Aldous Huxley’s Island: A True Utopia?

by Annika Wildersch (Author)

Term Paper 2006 18 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Huxley’s ideas of a perfect society in Island
2.1 Children and families
2.2 Education and work
2.3 Yoga and the moksha-medicine

3. The beginning and end of Pala

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The description of an ideal society dates back to Plato’s Republic, in which he constructed a theoretical city of perfect justice and described how individuals should best live. Plato presumed the notion that “every earthly phenomenon has an ideal form”[1]. In the Renaissance, Sir Thomas More gave a name to this kind of literature with his novel Utopia. The word ‘utopia’ derives from the Greek language and is a pun, for it can mean either ‘outopia’, no place, or ‘eutopia’, good place. These two meanings more or less split today’s utopian literature in two parts: utopias of escape and utopias of reconstruction. Utopias of escape are often characterized by journeys to a distant place or time travelling and they are “a fantasy, or a dreamprojection, close to the heart of the writer, no matter how remote from realization”[2]. Utopias of reconstruction on the other hand deal more with realizable ideas, giving encouragement for changes in the real world. They are “attemps to provide a plan and a program of living for a better society”[3]. Since the 18th century, the latter has been the more common form of utopias. Yet, it is not always easy to put a utopian novel in one of these categories. In fact, there have been written quite a lot of fantastic utopias that also contributed to practical reform, such as Looking Backward (1888) by Edward Bellamy or News from Nowhere (1890) by William Morris. However, the description of an ideal society has become a standard component of literature.

One of the best known utopian novels of the twentieth century is Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley. In it, Huxley describes a fictional society in the future without religion, but with a philosophy of mass production and mass consumption, where people lack individuality and personal freedom and are mere manipulatable tools for the state. Brave New World shows the dreaded consequences of authoritarian control and mechanization of society and can thus be called an anti-utopia or dystopia. Thirty years later, in 1962, Huxley wrote his last complete novel, Island . It can be considered a utopian counterpoint to Brave New World, because it describes an ideal society with the main goal of individual freedom and the pursuit of happiness. Island is a novel of ideas, light on the novel-part and heavy on the ideas. In fact it could also be seen as an essay with a bit of a plot entangled around it. The plot in any case is secondary and easy to summarize: The English journalist Will Farnaby is stranded on the island of Pala and is on the secret mission to negotiate a contract for oil. Injured in the beginning, he leads long conversations with some inhibitants through which he learns about the Palanese way of life. As he takes pleasure in their virtues and beliefs, he gives up his initial oil plans. Nevertheless, in the end Pala gets invaded by the neighbour island Rendang. The emphasis in Island lies in the long conversations that Will leads in which he learns about the Palanese lifestyle and through which we, the readers, get to know about Huxley’s ideas of an ideal society. The questions this research paper deals with are: What exactly are the utopian features in Island ? Are those features attainable and what is more, are they worth to attain at all? And in this context, is Island rather a utopia of escape or reconstruction? In order to find out the answers to these questions, the paper will first offer an analysis of the ideas and then it will turn to the ‘novel’-part with an analysis of the main plot.

2. Huxley’s ideas of a perfect society in Island

The Palanese that Huxley describes in Island live in a purely humanistic society that is selfishly centered upon the pursuit of happiness and individual freedom. The means by which those ideals are achieved are explained in great detail and length, to the extend that there are passages of several pages in the novel without any real going-on of the actual plot. The ideas are multiple and elaborated and they cover practically all aspects of everyday life as eating, sleeping, working, making love and dying. Among others, Huxley explains the need for birth control, the benefits of regular manual work, techniques of minimizing crime and delinquencies and the proper use of drugs. The most pithy ideas in the novel are going to be analysed in the following.

2.1 Children and families

In order to provide a high standard of living and enough food for everybody, the Palanese have come up with a birth control system. Contraceptives are available for every Palanese; they are free and devilered by the postman in a thirty-night supply at the beginning of each month. In Pala, Will is told, nobody is supposed to have more than three babies and most people stop at having two, anyway. The result is that the population is increasing at less than a third of one percent per year. The idea behind this system is that Pala is prevented from becoming overcrowded and miserable. Without it, Pala would soon be transformed into the kind of festering slum that China, India, or Rendang, the neighbour island, is now. With birth control, there is no famine, no pestilence and no war on Pala. “ ‘And the reason is very simple: we chose to behave in a sensible and realistic way’ ”[4], Will is told.

When Will talks to Shanta, a Palanese woman, he learns about Deep Freeze and Artificial Insemination on Pala, in short DF and AI. Shanta tells Will that her husband Vijaya is not genetically responsible for their sons. She explains that many couples on Pala decide that it would be fun to have a change and to enrich the family with a new physique and temperament. Hence Shanta and Vijaya chose Gobind Singh, a former Palanese painter, as the genetical father, so that their children might grow up to be talented in art as well. Although the painter is already dead, the Palanese can still make use of his sperms with the techniques of Deep Freeze. Due to electric power and reliable refrigerators they run a central bank of superior stocks. This is a similar idea as Huxley has developed in Brave New World. The crucial difference though is that in Island the decision about birth control, AI and DF lies with the parents and they are not controlled by the government. With DF and AI the Palanese are improving their race: “ ‘Give us another century, and our average IQ will be up to a hundred and fifteen’ ”[5], according to Shanta, “ ‘whereas ours [in the Western world] will be down to eighty-five’ ”[6], Will assumes. When it comes to ethical questions the Palanese have no concerns: they claim that “it’s more moral to take a shot at having a child of superior quality rather than to run the risk of slavishly reproducing whatever quirks and defects may happen to run in the husband’s familiy.”[7] AI has been justified in terms of reincarnation and the theory of karma and therefor goes hand in hand with Palanese beliefs, but in fact this seems more like a cheap excuse to justify the unnatural method of DF and AI. However, while the idea of preventing over-population and misery is sensible, the ideas would not work in practical life: it is highly doubtful that a large number of people with personal freedom will stick to the rule of producing not more than two or three babies. And concerning DF and AI, it is not natural for parents to prefer a child of so-called superior quality rather than passing on their own genes. Besides there are some explanation gaps as it is not mentioned in the story what the Palanese do in case of inheritable diseases running in a mother’s family.


[1] Joseph T. Shipley, Dictionary of World Literary Terms (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), [p.] 350

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] Aldous Huxley, Island (London: Vintage, 2005), [p.] 82

[5] Huxley, Island, 188

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
550 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Hamburg – Insitut für Anglistik
Aldous Huxley’s Island True Utopia


  • Annika Wildersch (Author)



Title: Aldous Huxley’s Island:  A True Utopia?