Unless otherwise indicated, all citations are from Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. Toronto: Vintage, 2007.
Language & Political Debate in Brave New World, by Terry Newman © 2015
The society in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World uses language as its primary weapon, wielding it to forge the personalities of the populace to ensure its own continuance. The authorities have built the personalities of the citizens from birth using carefully selected words and phrases. Whenever Lenina, for example, expresses one of her beliefs, she utters a mantra she learned as a child as part of her personality and ideology formation (170, 44). As firmly entrenched and deeply personal as these values seem to her, they stem from an external, deliberate source, and the sheer force of oral repetition. The human personality, then, including its values, passions, and desires, that inexplicable core we call the human soul, is characterized in this novel as nothing but a product of language; language precedes all of it. Huxley offers no hint here of a natural, authentic human identity repressed by societal conditioning. Society here is the creator of human identity, not its colonizer. There is nothing before the conditioning.
John the Savage’s name may suggest he is Natural Man, uncorrupted by society, a representative of human nature untouched, but the name is ironic. When John calls Lenina an “impudent strumpet,” he is quoting Shakespeare (170). His seemingly instinctive disgust for Lenina’s sexual forwardness, as personal and visceral as it feels to John, comes from Shakespeare, just like everything else in his character. John’s thoughts and feelings are as much a product of Shakespeare as Lenina’s are of Hypnopaedia. Neither the “civilized” Lenina nor the “savage” John can lay claim to any a priori authentic human self.
What is most notable about personality-formation through language is perhaps not what it can create but what it can leave out. If human feelings and values stem from words a person has been exposed to, then omitting certain words will omit the accompanying feelings and values. Both Huxley and George Orwell keyed into this in their respective dystopias: you limit people’s thoughts by limiting their access to language. To prevent people from feeling unjustly treated, for example, remove the word “justice” from the language. The citizens of Huxley’s society seem so small to us because they have had such limited access to language and consequently limited access to thoughts.
In the climactic discussion between John the Savage and Mustafa Mond (192-212), John feels this whole society is wrong, yet cannot muster the proper arguments, the proper thoughts, against it. Everything John proposes, Mond counters. Mond’s defence of his society is utterly reasonable. In fact, Mond wins the argument, and in the end of the discussion, John mumbles something about the right to be miserable and falls into silence. This result is inevitable – Mond has access to a vast library, and so to a variety of ideas, values, and rhetorical styles. John, on the other hand, has the language and worldview of Shakespeare, as John understands it, and therefore lacks the ability to compete in a political debate. His identity is limited in proportion to the limitations of his linguistic influences. John fails to convince Mond due to his use exclusively of what George Orwell, in “Politics and the English Language,” calls “meaningless words” (Orwell) like “value” and dignity” (Huxley 208), words John got from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida. John argues for “self-denial,” “chastity,” “nobility,” “heroism,” and “suffering” (210). For him, the value of these concepts is self-evident, but his arguments are only emotional appeals. As Orwell might say, John’s argument is merely that he dislikes the civilization in Brave New World and identifies instead with the characters in Shakespeare’s plays. John has no thoughts per se regarding his distaste for the place, because Shakespeare, while providing him with plenty of normative values and emotional outcries, does not seem to have proffered for him anything in the way of logical political argumentation to explain in concrete and convincing terms why this society is harmful for human existence. Hence, John’s character is incapable of formulating such a thesis.
If John’s influences had included, for example, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, John might have won the argument. John could have made Mond realize that the citizens are, in fact, unhappy because they live life only for pleasure and consumption, and lack that which Aristotle believes is most necessary for happiness – reflection. John could have explained that, on Aristotle’s tiers of happiness, the citizens of Brave New World are on the bottom rung, living a life of vulgar pleasure. He could have pointed out that achieving Eudaimonia, the highest form of happiness, requires a good upbringing, and cultivation, rather than stunting, of capacities. Furthermore, John could have emulated Aristotle’s method of reasoning, logically and systematically drawing concrete imagery and examples. Aristotle is the master of giving meaning to abstract concepts like virtues, happiness, truth, and beauty, and John could have learned those skills, simply with wider reading beyond Shakespeare. This is not to say that John’s argument would have been more “authentic” than Mond’s – only that the power resides in the individual who possesses the most powerful and convincing fund of language.
The book’s ultimate view is that we humans have the power of God to create the identities of other humans using language as the instrument. Given that awesome power, we must act consciously and responsibly, providing the right literary models for our citizens, if we are to create a better society.
Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell.ru. 30 August 2013. Web. 24 March 2015. <http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/>.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Sarah Broadie and Christopher Rowe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). pp. 95-122 and 241-258
Untitled, by Olivier Aveline © 2015
Brave New World throws us into the midst of a utopian society in which everyone occupies a vital role in order to maintain a balance in society. Between the hard labourers, the socialites, and the World Controllers, everyone holds a position in which they can find happiness and fulfillment – Epsilons through their work, the Alpha Pluses with the Feelies and monogamous relationships, and Soma, which everyone indulges in. Juxtaposed to our world today, the makeup up their society forces us ask ourselves if they are truly happy, and if any of them actually have agency.
Mustapha Mond and John are the characters that the reader can relate to. John, being an outsider, does not conform to the ideals of London’s current society, and asks the questions we would as well. Mustapha Mond, on the other hand, is the force that dictates the brave new world, being one of the men responsible for the emergence of this society. But Mond is cut from a different cloth than Marx, Hemholtz, or Lenina. We learn that he was “an inquisitive young scullion once. [He] started doing a bit of cooking on [his] own. Unorthodox cooking, illicit cooking. A bit of real science, in fact” (199). Mond, much like Bernard, defied the societal norm, and wanted more than the world had to offer him. He was curious, and intelligent, but this almost lead him to be “sent to an island” (199). He was to give up his agency and conform to the imposed societal norm, or be exiled from his world with other like-minded people.
But Mond went beyond being just another citizen of the world – he is a World Controller, well versed in the society that came before, demonstrated when he discusses Shakespeare with John, and manipulates embryos to create a balance. The world is too instable for everyone to be an Alpha Double Plus, as “a society of always couldn’t fail to be unstable and miserable […] Imagine a factory staffed by Alpha’s – that is to say by separate and unrelated individuals of good hereditary and conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibilities. Imagine that!” (195). His knowledge in the makeup of society proves to us that Monde, while having given up his agency to pursue his own interest, is looking out for the good of society. But is he happy? I will argue that he is not – Having so much scientific knowledge, so much power in the world, but he cannot do what he likes with it. As he discusses with Watson, [h]appiness must be paid for […] That’s how I paid. By choosing to serve happiness. Other people’s – not mine (200). John, on the other hand, wanting his happiness, came to the new world in hopes of finding something better than his reserve in New Mexico. But his expectations fell short when he discovered just how conditioned the citizens of London have become. His juxtaposition to Mond displays how they are two separate heads of the same coin – one opts for happiness, while the other for agency. These states are mutually exclusive, Mond having given up science to serve the world, and John having taken his own life to escape it.
Untitled, by Maxime Masson © 2015
An issue that kept nagging me, as I read Brave New World, was the question of free will. I had to ask myself, how is free will even defined? It seems like such a basic notion, but perhaps not. Free will, in my opinion, is the concept in which you make your own voluntary choices for whatever it is you want to do. This could relate to your personal life or your career path. Taking my definition into consideration, I have a hard time believing that there is any free will amongst the characters within the society set up in the novel. In particular, regarding their concept of copulation.
In Brave New World, people are strongly encouraged to copulate with everyone, because “everyone belongs to everyone” (37). Quite a disturbing thought, on account that there’s the implication that even if you may not be interested in engaging in sexual activity — with an abundant number of people — you have to. It is a society that promotes hyper-promiscuous activity, although there are moments where you question the consent.
An example is when Lenina mentions that she hasn’t “been feeling very keen on promiscuity lately” and her friend, Fanny, responds that “one’s got to make the effort, … one’s got to play the game” (36-37). Her answer highlights exactly my point: although it’s clear she’s not keen in partaking in sex, there’s an obligation to follow through with it anyways. Lenina’s choice to do as she pleases — her free will in other words — is questionable.
Another moment, is when Lenina is thinking of Benito Hoover and how “he was really too hairy when he took his clothes off” (49). The people in this society are heavily pressured to sleep with each other., but what if you don’t want to with a particular person? There seems to be a preference of choice when choosing someone to copulate with. For example, when Bernard can’t help but keep thinking of Morgana Rothschild’s only eyebrow. Bernard and a group of people are in the middle of their Solidarity Service, they’re taking soma and music is flowing. Although everyone is feeling the effects of the drug, Bernard cannot get “the eyebrow, that black two-in-one” (Huxley 70) out of his mind. There’s an incessant attention to that particular physical attribution, in which “he couldn’t ignore (…), couldn’t however hard he tried” (Huxley 70). You get the distinct feeling that he finds her unibrow bothersome, something that he cannot ignore because of how hideous it is. However, if she were to ask him to bed her, he would comply without question.
Be that as it may, in critiquing this society of their free will in regards to copulation, it compelled me to reflect on our own. In our society, openly having sex with whomever you want is considered immoral. This is an interesting parallel Huxley is hinting at: we believe that their society is unusual for having an open concept in terms of sexual relations — however I question if it’s an actual choice — but perhaps we’re repressed? Or brainwashed into believing that this is how our society is supposed to work. Consequently, we are repressing our desires and we do not realize it. What does this say about our free will? Moreover, how does this complicate our view of what we deem as our society.
Untitled, by David Walker © 2015
In Brave New World one of the key themes is physical appearance working in tandem with class structure and society. More specifically, certain passages in the novel highlight how physical appearance in Huxley’s novel is indicative of social status, and how the state uses human biology as a means to both subjugate, control, and foster social bonds. How this occurs and why this is an unsustainable way of operating a hierarchy-based class structure is examined here, detailing how the synthesis of biological standardization and societal conformity is unsustainable.
Early on in the novel it’s mentioned that it’s almost impossible to determine someone’s age (2). At first this may just simply be seen as an example of how (seemingly) idealistic this futuristic utopia of Huxley’s is. However, later in the novel it is revealed that members of these multiple caste systems identify to which group themselves and others belong, in part, by physical appearance, including stature and build (55), and from this one can infer that age could be understood to get in the way of intra-class egalitarian sentiments by projecting one’s experience to others. So, people of different social castes go through life with the inherent abilities (cognitive ability or work ethic, for instance) they are believed to have by others due to biological predisposition and social conditioning (10-11), and the physical homogeneity within classes themselves (such as a lack of variance in height and build) could be seen as a way to prevent certain people from being advantaged, essentially making intra-class relations be on an equal playing field. In other words, the standardization of appearance within the castes exist to foster co-operation as opposed to competition, and the Kafkaesque reaction one might experience while reading Brave New World could in part be because of how overt one’s ascribed status is here compared to the reader’s own society. In our own culture, a person’s body tells us little about their rank or status in life unless one includes non-anatomical features such as their fashion sense, or perhaps their way of speaking. However, when it becomes clear from simply height alone how one ranks in the social strata, the true terror of how impossible it is to navigate between social classes is revealed. For instance, Bernard, to his annoyance, finds that those in the castes lower than he is are hesitant to obey his commands due to his diminutive stature (55).
This is due, as we see, through near-complete standardization of the individual using a system not unlike an assembly line, ensuring that (in theory) each fetus has only desirable traits imprinted onto it (3-4). Bernard is disadvantaged due to his unusual appearance, which may not seem unusual to the reader, but is thought of as horribly unusual by his cohort, not only in terms of aesthetics, but also personality, as he is said to be introverted and withdrawn (38-39). The general idea here seems to be that Bernard is a deviation from the norm. Although being a bit strange can make one a social pariah in our own society, in Huxley’s Brave New World these little idiosyncrasies make life considerably more difficult for the person who is the odd one out. The chief reason as to why intra-group uniformity is so essential for group cohesion may be because of the effects it has on creating solidarity between caste members. If one is able to associate a body type with a social caste, they will assume that all the preconceived notions that they have though Pavlovian conditioning will be attached to that individual. So, an Alpha may see someone with his or her physical features and immediately recognize that individual as a comrade as opposed to a stranger.
Secondly, interpersonal competition is lessened by this aforementioned uniformity; age was mentioned earlier in this paper as it was a perfect example of how the autocratic state in the novel levels the playing field this way. The uniformity wrought by the eugenics program means that everyone in a certain caste are peers with no variance in change of status. Of course, people’s appearances will still deviate from the norm, whether it is in an obvious way as it was for Bernard, or minor ones like having excess body hair or a different level of intelligence than is expected.
The mechanism of action for this system dampens its effectiveness substantially, and this is why the nullification of mediocrity fails. The eugenics system operates on the notion that people should adhere to a specific template, but all this does is cause ‘unwanted’ physical features to stand out more. It should be clear from this analysis of societal control that relying on eugenics to create intra-caste biological uniformity in order to ensure the cohesion of society through the negation of interpersonal competition is shaky, at best. People, even if standardized, will continue to critique even the smallest exceptions of the norm, preventing any true conformity from existing.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Chatto & Windus, 1932.
Untitled, by Julian Pepin © 2015
In Huxley’s Brave New World, much is made of the advanced, carefully managed society that Bernard Marx and his peers inhabit. This will examine the pros and cons of such a society, as well as the contrasts in the book between the “normal” society and the Indian reservation
The reservation harkens back to what society was like in the 1930’s, except even more extreme poverty and religious extremism. This world is in stark contrast with modern society has become. what the world has become, as the Indian inhabitants might have a greater degree of freedom as they can read whatever they want, believe what they want, and have no hypnotic social conditioning, as opposed to the Brave New world. However it’s also full of the old problems of society as well; disease, old age (110-111), poverty, and a general sense of filth seem to be ever present. (114) Old world values are also still present as Linda is continually abused for sleeping with multiple men (126) and a bizarre mix of Christianity and Indian religions seem to persist (115). This strong contrast is perhaps the best case for those who claim that the book is, if not quite a utopia, is not quite a dystopia either. After all, is the freedom to be diseased, to be old, and to live in poverty and squalor one anyone would clamor for? It hardly seems like a freedom anyone would yearn for. Indeed, after some of Huxley’s vivid descriptions, the sterile, manufactured rooms seem almost appealing.
However, there seems to be certain extremism at play here as these two options of living seem to be presented as almost mutually exclusive, with no middle ground. I do not believe this to be a mere oversight. It is repeatedly emphasized that the Brave New World is a community is happy, and is, above all else, stable. (44) It seems all to likely that some clever world controller deliberately allows the reservations to exist as a kind of example, to display what people got for their freedom, which was unending misery. It is not enough to have the endless hypnotic inductions, day after day. In fact it is telling Bernard Marx has to ask his superiors permission in order to visit the reservation in the first place, (89) as after all the vast majority of the population cares only about buying things and playing inane sports, so it shows that someone like Mond is deliberately looking for subversive figures. A simple desire to even see something different would likely alert the world controller that someone is thinking too deeply about society and a possible wish for something different. The Indian reservations are a monument to the victory over chaos and thus it makes perfect sense for them to want those who might possibly have doubts to see it. The fact that later on it’s confirmed there are places where intelligent people are sent to do what they wish (175) confirms this. This shows that they are both committed to making people happy by giving them what they want but also effectively stops any rebellion from forming to overthrow the society at the same time, which adds to the overall feeling of utilitarianism that the novel seems to have, in that the world controllers seem genuinely committed to the good of society but still want individuals to have want, affirming there philosophy of making everyone happy.
Huxley, Aldous. “Brave New World” United States of America: Harper & Row, 1989.
Dystopic New World, by Matthew Donovan © 2015
In Brave New World we are taken into the future in a world where everyone is bred into their roles, wants for nothing, and life is simple. The world presented can be viewed as a dystopia or a utopia depending on your point of view. The story follows a group of characters some of whom were born and raised in the rhythms and roles of this futuristic society, and some of whom were born outside of these rules on reserves. The characters from the reserves struggle because they are the rare people who still see and think of themselves as individuals in a world that tries to remove individuality. In this world your role is already chosen for you before you are “created.” I say created because in this world there are no longer any natural births outside of the reserves. Everyone is produced in a lab to fulfill a certain role predetermined on their behalf. There are five castes that are further split into minus’ and plus’ such as an Alpha Minus or an Alpha Plus, plus’ are greater than minus’. Each caste has its role that is bred into them at the earliest stage possible to undermine free thinking and to ensure that everyone functions in their role in society efficiently and without complaint. I found Huxley’s portrayal of the future to be eerily similar to that of a colony of ants. In an ant colony there are many different castes and not only are they born into their role they have evolved to perform that role. The ants destined to defend the colony are larger than the ones who gather food, the food gatherers are capable of moving quicker than the ants who tend to the queen, and so on. Each has the adaptations necessary to do the job they were designed to do but unable to perform the jobs of others. In the universe created by Huxley it is much the same: Alphas do most of the thinking and take care of “important” affairs such as leading or developing technology. The Epsilons are genetically modified to be inferior to take on less complex but equally important tasks and be content about it. They are eerily similar to their insect counterparts in many ways. Brave New World is a very intriguing universe because depending on your opinion it could be a Utopia, free from suffering from anxiety and where happiness is just a soma away, or a dystopia where a sense of self no longer exists. Everyone and everything exists just for the sake of continued existence. While it would have taken creative efforts to create and engineer this society it comes across like initial efforts were too effective and now the human race is a shell of what it used to be, from a creative and free thinking stand point. Everyone has freedom and free will but no one uses it, but if no one uses it, is that not the same as it not existing? I think this is what Huxley was worried the future would become. That while seeking to create a Utopia we would rob the world of its creativity and freedom and thus actually create a dystopic world with neither.
The writing of Brave New World comes across full of anxiety. Anxiety over the future and its potential for good and for evil. Huxley confirms his suspicions and worries in Brave New World Revisited, an essay written by Huxley concerning the universe of Brave New World twenty seven years after he wrote the novel. He discusses how he fears the world will end up as it does in his novel and that now twenty seven years in the future he still worries, except according to him now it would seem the pace toward this dystopic future has accelerated. Huxley’s fears had grown from 1931 – 1958. Somehow I don’t think he would approve of our dependence on technology today and he might even feel we’re already in his dystopic future. Some of us have personal helicopters, prescription drugs are readily available if you’re sad, and we all have Iphones, Ipads or other Apple products. Huxley’s prediction for the future is freakily accurate and yet we aren’t even one third of the way to the year he predicted. Change the references from “our Ford” to our Jobs, as in Steve Jobs, and we may already be there.
Brave New World: Almost a Utopia, by Kevin Coughlin © 2015
The society of Brave New World is often seen as a dystopia, yet even John Savage, the most extreme dissenter, believes that “there are some very nice things” (186) that Huxley’s world has to offer. his depiction of a world populated with a society made docile through soma and Violent Passion Surrogates seems damning yet those who know more about Huxley’s personal life would know that he was far from being against drugs and the idea of him experimenting with soma isn’t that farfetched. The people in Brave New World are not being controlled in order to benefit some form of social elite. In fact, Mustapha Mond firmly believes he’s doing what’s best for everybody and sees his duty to enforce the happiness of others as a “hard master” (193). The world is a utopia according to Mond and most of the citizens. The grand majority of the people seem to be entirely happy, and those who aren’t, are sent off to live what sound like a greatly interesting life on an island full of similarly unlikeminded individuals. It begs the question as to whether his world is an entirely bad thing; if anything, the exact truth to this question is in itself left ambiguous.
From a strictly utilitarian point of view, it’s quite an achievement. Their entire civilization is free from many of the problems that plague modern society today. As Mond puts it: “The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave” (187). The strange thing about this passage is that Mond is right. These are all good things and that’s what makes Brave New World stand out among other dystopian novels. This book is more than just a Cautionary tale. There’s a moral ambiguity behind that story that makes the reader question who was right. John Savage claims “the right to be unhappy” (204) in opposition to civilization, yet his life afterwards is not in any way Meant to be seen as an improvement over that of the perfectly conditioned citizen.
That being said, I as a reader still felt compelled to by sympathetic toward John. There is still something about Huxley’s depiction of the world in the book that is disturbing. It shows us that there is a high price to pay for total happiness. For instance, at one point it is explained that “you’ve got to choose between happiness and … high art” (187). A life of ignorant bliss would lack emotional depth to those who have experienced tragedy. There is a certain added value to happiness when it can be juxtaposed with the bad. There is a beauty in experiencing “the glamor of a good fight against misfortune” or “the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation” (188) that most of the people in the book will never be able to experience. The fact that they need to have a Violent Passion Surrogate every once in a while shows us that our psyche craves turmoil every now and then. The entire situation is unnatural and by indoctrinating people into this style of life before they are even born, Mustapha and his government, in a surprisingly peaceful manner, are committing genocide of what some might call the human soul.
It’s this double sidedness that separates Brave New World from other contemporary dystopias like We, The Iron Heel or 1984. Whilst an initial reading of the book will make one feel like the world was something deplorable, one can’t help but feel as if Aldous inserted his own ideals into this dystopia and simply gave them a totalitarian edge. In many ways, brave new world is close to a paradise but without individuality, perfect yet obscene. It’s this balance between extreme’s that makes it so frightening yet insightful.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. London: Arcturus, 2014.