Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World - ... as a negative utopia

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University) 1998 13 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works


Table of contents

1. Aldous Huxley's life and work

2. "Brave New World" as a negative utopia
2.1 The content of "Brave New World"
2.2 Definition of the term "utopia"
2.2.1 Term and literary tradition
2.2.2 Positive utopias
2.2.3 Negative utopias
2.3 Analysis of "Brave New World" with regard to its literary genre
2.3.1 Formal aspects
2.3.2 The society
2.3.3 The Savage's perspective
2.3.4 Huxley's point of view

3. Outlook

1. Aldous Huxley's life and work

Aldous Huxley is born on 26 July 1894 near Godalming in England. His mother, Julia Huxley, née Arnold, is related to the poet Matthew Arnold and to the Victorian novelist Mrs Humphrey Ward. His father Leonard Huxley is the son of the biologist Thomas Huxley. Therefore literature and science are connected in his intellectual family, what leads to high expectations towards Aldous and his brothers Julian and Trevenen. From the year 1908, he visits Eton College and from 1913 on he studies in Oxford. But his education is disturbed by three crucial events. In 1908, his mother dies of cancer, in 1911, Aldous gets an eye infection that makes him almost blind for many years, and in 1914, his brother Trevenen commits suicide. These events contribute to some extent to his scepticism towards the world. After his excellent examen in English, Huxley has various jobs and increasing financial problems. In 1919, he marries Maria Nys, who gives birth to his son Matthew in 1920. Huxley releases several collections of verse and of short stories and finally has his breakthrough with the novel "Crome Yellow", which is released in 1921. After this success, he manages to make a contract with a publishing company and thus gets rid of his financial problems. Other important novels follow, for example "Antic Hay" (1923), "Those Barren Leaves" (1925) and "Point Counter Point" (1928). Huxley also writes some important essays, for example "Proper Studies" (1927) and "Do What You Will" (1929). From the year 1923, he and his family live first in Italy, then near Paris and go on several journeys, for example to the United States of America from September 1925 to June 1926. In 1931, Huxley writes the novel "Brave New World", which is released in 1932. Since 1937 the Huxleys have been living in California, where, in 1956, his wife dies of cancer. Huxley's last novel, the positive utopia "Island" is released in 1962. On 22 November 1963, Aldous Huxley dies of cancer at his home in Los Angeles. (cp. Bode, p.11-17)

2. "Brave New World" as a negative utopia

2.1 The content of "Brave New World"

In the beginning of "Brave New World", the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning (DHC) leads a group of students through the "Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre" to give them - and the reader - a general idea of the society and how it is kept stable. The World State was created after the Nine Years War, its motto is "Community, Identity, Stability". The Ten World Controllers guarantee the maintenance of these ideals. Ford, as the father of mass production, replaces God, and so the introduction of his first T-Model was chosen as the opening date of the new era.

In this stable society, children are not born, but made and - from the fertilization on - divided into five classes. While the upper castes, Alphas and Betas, consist of intelligent individuals, the lower castes, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons, are made up of Bokanovsky Groups, i. e. up to 96 identical men or women from one egg. People look and feel young until they die, and all diseases are eliminated.

Most of the girls are sterilized, the others, who are potential ovary providers, are drilled to take contraceptives, for bearing children is unthinkable, and "mother" and "father" are even indecent words. A monogamous relationship would also be indecent, but sex is an ordinary theme, because "everyone belongs to everyone else".

To make sure that everyone is content with his predestined life and work, all children are conditioned to like what they have got to do. The main conditioning instrument is hypnopaedia, i. e. sleep teaching. While they are asleep, the children are taught about class distinction and moral ideals like community in simple phrases.

For the case that someone, in spite of his conditioning, feels sad or angry, there is soma, a legal drug without any negative effects, and people who do not accept the civilized way of life are sent to an island.

In the following chapters, the main characters are introduced. Bernard Marx is an Alpha, but has a very bad reputation, because he is rather small and behaves abnormal. For example, he likes to be alone and doesn't take soma, when he is unhappy. Bernard himself is at the same time proud of being an individual and unhappy about not being accepted by his colleagues. Bernard's friend Helmholtz Watson is also an individual, but doesn't show this to "normal" people, and therefore is not isolated like Bernard. He is an author of hypnopaedic rhymes and would like to write about something more important, but doesn't know what this could be.

Bernard has asked Lenina Crowne, who is a quite normal, well-conditioned girl, but nevertheless likes Bernard, to visit a Savage Reservation with him. Although Lenina doesn't understand Bernard's talking about being an individual, she agrees, because she always wanted to see a Savage Reservation.

As the DHC signs their permit to visit the Reservation in New Mexiko, he tells Bernard that he has been there, too, and reveals, more or less talking to himself, that the girl, who accompanied him, has been lost in the Reservation. Annoyed about this mistake, he threatens Bernard with sending him to an island because of his abnormal behaviour. But Bernard doesn't believe that this really could happen and is even proud that the Director regards him as dangerous for society.

When Lenina and Bernard arrive in New Mexiko, Bernard is told by Helmholtz that he definitely will be sent to an island. Now he is no longer proud, but rather desperate and depressive. Having taken a few grammes of soma, they watch a religious dance in the Reservation, where they meet the savage John and his mother Linda, who obviously is the girl the DHC told Bernard about, but doesn't look like a civilized girl, but fat and ugly. John, who always was an outsider, because Linda didn't adapt to the Indians' rules like monogamy, was influenced by the Indians and their religions as well as by Linda, who tried to live in a civilized way. He was taught to read by his mother and got an old volume of Shakespeare's works by one of the Indians, so Shakespeare was the third influence that taught him about moral values. Fascinated by John's story, Bernard promises to bring him and Linda back to London.

When the DHC tells Bernard in front of his colleagues that he will be sent to Iceland, Bernard brings in Linda and John, who humiliates the Director calling him "father". After this event, the Director resigns from his job, and Bernard can stay in civilization. Because the scientists cannot make Linda young again, she decides to stay on an endless soma -trip and is forgotten soon. But everybody wants to see John the Savage, and therefore Bernard, the only connection to John, is suddenly respected by everyone. Not being used to being important, Bernard gets rather arrogant and even has a quarrel with Helmholtz, who disapproves of his boasting.

But John doesn't adapt to civilized manners, for example he doesn't go to bed with Lenina, although he is in love with her, because he regards his desires as a sin. When he doesn't come to one of Bernard's "Savage-Parties", the important guests leave, and Bernard is the unhappy individual he was before and reconciles with Helmholtz. John and Helmholtz get along with each other very well and Helmholtz is enthusiastic about Shakespeare's works they read together.

Meanwhile Lenina, who also is in love with John, is very unhappy, because she doesn't understand his behaviour at all, and finally decides to visit him and go to bed with him, if he wants to or not. As he realizes her intention, John gets furious and calls her a whore. But when he hears that his mother is dying, he leaves Lenina alone and visits Linda. In his grief about her death, John tries to explain Deltas, what freedom is, and throws their soma away. A few minutes later, Bernard and Helmholtz are there to help him, but they are overpowered by the police and brought to Mustapha Mond, the World Controller for Western Europe.

Mustapha Mond, who knows about history and also likes Shakespeare, explains to John that art like Shakespeare would be dangerous for stability and that religion is useless in a stable society, but John insists on the necessity of these things.

To Helmholtz, the Controller explains that living on an island, where he and Bernard will be sent, can be quite interesting because of the extraordinary individuals, who live there. As he is not allowed to accompany Bernard and Helmholtz, John decides to live alone in an old lighthouse, where he wants to pay for his sins by flagellating himself. But haunted by reporters and spectators, who want to see his flagellating, he finally kills himself.

2.2 Definition of the term "utopia"

2.2.1 Term and literary tradition

The expression "utopia" is due to Thomas Morus' novel "Utopia" in which he describes an ideal state of society that exists on a fictional island. The word's Greek origin means more or less "nowhere", so "utopia" originally signifies an imaginary place, where everything is perfect. (cp. Erzgräber, p.3)

The development of the literary genre "utopia" created the type "voyages imaginaires" (imaginary travels) in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, in which the contemporary society is criticized by describing an ideal form of society, and technical utopias since the eighteenth century, in which scientific and technical progress has been regarded as a possibility to change society in a positive way. Since the nineteenth century, utopias have often focused on social problems and therefore have basically described economic life. Finally, the development resulted in negative utopias, mainly written since the First World War, in which the threat of total manipulation of mankind through science and technique is emphasized. (cp. Poppe, p.10-22)

2.2.2 Positive utopias

Raymond Ruyer names some thematical characteristics of utopian novels. According to him, utopian societies are based on uniformity, collectivism and planned economy, that means everybody is equal, everything belongs to everyone and economy is regulated by government. Utopian civilizations are often humanistic and the believe that people can be educated plays an important role, so education is a major subject of utopias. Another foundation of society is the pursuit of happiness, which is the purpose of all politics. (cp. Erzgräber, p.8) According to Schulte-Herbrüggen, one important aspect is idealization, which is accomplished through total stability.

To explain the stability of society, the utopian state is isolated. Isolation is realized geographically in earlier utopias, i.e. until the seventeenth century, especially in the "voyages imaginaires". Examples for this way of isolation are Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's travels" and, of course, Morus' "Utopia", which are set on islands. Since the late eighteenth century, utopias have been set in the future to be isolated. This has the effect that the society described seems achievable through scientific and moral progress. Stability is also guaranteed by strict regulations, so that the individual is totally a part of society. These are accepted by the habitants of the utopian state, i.e. opposition does not exist or is suppressed. The purpose of these regulations is the happiness of all people, so one could say that freedom is not regarded as essential for being happy. In some utopias it is even claimed that happiness can only be achieved by being obedient.

All in all, one can see that the basis of most utopias is a form of economy that resembles communism and a form of government that could even be interpreted as totalitarian. The formal presentation of society is fulfilled through selection, that is some aspects like economy, politics or religion are selected and described in detail instead of describing the society as a whole. The most frequently selected theme is economy, which is regarded as a foundation of society and politics in most utopias.

The problem of presenting all the information that is necessary to describe a totally new society is solved by mixing narrative and discursive parts. While the narrative parts often describe everyday life and economy, the discursive parts are preferably used to show the philosophic or religious point of view of one or more inhabitants of the utopian state. The intention of great utopias is, of course, to criticize the contemporary form of society by describing the ideal alternative. But to make this effort really useful, it is also intended to make people not only think about the unpleasant state of things, but also change and ameliorate it. (cp. Bode, p.42-44)

2.2.3 Negative utopias

Christoph Bode distinguishes between negative utopias and anti-utopias. As negative utopias he designates all utopias that emphasize and develop the contemporary negative tendencies instead of describing their positive opposite, and therefore create a horrible society instead of an ideal one. Anti-utopias are defined by mocking at utopias themselves, that is they criticize the optimistic way of thinking or else the communist or totalitarian foundations of utopian societies. Consequently, most of the characteristics of positive utopias are also relevant to anti-utopias, with the difference that the society turns out as a negative one in the end. But as anti-utopias also describe a terrible society, they are only a specified part of negative utopias. (cp. Bode, p.49)

Main themes of negative utopias are for example community and uniformity, that are regarded as a threat for individuality. In contrary to positive utopias, the state of being just a part of society is not considered as the source of happiness, but as a condition in which it is impossible to be happy. The totalitarian regime described in many positive utopias is judged in the same way, for freedom and happiness are regarded as inseparable values. Also scientific and technical progress are not thought of as a guarantee of felicity, but it is maintained that happiness must be achieved by improving moral standards instead. All in all, the conditions for being happy that are given in negative utopias are completely contrary to the ones given in positive utopias.

Another danger of utopian societies that is criticized in negative utopias is the fact that a totally harmonic life would prevent people from feeling strongly and therefore from leading an interesting and eventful life. (cp. Bode, p.50)

2.3 Analysis of "Brave New World" with regard to its literary genre

2.3.1 Formal aspects

To present the society with all of its completely new habits, Huxley uses the methods of earlier authors of utopias.

He selects mainly economy and sexuality, which are described in detail, and outlines religion to portray the entire society. Economy is based on consumption, which is increased by conditioning people, so that they need a lot of comfort and luxury. In addition, all leisure activities demand the highest possible consumption. For example Electro-Magnetic Golf and Obstacle Golf, the most popular leisure activities, are played in the country, so that people do not only use the required equipment, but also have to consume transport (cp. BNW, p.19). The sexuality in "Brave New World" is a consequence of this consumer society, because men and women are treated like commodities. This is indicated in the hypnopaedic phrase "everyone belongs to everyone else" (BNW, p.41), but also in the way people speak about "having" each other (cp. BNW, p.40-41). Thus economy and sexuality aim at fulfilling the people's desires. What is most remarkable about religion are the analogies with Christianity. For example "Our Lord" is replaced by "Our Ford", "Lordship" by "Fordship" and the T has taken the place of the cross. The main purpose of religious events, like "Community Sings" and "Solidarity Services" (cp. BNW, p.47), is to give the participants a strong feeling of community (cp. BNW, p.74-77). Therefore religion also serves to satisfy the people's needs.

Huxley also mixes narrative and discursive parts to present these aspects of society. Most chapters in "Brave New World" are narrative and tell the reader about the peculiarities of the new society, in the beginning from the point of view of inhabitants of the World State, then from the point of view of the Savage, who is not used to this way of life. The most clearly discursive parts are the chapters 16 and 17, where Helmholtz and the Savage discuss about society and religion with the World Controller Mustapha Mond. Especially in chapter 17, when Mond and the Savage are alone, the World Controller explains the necessity of stability very clearly and counters all the arguments of the Savage quite convincing (cp. BNW, p.199- 219). Thus it shows Mustapha Mond's viewpoint, who stands for civilization, in contrast to the perspective of the Savage, who represents the primitive way of life in the Reservation mixed up with Shakespeare's values.

2.3.2 The society

Although the society described is not based on communism but on capitalism, it resembles the utopian society according to Ruyer in some aspects. The economy in "Brave New World" is capitalist, there is no collectivism, but private property, and consumption is the most important basis of economy. But as consumption is artificially increased by government, economy is, even if not regulated, at least manipulated (cp. BNW, p.19/26). There also is no complete uniformity, for people are divided into five classes from Alphas, the most intelligent and privileged class, to Epsilons, a class destined for mere physical work (cp. BNW, p.3/11- 12). But within the classes, people are very well similar or even identical, which is indicated in the World State's motto, that contains "identity" (cp. BNW, p.1). From clothing, which is held in one special colour for every class (cp. BNW, p.23-24), to physical conditions like size, which express the social status (cp. BNW, p.41), people from one class look very similar. The members of lower castes are even identical, for they are produced as up to 96 perfectly identical twins (cp. BNW, p.3-5). Another reason for uniformity is given in conditioning, because all children belonging to one class are taught the same hypnopaedic ideals, the sum of which, in the end, "is the child's mind" (BNW, p.25). So people are not only uniform with regard to what they look like, but even with respect to what they think. This last point shows that education is considered to be very important in this society. In fact, education, i.e. conditioning, is one of the major instruments of social stability. People are conditioned to "like their unescapable social destiny" (BNW, p.13) and therefore are content and even happy with their duty. Consequently, noone tries to complain about it or even to revolt against state, so that society is kept stable through education.

Schulte-Herbrüggen's characteristics can be applied to "Brave New World" nearly completely. To be isolated, the novel is set in the future, that is 632 years after the introduction of Ford's first T-Model (1908) or in 2540 a.D. (cp. BNW, p.2/46). To make the story seem more realizable, Huxley invented the Nine Years War, after which the people's attitude changed, so that the introduction of this stable society was possible.

Stability is not only one, but the most important aspect of its society. This becomes obvious in Mustapha Mond's speech in front of the students, where he states vehemently that stability is the most urgent basis of society (cp. BNW, p.37-38). In "Brave New World", the regulations that guarantee stability are not as apparent as in other utopias, for they are not only tolerated by its inhabitants, but also regarded as essential values. The reason for this belief is once more conditioning, that makes people think of the state's ideals as their own. For the case that someone does not respond to conditioning and tries to revolt against the state, he is sent to an island. Therefore opposition does not exist or is suppressed, which corresponds to SchulteHerbrüggen's aspects.

But also in "Brave New World", stability is due to various regulations. One example is the moral ideal that one should not have a monogamous relationship (cp. BNW, p.36), which has the effect that emotions cannot grow too strong. Thus they cannot disturb an individual's stability, which is essential for the stability of society, for "when the individual feels, the community reels" (BNW, p.84). Another example is the regulation of consumption, which guarantees economic stability. Consumption is increased by not permitting games that do not need enough equipment (cp. BNW, p.26), and by teaching the children that "ending is better than mending" (BNW, p.44) and similar phrases. As a result of these regulations, all individuals are totally a part of society, so that one can state that the World State described in "Brave New World" is totalitarian.

The foundation of stability and, consequently, the target of all regulations is the happiness of all people. Mainly achieved through conditioning, it guarantees that everyone is satisfied and thus has no need to complain. Apart from the belief that "everybody's happy" (BNW, p.81), children are conditioned to be content with their work and their social status (cp. BNW, p.13/24). If someone still feels bad, he can use soma to forget his grief and be happy again (cp. BNW, p.49). But also the structure of society itself contributes to absolute satisfaction, for there is no time to be bored because of the various distractions, like feelies or Electro- Magnetic Golf, and desires are fulfilled almost immediately, so that dissatisfaction can not even arise (cp. BNW, p.38-40/49-50).

In the society of "Brave New World" - not in Huxley's opinion - freedom is not considered as necessary for being happy. It is maintained that a person can only be happy, if he is content with his life and adapted to his environment, and not when he is free and therefore "a round peg in a square hole" (BNW, p.41).

Concluding, it is obvious that the society portrayed in "Brave New World" has almost all the relevant characteristics of a society as it is depicted in most positive utopias.

2.3.3 The Savage's perspective

The Savage's perspective represents roughly the valuation of utopian societies by negative utopias.

The uniformity that is realized in the Bokanovsky Groups is one of the things John regards as disgusting. In his discussion with Mustapha Mond, he expresses his distaste for these identical persons and his doubt on their necessity (cp. BNW, p.202). He cannot believe that the people of the lower castes, who are just a part of society and have to do their work without complaining, can be happy with their lives (cp. BNW, p.204). Another point is the permanent community. Although he has been miserable in the Reservation for always being alone, he cannot stand the everlasting community in the World State (cp. BNW, p.214). Apart from the uniformity and community in this society, he also dislikes the lack of freedom of the individuals, that is caused by the strict regulations and the suppression of opposition, briefly, by the totalitarian system. Since he considers happiness and freedom as inseparable values, he even tries to "free" Deltas by throwing their soma away, but makes the experience that the Deltas do not want to be free and do not even understand what he means (cp. BNW, p.192- 195). The material progress, that makes the comfortable life in the World State possible, is another aspect John criticizes. He does not regard it as a real progress, but thinks that the resulting comfort and luxury has in a way morally degraded people (cp. BNW, p.215), and thus cannot serve to make people really happy. In addition, he does not want to accept the harmonic, but boring way of life in civilization. He insists on the necessity of strong emotions, real danger and deep grief (cp. BNW, p.217-219), because he believes that only in this way, life is "expensive enough" (BNW, p.143).

It is evident, that this viewpoint corresponds largely to the one of negative utopias.

2.3.4 Huxley's point of view

Huxley's opinion is represented neither by Mustapha Mond or any other advocate of the stable society in "Brave New World" nor by the Savage and his friends. Huxley himself said once that "some mean between the two is both desirable and possible" (Introduction, in BNW). Instead, Huxley shows two contrary positions without giving a solution to the resulting conflict.

Both of these positions are ambivalent, that is they are presented as positive and negative at the same time.

The position of Mond, i.e. in favour of the new society, seems rather negative, mainly because of Bernard and John's complaints. As one cannot accept the complete loss of art and the lack of freedom and individuality that are a consequence of total stability, one tends to judge this society to be completely wrong. But there are also positive tendencies, for example the elimination of diseases, misery and wars, and even opponents of the system like Bernard and Helmholtz are treated humane. In addition, Mustapha Mond argues very reasonable and is presented as very intelligent (cp. BNW, p.199). As "Brave New World" was written in 1931, that is during an economic crisis in England, it represents also Huxley's contemporary opinion that "any form of order is better than chaos" (Introduction, in BNW).

The Savage bears the readers sympathies in the beginning, because he is an individual and not conditioned by the state. He defends freedom and wants real love, instead of adapting to civilization, and thus seems to be the hero, who can defeat the totalitarian system. But in the end he is not only inferior to Mond's argumentation and claims "the right to be unhappy" (BNW, p.219), what seems rather exaggerated, he also loses his credibility because of his apparent psychical problems. Shakespeare's works become his own conscience, and therefore he regards every desire as a sin and feels extremely guilty. This shows in his meeting with Lenina, where he panics because of her advances (cp. BNW, p.174-177), and, of course, in his flagellating (cp. BNW, p.226). In the end, his extremely guilty conscience results in his suicide (cp. BNW, p.236-237), so it is clear that he is not the hero of the novel. (cp. Bode, p.93-94)

In "Brave New World", Huxley criticizes the faults of the contemporary society, especially of the American one. A few years before he begins to write the novel, he has visited the United States, what has lead to a pessimistic view of the future, because he thinks that "the future of America is the future of the world" (Introduction, in BNW). Shortly after this trip he calls the development in America "a revaluation of values, a radical alteration (for the worse) of established standards" (Aldous Huxley, in BNW). The negative tendencies that he criticizes are above all the mass-production and consumerism introduced by Henry Ford. Huxley is of the opinion that modern leisure activities, like cinemas or newspapers, make people dull, because they prevent them from thinking or being active (cp. Bode, p.22-24). This criticism becomes clear through the Savage's perspective, which represents the point of view of negative utopias, so that "Brave New World" obviously is a negative utopia. To some extent, it is also an anti-utopia, for it criticizes a society that resembles very much the societies of positive utopias, especially of H.G. Wells' positive utopia "Men Like Gods". But, as Huxley himself says, it "started out as a parody of [...] 'Men Like Gods', but gradually it [...] turned into something quite different [...]" (Bode, p.55). Therefore one cannot regard "Brave New World" as a real anti-utopia, but must see it as a negative utopia with some anti- utopian aspects.

3. Outlook

Some aspects of "Brave New World" have already come true or seem to become possible in a few years or decades.

For example, we already live in a consumer society, where almost everyone can go to the cinema, watch TV, listen to the radio or read newspapers and magazines whenever he wants to. In "Brave New World", these means of entertainment are used to distract people, so that they have no reason to complain and do not think about politics. But even if many programmes on TV and also many newspapers, the tabloids, inform only about unimportant events and scandals, there is also a lot of serious information about politics and economy. Besides there is the freedom of the press, that guarantees that government cannot control the media - at least as long as the basic rights are not abolished by a totalitarian government, which would soon be defeated by the people or by other, democratic states. Thus magazines, newspapers, radio and television have not the role they have in "Brave New World", but even diminish the power of government.

The most remarkable aspect is the use of genetics to control the citizens. During the last few years, there were sensational achievements in the field of genetics or rather cloning, for example the cloned sheep "Dolly". But in most states it is prohibited to clone or genetically manipulate human embryos, even if it was possible. In addition, it is still not possible to "hatch" embryos, no matter if they are human or animal, in bottles or in incubators, but only by a surrogate mother of the same species. So even if there has been an enormous progress in genetics since "Brave New World" has been written, the alarming prophecies are not yet within range.

List of literature

Huxley Aldous, Brave New World, Flamingo, London 1994, 28.ed, with an introduction and biographical notes on Aldous Huxley by David Bradshaw

Bode Christoph, Aldous Huxley "Brave New World", UTB für Wissenschaft / UniTaschenbücher, München 1993, 2.ed

Erzgräber Willi, Utopie und Anti-Utopie in der englischen Literatur (Studienmaterial Englisch), Deutsches Institut für Fernstudien, Tübingen 1981, 1.ed

Poppe Reiner, Analysen und Reflexionen Band 40 (George Orwell /Aldous Huxley, Animal Farm / Brave New World / Nineteen Eighty-Four), Joachim Beyer Verlag, Hollfeld 1980, 3.ed


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Title: Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World - ... as a negative utopia