Like George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, which came a decade later, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World traces the boundaries of dystopic science fiction and gives readers a look into a worrisome future. Brave New World follows the plight of the citizens of the World State, a futuristic society where human embryos are cloned in “hatching” farms and genetically manipulated to serve the particular needs of their class. Split into five different classes—Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon—the World State’s society functions like a Hinduian caste system, with each class serving a role in society. With a little genetic modification, certain embryos can be given an aversion to literature and the arts, implying a less intelligent, less socially-aware group of caste members who will instead relish shopping and consumerism to feed the growing economy and spur economic growth. The Epsilon caste members have it the worst, as oxygen deprivation and chemical indoctrination lead these members into a dazed life of menial labor, supporting the workforce by accomplishing the jobs that no one wants. (This being an ironic parallel to the harsh realities of immigrant life in our current society.) Even morality is programmed through classically conditioned sleep-induction techniques, ensuring that members of all castes will follow the moral code set forth by “Big Brother,” to coin a term from the later 1984. Overall, Huxley’s Brave New World reveals itself to be a timeless classic that deals with real-world issues—genetic engineering, governmental control, brainwashing propaganda—that are perhaps even more relevant today than they were in 1932 when the novel was written.
Arranged in eighteen chapters, Brave New World has a two-tiered plot structure that enhances the central storyline. The first third of the book is relegated to exposition. This comes in the unique format of the Director’s narrative, as he guides a tour group of young students through the “Hatching Factory,” where the various birthing stages and stages of adolescent life are modified to achieve desired results: “’I shall begin at the beginning,’ said the D.H.C. and the more zealous students recorded his intention in their notebooks: Begin at the beginning. ‘These,’ he waved his hand, ‘are the incubators’” (1932, p. 6). This type of clinical narrative disguises the satirical tone running in a current underneath. Readers get the idea that Huxley’s ironical treatment is meant to expose the ills of society that are introduced in the work, e.g., genetic human farming and the loss of individuality. As the Director takes the boys on the tour, the reader begins to comprehend and appreciate the dystopian world that Huxley has fashioned.
It is an adventurous undertaking, fashioning a fictional world that prognosticates about the potential horrors of a distant (or not so distant) future, but Huxley handles it with ease, navigating the exposition with the “tour guide” device. Without a device such as this, the necessary exposition might become unwieldly and overwhelming to the reader. The first third of the novel reads like an instruction manual on how to genetically manufacture humans in different ways to further advances in society: “Eight minutes of hard X-rays being about as much as an egg can stand. A few died; of the rest, the least susceptible divided into two; most put out four buds; some eight; all were returned to the incubators, where the buds began to develop…” (1932, p. 7). This clinical recitation underscores Huxley’s intent, i.e., to lay down the groundwork and rules for his fictional dystopian society. Huxley mostly succeeds here, as the reader comprehends the activity in the factory and is horrified to read the casual ways in which the Director introduces these macabre medical “advances” to his students. The overly-technical descriptions do become a bit ponderous to the reader, who does understand the point; sometimes the tendency here is to want to fast-forward the action and further the plot.
The final two-thirds of the novel are dedicated to the Savage Reservation and the Lighthouse respectively. The Savage Reservation visit works as an expose on the condition of the World State from a disgruntled insiders’ view. Here Bernard Marx (pun on the socialist name intended) and Helmholtz Watson (a friend) discuss their dissatisfaction of the World State’s order, where people are manufactured to fill roles in which they do not fit. For example, even though Helmholtz had been groomed from an embryo to be part of the Alpha caste, he still feels dissatisfied at his place in society and feels he has more to offer than he menial job of producing “hypnopaedic” phrases (the World State banal aphorisms that permeate the work): “I’m pretty good at inventing phrases…But that doesn’t seem enough. It’s not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too” (46). In this section Huxley is able to humanize the characters, making the reader care for them in a way that was not possible in the beginning under the Director’s narrative.
The title Brave New World exemplifies the kind of satirical irony that Huxley attempts to create in the narrative. There is little “brave” about the future that Huxley creates, and the paradigm he sets up is intentionally barren of humanity. The procedures and controls that dominate this futuristic landscape make us wonder how far science and governmental control will go, especially today as we grapple with many of the social problems featured in the book—class inequality, ethnocentrism, prejudice, genetical farming, cloning, etc. Huxley’s timeless work only becomes more relevant the more we advance into the questionable future.
- Huxley, A. Brave new world. (1932). New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.