Overview: Brave New World

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Date: 1999
From: Novels for Students(Vol. 6. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Work overview; Plot summary; Character overview
Length: 3,553 words

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About this Work
Title: Brave New World (Novel)
Published: January 01, 1932
Genre: Novel
Author: Huxley, Aldous
Occupation: British writer
Other Names Used: Huxley, Aldous Leonard;
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Introduction

yclassify term="x" thesaurus="essaytype" idref="O1">Written in 1931 and published the following year, Aldous Huxley's Brave New Worldis a dystopian--or anti-utopian--novel. In it, the author questions the values of 1931 London, using satire and irony to portray a futuristic world in which many of the contemporary trends in British and American society have been taken to extremes. Though he was already a best-selling author, Huxley achieved international acclaim with this now-classic novel. Because Brave New Worldis a novel of ideas, the characters and plot are secondary, even simplistic. The novel is best appreciated as an ironic commentary on contemporary values.

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.

Plot

Brave New World opens in the year 2495 at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, a research facility and factory that mass-produces and then socially-conditions test-tube babies. Such a factory is a fitting place to begin the story of mass-produced characters in a techno-futurist dystopia, a world society gone mad for pleasure, order, and conformity. The date is A.F. 632, A.F.--After Ford--being a notation based on the birth year (1863) of Henry Ford, the famous automobile manufacturer and assembly line innovator who is worshipped as a god in Huxley's fictional society.

Five genetic castes or classes inhabit this futurist dystopia. In descending order they are named for the first five letters of the Greek alphabet: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. While upper castes are bred for intellectual and managerial occupations, the lower castes, bred with less intelligence, perform manual labor. All individuals are conditioned by electric shock and hypnopaedia (sleep conditioning) to reject or desire what the State dictates. For example, infants are taught to hate flowers and books, but encouraged to seek out sex, entertainment, and new products. Most importantly, they are conditioned to be happiest with their own caste and to be glad they are not a member of any other group. For instance, while eighty Beta children sleep on their cots in the Conditioning Centre, the following hypnopaedic message issues from speakers placed beneath the children's pillows:

"Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don'twant to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able...."

The director pushed back the switch. The voice was silent. Only its thin ghost continued to mutter from beneath the eighty pillows.

"They'll have that repeated forty or fifty times more before they wake; then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months. After which they go on to a more advanced lesson."

The story begins in the London Hatchery's employee locker room where Lenina Crowne, a Gamma worker, discusses men with another female coworker, Fanny Crowne. The subject of their conversation is Bernard Marx, an Alpha-Plus who is considered abnormally short, a defect rumored to be from an excess of alcohol added to the "blood surrogate" surrounding his developing embryo. Generally perceived as antisocial and melancholic, Bernard is unusually withdrawn and gloomy, despite the fact that social coherence and mood enhancement--especially through promiscuity and regular dosages of the drug "soma"--is State-sanctioned and encouraged. Still, despite Bernard's oddness, Lenina finds him "cute" and wants to go out with him. After all, Lenina has been going out with the Centre's research specialist, Henry Foster, for four months--unusually long in that society. In need of a change from the places they always go--the feelies, which are like films with the sense of touch and dance clubs with music produced from scent and color instruments--Lenina and Bernard go on holiday to the New Mexico Savage Reservation, a "natural" area populated by "sixty thousand Indians and half-breeds" living without television, books, and hot water, still giving birth to their own children, and still worshiping an assortment of Christian and pagan gods. To prevent the "savages" from escaping, the whole reservation is surrounded by an electrified fence.

Wandering around the Reservation, Lenina is horrified by the sight of mothers nursing their own infants, elderly people who actually look their age because they have not been chemically treated, and a ritual of sacrifice in which a boy is whipped, his blood scattered on writhing snakes. After witnessing this ceremony, Lenina and Bernard meet John, who unlike them and all they know was not born from a test tube. His mother, Linda, gave birth to him on the Reservation. On a previous visit from civilization to the Reservation years before, Linda, while pregnant with John, was abandoned by John's father, who returned to civilization after Linda disappeared and was thought to have died. Bernard realizes that John's father is none other than Bernard's archenemy, the Director of Hatching and Conditioning, the man who has tried to exile Bernard to Iceland for being a nonconformist. John's mother, Linda, has always resented the Reservation, and John, though he wants to become a part of " savage " society, is ostracized because he is white, the son of a civilized mother, and because he reads books, especially Shakespeare's works.

John's status as an outcast endears him to Bernard. John, meanwhile, is becoming infatuated with Lenina, and like Linda, he is excited about going to civilization. At Bernard's request, John and Linda go with Bernard and Lenina to, as John puts it (quoting from Shakespeare's The Tempest ), the "brave new world" of London. Bernard wonders if John might be somewhat hasty calling London a "brave new world."

Back in London, Bernard suddenly finds himself the center of attention: he uses Linda's impregnation and abandonment, and her son, to disgrace the Director. He then introduces the exotic John (now known as "the Savage," or "Mr. Savage ") to Alpha society, while Linda begins to slowly die from soma abuse. John comes to hate the drug that destroys his mother, and he becomes increasingly disenchanted with this "brave new world's" open sexuality, promiscuity, and contempt for marriage. When John finally confesses his love to Lenina, she is overjoyed and makes overt sexual advances. Because he is appalled at the idea of sex before marriage, however, John asks Lenina to marry him. Now it is her turn to be shocked. "What a horrible idea!" she exclaims.

In the aftermath of this aborted romance, John must face another crisis. He rushes to the Park Lane Hospital in time to see his mother die, and he is shocked when a class of children come in for their conditioning in death acceptance. Lenina's rejection and his mother's death finally drive John over the edge. At the hospital, he begins ranting in the hallways, and then he takes the staff's daily soma ration and dumps it out a window. The angry soma-dependent staff of 162 Deltas attack John. Bernard's friend, Helmholtz Watson, rushes to John's defense as Bernard timidly watches. The police arrive in time to quell the disturbance, arrest the three nonconformists, and deliver them to the office of the Controller, Mustapha Mond. The Controller tells John he must remain in civilization as an ongoing experiment. Bernard and Helmholtz, on the other hand, are to be exiled to separate islands because, says Mond, "`It would upset the whole social order if men started doing things on their own.'"

In the last portion of the novel, John, unable to tolerate the Controller's judgment, flees to the countryside to live a life close to nature without incessant and artificial happiness, a life with a bit of truth, beauty, and even pain. But John is espied one day ritually whipping himself and becomes the center of overwhelming media attention. In a final welter of events, John succumbs to the temptation of the crowd's spontaneous orgy of violence, sex, and soma. The next day, unable to live with himself in this brave new world, John hangs himself.

Characters

Fanny Crowne : Like her coworker, Lenina Crowne, Fanny is a nineteen-year-old Beta. Though she shares Lenina's last name and is genetically related to her, she is just a friend. Family connections have no meaning in civilization. Her character is never really developed, serving only as a foil to contrast society's values--which she accepts completely--with Lenina's unconventional behavior.

Lenina Crowne : Lenina Crowne is, like Linda, a Beta. Young and beautiful, she has auburn hair and blue eyes; however, she also suffers from the immune system disorder lupus, which causes skin lesions. Employed at the Embryo Room of the Hatchery, Lenina is a shallow person, completely accepting the values of her society without question. However, part of her longs to form a lasting relationship with one man, a desire that is considered ugly and dirty in a society that believes promiscuity is healthy. For this reason, while she is attracted to Henry Foster, she chooses to date Bernard Marx, too. Bernard is a little unusual because he is discontented, and she finds this attractive in spite of herself and in spite of the warnings from her friend Fanny to stay away from him. When she meets John the Savage, she feels tremendous sexual attraction to him, but she has been taught to look down upon love, passion, and commitment. Unable to escape her conditioning, she fears his attraction to her.

Tomakin Director : The Director loves to hear himself talk, and, therefore, greatly enjoys giving guided tours of the Hatchery to visiting students, as he does at the beginning of the book. Like many intelligent Alphas, the Director secretly used to wonder about life outside of the society over which he has so much control. We find that he once took a trip with a young woman named Linda to the New Mexico Indian reservation to see how the "primitive" people lived. Once there, Linda, who was carrying his child, disappeared. He assumed she was dead and returned without her. The Director tells this story to Bernard, but quickly realizes his revelation is unseemly for a man of his great reputation and returns to acting professionally, even gruffly, with Bernard.

When Linda's baby, John the Savage, comes to London as an adult, he faces the Director and calls him father. Everyone reacts as if it were an obscene joke. The Director is horrified and humiliated at the public revelation that he fathered a child, just like a primitive person. His reputation is irreparably ruined.

Henry Foster : Henry Foster is a fair-haired, blue-eyed, ruddy-complexioned scientist in the London Hatchery and a model citizen. He is efficient, pleasant, and cooperative, working hard at his job and spending his leisure time engaging in mindless, if harmless, activities, such as watching Feelies (movies), playing new forms of golf, and having casual sex. Lenina Crowne has been dating him exclusively for four months, a practice that raises eyebrows because romantic commitments are frowned upon. Henry does not realize that Lenina has been faithful to him and would be upset if he knew because, as Fanny points out to Lenina, he is "the perfect gentleman." He expects nice girls to sleep around just as he does. Huxley uses the character of Henry Foster to explain how the Hatchery functions and how average citizens are supposed to behave.

Benito Hoover : Huxley took the name Hoover from U.S. President Herbert Hoover, and Benito from the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. A friend and colleague of Henry Foster, Benito is one of many men who would like to have sex with Lenina Crowne. He is disapproving of Bernard Marx until Bernard introduces the Savage around. Then, like many other people, Benito fawns over Bernard, bringing him gifts.

John the Savage Savage : John the Savage is the central character in Brave New Worldthrough whom Huxley compares the primitive and civilized societies of the future. He is the son of the Director and Linda, and was born and raised on an Indian reservation in New Mexico after an accident stranded Linda there (the Director had mistakenly assumed she was dead and returned to civilization without her). John, now twenty, tall, and handsome, was raised in the Indian culture. He has a utopian view of civilization that is based on his mother Linda's tales, and he has a vast knowledge of Shakespeare because he learned to read using the only book available to him: Shakespeare's Complete Works. Shakespeare greatly influences John the Savage's perception of the world around him and what it means to be human.

Sometimes called just "the Savage," John represents the idea of the Noble Savage: that a person raised in a primitive world, away from western civilization, has a purity of heart that civilized people lack (although Huxley does not portray the primitive world as a paradise). John the Savage cannot understand why civilized people think that having been born to and raised by your parents is an obscene joke, or why they do not feel sorrow when confronted with death. He very much loves his mother, and cannot understand why his father rejects him. After several discussions with Mustapha Mond, he quickly realizes that because his values are completely different from other people's place exists for him within civilization.

Linda : A Beta-minus, Linda had worked contentedly in the Fertilizing Room until an incident that occurred twenty years earlier while on a date with the Director. They had visited the New Mexico Indian reservation, where she fell, injuring her head. When she regained consciousness the Director was gone. Pregnant with his child, she was taken in by the Indians, but she never really fit into their world because she had been conditioned to live in civilization. For example, Linda continued to be sexually promiscuous, having sex with the other women's mates, because that was the way a proper girl behaved where she came from--the "Other Place," as she called it.

Linda was very embarrassed to give birth to her son, John, and tried to teach him that civilization was superior to life on the reservation. However, she could not explain why it was superior. Because she had not been conditioned to understand the reasons behind the way things worked in the Other Place, she never lost the values she had been conditioned to accept.

When Linda meets Bernard and Lenina she is anxious but thrilled to return to civilization, but she cannot emotionally handle the return. The embarrassment of being a mother, of being old and fat and no longer physically beautiful, is too much for her, so she chooses to drug herself with Soma, eventually dying from an overdose. Her inability to handle the contrast between the primitive world and the civilized one foreshadows her son John's final decision to commit suicide.

Bernard Marx : Like other members of civilization, Bernard Marx is named after a person whose ideas greatly influenced the society in Brave New World: Karl Marx. Bernard Marx, an Alpha, is a very intelligent man and a specialist in sleep-teaching. However, he is discontented with society and does not completely accept its values--he hates the casual attitude toward sex, dislikes sports, and prefers to be alone. Some people think Bernard was improperly conditioned--that the chemistry of the womblike bottle he lived in as a fetus was somehow altered. They point to the fact that Bernard is eight centimeters shorter and considerably thinner than the typical Alpha as evidence that a physical reason exists for his emotional differences. This physical inadequacy makes Bernard self-conscious, and he is particularly uncomfortable around lower-class people, since they remind him that he physically resembles his inferiors.

Bernard is a selfish person, trying to bend the rules of society for his own needs and using other people to boost his own fortune. He vacillates between boasting and self-pity, which annoys his friend Helmholtz Watson. When Bernard discovers the Savage, he realizes that by bringing him back to society he will be able to get revenge against the Director, who has been threatening him with exile to Iceland. The Director's reputation will be ruined when it is revealed he is a father. Bernard also realizes that the Savage will be the key to his acceptance into society, a sort of plaything that everyone will want to see.

Indeed, Bernard brings the Savage home, and suddenly everyone wants to meet and spend time with him and the Savage. Bernard tells himself that people like him because of his discovery, unaware that behind their backs they are gossiping about him, saying that anyone so odd and so self-absorbed is bound to come to a bad end. He relishes his new popularity with women and gets angry at John for not cooperating with his attempts to show him off; he believes John is ruining his chances of finally being accepted. Bernard's popularity is predictably short-lived, and in the end he is indeed exiled to Iceland, which makes him very unhappy.

Mitsima : Mitsima is the Indian elder who teaches John the Savage the ways of the Indian people.

Mustapha Mond Controller : Mustapha Mond is the Controller of world society and an intellectual who secretly indulges his own passion for knowledge, literature, and history, all of which are denied to ordinary citizens in order to keep people from questioning the structure and values of the society that his been created for them. Of medium height and with black hair, a hooked nose, large red lips, and piercing dark eyes, Mustapha Mond has a name that is a play on the words "Must staff a mond." ("Mond" is derived from the French word "monde," which means world.) He is a friendly and happy fellow, faithful to his job and his vision of a utopian society. He enjoys discussing Shakespeare with John the Savage, and treats him like a favorite pupil. Formerly a scientist, as a young man he was given the choice of becoming a controller or an exiled dissident, so he chose the former. As the Controller, he has free will, but he denies it to others. Mond understands the frustrations of Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, who have trouble accepting all of the restrictions of their carefully controlled lives. In the end, however, Mustapha Mond's loyalty is to the society rather than to individuals, so he banishes Marx, Watson, and the Savage to isolated areas where they cannot influence others.

Pope : Pope is an Indian man with whom Linda forms a bond, sleeping with him regularly despite her feeling that she ought to be promiscuous. Pope is amused by John's jealousy and hatred toward him. He introduces Linda to mescal,an alcoholic drink made by the Indians, which Linda thinks is a sorry substitute for soma because it gives her a hangover.

Helmholtz Watson : Watson (named by Huxley after John B. Watson, the founder of the Behaviorist School of psychology) is an Alpha-plus, a highly intellectual writer and lecturer. He is a powerfully built, broad-shouldered, man with dark curly hair. Although he is a typical handsome Alpha male, he is, like his friend Bernard Marx, a little different from his peers. Watson is just a bit smarter than he is supposed to be, a fact he has only recently discovered.

Watson has a distinguished career as an emotional engineer and writer, penning snappy slogans and simplistic rhymes designed to promote the values of society and pacify people. However, he is frustrated by the limitations of his writing and believes that something more meaningful to write must exist. Because of this unconventional desire, he feels a little like an outsider. He befriends Bernard Marx because he sees in him a similar sense of not belonging, of dissatisfaction, but he is disturbed by Bernard's self-pitying and boastful behavior.

Watson is brilliant, but when the Savage introduces him to Shakespeare's works, he can't completely understand the plays because he is so limited by his conditioning. Watson accepts his exile to the isolated Falkland Islands, hoping that being around other outsiders and living in uncomfortable conditions will inspire his writing.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1430008264