Novel: Brave New World

“I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin.”

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, along with George Orwell’s 1984, remain the two cornerstones of 20th century dystopian future, with each having a very different take on the horror that the modern world could progress to. Brave New World’s future is a sterile one, with consumerism and comfort being emphasised whilst “smut” such as religion and family life is banned, the words themselves reduced to crude obscenities. In this world everything is mass produced, including people, and Henry Ford, proponent of the assembly line and the father of mass production, is revered as a kind of god.

The novel opens with a description of the “Central London Hatchery” in which eggs are fertilised by machines and the perfect amount of people of varying intelligence are created to maintain the current population of the planet. From this introduction the story turns to Bernard Marx, a man whose lacklustre appearance has led to him being a social outcast, which in turn has made him question the society of subliminal messaging and meaningless entertainment in which he lives. Bernard’s friend Helmholtz Watson also questions the system, not because he has any physical deficiency but rather mental excess, and throughout the novel Bernard’s put upon, self pitying attitude is contrasted with the genuine philosophical curiosity of Helmholtz. The third major character is John, a man who has grown up on a reservation for “natives” and as such has no knowledge of advanced society, instead living in a kind of tribe in New Mexico, safely fenced off from the outside world.

Whilst most Science Fiction novels have a character who does not understand the world they are in, in order to allow the author to indirectly explain how things work to the reader (such as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) Huxley instead introduces John late enough in the novel that his ignorance is not the readers ignorance. Concepts such as “Obstacle Golf”, “feelies” and “soma” have already been introduced to the reader, which serves to highlight the incredulous attitude of those who come into contact with this peculiar native who has no knowledge of the modern world. Having said this, those living within society have no knowledge of Shakespeare or religion, and consider marriage, monogamy and intimacy disgusting and obscene concepts. This cultural clash is brought to a head when a woman called Lenina, conditioned from birth to have as many sexual partners as possible, attempts to sleep with John, horrifying him. In a panic, he resists her advances, frantically quoting passages from Shakespeare before struggling free and fleeing.

Brave New World hits home because of its fundamentally human characters, with the tragic figure of John, trying desperately to find meaning in a meaningless world that treats him as no more than an amusing curiosity, being the most hard hitting of them all. The world itself also manages to be even more disquieting than that of 1984 as it is a hyperbolic version of our own, a nightmare of meaningless pleasure and enforced consumerism  made all the more real by just how easy it is to imagine. The majority of readers will side with John’s idea that freedom, art and pain are superior to meaningless comfort, but explaining why is something that both he and the reader may find harder to pin down.


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