Analyzing The Cultural Implications of Aldous Huxley's “brave New World”

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Cultural Implications of a “Brave New World”

Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” relates a fictional society in which freedom is dead, morality is forgotten, and man’s future is bleak indeed.  His work employs many parallels that can be drawn to society’s culture today, possibly even serving as a prediction of the future 500 years from now.  With that said, a close look will be taken into several of Huxley’s themes within a “Brave New World” to best determine the impacts of his fictional society in regards to current cultural trends, and trends for the future.

            Huxley’s “Brave New World” is set far into the future, in 632 AF, or 2540 AD.  Plotted in this extreme, Huxley has liberated himself from any confines of modern literature and opened up the doors for a future entirely of his making, with his own rules, and own utopian predictions.  For, written in 1931, Huxley was essentially inventing a society some 600 years into the future, one in which he has created a ‘negative utopia’— [a society]in which utopian dreams of the ‘old reformers’ have been realized, only to turn out to be nightmares” (Booker, 16), which, with the Utopian books of his time, was his very intention.  With that said, Huxley’s work should be “read primarily as a warning against runaway capitalism and as an anticipation of coming developments in Western consumer society” (Booker, 20).  Further, in a direct parallel from Huxley’s work to modern society, capitalism could, very easily, take the same turn in an attempt to create a better, more stable economy. 

            The story itself is a frightening version of the future that could be, all the while containing social and cultural issues of the early 1900’s.  The cultural impact of the Industrial Revolution alone highlights a major theme within the work that the world is moving at too fast a pace for survival tempered by the loss of intellectual individuality.

In Huxley’s world, reproduction has no use as it is easier, and more economical, to essentially create new individuals via a hatchery process.  Sex is no longer the means for reproduction but has been relegated the role of pleasure, where any man can have any woman, and there are no relationships based upon such intimacy.  There are no emotional ties to family, loved ones, or friends, and death is accepted as the natural cycle of life, not to be mourned, but not really to be thought about either.

Huxley’s world is separated into a large caste system: with Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons.  In this society, the upper-castes are given more time in the hatchery to develop intelligence and physical prowess, whereas the lower castes are essentially poisoned to have lower intelligence and lesser physical endowment.  Huxley’s employment of these plot conditions marks his greatest theme: that of the loss of individual identity.  In his “brave new world,” people are mere products of creation, relegated into their castes, who live out their lives as they are supposed to, never questioning, never wondering, never living.  With this basis, Huxley initiated the “reinforcement of desired behavior by reward rather than by punishment” (Fjellman, 3), with the “[prediction]that we might be tamed instead by desire and pleasure” (3).

            Then, perhaps for balance, Huxley introduces the character of Bernard Marx, a psychologist and an Alpha Plus.  Despite his caste rank, Bernard is an outcaste in their society, based mostly on his physical condition, which socially marks him as a lower caste because of his smaller size.  Bernard, of course, falls for a Beta Plus, Lenina, who is so far in the societal doe that she cannot even question her own actions and is tormented by her “friends” for not being promiscuous enough.  As for Lenina, Huxley “reserved especial bile for the female of the species, whose presence provokes even more heated rhetoric” (Higdon), and her character the ultimate parody of the female species.

Further, Huxley “offers a remarkably sexist vision which suggests—if it does not outright say—that only Alpha men are capable of being unhappy, of being unorthodox, of being rebels. Only once, in a remark by Mustapha Mond, does the work suggest that women can become as troublesome to the State as men and suffer exile for their unorthodoxy” (Hidgon).  This rebel nature and ability to see the world for the reality of what is can be seen “through the actions and thoughts of its four male rebels: Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, John the Savage, and Mustapha Mond—each of whom has been driven in one way or another to question and to rebel against the not-to-be-questioned values of the Fordian/Freudian world of 632 A.F. Each of these men has wandered dangerously far into unorthodoxies that threaten the community, identity, and stability of the World State” (Higdon).  From this basis, Bernard is the first male character to begin his rebellion when he realizes that there is something very wrong within their society—that everyone has been given “memories” from the hatchery based on subliminal suggestions and not actual events. 

Moreover, many critics refer to this rebel nature as Huxley’s “response to early cinema…[it]was far-reaching in its implications, recognizing cinema’s stimulation of the body as well as the mind and imagining cinema’s potential to be either an instrument of social and political reform or a medium of cultural degeneracy” (Frost).  Indeed, Huxley considered music a powerful medium, once writing that “‘the darkness of the theater, the monotonous music induce in the audience a kind of hypnotic state’” (Frost), exactly like Huxley’s soma does to the characters.

Further, Huxley’s narrative form “[shows]the individual in society, serves to heighten the sense of his helplessness and vulnerability” (Ferns, 132).  Moreover, Huxley’s world “is an unsettling, loveless and even sinister place.  This is because Huxley endows his ‘ideal’ society with features calculated to alienate his audience.  Typically, reading BNW elicits the very same disturbing feelings in the reader which the society it depicts has notionally vanquished – not a sense of joyful anticipation. [Huxley himself] describes BNW as a ‘nightmare’” (Pearce). 

            Indeed, Huxley writes in his Forward that his work is “a book about the future and, whatever its artistic or philosophical qualities, a book about the future can interest us only if its prophecies look as though they might conceivably come true” (Huxley, ix).  For his part, Huxley avoids any real technological advancements (like computers, aviation, or even the evolution of the automobile) within “Brave New World,” instead focusing on the evolution of the human being and the social cultural advancements that 600 years into the future might bring.  More, Huxley writes that the “only scientific advances to be specifically described are those involving the application to human beings of the results of future research in biology, physiology, and psychology” (ix-x). Indeed, in choosing this form, Huxley has created a society that could exist in the very near future—and not one 600 years distant.

Further, “it is only by means of the sciences of life that the quality of life can be radically changed…the people who govern the Brave New World may not be sane…but they are not madmen, and their aim is not anarchy but social stability.  It is in order to achieve stability that they carry out, by scientific means, the ultimate, personal, really revolutionary revolution” (x).  With this epiphany, Huxley made, for the first time, a purely utopian society in which it is not the technological advances that relegate the future of mankind, but it is mankind themselves who make it for themselves, for the good or for the bad.  And it is this ideal that makes a frightening assumption for the future of mankind.  500 years into the future, surely Huxley’s world could come into fruition, but, in an even more frightening realization, Huxley’s world could come into society slowly, and within a period of decades, the current society, in an attempt to create a more safe and stable life for its inhabitants, could instead transform into the dystopian world predicted in a “Brave New World.”

Overall, Aldous Huxley, in a “Brave New World” demonstrates a dystopian future in which mankind is subjugated by the very essence of being human.  Where pleasure is a form of reinforcing punishment and sex is nothing more than an activity of the popular. The future that Huxley predicts is, in reality, a truth that every society may yet face.  For, in removing the technological advances that mark many utopian works, Huxley has given the story over to human nature itself.  And, in every future, there lies a culture where stability is the goal—and in that ideal, a “Brave New World” is not so far advanced, after all.

Works Cited.

Booker, Keith M.  The Dystopian Impulse in Modern Literature: Fiction as Social Criticism. 

Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Fjellman, Stephen M.  Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America.  Boulder, CO: Westview

Press, 1992.

Frost, Laura.  “Huxley’s Feelies: The Cinema of Sensation in Brave New World.”  Twentieth

Century Literature,52.4 (2006): 443+.

Higdon, David Leon.  “The Provocations of Lenina in Huxley’s Brave New World.” 

International Fiction Review, (2002): 78+.

Huxley, Aldous.  Brave New World.  New York: Bantam Books, 1958.

Ferns, Chris.  Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature.  Liverpool,

England: Liverpool UP, 1999.

Pearce, David.  “Aldous Huxley: A Brave New World.”  (2008).   BLTC Research.  26 June 2009

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