Understanding Aldous Huxley'S Brave New World
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is laden with meaning and symbolism, and its impact on literature has been dynamic.
The motto of the society Aldous Huxley created in Brave New World was "Community, Identity, Stability." Yet there was no sense of family community and no separation of unique identities, and the so-called stability was based not on an achieved endeavor at peace but on the drug-induced, brainwashed state of the society’s genetically engineered inhabitants.
In this classic science fiction satire, Huxley skillfully describes a situation in which people live in a seemingly utopian state, when in truth their contentment is an illusion. Thus, the underlying message that "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is" serves as a warning to people not to become so immersed in the alleged benefits of technological advancements that they can no longer see past the metal of the machines.
It is interesting to note that though the novel is supposed to take place six hundred years in the future, Brave New World is actually predictive of many phenomena that have taken place in today’s society, including "test tube babies" and cloning. However, the future world that Huxley describes is far more daunting than the condition of the modern human race.
In Brave New World, under the command of World Controllers, a universal goal is established in which ensuring the stability and contentment of society is paramount. Thus, the fundamental standard of the system is essentially based on the principles of utilitarianism in that every individual’s happiness is maximized as a result of his/her social conditioning and underdeveloped personalities.
At the novel’s opening, a tour is being given of the facilities that design, manufacture, and sort human beings. The students participating in the tour are told about the various machines and techniques used to support the fabrication and conditioning of embryos, which are subsequently fostered in bottles. The result is a plethora of virtually identical human beings who are divided into castes based on their level of engineered intelligence. Each is taught to be content with his/her place in life, whether the person is designed to be an Alpha (the top of the social pyramid) or an Epsilon (the lowest form of being, produced primarily to perform menial and distasteful tasks without complaint).
Only the Alphas and Betas are produced from single eggs that are not budded and therefore have no twins, or “clones,” which in the other castes, are produced in mass numbers. The character of Bernard is an Alpha, yet he is not quite as “perfect” as the others and is therefore, to some extent, ostracized. In contrast, the character of Lenina is the epitomic example of the superficial, almost robot-like humans who permeate this futuristic society. The setting is a place so overrun with modern technology that contemporary values such as freedom and individuality are completely obsolete. Also outmoded are the miracle of childbirth and true love and monogamy, all of which have been deemed ridiculous travesties.
While the new world might look good “on paper” (after all, there is no disease, no sadness, no violence, and no war), the fact remains that true happiness cannot be experienced without pain, just as true maturity cannot be reached without tribulation. Thus, the warning Huxley asks us to heed is not only in regard to excessive technology but also concerning his belief that the sacrifices of a perceived utopia are so great that a genuine utopia is inherently unachievable.
Huxley's admonition is especially disturbing considering that many of his “fictional” predictions have actually come true. These accuracies are not limited, however, to technological advancements. For example, the widespread drug abuse and the “mechanization” of sexual relationships are applicable to contemporary attitudes. In a society where creativity is discouraged and individuality is taboo, it is no wonder that the elements we currently consider to be the true joys of life are becoming extinct. This can’t help but encourage the critical reader to ponder the effects of such a cataclysmic prophecy actually reaching fruition.
Though Huxley’s Brave New World is essentially sardonic, the underlying theme is frighteningly true to life. There are in our current society, after all, certain degrees to which propaganda is instilled in babies from the time they are born, as well as many powerfully influential idioms with which human beings are bombarded throughout their lifetime. Society’s current obsession with supermodel slimness, for example, is a direct result of the media repeatedly forcing its ideals of beauty down the public’s throat until the masses are ultimately “brainwashed” into accepting unreasonable standards as reasonable. This is essentially the same type of mind programming that goes on in Huxley’s novel, which makes it chillingly possible that the bulk of his predictions will ultimately take place in a non-fictional future.
This point is strongly reinforced in Huxley’s conception of what he terms “hypnopaedia”. This is the state of sleep in which individuals are fed repetitive strings of mind altering phrases that encourage them to value their place in the world, and society as a whole. While on the surface these might seem like positive messages, they are in fact reflective of the type of totalitarian intolerance that fueled Hitler’s infamous crusade.
From a sociological point of view, Brave New World presents the probability that a utopian society could never truly exist. This is not, of course, any more original an idea than the concept of man vs. machine; however, the context in which it is presented opens up a whole new arena of thought. The questions as to the validity of the assumptions we make about our existence are at the heart of most philosophical and sociological tenets. Yet the writings of Huxley, though essentially derivative of an assortment of established premises, still manage to inspire a deep need to re-examine the nature of realism in relation to our perceptions. This is an extraordinary achievement in that portraying a time-honored conundrum in a light that is in some way applicable to every generation is one of the most difficult tasks any writer could ever undertake.