Brave New World Introduction

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Brave New World

Written in 1931 and published the following year, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a dystopian—or

anti-utopian—novel. In it, the author questions the values of 1931 London, using satire and irony to

portray a futuristic world in which many of the contemporary trends in British and American society have

been taken to extremes. Though he was already a best-selling author, Huxley achieved international

acclaim with this now classic novel. Because Brave New World is a novel of ideas, the characters and

plot are secondary, even simplistic. The novel is best appreciated as an ironic commentary on

contemporary values.

The story is set in a London six hundred years in the future. People all around the world are part of a

totalitarian state, free from war, hatred, poverty, disease, and pain. They enjoy leisure time, material

wealth, and physical pleasures. However, in order to maintain such a smoothly running society, the ten

people in charge of the world, the Controllers, eliminate most forms of freedom and twist around many

traditionally held human values. Standardization and progress are valued above all else. These

Controllers create human beings in factories, using technology to make ninety-six people from the same

fertilized egg and to condition them for their future lives. Children are raised together and subjected to

mind control through sleep teaching to further condition them. As adults, people are content to fulfill their

destinies as part of five social classes, from the intelligent Alphas, who run the factories, to the mentally

challenged Epsilons, who do the most menial jobs. All spend their free time indulging in harmless and

mindless entertainment and sports activities. When the Savage, a man from the uncontrolled area of the

world (an Indian reservation in New Mexico) comes to London, he questions the society and ultimately

has to choose between conformity and death.

Author Biography

Aldous Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, in Laleham near Godalming, Surrey, England, but he grew up

in London. His family was well-known for its scientific and intellectual achievements: Huxley's father,

Leonard, was a renowned editor and essayist, and his highly educated mother ran her own boarding

school. His grandfather and brother were top biologists, and his half-brother, Andrew Huxley, won the

Nobel Prize in 1963 for his work in physiology. When he was sixteen, Aldous Huxley went to England's

prestigious Eton school and was trained in medicine, the arts, and science. From 1913 to 1916 he

attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he excelled academically and edited literary journals. Huxley was

considered a prodigy, being exceptionally intelligent and creative.

There were many tragedies in Huxley's life, however, from the early death of his mother from cancer

when he was just fourteen to nearly losing his eyesight because of an illness as a teenager, but Huxley

took these troubles in stride. Because of his failing vision, he did not fight in World War I or pursue a

scientific career but focused instead on writing. He married Maria Nys in 1919, and they had one son,

Matthew. To support his family, Huxley pursued writing, editing, and teaching, traveling throughout

Europe, India, and the United States at various points.

Huxley published three books of poetry and a collection of short stories, which received a modest amount

of attention from critics, before he turned to novels: Crome Yellow (1921), set on an estate and featuring

the vain and narcissistic conversations between various artists, scientists, and members of high society;

Antic Hay (1923) and Those Barren Leaves (1925), both satires of the lives of upper-class British people

after World War I; and Point Counter Point (1928), a best-seller and complex novel of ideas featuring

many characters and incorporating Huxley's knowledge of music. As in Brave New World, ideas and

themes dominate the style, structure, and characterization of these earlier novels.

Huxley's next novel, Brave New World (1932), brought him international fame. Written just before the rise

of dictators Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, the novel did not incorporate the kind of dark and grim vision of

totalitarianism later found in George Orwell's 1984, which was published in 1948. Huxley later commented

on this omission and reconsidered the ideas and themes of Brave New World in a collection of essays

called Brave New World Revisited. (1958). He wrote other novels, short stories, and collections of essays

over the years, which were, for the most part, popular and critically acclaimed. Despite being nearly blind

all his life, he also wrote screenplays for Hollywood, most notably an adaptations of Jane Austen's Pride

and Prejudice and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

Always fascinated by the ideas of consciousness and sanity, in the last ten years of his life Huxley

experimented with mysticism, parapsychology, and, under the supervision of a physician friend, the

hallucinogenic drugs mescaline and LSD. He wrote of his drug experiences in the book The Doors of

Perception (1954). Huxley's wife died in 1955, and in 1956 he married author and psychotherapist Laura

Archera. In 1960, Huxley was diagnosed with cancer, the same disease that killed his mother and his first

wife, and for the next three years his health steadily declined. He died in Los Angeles, California, where

he had been living for several years, on November 22, 1963, the same day President John F. Kennedy

was assassinated. Huxley's ashes were buried in England in his parents' grave.

Historical Context

When Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931 it was at the beginning of a worldwide depression. The

American stock market crash of 1929 had closed banks, wiped out many people's savings, and caused

unemployment rates to soar. To make matters worse, American farmers were suffering from some of the

worst droughts in history, leading to widespread poverty and migration out of the farming belt. People

longed for the kind of economic security that Huxley gives to the citizens of his fictional world.

The effects of the crash were beginning to be felt worldwide, including in England, where Huxley lived.

However much economic issues were on his mind, Huxley was also very much aware of the social and

scientific changes that had begun to sweep the world in the beginning of the century, and particularly

through the 1920s. Technology was rapidly replacing many workers, but politicians promised that

progress would solve the unemployment and economic problems. Instead, workers were forced to take

whatever jobs were available. More often than not, unskilled or semi-skilled laborers worked long hours

without overtime pay, under unsafe conditions, and without benefits such as health insurance or

pensions. Unlike the inhabitants of the brave new world, they had no job guarantees and no security.

Furthermore, they often had little time for leisure and little money to spend on entertainment or on

material luxuries.

In order to increase consumer demand for the products being produced, manufacturers turned to

advertising in order to convince people they ought to spend their money buying products and services.

Also, Henry Ford, who invented the modern factory assembly line, was now able to efficiently mass

produce cars. For the first time, car parts were interchangeable and easily obtained, and Ford deliberately

kept the price of his Model T low enough so that his workers could afford them. In order to pay for the

new automobiles, many people who did not have enough cash needed to stretch out payments over time,

and thus buying on credit became acceptable. Soon, people were buying other items on credit, fueling the

economy by engaging in overspending and taking on debt.

All of these economic upheavals affected Huxley's vision of the future. First, he saw Ford's production and

management techniques as revolutionary, and chose to make Ford not just a hero to the characters in his

novels but an actual god. Huxley also saw that technology could eventually give workers enormous

amounts of leisure time. The result could be more time spent creating art and solving social problems, but

Huxley's Controllers, perceiving those activities as threatening to the order they've created, decide to

provide foolish distractions to preoccupy their workers. These future workers do their duty and buy more

and more material goods to keep the economy rolling, even to the point of throwing away clothes rather

than mending them.

In Huxley's day, people's values and ideas were changing rapidly. The 1920s generation of youth rejected

the more puritanical Victorian values of their parents' generation. Men and women flirted with modern

ideas, such as communism, and questioned the rigid attitudes about social class. Some embraced the

idea of free love (sex outside of marriage or commitment), as advocated by people like author Gertrude

Stein (1874-1946). Others were talking publicly about sex, or using contraceptives, which were being

popularized by Margaret Sanger (1883-1966), the American leader of the birth-control movement.

Women began to smoke in public, cut their hair into short, boyish bobs, and wear much shorter, looser

skirts. These new sexual attitudes are taken to an extreme in Brave New World.

Scientists were also beginning to explore the possibilities of human engineering. Russian scientist Ivan

Pavlov (1849-1936) showed that one can create a conditioned response in animals. For example, he rang

a bell whenever he fed a group of dogs, and over time Pavlov's dogs began to salivate at the sound of a

bell, even when no food was presented to them. Pavlov's fellow scientist, John B. Watson (1878-1958),

founded the Behaviorist School of psychology: he believed that human beings could be reduced to a

network of stimuli and responses, which could then be controlled by whoever experimented on them. In

the 1930s, German Nobel Prize winner Hans Spemann (1869-1941) developed the controversial science

of experimental embryology, manipulating the experience of a human fetus in the womb in order to

influence it. The eugenics movement—which was an attempt to limit the childbearing of lower-class,

ethnic citizens —was popular in the 1920s as well.

Meanwhile, the fad of hypnopaedia, or sleep teaching, was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. People

hoped to teach themselves passively by listening to instructional tapes while they were sleeping. Although

the electroencephalograph, a device invented in 1929 that measures brain waves, would prove that

people have a limited ability to learn information while asleep, it also proved that hypnopaedia can

influence emotions and beliefs. Meanwhile, the ideas of Viennese physician Sigmund Freud (1856-1939),

the father of modern psychoanalysis, were also becoming popular. He believed, among other things, that

most psychological problems stem from early childhood experiences. Huxley incorporated all of these

technological and psychological discoveries into his novel, having the Controllers misuse this information

about controlling human behavior to oppress their citizens.

Brave New World was written just before dictators such as Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in

Italy, Joseph Stalin in Russia, and Mao Tse-tung in China created totalitarian states in countries that were

troubled by economic and political problems. These leaders often used extreme tactics to control their

citizens, from propaganda and censorship to mass murder. Huxley could not have predicted what was on

the horizon. The grim totalitarian state that would come about would be incorporated into author George

Orwell's futuristic anti-utopian novel 1984 (1948) and strongly influenced by Huxley's Brave New World.

When Brave New World was published in 1932 it sold well in England and modestly in the United States,

but it eventually brought Huxley international fame on both sides of the Atlantic. It was clear to critics that

Huxley had written a novel of ideas, in which the characters and plot were not as well-developed as the

book's themes, which bring up many important concepts, from freedom to class structure. Huxley used

humor and satire to point out the excesses and shallowness of contemporary culture.

Today, Brave New World is considered an archetypical dystopian novel portraying a seemingly utopian

world that is, upon closer inspection, a horror. Critics generally agree that while Huxley was not a

particularly innovative writer, his ideas were provocative and fresh and his writing eloquent. He was

appreciated for both his analysis of post-World War I English life and, on a larger scale, his promotion of

humanistic values through literature.

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