Return to Brave New World (thing)

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley presents us with a future in which humans are engineered to fulfill a given role in society, conditioned to be satisfied and happy in this role, and provided with euphorics to ensure their happiness is reinforced. The society is run by World Controllers and has the motto "Community, Identity, Stability"

Children are created in vitro, and endowed with characteristics to fit them to a caste: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta or Epsilon. The Alphas are the leaders and thinkers, the Epsilons the work-drones. At the top, Alphas and Betas are raised from single eggs and are unique individuals, at the bottom the eggs are divided to create multiples -- the lower the caste, the greater numbers of infants produced from each egg.

They are raised in nurseries where they are taught to celebrate their position in the society, listing its advantages, and the disadvantages of the other strata, in a mantra. There is no movement between social groups and no unrest. A daily ration of the drug soma provides a feeling of ecstasy to emphasise the desirability of people’s lives.

It is clear that the planners and implementers of this future have worked with the best of intentions to create a Utopia -- but it is presented in such a way that we, the readers, are clearly expected to view it instead as a dystopia. The characters are, superficially, happy, satisfied and serene, but we are encouraged to see the shallowness, artificiality and sensationalism of their lives.

Sex is encouraged, open and without jealousy, but it is also without any depth of emotion. Love-making is no more than a transaction between a couple or group for mutual pleasure, and monogamy is positively frowned on. Individuals recommend sexual partners to each other on the basis of their performance -- how "pneumatic" they are.

Families no longer exist, and hence there are no family enmities or feuds, but the society is also without any real care or nurturing -- people don't grow, they are simply moulded.

Religion based on the idea of a higher power has been replaced by a worship of consumerism and consumption, with society itself being the higher power. This power is represented in the person of Mustapha Mond, an iconic, and initially mysterious figure.

The story primarily takes place in London, and the first lead character we meet is Bernard Marx, an undersized Alpha who is believed to have accidentally received a dose of alcohol as a foetus -- something that is done to lower caste foetuses to limit their growth. He is "different", alienated and not well liked. He also has a crush on Lenina Crowne, and has invited her to go with him to visit the Savage Reservations (an area where current societal conditions are still maintained, although with fewer facilities than in the current developed world). Lenina has been seeing another man, Henry Foster, for several months, but since monogamous relationships are strongly discouraged, she has agreed to go along with Bernard, who she quite likes.

Bernard needs permission to enter the Reservations. As he is getting this from his Director, Tomakin, the Director reminisces about a trip he made to the reservation 25 years earlier with a woman. She got lost in a storm and had to be left behind. Perhaps realizing that this story reveals too much about him, Tomakin becomes defensive, and yells at Bernard, chasing him away.

Bernard goes from here to visit his closest friend Helmholz Watson, an intellectually superior Alpha who is as disaffected as Bernard with society -- he is unchallenged by his job as a writer of inspiring slogans, and yearns to turn his talent to something worthwhile, but can't find what. These two men are opposite sides of the same coin, one excluded by perceived inferiority, and one by actual superiority from full participation in their society, and joined together by their exclusion.

In a call to Helmholz, as he leaves for the reservation, Bernard learns that Tomakin plans to transfer him to Iceland, for antisocial behaviour.

Then he gets lucky -- or so it seems. In the reservation, he meets John Savage, the son of the woman Tomakin left behind and Tomakin himself. This is bound to cause a huge scandal in a society that considers live birth disgusting and corrupt. John is good-looking, intelligent and consumed with curiosity about the Utopia he has heard so much about from his mother, and, potentially, he is Bernard's escape from Iceland.

Bernard brings both John and his mother Linda back to London with him. When Tomakin berates Bernard in public, and tells him that he is to be transferred, Bernard presents the pair to the Director, who is therefore forced to resign as a result of the humiliation. Bernard remains in London.

John, initially, is overcome with wonder at the cleanliness and apparent happiness of the city, and exclaims, in Miranda's words from The Tempest: "Oh Brave New World, that has such people in it!", the source of the book’s title. He is captivated, but soon things begin to go sour as cultures begin, inevitably, to clash.

Connection with John makes Bernard a celebrity, and for the first time he is fully accepted into society. The popularity goes to his head, and he becomes arrogant, and treats John as a showpiece. He throws a party for several prominent people to meet John, but unhappy with the way Bernard has treated him, John refuses to attend.

Bernard is embarrassed, and slides again into his position as outsider, which causes him to grow closer to John again. Helmholz too, becomes close to the man from outside and when John introduces him to Shakespeare, he realises that this is the kind of thing he has been yearning to write.

While this is going on, Lenina has developed an interest in John, and he has fallen in love with her. When she goes to visit him, he tells her of his feelings, and she reacts as her socialisation demands -- by stripping naked and preparing for sex. The romantic John, whose morals are those of Shakespeare and the savages, is shocked. He calls her a "strumpet", and hits her.

A telephone interrupts him before he can do Lenina any real damage, and calls him to the hospital, where Linda is dying from overuse of the drug, soma, that she has missed so much on the reservation. As John sits at her bedside, a large group of children arrive for conditioning, and notice Linda, commenting on how ugly she appears to them. Furious and hurt, he chases them off. Linda is delirious and spaced out, and fails to recognise her son, and as he shakes her to try to bring her back to herself, she chokes and dies.

John blames himself for Linda's death, and is now thoroughly disturbed and traumatised. While leaving the hospital, he comes upon a Delta group waiting in line for their daily soma ration. Seized with the urge to change what he now sees as a corrupt society to something better, John first tries to dissuade them from taking the drug that is poisoning their minds, and when he fails to sway them he starts to throw the drug away. A riot follows and Bernard and Helmholz come along and are caught up in it.

The three men are arrested, and taken to the religious leader Mustapha Mond, where Bernard and Helmholz are judged too individualistic to remain as part of society, and exiled to an island for social outcasts.

John now passionately wants to return to his home, being completely disgusted and disillusioned with the regulated Utopia which suppresses individuality and emotion through artificially engendered contentment. He tells Mond that he wants to go somewhere that he can experience the full range of human emotion, but Mond is determined to keep him close by, so that the experiment of transplanting a member of the savage community in the Utopia can continue.

John runs away, and sets himself up in an abandoned lighthouse on the outskirts of London. He plants a garden, and builds bows and arrows to protect himself. Overcome with guilt for Linda's death, he makes a whip and starts to flagellate himself. A group of passing Deltas see this and soon reporters arrive to film and interview him. While he manages to scare most of them away, one manages to record him, and crowds start to gather to watch him punish himself.

Amongst the crowd is Lenina, and when John sees her, he attacks her with the whip. To calm him, the crowd chants ‘orgy-porgy’ a sensual hymn used to generate a feeling of oneness. He gets caught up in this, and awakes the next day having been seduced into taking soma and indulging in the sexual rites that go along with the hymn.

He is overwhelmed with guilt and self-hatred at this betrayal of his principals and commits suicide, by hanging himself from an archway.

The Utopia continues, unchanged, but John, Bernard, Helmholz, Linda and Tomakin have all been destroyed by it, one way or another -- it crushes anything that doesn't conform. The message is clear: this is totalitarianism, however benign it might seem on the surface, and universal happiness can only be bought through slavery -- freedom requires unhappiness, as well as joy.

As an aside, in Demolition Man, Sandra Bullock's character is named Lenina Huxley, and Sylvester Stallone's is John Spartan-- a clear reference to Brave New World and its author, in a movie where the society portrayed has more than a nodding aquaintance with the dystopia of the book.

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