Brave New World
What is Brave New World? Why is it important?
Brave New World is a dystopian novel written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932.
What is a dystopian novel?
The word dystopia comes from the word utopia. This, from the Greek οὐ -τόπος, means place that doesn’t exist, or that cannot exist. The concept of an ideal world has been part of the history of humanity since Plato’s Republic, which hypothesizes an ideal state ruled by philosophers.
The world utopia is a modern creation. It was invented by Thomas More, who, in 1516, published a book, Utopia, in which he imagines an island (named Utopia indeed) and its ideal political, economic and social system.
With the beginning of the Twentieth century, we have the first examples of dystopia. The word dystopia, from the Greek δυς-τόπος, is a negative utopia. It is a dark and obscure place, which generally resembles the real world, but in which some aspects have degenerated. In a dystopia, the world as we know it becomes therefore a sort of utopia.
Dystopias often focus on political, social and technological aspects which are seen as potential threats for freedom. The scope is that of criticizing society while proposing changes to build a better, if not ideal, world.
Brave New World
Brave New World is a great example of a dystopian novel. The title is a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and from here we see the main subject is that of a new world.
We see this world starting from year 632 a.F., After Ford, which is our 2540. The starting point of this new world is the year 1908, when Ford began the production of the famous Model T, the car that made history as it was the first model mass produced with the assembly line. The novel is set in London, which is also the city where Eliot’s The Waste Land is set, as the author shares some of Eliot’s topics.
This society was created, as it happens in many other dystopian novels, after an apocalyptical event: the Nine Year War.
After the war a totalitarian state was born. This state is not negatively presented, as we could expect. In the World State, everything revolves around science and technology, and the main purpose of society is to make human life perfect, eliminating pain.
People are created in laboratories using artificial processes which generate genetically different humans. Society is divided in classes: it is ruled by intellectuals and administrators (Alphas and Betas) and below them there are manual workers (the so-called Gamma, Delta and Epsilon). Every individual is optimized for the role he has, to the point where people from different classes wear clothes of different colours. Even human birth here is an industrial process which brings to mass production.
The society’s motto is “Community, Identity, Stability” and the main purpose is to reach happiness. Every aspect of human life is decided by ten World Controllers, benevolent dictators who maintain the stability.
The main principles of this society are those of conformism, communism, happiness and the elimination of solitude and pain.
- The elimination of solitude and pain
To avoid pain, families have been eliminated, and the same goes for old age and death. Moreover, in a passage of the book a character tells others about life in the previous world, where people had families and monogamous relationships and mothers gave birth to children. The listeners are horrified at such images.
To keep people happy, a drug is used, and its name is Soma. The drug is provided by the State, as it is the most efficient way to control people. As Huxley said in an interview
“If you want to preserve your power indefinitely, you have to get the consent of the ruled”A. Huxley, 1958
People are controlled from their infancy, when kids are conditioned to dislike anything that won’t be necessary or useful for their future life. For instance, Delta kids are put in front of books and flowers and they undergo electric shocks that condition them to dislike books and culture in general, and also nature, thus preferring to live in the cities where factories, their future workplace, are.
A very important topic through Brave New World is that of culture. In this society, history, literature and religion are forbidden, as they are not useful for the technological progress, and they pose a threat: people could develop individual thoughts, non-conforming to that decided by the State.
Characters and Plot
The main characters of the novel are Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, both belonging to the Alpha-Plus section, the upper section of the Alpha class. Despite their social position, they are both unsatisfied with their life and they feel different, as they dislike superficiality and conformism. Helmholtz, in particular, feels he has something inside him that he wants so express through his writing, but he doesn’t know how or what.
What changes Bernard’s life is a journey he takes with Lenina, the woman he loves. They visit the New Mexico reserve, a place where people are not under the control of the World State, they are free and have monogamous relationships, families and children. Here we observe a peculiar feature of many dystopian novels: inside the dystopian world there is a bubble where life is still as we know it, thus constituting a utopia inside the dystopia.
In the reserve Bernard meets John, whose mother was a citizen of the World State, until se got lost in the reserve and was never able to find her way back. Thanks to his mother, John has learnt how to read and he owns a copy of Shakespeare’s works, which he reads to feel less lonely. Bernard proposes John to go back to London with him, and John accepts.
Thanks to John Bernard lives a short moment of popularity, and Helmholtz hears Shakespeare’s poetry for the first time, and he understand what he was missing.
John cannot live in the society, as he’s disgusted by promiscuity and unique thought. He gets to the point where, after his mother’s death, he screams at people in the hospital that Soma is a drug that enslaves them, and that he wants to make them free. This generates a riot, after which John, Bernard and Helmholtz are brought to one of the ten World Controllers. He and John have a long discussion in which he explains the reasons why history, literature and religion are forbidden in the World State.
They have been eliminated to keep society focused on consumerism, to provide opportunity for technological progress and to give purpose to people’s work. Religion doesn’t make sense in a world where sadness, old age and death don’t exist anymore.
To keep control and order, every form of personal thought has been cancelled, making individuals fit their function in society.
An important feature of the novel is irony, which we see mostly in the fact that the situations presented are not the ones we expect. Let’s use the society’s motto as an example: “Community, Identity, Stability”. The identity mentioned is a mass identity, genetically determined, in which there isn’t space for the individual’s self-determination. Also, community here is based on rituals which are decided by the State, where people gather but the focus is not on who is present. In this society, moreover, there aren’t those forms of community that are necessary for us: family, friends, or the religious community.
The society in Brave New World isn’t as negative as we’d expect, it has pros and cons. For this reason, we could consider the novel as both a utopia and a dystopia. The book warns us from risks that are plausible in our society, but it doesn’t give us the perfect utopian solution. It lets us think about the fundamental question: is it better to be free or to be happy?
This was Brave New World! 🙂
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