- Themes Interpretation Symbols
Huxley was born in Laleham, England, on July 26, 1894. His father, Leonard Huxley, taught and later worked and wrote for a publishing firm. His mother, Julia Frances Arnold Huxley, founded a girls‘ school. Huxley was the third of four children. Yet this gifted household suffered a number of tragedies which would later shape Aldous‘ life and work. His mother Julia died of cancer in 1908. At age sixteen, Aldous contracted an eye disease called “keratitis punctata”, which left him nearly blind for eighteen months, ending his budding scientific or medical career. In 1914, Huxley’s brother Trevenen hung himself. In writing of his brother’s suicide, Aldous concludes it was his ideals that had driven him to take his own life. While in college, he met his first wife, Maria, in 1919. They had a son, Matthew, and the same year, Huxley published his first book of short stories. Maria died in 1955, and in 1956 he married Laura Archera Huxley. Point Counter Point is one of his most complex novels, and it is the novel that established him as a best-selling author. Brave New World was to follow. Huxley began Brave New World as a result of his intrigue with the sciences, which he had studied extensively before the damage to his eyesight at age sixteen. Although the novel can be read purely as science fiction, there is a deeper commentary reflecting Huxley’s concern with technology and its place in society. The commentary on the potentially diverging paths of social and scientific progress continued into his later novels and essays. Ultimately, Brave New World may have set Huxley on a pedestal. Critics have attacked Huxley’s later works of fiction for a lack of positive characters. Other critics and scholars have defended his later works, claiming that the ideology and morality present in his novels place it outside of the field of fiction. Huxley dies in 1963 in Los Angeles.
The story is set in a London six hundred years in the future. People all around the world are part of a totalitarian state, free from war, hatred, poverty, disease, and pain. They enjoy leisure time, material wealth, and physical pleasures. However, in order to maintain such a smoothly running society, the ten people in charge of the world, the Controllers, eliminate most forms of freedom and twist around many traditionally held human values. Standardization and progress are valued above all else. These Controllers create human beings in factories, using technology to make ninety-six people from the same fertilized egg and to condition them for their future lives. Children are raised together and subjected to mind control through sleep teaching to further condition them. As adults, people are content to fulfill their destinies as part of five social classes, from the intelligent Alphas, who run the factories, to the mentally challenged Epsilons, who do the most menial jobs. All spend their free time indulging in harmless and mindless entertainment and sports activities. When the Savage, a man from the uncontrolled area of the world (an Indian reservation in New Mexico) comes to London, he questions the society and ultimately has to choose between conformity and death.
Although Bernard Marx is the primary character in Brave New World up until his visit with Lenina to the Reservation, after that point he fades into the background and John becomes the central protagonist. John first enters the story as he expresses an interest in participating in the Indian religious ritual from which Bernard and Lenina recoil. John’s desire first marks him as an outsider among the Indians, since he is not allowed to participate in their ritual. It also demonstrates the huge cultural divide between him and World State society, since Bernard and Lenina see the tribal ritual as disgusting. John becomes the central character of the novel because, rejected both by the “savage” Indian culture and the “civilized” World State culture, he is the ultimate outsider.
Up until his visit to the Reservation and the introduction of John, Bernard Marx is the central figure of the novel. Bernard’s first appearance in the novel is highly ironic. Just as the Director finishes his explanation of how the World State has successfully eliminated lovesickness and everything that goes along with frustrated desire, Huxley gives us our first glimpse into a character’s private thoughts, and that character is lovesick, jealous, and fiercely angry at his sexual rivals. Thus, while Bernard is not exactly heroic (and he becomes even less so as the novel progresses), he is still interesting to the reader because he is human. He wants things that he can’t have.
Helmholtz Watson is not as fully developed as some of the other characters, acting instead as a foil for Bernard and John. For Bernard, Helmholtz is everything Bernard wishes he could be: strong, intelligent, and attractive. As such a figure of strength, Helmholtz is very comfortable in his caste. Unlike Bernard, he is well liked and respected. Though he and Bernard share a dislike of the World State, Helmholtz condemns it for radically different reasons. Bernard dislikes the State because he is too weak to fit the social position he has been assigned; Helmholtz because he is too strong. Helmholtz can see and feel how the shallow culture in which he lives is stifling him.
Mustapha Mond is the most powerful and intelligent proponent of the World State. Early in the novel, it is his voice that explains the history of the World State and the philosophy upon which it is based. Later in the novel it is his debate with John that lays out the fundamental difference in values between World State society and the kind of society represented in Shakespeare’s plays.
Themes Interpretation Symbols:
The Use of Technology to Control Society:
Brave New World warns of the dangers of giving the state control over new and powerful technologies. One illustration of this theme is the rigid control of reproduction through technological and medical intervention, including the surgical removal of ovaries, the Bokanovsky Process, and hypnopaedic conditioning. Another is the creation of complicated entertainment machines that generate both harmless leisure and the high levels of consumption and production that are the basis of the World State’s stability. Soma is a third example of the kind of medical, biological, and psychological technologies that Brave New World criticizes most sharply.
The Consumer Society:
It is important to understand that Brave New World is not simply a warning about what could happen to society if things go wrong, it is also a satire of the society in which Huxley existed, and which still exists today. While the attitudes and behaviors of World State citizens at first appear bizarre, cruel, or scandalous, many clues point to the conclusion that the World State is simply an extreme—but logically developed—version of our society’s economic values, in which individual happiness is defined as the ability to satisfy needs, and success as a society is equated with economic growth and prosperity.
The Incompatibility of Happiness and Truth:
Brave New World is full of characters who do everything they can to avoid facing the truth about their own situations. The almost universal use of the drug soma is probably the most pervasive example of such willful self-delusion. Soma clouds the realities of the present and replaces them with happy hallucinations, and is thus a tool for promoting social stability. But even Shakespeare can be used to avoid facing the truth, as John demonstrates by his insistence on viewing Lenina through the lens of Shakespeare’s world, first as a Juliet and later as an “impudent strumpet.” According to Mustapha Mond, the World State prioritizes happiness at the expense of truth by design: he believes that people are better off with happiness than with truth.