MAIN THEMES

 

Brave New World is, lamentably, a prophetic book; when it was written, Huxley thought of the Utopian world as a future reality, but now we realise that this future is very similar to our present. Huxley meant to write a satirical and fictional novel, but it turned out to be a scientific prophecy. A lot of themes are dealt in this book, this is why it makes it so interesting, namely, because there are very different topics, such as the latest technology and philosophy. The most important aim of Aldous Huxley, when he wrote Brave New World, was to warn the former (his contemporary) society from the danger of scientific progress, or progress in general.

Attitude towards progress

The inhabitants of London in 632 A.F. have changed their God from the one in the past. They now prey to Our Ford, instead of the Christian Our Lord. This means that Henry Ford is now a cult figure. Aldous Huxley knew perfectly well Ford’s life and also his theories, so he picked out some dangers of Ford’s theses. Ford himself was aware of the dangers of mass production and industrial progress in general, although he was strongly in favour of the industrial era. One of Henry Ford famous sentences is: "...absence of fear of the future and of veneration for the past...What is past is useful only as it suggests ways and means of progress". He defended progress, and found that the probable consequences were worth it. Ford’s conception of history is a chain of technological progress. There are social problems but this are only temporary. Ford distinguishes two types of working personalities: there are the manual workers and the manager. We can also see this distinction, that is followed by caste and class differences, in Brave New World. Standardization is the key of mass production; we can find this when producing human beings. The society in the Utopian World is so dehumanized that even mass production is applied in creating babies, but this is a way of having lots of people working for such a consumistic society and these people don’t even care because they hardly think. Is the perfect system for a society that wants stability. Manual workers don’t get fed up with their work, they don’t protest, and work is efficiently done, because these people are created only for this cause, for working, and making people from other castes’ lives easier.

The assembly line is the instrument of standarizad manufacturing, so therefore the most precise engineering is needed; we can see all these technological machines in the first chapter, for example. Working in an assembly line also makes work as a routine, and this is what the Controllers want, because routine gets the workers away from thinking. The state in Brave New World builds automatic people, they don’t think, they just obey and do what they want them to do, they manipulate men.

Progress is very present in Brave New World; it is a society focussed on progress, and created according to it. The world has changed a lot since the Nine Years War; it is as if the world had been born again but with all technological devices and facilities there so that people could use them. They don’t want to look at the past; their new world is happy, without dangers or wars or problems; and progress has been the method of achieving this situation. Without this system of mass production in terms of creating embryos, stability wouldn’t have been achieved. The way of creating human being assures the state a whole caste of people who are glad doing the worst job of all. But Huxley wants to warn us: there is a big danger in progress, there are horrible consequences when technologies are applied without rational methods. When dealing with progress, you have to be rational, measuring every step and the possible results, and even though, you sometimes fail to control every aspect. With this satire, Huxley tells us, that, instead of living in a perfect Utopia with all these technological facilities, as in Brave New World, the situation might turn out to be as dystopia, as it really happens in the novel. Is all the progress worth having lost things like feelings, individualism, and so on? You have to decide between completely dehumamized progress and real love, feelings, literature...

Attitude towards history

People in Brave New World don’t know their history before Ford’s era; that information has been banned for them, they don’t even know it exists. There is also a Fordian influence in the idea of history of the citizens of the New World. Ford, as in the quotation above, says that history is only useful when it helps progress develop. "History is bunk", they say in Brave New World, it is a slogan of an hypnopaedia session. Still, people are not very sure of the concept of history, because they simply don’t know anything about it. The state only teaches the students determined information, which is selected. The citizens of the New World don’t know or haven’t heard anything about wars, rebellions, politics, literature, art, or anything like this before. They are so conditioned, that they instinctevly dislike anything that has to do with the past and the habits of the former times. They are very disgusted only by hearing how children were born in the past, and the relationship between the members of a family. They can’t understand those feelings, the emotions that people felt. The society has changed very strongly, and the habits are not even similar from then; besides they don’t have information about the past. This way, their attitude towards history is completely of rejection. Conditioning has helped a lot, and now nobody asks about the things in the past. Although there is a strong repulse towards history, we can observe that the state doesn’t really want to forget the past. For example, the names of every citizen of the world have been taken from principal personalities of the past era. Benito Hoover is an example of this: there is Benito that comes from Benito Mussolini, and Hoover, which refers to the President Herbert Hoover; there is Bernard Marx, with the surname of the famous precursor of Marxism; there are also some examples like Hemholtz Watson (Watson was a very important theorist in Behaviourism and conditioning methods), Herbert Bakunin (Bakunin was a famous anarchist), or Sarojini Engels, also with the surname of another theorist in politics. Most of these names belong to famous politicians and investigators. So, in reality, this is a way of connecting the past with the present. The Savage Reservation is another way of being in touch with the past, the traditions, and so on. the same happens with the books that Mustapha Mond keeps in his library (if they wanted to forget thei past completely they would have burned these books.

Totalitarian system

Huxley is very critical with the political systems in general in his complete work. He had to live fascism and communism, also capitalism and he disagreed with all three systems. The state or government of Brave New World is a mixture, a synthesis of capitalism and communism. The aim of capitalism is to incite trade market, to generate more and more money which results into the economic benefits of the state and of the country in larger terms. The similar aspect with the ruling system in Brave New World is the importance that the state has in the functioning of the country, and the tendency towards consumerism. In the New World, there are no wastes, everything is used, even the dead bodies are useful, whereas consumerism is what they try to develop. This idea also has a Fordian basis. Ford created the T-model, which is also a symbol in Brave New World, for example, people make the T sign, instead of the cross sign. By the time it was created, people started to complain because cars were dangerous for nature, but all Ford said was that, instead, the cars would allow people to get to know nature better; so nature was an incentive to buy a car, according to Ford. This reminds as of the passage in Brave New World, in which the students are explained that people are not supposed to like nature by itself, but by intensifying the transports consume so that people are able to play specified games that are outdoor ones.

The political system of Brave New World is also similar to communism, as it is a dictatorship. In both systems, the rulers try to control everyone and everybody’s way of thinking, although they don’t always achieve this aim (there are a lot of people who go away of countries of communistic ideologies, because they don’t agree with this system, and, in Brave New World, there are also some people who don’t want the state to control them, who really want to be free, like Watson or Marx; island were kept aside in order to send these rebels to them). George Orwell was a contemporary writer of Aldous Huxley, and they were often compared. I have also read Animal Farm, in which Orwell criticises the communistic method of ruling, which is similar to Huxley’s criticism. I have also seen the film on 1984, and it also reminds us of Huxley’s dystopia, and the oppressive methods that the rulers use.

Control over the mass no individuality no freedom

There is a chapter in Brave New World that is one of the most fascinating pieces of Universal literature; it’s chapter seventeen. The most important aspects of the theories that were used in order to build this Utopian World are dealt here; there is also a lot of philosophy in this chapter. The conversation between Mustapha Mond and John the Savage starts in chapter XVI. Bernard, Hemholtz and John are in the Controller’s study, after the incident with John throwing the soma tablets. The Resident World Controller of Western Europe asks the Savage if he doesn’t like civilization; the answer of the Savage is negative. So both of them start discussing about the methods that the state uses to achieve happiness among the citizens. They have created a caste system that is useful for society and keeps everyone happy. The twins from the lower castes are the basis on which everything else is built, as someone has to do the nasty jobs, these twins do it; Stability is achieved. John proposes that they create an Alpha Double Plus society, but the Controller tells him, that these Alphas wouldn’t be happy, because they would go mad doing Epsilon work. An Epsilon can do great sacrifices because they are so conditioned that these aren’t real sacrifices for them, they just do their work, they obey. Mond narrates him the Cyprus experiment, undertaken in 473 A.F. Cyprus was cleared from all its inhabitants and recolonized with Alphas that had agricultural and industrial equipment necessary to survive. The result of this experiment was that the land wasn’t properly worked, there happened to be strikes, orders were disobeyed, ambition grew. So, in six years, the first-class civil war took place. The optimum population, as described by the World Controller, is the one that is like an iceberg; there are only very few on the top. The lower castes are happy because they do unexhausting labour, they have soma and unrestricted copulation; they are so conditioned that, having very few things they are happy and think that they can’t be happier, that there isn’t a situation better than theirs. There is an hypnopaedia lesson which teaches the children that they have to be happy with their own caste, the other castes have worse lives. The state could reduce the lower castes workers their working hours, but this would only increase the consumption of soma. So with this perfectly ideated caste system, stability has been achieved, and they don’t want to change anything, because each change is a menace to stability.

It is incredible the control of the state over the rest of the citizens of the world. Basically, they control the people’s mind with two methods: behaviourism and hypnopaedia. The method of Behaviourism is to be seen in the Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Room, which has its name from J.P. Pavlov (1849-1936). He was the first scientist to describe the process of classical conditioning, the answers to conditioned reflexes. For example he did the following example: he combined certain stimulus like the sound of a bell with the distribution of food for dogs, so, in the end, the dogs associated this stimulus with food. Conditioning is understood as a way of learning. Theorist think that behaviourism is a form of psychology, and it might be the key for a better society. John B. Watson was also a very important figure in the development of Behaviourism. Watson radically wants to eliminate the traditional concepts of psychology, soul, and so on. Psychology for Watson is the observation of behaviour. This behaviour, what your organism does or says is seen as a reaction or response to a stimulus. For example one behaviourist experiment would be: if you show a dog a ball, its unconditioned response is to run towards it and picking it up; but if there is the stimulus of an attack or an injury while picking the ball, the conditioned response when it sees the ball again will be running away from it. The experiment in the Conditioning Rooms with the babies being conditioned to dislike books and flowers is the result of Huxley’s knowledge of these theories. Watson thought that ideal societies could be formed when using the correct stimulus. The ideal societies are the result of the betterment of the individual, by making human defects disappear. Undesired emotions are just the result of unfavourable parents’ behaviour, although this is unintentionally. Watson is in favour of applying a punishment system, although it may appear cruel, in order to teach the child desirable actions. Human personality, according to Watson, is the "end product of our habit systems", and this habit system means an established stimulus-response connection. So here we can see that through behaviourism human personality may be modified.

Then there is hypnopaedia, which can also influence people’s minds. In Brave New World it is a method applied to condition children; it is a non-violent form of manipulation, opposite to behaviourism. Hypnopaedia consists in repeating series of catchy phrases or slogans while the child is sleeping; this way, the message gets into his brain. You know the message by heart but you really don’t understand it, as we can see in the book with the example of the Nile. The slogans are repeated by some determined voices, and the messages are usually imperatives about the sexual code, about the caste system r consumerism. In Brave New World, Hemholtz Watson is one of the persons who writes the sentences that are used for hypnopaedia processes. The aim of the use of this system is the stabilization of moral attitudes and belief, because it isn’t a real cognitive method. In this novel, hypnopaedia is the satirical expression for the tendency in modern society to try to manipulate people; they do this through the media, and the aim is to incite consumerism, a very similar aim to the one in the Utopian society. In this sense we can talk about a literary prophecy, because from the time the book was written, this kind of advertisements have increased.

So, to sum up, behaviourism and hypnopaedia are two very strong methods of manipulating people’s minds. This way stability is achieved, because people get to think what the state wants them to think; they are completely manipulated, but unaware of this, and all their minds are conditioned with the premises and slogans of the New World. The mass of people is like a puppet for the state, people do want they wanted to do, because, when created, free will to decide wasn’t given for them. They are not free, because, to be so, you have to have the capacity of taking decisions. The citizen of Brave New World are automatons, they don’t think what they do, they just do it. Thinking is quite like banned in this society, and to be free you have to think first, as Hume said. One of Hume’s most famous theories was the one on freedom; according to it, you are only free and act freely when you are able to analyse the different options between you can choose; the more you know about these options, the better, because you will then be able to analyse the best between the different options, and decide by yourself. But in Brave New World, there are no alternatives, no options, you can’t decide by yourself because the state and the Controllers decide for you. These citizens are not free. They all live in a bottle, limited, and even more the lower castes, although they don’t notice it.

There is no real identity as the motto of the Utopian World reads. There are very little different people, these are the ones who are intelligent enough to be against this system of oppression, the one who are in islands. But the rest of the citizens are all alike or equal, there are no differences apart from the superficial ones between them. They all do the same, they don’t decide or think by themselves. People’s mind is what makes everyone of us different, but the mind of the citizens of Brave New World are all the same, one mind, that the state has built in order to achieve stability.

The other concept of the state’s motto, Community, has been also achieved. The whole world is like one, everyone is part of the society, everyone is useful for it; but for being a community, something very important has been sacrificed: identity and individualism. There is no individuality, no decision of one’s own; everything that is done is done for the community’s benefit. Now there is nobody who is different, who is a real individual and shines like an only one. There is no context outside community.

Real happiness, feelings and truth

These themes are also dealt in the passage where the Savage talks to Mustapha Mond. In their conversation, philosophical terms such as happiness, art, life, feelings and dreams appear. They also speak about literature, about Shakespeare, whose books the Controller has actually read. John asks why the citizens of the Utopian world are unable to read Shakespeare, why this information is prohibited, restricted for them. Mond tells him that they try to keep people away of the old things, even if they are beautiful. Besides, people wouldn’t understand tragedies like Othello because there is no social instability. The society has to pay the price for stability, and so things like this type of literature have been sacrificed for the benefit of stability or happiness. Now they start to speak about the concept that each of them has of happiness. For John the happiness of the citizens of Brave New World is not real happiness, it’s an artificial one. For John, happiness is much more complicated than having fun in the feelies or playing golf, it has something to do with your soul. The society doesn’t even understand the concept of soul, so how are they going to understand what real happiness is? The human relationships are very important in being happy for John, but in the Utopian society the simple thought of a mother hugging his son is repulsive for them. The big difference between both concepts is the artificial and superficial attitude (it isn’t a feeling) in one and the emotion of being really happy. But, even though, the New World citizens are happy (as they see it), they don’t have any problems. So, the next question is if happiness is worth eliminating other things.

A lot of sacrifices have been made in order to achieve the stupid happiness of the Brave New World citizens and stability. They had to renounce to things like feelings, beauty and truth. Even science must be controlled because it can mean a menace for the society. Science is very important in the New World, but only orthodox science, which the former Controllers established. Nobody can question this concept of science, because if you continue investigating you may come to some conclusions, that if they were published, they could bring a change. And Brave New World is an immobile society, it doesn’t want changes that may modify this "perfect" world. Mond tells them how he himself did a bit of illicit science researches, and finally had to leave them. Science has brought stability, but it can also undo it, so the Controllers have to be careful with the investigations that are underdone. In the past era, people thought that science could develop with regard of everything else, because the important thing was the knowledge that the human being could achieve. Scientific knowledge was the world’s truth, so scientific research was unlimited. This changed with the Fordian era, because, as science develops and brings newer truth with each discovery, it didn’t interest stability, so it was banned to go on with unorthodox science. One has to pay the price for happiness, so truth and beauty were suppressed.

Also religion. Mustapha Mond also knows some theories about God, but these aren’t shown to the citizens because God doesn’t have any sense in this society. The Savage says that God doesn't change. As an answer, Mond reads him some passages of religions books: for example, the one of Cardinal Newman. In this books we can see a series of theses and antitheses about religion. Mond reads: God appears to men as they grow older, when they have liberated all their passions. But in Brave New World you are always young and you are incited to be passionate (in feelies, for example). The Controller goes on: people turn to God because he is something that will never play them wrong; religion will compensate men for all their losses. But in the Utopian World there are no losses. Definitely, God has no sense in that society. John tells Mond that it is natural to feel that God exists, but the Controller explains him that there are no natural feelings now, people don'’ think by instinct, but because they have been conditioned to think in a determined way. John says that it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone, but people are never alone now. John says that there seems to be a God managing things, punishing your unpleasant vices, and degrading you because of them. But Mond says that these vices are now the perfect behaviour for this society. God is the reason for doing things patiently, with courage, for bearing things, but there is no reason now to bear things. God is the reason for doing noble and heroic action, but now there is no need of nobility or heroism, because those are symptoms on political inefficacy. Every these of John’s is answered by the World Controller. Brave New World is so perfectly well built, that the necessities of the past have been substituted by artificial ones, and it has made possible a utopian society were everyone is happy.

The Savage blames them for doing things too easily, for avoiding problems and not facing them. They take soma when something pleasant happens to them, but they don’t face their problems, they just forget them. Soma is a very useful drug for the society of Brave New World. They spare time by not confronting their problems, but by avoiding them. At the end of the conversation, John claims the right to be unhappy. Living means for him also unpleasant things, like feelings, although they can lead to unhappiness. John prefers being unhappy than living superficially. You have to decide, if you can.

Sex and Beauty

The concept of sex in Brave New World is quite different from ours. Promiscuity is the normal, the common thing in the Utopian society. There is a background of Freudian influence in this aspect. Freud thought that since the child’s first intimate human relationship was with the mother or someone who played the same role, she would always be the child’s first love. But this feeling of passion for the mother can’t remain innocent but also it isn’t capable of fulfilment completely. It cannot be fulfilled because the child can’t have the mother entirely to himself, and it also can’t remain innocent because he develops a sense o competitiveness towards his father, whom he regards as a rival for the mother’s affection. This is related to the Oedipus complex: the prince of Thebes murders his father and marries his mother. The infants feelings are to be repressed, and so the period of infantile sexual activity ends. Brave New World has applied Freud’s theses so that the citizens don’t have their passionate feelings repressed, which, otherwise, may have generated dissatisfaction. So, instead the sexual code of this society refers to sex as a common thing which everyone has to practise, even when you’re only a child. We can see this in the chapter where small infants are playing in a garden.

Pleasure and also beauty are regarded as very important aspects in the daily life of the Utopian society. There is a cult to beauty, as a matter that everyone desires. But this beauty is only applied to the things which are common in the Fordian era, for example women, the feelies, the dancing rituals, and so on, but not to concepts such as art.

 

Mireia Ferrandis Pradas

Bibliography in this page:

Some background articles that I haven’t found online

The book itself: available online in www.ddc.net/ygg/etext/brave.htm

 

BACK TO INDEX PAGE