Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s fifth novel, was written in 1931 and published in the United Kingdom in 1932. From its publication it was an incredible success for Huxley—its first year sales in Britain alone reached 23,000 copies. Today it is still considered the most popular of all his published works, which include more than 11 novels, 7 short story collections, 8 poetry collections, and 23 essay collections. (Sawyer 83-84). Brave New World, begins by setting up two key points of the book—eugenics and expectations for human behavior—starting with the description of “A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY” (Brave New World 3). Although this motto is not mentioned again within the text, reappearances of mental conditioning to create “stable” citizens and communities is continuously show up in the novel.
Beyond this three-part motto, however, Huxley’s novel is a negative interpretation of the impact technology and industry can have on society. The novel is set in London, specifically 632 A.F. or 632 years “After [Henry] Ford” introduced the Model T car in the United States, making the time in the novel 2540 A.D. (Sawyer 80-81). As the “After Ford” time frame indicates, Henry Ford’s industrial innovation of the assembly line and mass production are highly esteemed in the world of Brave New World to the point of replacing religion and gods. Characters use phrases, such as ,“For Ford’s sake” rather than “For G-d’s sake” to express their frustration and it is the name “Ford” that the highest ranked person in the world, the Controller, calls upon when asserting his control (Huxley 191). Furthermore, the assembly line has been integrated into all parts of life in the novel. From the first dealings with genetic material, characters are part of the assembly line. Babies are created and manipulated in laboratories rather than within human bodies and people working on the genetic material have particular duties that remain the same, such as Lenina’s job to inject fetuses with immunizations. This segmentation of small jobs in order to create a larger product, in this case, human beings, continues in the upbringing of children. Children are raised by a specific set of guidelines by the state and families no longer exist, so they are educated by numerous individuals who each have a specific set of tasks. For example, some people are in charge of monitoring the audio sleep learning of babies and children while they grow, others write the material that is being read to the children, and others still will provide food to the children. This piecemeal assembly-line method is consistently used throughout the lives of children until they become new cogs in the machine. The references to Ford’s mechanical innovation, an invention contemporary to Huxley, are not the only reference to movements in Huxley’s lifetime. In addition to Ford, “Freud” is mentioned with great esteem in the novel. When the Controller is talking about psychological matters he changes from calling himself “Our Ford” to “Our Freud.” The reason given for this within the novel is that, “Our Freud had been the first to reveal the appalling dangers of family life” (39). In fact, the methodology for dealing with children and the abolition of the family is described as being in response to Freud’s theory of the inherent problems of human development and interaction.
While Brave New World is currently recognized as both a dystopian and science fiction (SF) novel, at the time of its publication it was interpreted primarily as a satirical response to the extensive literary tradition of utopias in literature. In particular, it contradicted the assertion of contemporary authors, such as H.G. Wells, who used speculative literary works to consider how scientific innovation and technological advances could ultimately lead to a “perfect,” utopic world. Instead, as William W. Matter points out in his essay “The Utopian Tradition and Aldous Huxley,” Huxley and other utopists began to “espouse an increasingly popular and pessimistic negation of the machine.” In this moment of divide
between the technological-based utopists and the technology questioning utopists Brave New World was published and dystopian fiction gradually grew in popular culture. Rather than an idealistic approach to utopia, such as the “perfect” utopias in Well’s Men Like Gods, Huxley imagined a world that had intense regulations and limitations on individuality in order to uphold the façade of a utopia.
From the year of its publication to the present, this dystopian, science fiction novel has been highly contentious. In the same year as its publication Brave New World was banned in Ireland (“Banned and/or Challenged Books”). In the United States alone Brave New World has banned or challenged for its depictions of sexual content, drug use, and suicide in Miller, MO (1980); Yukon, OK (1988); Corona-Norco, CA (1993); Foley, AL (2000); Mercedes, TX (2003); and Coeur D’Alene, ID (2008). Similarly, there have been complaints about the negative attitudes about family, religion, marriage, and monogamy in the society in Brave New World. Although these were all depicted in a tongue-in-cheek way, describing a negative space that was almost the opposite of Huxley’s own desires for society, the content challenges continue to this day. The American Library Association ranked Brave New World as 52nd on its list of the “100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000,” putting it in the company of other dystopian novels, such as Lois Lowry’s The Giver and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
While Brave New World is frequently interpreted as an independent novel, it was actually followed by a second book by Huxley, entitled Brave New World Revisited. In this nonfiction collection of essays, Huxley re-examines topics he addresses in Brave New World—such as overpopulation, propaganda, chemical persuasion (drugs), and hypnopaedia (sleep education)—and considers how they have developed in the twenty-seven years since publishing Brave New World. The conclusions he draws are frightening. Many writers of dystopia and SF (science fiction) write about uncomfortable truths, such as Margaret Atwood’s candid discussion of the anti-abortion state in The Handmaid Tale. In fact, one definition of SF is that “SF envisions, creates, an alternative world which comments on our own,” whether in positive ways or negative ways (Annas). However, it is rare to have authors of dystopian SF revisit the same thought experiments again to consider the progress of the ideas. When Huxley examines the developments in the Western world, he begins with the somewhat terrifying comment that, “Twenty-seven years later, in this third quarter of the twentieth century A.D., and long before the end of the first century A.F., I feel a good deal less optimistic than I did when I was writing Brave New World. The prophecies made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought they would” (Brave New World Revisited 1).
Eugenics in the Hatchery
Brave New World is perhaps most famous for its discussion of reproductive technology. In the first chapter alone, Huxley sets out a complicated scientific process for creating humans, which has ultimately proved fairly scientifically accurate. Huxley’s descriptions of egg fertilization, sterilized freemartins, and replication of genetic material are frequently cited within medical and scientific journals as illustrations of real scientific processes. However, with all that said, the processes themselves are worth particular focus.
To begin with, Huxley is not solely responsible for these medical ideas. Brave New World’s is believed to be responding to an earlier speculative science book by J.B.S. Haldane, called Daedalus (1924), in which a new form of eugenics was proposed that relied upon “technological breakthroughs and avoided selective breeding” (Kirby). Specifically, Haldane proposed “direct intervention into the human genome,” which would manipulate hereditary material of the genome in order to create an ideal human. Huxley resisted the belief that human scientists could manufacture “perfect” humanity and used Brave New World to critique this idea, particularly during his discussion about science-enabled reproduction. In the first chapter of Brave New World he has the Director of the London Hatchery explain scientific processes and their consequences. For example, when discussing the scientific intervention into the development of fertilized ova, the Director explains that ova of Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons—lower caste people in Brave New World—underwent the Bokanovsky’s process where “…a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly normal formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress” (Brave New World 6). Through the process Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons lose all individuality. In a similar process to twins, ninety-six identical humans are born.
The Director goes on to describe these people as “standard men and women; in uniform batches” (7). This dehumanizing comment is more reminiscent of mass-produced products than human lives. Moreover, it is worth noting the class differences in this process. Individuality is not considered important for Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons from their beginning as ovum. Alphas and Betas, however, “remained indefinitely bottled” as ovum to develop into unique and physically distinguishable beings. Just as Alphas and Betas are given different treatment as ovum, they receive different treatment in life. Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons do hard work and labor of various types usually among identical figures of themselves. At one point, in a scene at a hospital, it is described that, “The medical staff of the Park Lane Hospital for the Dying consisted of one hundred and sixty-two Deltas divided into two Bokanovsky Groups of eighty-four red-headed female and seventy-eight dark dolichocephalic male twins, respectively” (208). These two Bokanovsky groups of identical individuals are established as a particular class—Deltas—that are even admitted to do “menial labor.” In these scenes, the life-long separation of classes due to early scientific and medical intervention with genetic material is highlighted and, more importantly, hint at the potential dangers of the same medical technologies that others, such as Haldane, believed would lead to a better humanity. Implicit in Huxley’s response is the question: a better humanity for whom? Is the goal of science to create further class stratification and inequities or to flourish as individuals in society?
Another important point in Huxley’s text is the pointed differentiation within classes themselves based upon character behaviors that are aberrant to the norms expected by society. Bernard Marx, one of the main characters, is one illustration of an aberrant character in Brave New World Society. In Brave New World higher classes not only receive genetic advantages in terms of work, but also in terms of their physical stature. The highest class, Alphas, are the tallest, Betas are the next tallest, and so on. However, Bernard is described as physically shorter than most Alpha men to the point that he is frequently mistaken as a Delta. This shortness becomes a running joke in the text as Marx is frequently suspected to have had alcohol added to his genetic mixture prior to his birth. One of the earliest mentions of his name is greeted with the assertion that his “reputation” as an Alpha human is in doubt because he is smaller than most Alpha. After hearing that a Beta, Lenina, wants to go out with Bernard, her friend Fanny comments that, “They say somebody made a mistake when he was in the bottle—thought he was a Gamma and put alcohol into his blood-surrogate. That’s why he’s so stunted” (Brave New World 46). The assertion that genetics so strongly relate to the character of a person, even to the extent that he is no longer an acceptable partner, continues throughout the entire text to even greater extremes. For example, when Bernard fails to allow fellow Alphas to enjoy meeting “the Savage,” a man who grew up outside of their world system, the immediate insult Alphas and Betas turn to is: “it’s absolutely true about the alcohol” (174).
Women’s Choice: Sterilization and Contraception
While all characters in Brave New World are genetically altered to some extent, female characters seem to face the most significant medical interventions with their bodies, specifically on the front of reproduction. Since babies are created in laboratories rather than born, the whole concept of “pregnancy,” “child birth,” and “motherhood” is incredibly tattoo to the point that “mother” is seen as so profane that it is described that “the blood rushed to [the] cheeks” of a grown man at the use of the word “mother” (23-24). Despite these taboos genetic material and eggs are still required from women in order to continue the human species. As a result, humans in Brave New World established an entirely new structure for reproduction.
To start with, not all women in the text are fertile. Over seventy percent of female embryos are sterilized when they “get a dose of male sex-hormones” (13). These female embryos are “decanted as freemartins—structurally quite normal (except…that they do have the slightest tendency to grow beards), but sterile. Guaranteed sterile” (13). Despite the negative impact of testosterone on fetuses, such as the growing of beards in adult life, these women are described as fairly fortunate in comparison with the unsterilized women who have to worry about contraception, described in the text as Malthusian drills. Rather than fertility being honored, it is looked upon as a burden. One of the doctors in the text describes that, “in the vast majority of cases, fertility is merely a nuisance [for women]” (13). The necessity of Malthusian Drills for 30% of women is something that neither doctors nor men seem to appreciate. Likewise, sterility is seen as a positive. For example, a female administrator at a university in Brave New World does not hesitate to admit that, “I am a freemartin myself” and goes even further by smiling flirtatiously at a male character after the statement, implying potential sexual accessibility (163). In contrast, fertile female characters reference their Malthusian Drills as a natural, albeit tedious fact that they “need constant drilling” during education to make habitual (163, 50). “Malthusian Drills” refers to the continuous drills the fertile women have to use contraception prior to each sexual act in order to prevent the disgraceful condition of pregnancy, which would be solved through a visit to the Abortion Centre (120). These Malthusian Drills are part of how fertile woman are “psychologically conditioned to use birth control in the form of a fashion accessory, a ‘Malthusian belt’ that contains contraception” (Grech 40).
The discussion around sexuality, abortion, contraception, and sterilization within Brave New World remains one of the most controversial portions of the text and continues to transgress both British and American morality, at least, on the religious right. Although the sterilization and mandatory contraception has not been seen in other texts read this quarter, the obligations of motherhood have been come up in both Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and the Futurist essays we read. In Madame Bovary we were faced with two alternative forms of motherhood. First, Bovary’s mother who was so dutiful and involved in her son’s life that he lacked independence and second, Madame Bovary’s motherhood. Madame Bovary seemed to embody the rich, aristocratic method of dealing with children. Her daughter was sent off to a wet nurse initially and even when she returned home Berthe failed to receive consistent attention from her mother. Instead, her mother would either snap at her in frustration, resulting in a violent assault, or treating her as an object of adoration. Both of these behaviors failed to impart any meaningful information to Berthe and demonstrated that Madame Bovary’s primary interest was in her own sexual fulfillment rather than her daughter’s life. Although the original Madame Bovary (Bovary’s mother) behaved in a manner that seemed more typically “motherly,” the resulting behavior of her son was still disastrous—both Berthe and Bovary remain together living alone with no financial support in the end. In contrast with these two methods of motherhood, Valentine de Saint Point’s essay, “The Manifesto of Futurist Woman,” asserts that women should, “Be the egoistic and ferocious mother, have what are called all the rights over and duties toward them, as long as they physically need your protection” (de Saint Point 3).
Of these four dramatically different models of motherhood that we have seen, which is the ideal form? Is it possible to be an “ideal mother” in the physical world or even in fiction? What are the characteristics of motherhood and what does it mean to transgress motherhood?
Censorship and Banned Books
A number of the texts in class this quarter have been banned, censored, and/or had their content challenged. Wilde’s Salome was originally banned in London, which caused it to be written in French and performed in France before returning to the United Kingdom. Madame Bovary underwent an obscenity trial about its depiction of sexuality and religion, but Flaubert was acquitted. Brave New World has also been banned in some places, but it is perhaps unique among our texts in that it explicitly describes censorship within its pages even as it was banned in the real world.
By the third chapter of Brave New World it is clear that there is a different standard in the textual world for judging the acceptability of texts. It is described that, “There were those strange rumours of old forbidden books hidden in a safe in the Controller’s study. Bibles, poetry—Ford knew what” (Brave New World 35). While previous texts were banned for their negative depictions of Christianity, Brave New World starts out by asserting the Bibles are “forbidden books” that are so unacceptable that even the leader of state, the Controller, feels the need to hide them within a safe. Although no distinction between acceptable and unacceptable literature is given until more than halfway through the text, the anxiety around the legality and illegality of literature is worth noting.
Later within Brave New World the Controller finally reveals an underlying reason for the censoring and banning of books. After examining a new scientific paper for content and marking it to not be published he thinks, “It was a masterly piece of work. But once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose—well, you didn’t know what the result might be” (177). Just as the motto states at the beginning of the text, “stability” is a primary goal of society. If a scientific, religious, or literary text expresses ideas that could potentially undermine the community or stability then they are prevented from publication or access by the masses. This hyper-awareness about potential consequences of publication seems harsh and totalitarian, but it satirically points out some underlying causes for censorship in other cases. While Madame Bovary, Salome, and Brave New World were not expressly banned for their unstable nature, but for specific reasons about religion and sexuality, the stability of society remains and underlying and invisible factor in each of these reasons. Dominant religions in a society—the religions typically protected in obscenity trials—tend to be a stabilizing force to society. Texts that undermine these religious beliefs can be seen as undermining more than just a specific instance of religiosity within the text and instead be seen as contradicting or befouling an entire religious tradition that is part of the structural system of society.
If you want to see Brave New World in a filmed form, feel free to view the uploaded version on YouTube (below).
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Brave New World Barcode. StudySync Digital Library Demo. Web. 26 Apr. 2014 .
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Ferguson, Matt. Brave New World- The Hatchery. N.d. Hire an Illustrator. Web. 26 Apr. 2014. <http://www.hireanillustrator.com/i/portfolio/matt-ferguson/#brave-new-world-the-hatchery>.
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Written by Chip Delany