Last Updated on December 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1265
Assessing Savagery and Civilization: Brave New World subverts commonly held ideas of what is “civilized.” Many brutal aspects of the World State are presented through a veneer of scientific formality, while John’s independence and freedom of thought contributes to his classification as a “savage.”
- For discussion: Compare and contrast the cultures of the World State and the reservation. How does each culture handle birth and death? How do they construct families and educate children? How do they handle individuals who break rules? How do they determine punishments?
- For discussion: The World State has a very distinctive caste system. Do you agree with Mustapha when he suggests that a society of all Alphas would fail? How does this social hierarchy compare to the social hierarchy on the reservation?
- For discussion: Research various definitions of “civilization” and “savagery.” How do the two cultures presented in Brave New World compare to these definitions? Does either word fit either culture perfectly? Why or why not?
Considering the Ethics of Science: Huxley described his novel as dealing less with science and more with science’s effects on humans. Brave New World presents readers with ethical conundrums relating to human nature, sexuality, evolutionary biology, and technological innovation. Huxley presents readers with a vision of life in the World State that is both intriguing and horrifying.
- For discussion: How has the World State used science to develop society? Compare the use of science in the World State to that on the reservation.
- For discussion: Does science liberate people or limit people in the World State? How so?
- For discussion: What benefits does the use of science bring to the World State? Do these benefits justify its use? Why or why not?
- For discussion: Ultimately, does the novel condemn or celebrate science? How do applications of science in the World State compare with governmental applications of science today? How do depictions of science in Brave New World compare with the uses of science today?
Describing Power in the World State: In Brave New World, the government exerts control over nearly every aspect of people’s lives: their genetics, their education, their sexuality, their profession, and even their experiences of death. Over the course of the novel, different characters—John, Bernard, and Helmholtz—all attempt to defy that control and exert authority over their own lives.
- For discussion: How does the World State exert control over its citizens? Who, if anyone, is empowered within the culture of the World State?
- For discussion: What is the role of soma in the World State? Who seems to be the most in need of soma: the Alphas or the Epsilons? Why might that be the case?
- For discussion: How do John, Bernard, and Helmholtz each try to exert power in the World State? Are any of them successful? How?
- For discussion: What roles do human instinct and free will play in the World State? To what extent do they threaten the established power structure?
Interpreting Setting: The settings in Brave New World—London and New Mexico in 2540 CE—are nearly as important as its characters and events in developing themes in the text. The amount of detail that Huxley used in creating the World State generates the eerie verisimilitude of the culture itself as well as disconcerting similarities between civilization in 2540 and in the present day.
- For discussion: Describe, or render artistically, the most impactful setting in Brave New World. What specific details does Huxley provide? Where are you forced to make inferences?
- For discussion: Describe the professional and recreational facilities in the World State. What goes on in the Internal and External Secretions Factory or the Hounslow Feely Studio?
- For discussion: Compare and contrast the World State and New Mexico. What are their similarities and differences? How do these settings act as foils for each other?
- For discussion: How do descriptions of setting alter tone and mood in the story? To what extent do they contribute to situational irony or developing themes in the text?
Understanding Character Development: John is the character who experiences the most development in Brave New World. He leaves his conflicted life on the reservation and experiences the World State, first with wonder and eventually with disgust. John stands apart from other characters in his ability to critique both his native culture and the culture of the World State. He takes on myriad symbolic resonances and can be identified with multiple Shakespearean and religious figures, such as Romeo, Othello, Jesus Christ, and John the Baptist.
- For discussion: How does John develop over the course of the text? How do his behaviors, appearance, and attitudes shift? What are his strengths and weaknesses as a character?
- For discussion: Describe John’s relationship with the World State. What is his initial perception of the World State? What changes that perception?
- For discussion: What arguments about humanity and human society does John present to the World Controller? Why does John decide to live alone in the lighthouse?
- For discussion: To what extent is John a tragic hero? A martyr? What archetypes do you associate with John’s character?
Additional Discussion Questions:
- Describe the structure of the narrative. Are its shifts between narration and philosophy effective? Why or why not?
- Does Brave New World present an optimistic or a pessimistic view of humanity and society? How so?
Tricky Issues to Address While Teaching
Sexuality is a Prominent Motif: From state-mandated orgies to socially-celebrated promiscuity, sexuality and desire are critical aspects of society in the World State.
- What to do: Explain to students that sexuality is a normal part of the human experience, and attitudes toward sexuality are socially constructed, meaning that they vary widely across time and place.
- What to do: Ask students to compare and contrast views about sexuality in the World State and on the reservation. For whom does sexuality bring the most happiness? The most conflict?
The Allusions are Complex: A deep understanding of the text requires readers to be familiar with the works of Shakespeare, many world religions, and industrial history. The novel also calls on readers to engage with a range of dense philosophical inquiries.
- What to do: Sequence Brave New World in the curriculum after students have read a few of Shakespeare’s plays, or consider frontloading many of the allusions in the text.
- What to do: Guide students in a research project in which they build their own background knowledge to support their understanding of the text.
Alternative Approaches to Teaching Brave New World
While the main ideas, character developments, and discussion questions above are typically the focal points of units involving Brave New World, the following suggestions represent alternative readings that may enrich your students’ experience and understanding of the novel.
- Focus on freedom and imprisonment. Both the World State and the reservation present humans who have certain freedoms but who are also controlled by the societies in which they live. How do students define freedom? In the novel, what freedoms have been sacrificed for the good of society? Are these sacrifices justified? Why or why not?
- Focus on animal imagery. Point out examples of animal imagery to students, such as in descriptions of Bokanovskification, group sex, or Bernard and Lenina’s description of the people on the reservation. What does it mean to be human? Does society have a humanizing effect or a dehumanizing effect on the individuals therein?
- Focus on historical allusions. Ask students to explore the historical people and events that inform the novel, taking the opportunity to teach responsible research techniques. How do historical allusions develop themes in the novel?
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