#87. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World is a novel written in 1931 by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932. Set in London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embodiment of the ideals that form the basis of futurology. Huxley answered this book with a reassessment in an essay, Brave New World Revisited (1958) and with his final work, a novel titled Island (1962). The use of technology to control society, the consumer society, the incompatibility of happiness and truth, and the dangers of an all-powerful state are what Huxley presents in his Brave New World, the false symbol for any regime of universal happiness.
Brave New World doesn’t, and isn’t intended by its author to, evoke just how wonderful our lives could be if the human genome were intelligently rewritten. In the era of post-genomic medicine, our DNA is likely to be spliced and edited so we can all enjoy life-long bliss, awesome peak experiences, and a spectrum of outrageously good designer-drugs. Nor does Huxley’s comparatively sympathetic account of the life of the Savage on the Reservation convey just how nasty the old regime of pain, disease and unhappiness can be. If you think it does, then you enjoy an enviably sheltered life and an enviably cozy imagination. For it’s all sugar-coated pseudo-realism.
In Brave New World, Huxley contrives to exploit the anxieties of his bourgeois audience about both Soviet Communism and Fordist American capitalism. He taps into, and then feeds, our revulsion at Pavlovian-style behavioral conditioning and eugenics. Worse, it is suggested that the price of universal happiness will be the sacrifice of the most hallowed shibboleths of our culture: “motherhood”, “home”, “family”, “freedom”, even “love”. The exchange yields an insipid happiness that’s unworthy of the name. Its evocation arouses our unease and distaste.
Brave New World‘s ironic title derives from Miranda’s speech in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act V, Scene I:
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.
—William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203—6
There are two things that make this fact ironic. The first one is John’s thoughts about Shakespeare:
“These words and the strange, strange story out of which they were taken (he couldn’t make head or tail of it, but it was wonderful, wonderful all the same)…” (Page 123, para. 3)
I think there are many modern students who read Shakespeare and come to the same conclusion upon first glance! The second thing is the introduction of the title several times through the novel, specifically by John:
“His voice faltered, “Oh brave new world,” he began… “ (Page 129, para. 10).
Each time that he utters the phrase, it’s laced with different emotions, with different intentions, and with different outcomes. In the end, it was resignation and self-destruction.
The first time I saw the name of the “savage reservation”, I knew it was a play on words. The name of the Indian Reservation is “Malpais”, which mean “bad country” in Spanish. Huxley goes into a description of it in the book:
“In the Beta-Minus geography room John learned that “a savage reservation is a place which, owing to unfavourable climatic or geological conditions, or poverty of natural resources, has not been worth the expense of civilizing.”…” (Page 149, para. 7)
Hasn’t this always been a characteristic of our government? Throw the Natives onto land that no one else wants, and if something SHOULD be found there, kick them off to somewhere else.
Fears and reality was not the only inspiration. Huxley said that Brave New World was inspired by the utopian novels of H.G. Wells, including A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923). Wells’ hopeful vision of the future’s possibilities gave Huxley the idea to begin writing a parody of the novel, which became Brave New World. Unlike the most popular optimist utopian novels of the time, Huxley sought to provide a frightening vision of the future. Huxley referred to Brave New World as a “negative utopia” (see dystopia), somewhat influenced by Wells’ own The Sleeper Awakes (dealing with subjects like corporate tyranny and behavioral conditioning) and the works of D. H. Lawrence.
It appears that the most important point that Huxley is trying to get across to the reader, is that there has to be a balance. A balance between religion and science, between pleasure and pain, between filth and cleanliness, between being controlled and being free to do whatever you want. Without that balance, you get something like Huxley’s Brave New World. I am a firm believer that religion is the root of many of our failures and troubles of society, but it’s important to understand that perhaps religion keeps somewhat of a “check” on science. Religion is also a stepping stone for people, both negatively and positively, but also a crutch. Huxley shows a world where science has replaced many things that we strive for in life. One of those things is happiness. When a person is unhappy, they take soma to give them the positive feelings that they experienced as if they were happy. Isn’t this what drug users and alcohol drinkers are doing now? Isn’t that also what religious people do?
Although the novel is set in the future it deals with contemporary issues of the early 20th century. The Industrial Revolution had transformed the world. Mass production had made cars, telephones, and radios relatively cheap and widely available throughout the developed world. The political, cultural, economic and sociological upheavals of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the First World War (1914–1918) were resonating throughout the world as a whole and the individual lives of most people. Accordingly, many of the novel’s characters are named after widely recognized, influential and in many cases contemporary people. The limited number of names that the World State assigned to its bottle-grown citizens can be traced to political and cultural figures who contributed to the bureaucratic, economic, and technological systems of Huxley’s age, and presumably those systems in Brave New World:
• Bernard Marx, from George Bernard Shaw (or possibly Bernard of Clairvaux or possibly Claude Bernard) and Karl Marx.
• Henry Foster, from Henry Ford American industrialist. Henry Ford, who has become a messianic figure to The World State. “Our Ford” is used in place of “Our Lord”, as a credit to popularizing the use of the assembly line. Huxley’s description of Ford as a central figure in the emergence of the Brave New World might also be a reference to the utopian industrial city of Fordlândia commissioned by Ford in 1927.
• Lenina Crowne, from Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader during the Russian Revolution.
• Fanny Crowne, from Fanny Kaplan, famous for an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Lenin. Ironically, in the novel, Lenina and Fanny are friends.
• George Edzel, from Edsel Ford, son of Henry Ford.
• Polly Trotsky, from Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary leader.
• Benito Hoover, from Benito Mussolini, dictator of Italy; and Herbert Hoover, then-President of the United States.
• Helmholtz Watson, from the German physician and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz and the American behaviorist John B. Watson.
• Darwin Bonaparte, from Napoleon I, the leader of the First French Empire, and Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of Species.
• Herbert Bakunin, from Herbert Spencer, the English philosopher and Social Darwinist, and Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian philosopher and anarchist. There’s also some speculation that the “Herbert” part could have come from Herbert George Wells, “H.G. Wells”.
• Mustapha Mond, from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of Turkey after World War I, who pulled his country into modernization and official secularism; and Sir Alfred Mond, an industrialist and founder of the Imperial Chemical Industries conglomerate. Huxley worked for a time at a factory owned by Sir Alfred Mond and Ludwig Mond.
• Primo Mellon, from Miguel Primo de Rivera, prime minister and dictator of Spain (1923–1930), and Andrew Mellon, an American banker.
• Sarojini Engels, from Friedrich Engels, co-author of The Communist Manifesto along with Karl Marx: and Sarojini Naidu, an Indian politician.
• Morgana Rothschild, from J. P. Morgan, US banking tycoon, and the Rothschild family, famous for its European banking operations.
• Fifi Bradlaugh, from the British political activist and atheist Charles Bradlaugh.
• Joanna Diesel, from Rudolf Diesel, the German engineer who invented the diesel engine.
• Clara Deterding, from Henri Deterding, one of the founders of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company.
• Tom Kawaguchi, from the Japanese Buddhist monk Ekai Kawaguchi, the first recorded Japanese traveler to Tibet and Nepal.
• Jean-Jacques Habibullah, from the French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Habibullah Khan, who served as Emir of Afghanistan in the early 20th century.
• Miss Keate, the Eton headmistress, from nineteenth-century headmaster John Keate.
• Arch-Community Songster of Canterbury, a parody of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Church’s decision in August 1930 to approve limited use of contraception.
• Popé, from Popé, the Native American rebel who was one of the instigators of the conflict now known as the Pueblo Revolt.
• Sarojini Engels from Sarojini Naidu (the Nightingale of India) and Friedrich Engels. Sarojini was a poet, despite the wishes of her family. She also joined the Indian National Movement and became a Freedom Fighter. Engels was a German-English industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, and the father of Marxist theory alongside Karl Marx.
• John the Savage, after the term “noble savage” originally used in the verse drama The Conquest of Granada by John Dryden, and later erroneously associated with Rousseau.
• Thomas Robert Malthus, whose name is used to describe the contraceptive techniques (Malthusian belt) practiced by women of the World State.
Brave New World has been banned and challenged at various times. In 1932, the book was banned in Ireland for its language, and for supposedly being anti-family and anti-religion. The American Library Association ranks Brave New World as No. 52 on their list of most challenged books, and this could well be the reason why it was not on my mandatory reading list when I was in school. In 1980, it was removed from classrooms in Miller, Missouri among other challenges. In 1993, an unsuccessful attempt was made to remove the novel from a California school’s required reading list because it “centered around negative activity”. The book was banned in India in 1967 with Huxley accused of being a “pornographer.”.
In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.