it that it is considered a classic and remains on the canon for high schools and colleges?

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What message does Aldous Huxley convey in Brave New World to contemporary readers?

Of course Huxley did not have any message in mind for us given that he wrote the book so long before the present.  But he was surely trying to send a message to his contemporaries.

To me, the messages of the book are:

  • Scientific progress can be a very bad thing if used incorrectly.  This is why I first had to read this book in a class about bioethics.
  • Consumerism and materialism can corrode the human soul.  One of the problems in the book is that people want things more than they want a "life of the mind."
  • It is bad to want constant entertainment and "happiness."  When we do these things, we are taking away our own ability to think and our ability to feel the full range of emotions that make us human.
Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Aldous Huxley's life reflect in Brave New World?

The easy answer to this is question is that, like the characters in the book who took the mind-altering drug soma, Huxley also experimented with mind-altering drugs such as mescaline and, most famously  LSD, albeit starting in the 1950s, long after the novel was published. More interestingly, the novel reflects a society on the cusp of change. Huxley was involved with an avant-garde set of friends in post-World War I England known as the Bloomsbury Group. This group rejected Victorian sexual mores and engaged in freer sexual practices than the society at large. Brave New World both satirizes Bloomsbury sexual experiments and extends them out to a whole future society. Because our society, with safe birth control available, has largely embraced these freer sexual mores, it is easy to lose how shocking some of the customs in the book, such as the widespread and socially sanctioned "hooking up" for casual sex, would have been to early audiences. Likewise, the book was written before post World War II consumption patterns set in, so such practices as throwing out clothes insead of mending them would have been more shocking, and comic, to Huxley's contemporaries than they are to us. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How much of Huxley's Brave New World is present in our modern world?

It is alarming how close society is to Brave New World. In his forward to the novel, Aldous Huxley wrote,

This really revolutionary revolution is...the one that takes place in the souls and flesh of human beings.

He also wrote that by "means of the sciences of life...the quality of life can be radically changed."  Certainly, modern society has witnessed dramatic changes as a result of the advancement of technology, some of which are beneficial, many not.

Since one must always look for the metaphoric meaning when reading works of science fiction, it is this figurative meaning that we must weigh in evaluating how close society is to Huxley's New World.  For instance, as a dark satire (which by definition is an exaggeration) Huxley's novel is a warning that if science is used as an instrument of power, it can be applied to human beings in the wrong way.

One example of how the technology of the news media is exploited to influence people is in its misrepresentation of reality or its bias by omission of certain facts, or in its presentation of others. Photographs of groups of protesting people, for instance, can be shot from certain angles to make them appear larger, thus giving their existence more import.

The use of drugs to alter behavior as in the New World is not unknown in contemporary society.  How many millions of people are on anti-depressives, for instance?  This thinking that everyone should always be happy has become so prevalent that one man has written a book in defense of unhappiness, pointing out that all great changes in history have been effected after man's discontent with his conditions. In Brave New World, soma is modeled after a sacred etheogenic plant in India used for meditation. The plant, now lost, contained hallucinogenic properties that produced a euphoric state not dissimilar to anti-depressants. So, how preposterous is it to compare modern society's use of anti-depressants to that of soma?

The feelies of the New World are not so different from the many music videos, movies, etc. that are watched today.  Many an advertisement and television program has sexual overtones or the suggestions that sexuality is of paramount importance. The Bible has a line--"When a man's mind turns to lust, he forgets all else"--that offers the reason for the use of sexual activity in Huxley's work:  it is a distraction for the people and keeps them from thinking of important things.

Truly, there is a revolution taking place in people's souls and minds; they "just want to be safe" and allow legislators to take more and more control of their lives as witnessed by the enlargement of government controls.  People are desensitized to violence as they watch films, play video games, etc.  They lose the sense of the value of abstract qualities such as freedom, ethics, love, personal responsibility, and individualism as they place value only in material things through their obsessive consumption of goods.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How much of Huxley's Brave New World is present in our modern world?

In most ways, Huxley’s new world does not exist in our own world.  It would be more accurate to say that we are moving towards that world in some ways and that in other ways we have the problems that the “brave new world” was supposed to get rid of.

In the brave new world, essentially everything that makes people human has been done away with.  Through conditioning and through soma, people no longer have the sorts of feelings that real human beings have.  As Henry says to Lenina in Chapter 5

"Anyhow," he concluded, "there's one thing we can be certain of; whoever he may have been, he was happy when he was alive. Everybody's happy now."

This is clearly not the case with us today.  We have moved in some ways towards the society that Huxley envisions.  We have become very consumeristic.  We often seem to try to fill our lives with mindless entertainment (as they do with obstacle golf).  We in the US seem to want to look and act young forever.  Some people would argue that we are excessively promiscuous. 

But all of this is just window dressing.  The main point of Huxley’s world is that people have stopped having feelings.  They have done away with their emotions so that they can have lives that will seem easier and so that they will not have conflict.   We have not gotten anywhere close to this.  We are still all too human and our human frailties lead to various sorts of conflicts.

If anything, we are living in a world that is full of the problems that made people want to create the “brave new world.”  We have antagonisms between the rich and the poor that might be solved by the creation of genetically engineered castes.  We have problems with nationalism and religious conflict that might be solved by the conditioning and other factors that make everyone in the World State essentially the same.  We have not created the “brave new world.”  Instead, we are living in the conditions that would theoretically cause people to want an engineered utopia where the problems would go away.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on