Huxley and England in 1932
Literary Context - Brave New World and Science Fiction
Conventions of Science Fiction and Brave New World
Brave New World connections
Additional notes on technique
Conventions, techniques and page references
When Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932, America was in the process of becoming a dominant cultural and economic force. Henry Ford harnessed advances in technological and science to the mass production of cars on an unprecedented scale and America was the home of the mass media phenomenon, which included the jazz age. The novel is set in 2540 or 632 A.F. a future ‘after Ford’ where a totalitarian super power ‘The World State’ has replaced national identities. Americans, after the sufferings of WW1, were encouraged to live for the moment and purchased possessions like cars and white goods as status symbols. Huxley, visiting America, feared England would adopt crass consumerism to the detriment of humanist values perpetuated in canonical literature and the arts. Science and information threatened to subsume the function of literature as enduring sources of wisdom.
As an antidote to this loss of culture Huxley uses Shakespeare and canonical literature to underpin his ideological thesis. Even Controller Mond admits to owning and reading ‘pornographic’ literature; the bible and canonical texts including Shakespeare’s plays. The Savage quotes Othello, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet extensively to convert his auditors to belief in passionate emotions instead of sensual gratification.
Where Ford’s pervasive influence shapes the destruction of individuality, the misapplication of Freud’s views on liberating the libido and combating sexual repression inform the rampant promiscuity of the World State. Huxley’s own patriarchal society is threatened by female sexuality freed from pre-war social taboos.
Huxley’s early ambivalent views of benevolent dictatorships, whereby a small number of cultural elite decide the lives and fate of the majority, changed after he wrote the novel and this partially explains his ambiguous characterisation of World Controller Mustafa Mond. However, Brave New World anticipates the rise of Fascism and the horrors of World War 2, including atrocities such as the Holocaust that resulted from Hitler’s pursuit of pure Aryan super-race, which in turn caused Huxley to add a new preface expressing reservations.
Brave New World, like Herbert’s Dune, reflects the respective composer’s concerns about dogma and religion. Herbert identifies the pursuit of a Messiah as an extension of our pursuit of a single resolution to human destiny and Huxley recognises humanity’s need to believe in an omniscient and omnipotent force: The Savage says ‘I want God, it is natural to believe in God’ and Mond hides a bible which he quotes without acknowledging the source. Ford assumes the function of God, Mond is the Messiah, the tops are broken off crosses replacing the Christian symbol and time is measured as A.F. not A.D. Religious experience is provided by ‘Community Sings’ and ‘Solidarity Services’. Huxley’s fears for his context are clear even as he rejects orthodox religions. Mond says ‘God is not compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make you choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness.’ (p.234)
Is Brave New World Science Fiction? Early science fiction belonged to a small group of fans who devised, critiqued and developed their own criteria for successful science fiction. Contemporary critics dismissed Huxley’s work as highbrow and anti-science, some even objected to the focus on sexuality. One criticism was that Huxley, like Swift and Orwell, used the alien world principally to convey political satire. The extent to which their texts are Science fiction is the extent to which they are not literature.
Brave New World
Unlike Asimov and Heinlein, Huxley rejected science as a panacea for human ills just as he rejected religion and nineteenth century idealism. The first chapter in the novel describes the Hatcheries and scientists, like John Foster, as ambitious and pompous. Adjectives such as ‘corpse like’ and ‘frozen’ identify eugenics as anti- life; social stratification is as rigid as that in Dune and Mond’s defence of suppressing pure science and labour saving devices to maintain the balance of power is flawed. Huxley, like Herbert, Gibson and Clarke feared the abuse of science and technology. Human greed, ambition and lusts are considered the dangers.
It is useful at this point to consider some common conventions of science fiction:
Brave New World and Science Fiction conventions
The credibility of Huxley’s invented world stems from the resemblance between his context, characterisation and a cultural fear of challenges to the status quo. Huxley’s text represents his concerns for misapplied technology and science including advances in psychiatry, psychology and sociology.
Sense of Wonder
The dangers inherent in accelerating productivity by applying the principles of commerce to a production line for humanity are foreshadowed in the early chapters. Alpha plus and Alpha rulers are designed for total control down to Epsilons who are capable of only basic tasks. This thesis permeates the text.
Scientific advances are embedded in the invented lexicon and many advances were dissonant to Huxley’s contemporary readership:
John, the Savage represents the reader’s rejection of moral decadence and threat to individual freedom central to total conformity.
The Savage is heroic and isolated in defiance of Controller Mond, the regime and totalitarian values. But his ignorance, naivety and fanaticism are comic. Bernard Marx’s cowardice, ambition and spite undermine claims to heroism. Only Helmholtz Watson’s loyalty, creativity and intellectual integrity are admirable if not heroic.
Huxley’s misogynistic characterisations of Lenina, Fanny and Linda conform to the stereotype of early science fiction heroine. Hedonistic and devoid of intellectual curiosity they are the products of conditioning.
The World Controller, Mustapha Mond is not a science fiction villain of the traditional kind – especially one found in magazine culture. A cultured, charming, intellectual and former scientist, he is Huxley’s warning to the intelligentsia of how easy it is to be seduced by ‘Community, Identity, Stability’.
Huxley’s use of emotive language is ironic and questions values while delineating character: Lenina, Linda and the Savage.
Huxley debates the rival merits humanism and conservative economic practice through sustained rhetoric in the confrontation between John the Savage and Mustapha Mond.
Huxley’s novel lacks a hero but Bernard Marx, John the Savage, Helmholtz Watson and Mustapha Mond all represent the ramifications of scientific and technological progress on society.
The Savage’s name has connotations of John the Baptist and his birth and upbringing in the Indian Reservation satirises Romanticism’s flawed concept of the Noble Savage. His character grows and changes like an Othello character; empathic, capable of love, loyal and courageous but flawed. His limited understanding of Shakespeare and flawed grasp of religion are pervasive and destructive influences in his life. The Messiah character in Dune has a similar function as Controller Mond.
The Savage is the voice of humanism and represents Huxley’s values. The Savage claims ‘I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.’ Mond dismisses this as ‘claiming the right to be unhappy’. The Savage’s farcical rejection of Lenina, his failure to live in rural sequestration enduring self-denial and his eventual suicide suggests the fate of an idealist in a hedonistic, mechanistic world.
Huxley uses Lenina’s facile, conditioned quotes to satirise the loss of individuality: ‘A dram is better than a damn’, ‘Ending is better than mending’ ‘Everybody belongs to everybody else’, ’Was and will make me ill.... I take a dram and only am.’ Lenina is atypical in her defiance of social mores and her monogamous relationship with John Foster foreshadows her love for the Savage. This demonstrates an instinctive depth of feeling which Huxley contrasts with conservative, promiscuous Fanny. Huxley suggests humanities’ need for more than sex, comfort and stability through Lenina’s reaction when John violently rejects her, her efforts to intervene and save the Savage and her distress at his suicide. Although little more than two dimensional and a plot device, she and Helmoltz re-enforce Huxley’s rejection of consumerism, drug induced euphoria and sensory stimulation as a social panacea.
Another anti-hero and a satire of the intellectual elite in Huxley’s context. Bernard’s sensitivity, intelligence and defiance of the regime engage readers at first. His puny physique, a result of alcohol in his blood surrogate, petty jealousy, cowardice and spiteful response to the Savage’s success and Helmholtz’s achievements are unheroic.
A quasi hero and a device for extending Huxley’s humanist thesis, he is a foil to the Savage and Bernard with no role in plot development. Helmholtz most nearly achieves heroic status as poet, virile lover, successful sportsman, loyal friend and rebel. His discussions and friendship with the Savage reveal complex emotions while advancing Huxley’s thesis. Helmholtz’s successful career as an Emotional Engineer who manipulates emotional responses with language and his appreciation of Shakespeare contribute to Huxley’s satire of the media. Ironically the poem that precipitates his exile arises from an effort to express complex emotional responses.
John Foster, Fanny Crowne, Linda and the Director
These stereotypical characters attack decadence, the hypocrisy of officialdom and the new order where individuals are programmed to be devoid of strong emotions and intellectual integrity. They are satires of Huxley’s contemporaries, superficial and incapable of intellectual rigour or sincere emotions
Huxley expresses his contextual concerns through the linear plot tracing the Savage’s journey from the Reservation through the World State to the lighthouse and death.
Brave New World has a linear plot that shifts from the World State briefly to the Savage Reservation, returns to the World State and concludes in rural English countryside with death of the Savage precipitated by the intrusion of modernity.
The Savage’s changing perspective isolates him and challenges contextual values. Even Helmholtz, capable of choosing exile in the Antarctic to write poetry with real meaning, fails to grasp humanist values completely as seen in his cynical response to Romeo and Juliet.
Huxley uses Mond’s eloquently argued perspective to warn against choosing consumerism, disguised as economic and social stability before human dignity, spirituality and integrity. His suppression of history, pure science and the arts prevents citizens from making informed evaluations of political, social and fiscal policy and challenging the regime.
The settings of Malpais, the World State and the country lighthouse demonstrate that an escape to an idealised, mythic past is a delusion. Malpais is sordid and villagers embrace their ignorance and superstitions. Their addiction to alcohol mirrors the use of soma. Huxley’s narrative represents the failure of advances in science and technology to maintain social equilibrium without compliance that is induced by of drug addiction, eugenics and Pavlovian conditioning.
His descriptions of the natural landscape are deliberately superficial and facile but contrast positively with the futuristic urban nightmare of the Hatchery decanting humans, the hospital where drug induced death accompanies Death Conditioning and the factories that include the Slough Crematorium belching smoke transforming humans into fertilizer.
Brave New World is a satirical fable similar to Voltaire’s Candide where composers withhold authorial intervention to encourage readers to engage actively with the ethical issues. Huxley, like Virginia Woolf, uses indirection instead of lengthy descriptive passages and complex characterisation.
Chapter 3 is an example of Huxley’s extensive use of counterpoint. The juxtaposition of narrative strands create ironic dissonances and implicitly condemns the frenetic pace and shallow interactions of the World State. Escalating momentum culminates in counterpointing fragments of hypnopaedic rhetoric, Mond’s lecture, the dialogues between Lenina and Fanny, Benito and Foster and Bernard’s rebellious internal monologue.
Intertextual references, classical allusions and quotations are also important structural devices to emphasise the value of high art and humanist values. Huxley’s ironic use of Shakespeare’s Othello, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet dominates the narrative. He conveys criticism of his context through the juxtaposition of modern lovers and Shakespearean counterparts: Lenina and the Savage are juxtaposed with the hero and heroine of Three Week in A Helicopter and Desdemona and Othello. Similar pairing exists with Prospero-Mond, Miranda-Lenina, Ferdinand-John, Caliban-Bernard or even Caliban-John, Sycorax-Linda, while Pope can be read as Caliban.
Huxley also uses of authorial intervention as in comparing Helmholtz’s mental and physical prowess with Bernard’s inadequacies and implying that as social types they are equally dangerous to State stability, from above and below respectively. The Savage is a social aberration and no threat. (Firchow, pp 105-114)
Huxley’s Brave New World explores the ramifications of misuse of contemporary and future developments in science and technology for humanity. How does the futurist world of London in the 632 A.F. reflect the fears and hopes of Huxley’s context and what if any solutions does he offer?
Research a totalitarian regime in the recent past and adapt the context to reflect some pressing concerns of our present context linked to significant scientific or technological discoveries. Use these ideas in an extended creative response set in an imagined future. Choose your text type but ensure the text is informed by your understanding and knowledge of Science Fiction.
|Sense of Wonder (see Cognitive Estrangement)
Sensory imagery, connotations, similes, metaphors, symbolism, hyperbole, invented lexicon, irony, voice, humour inversion, statistics, hyperbole
|Genetic engineering, The Hatchery||1-21|
|Technological advances such as the flying machines, Obstacle Golf||52-54|
Sensory imagery, connotations, similes, metaphors, symbolism, hyperbole, adjectives, register–formal and colloquial language, invented lexicon, irony, repetition, statistics, Latinate language, humour, tone, juxtaposition, empathy, imagery, alliteration, contrast, platitudes, minor characters
|Neo Pavlovian conditioning rooms||16-18|
|Destruction of family (seeded through the text)||35-36|
|Ironic allusions to Shakespeare, archetypal characters, contextual allusions to Freud||Destruction of literature, religion||28-29, 190-202|
|Comparison of music, sound and ritual, onomatopoeia, symbolism, irony, emotive language, hyperbole, bathos, pathos||Contraception, promiscuity, destruction of family, Pregnancy Substitute||32-37|
|Seduction of John the Savage||168-172, 227-229|
|Malpais, Ritual in Malpais||86-II5, 97-101|
|Sensory imagery, connotations, similes, metaphors, symbolism, hyperbole, invented lexicon, irony, empathy, minor characters, tone, classical allusions, archetypal characters, contextual allusions to Freud, emotive language, bathos, pathos||Death programming, Hospital for the Dying||174 -182|
|Seeding the text||As above|
|Lone super hero
Ironic allusions to Shakespeare, archetypal characters, contextual allusions to Freud
symbolism, hyperbole, irony, humour, tone, juxtaposition, empathy, pathos, bathos, contrast, paradox, inversion, minor characters
|Anti heroes – seeded through the text and:|
|John the Savage||57-61,100-126,141-149,165-173,174-190,213-229|
Ironic allusions to Shakespeare, archetypal characters, contextual allusions to Freud
symbolism, hyperbole, irony, humour, tone, juxtaposition, empathy, bathos, contrast, paradox, inversion
|Linda (parallel characters)||102-II8,131-132,174-190|
Ironic allusions to Shakespeare, archetypal character, contextual political and cultural allusions, symbolism, hyperbole, irony, humour, tone, juxtaposition, contrast, paradox, inversion
Pseudo scientific jargon
|Throughout the text|
Sensory imagery, symbolism, connotations, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, irony, repetition, statistics, alliteration, Latinate language, juxtaposition
|Cinema, jazz, popular fiction||145-148|
|Religious experience-Solidarity Service||67-74|
|Media, Darwin Bonaparte||223-228|
|Hatchery tour||16-18, 19-24,64-65|
|See debate between Mond and Savage||191-212|
Ironic allusions to Shakespeare, archetypal characters, contextual allusions to Freud
symbolism, hyperbole, irony, humour, tone, juxtaposition, empathy, bathos, pathos
|John the Savage||183-190|
|Inter textual references
|Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Othello and Romeo and Juliet||Throughout the text|