Brave New World Summary

Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

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Brave New World Summary

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Aldous Huxley was already a prolific writer of essays, poetry, and journalism before adding fiction to his body of work in the early 1920s. Over a series of novels he worked his way toward dealing with philosophical and ethical topics, becoming particularly interested in the relationship between society at large and the individual within that larger context. These interests culminated with his opus, Brave New World, which was first published in 1932. Here, futuristic society is founded on conformity and the individual and free will are insignificant. Though Brave New World has themes similar to those of George Orwell’s 1984, it predates 1984 by seventeen years. Huxley did not have the reality of World War II’s totalitarian regimes and the ensuing Cold War from which to draw inspiration; his novel’s insight emerges from prediction rather than reaction.

Brave New World continues the tradition of utopian literature. First used as a literary term by Sir Thomas More in his novel Utopia, in 1516, utopia refers to a society designed to have ideal living conditions for its inhabitants with respect to prejudice, pain, and all evils that have customarily plagued mankind. Earlier examples, though not identified by the same term, include Plato’s Republic and the Biblical book of Genesis, with its Garden of Eden. With utopias generally doomed to fail, such venues in literature are often seen as mocking the status quo and are thus viewed as dystopias, or anti-utopias. Brave New World has been seen as both. The setting of the book is London in 2540 CE. It takes its title from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, from Miranda’s Act V speech: “How many goodly creatures are there here! / How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, / That has such people in’t.”

The tightly controlled society of Brave New World is known as The World State. The narrative opens at a factory called the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. The character referred to as The Director explains that human embryos are grown there and from birth are “conditioned” to believe all of the tenets the government puts forth. The process is called hypnopaedia, or sleep-teaching, and above all stresses the value of society over that of the individual. Free will is replaced by the responsibility to serve the community and to be workers and consumers in order to keep the economy robust. There is a caste system into which humans are classified and for which they are groomed chemically in the embryonic stage. The Alpha caste is superior to the other four castes both in terms of strength and intelligence. Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, in that order, are progressively lower castes, with the Epsilons relegated to menial tasks. The World State views this process as one that will create people who are happy with their places in society.

At the hatchery, Lenina Crowne and Henry Foster are employees. They are sleeping together, in a society where multiple partners are encouraged, with promiscuity a value and monogamy a crime. The Director further explains that soma, a narcotic, is widely used as an escape from reality and to support social stability. Also employed at the hatchery is Bernard Marx, a psychologist who in an Alpha but lacks their muscular build and so finds himself a misfit and a nonconformist. Helmholtz Watson is an Alpha who shares Bernard’s unhappiness with their controlled lives, but has the Alpha characteristics and thus does not seem to be a misfit like Bernard.

As the plot unfolds, Bernard has a date with Lenina. He prefers to try to communicate with her and develop a relationship. She, as is society’s expectation, wants to have sex. After taking soma he sleeps with her, but regrets it the next day. Lenina does not understand his desire to postpone pleasure. Later they plan a trip together to Savage Reservation, which is in New Mexico, a place in the world not yet up to date on the mind-control methods of social creation. The Director grants them permission and it is learned that he was once there himself with a woman whom he lost, and that he had returned alone. The Director regrets revealing this and chides Bernard for his rebellious actions. Bernard, however, feels that his defiance of the rules has helped him grow.

While on the trip, Bernard discovers that The Director plans to deport him to an island where misfits are sent. Bernard is frightened by this prospect and turns to soma to escape the reality of his situation. As they tour the Reservation, Lenina is disgusted by the rundown, dirty conditions, which provoke intellectual curiosity in Bernard. They meet a white man named John who was raised on the Reservation. He and Lenina are drawn to each other. John’s mother, Linda, abhors the conditions under which they have been living, and has much in common with Lenina. Bernard and John in turn have a bond of sorts, each feeling like an outsider to his expected places in society. As it turns out, John is the son of The Director. Bernard arranges out of “scientific interest” to bring John and Linda home to the civilized world.

Upon returning to the factory, Bernard is publically fired and told he is to be deported.  Bernard, however, to the ruination of The Director, counters by presenting John as the man’s son. This is all but criminal in a “brave new world” where reproduction takes place in test tubes, not in the antiquated primitive way. His “discovery” of John has brought Bernard a level of fame that overrides his physical shortcomings; moreover, he forgets about his quest for individuality.

John, though he likes the comforts of the civilized world, cannot warm to the concept of growing humans in a lab, nor to the uniformity of the members of the lower castes. His attraction to Lenina continues but in his world chastity was valued, and though conflicted, he works to avoid giving into desire. Linda dies from use of soma, prompting John to throw cartons of the drug from a hospital, which incites a riot. Ultimately John moves to an old lighthouse to cleanse himself of the ills of civilization. When Lenina appears, John attacks her with a whip amid the many sightseers who have taken to visiting in order to view John’s acts of self-mortification. This, along with the society’s pervasive use of soma, ignites an orgy. The next morning John, filled with grief over the events, hangs himself.

The danger of a government having total control, particularly over rapidly advancing technology, is the overarching theme of Brave New World. Huxley’s attention to consumerism and to the lack of privacy and individuality it can foster predicts and predates the modern world of e-commerce and virtual communication by decades, as well as foreshadowing reproductive technology and sleep-learning.