A-Level header

if you decide to copy my essay instead of doing your own writing, more fool you

Module Five

Huxley produced a very large volume and variety of work in his long and active life as a writer, yet of all this
Brave New World remains, for many people, the only book that they can identify as his.
Try to account for the lasting fame of this novel

Brave New World was first intended as a satire on the American way of life, and as a literary antithesis to H G Wells' utopian Men Like Gods. However, Huxley's ideas expanded beyond simple satire, and according to D Bradshaw, he was "unsure in his own mind whether he was writing a satire, a prophecy or a blueprint".

The 'blueprint' aspect which presents a possible future society is a fascinating picture which would be noticeable as a forerunner of a certain type of science fiction even without the many other facets of this novel. Huxley presents a society in which the problems of his own time have been dealt with: there is no global depression in the World State of AF632, unlike AD 1931. Instead of parliamentary government, with which Huxley was unimpressed, there is a kind of benevolent dictatorship—after all, the aim is to create a stable state in which humans are happy, so the WS is benevolent in intent even if not necessarily in effect. No more blundering attempts to deal with the unpredictable and crisis-ridden economy will be necessary, for society and its economy are designed to exist in perfect symbiosis. This kind of wishful thinking can strike just as much of a chord today as when Huxley wrote it, for the world's economy is as difficult to deal with as ever it was.

As a prophecy, Brave New World is proving surprisingly prescient in some ways. Aspects of the new society which were obviously conceived as satire have come rather close to being the way we —Huxley's portrayal of 'free love' and sex without ties does not strike a twenty-first century reader as any kind of exaggeration, or at least, not much of one. There are still chilling aspects to this, like the vilification of motherhood and the encouragement of children to engage in sexual behaviour.

Science, too, has gone rather a long way towards what Huxley set out in the novel. Various infertility treatments, and the fact of mammalian clones, probably seemed very remote to the author, but the fact that such things as he presents in the 'Hatchery' do not seem at all impossible is a real factor in keeping the book up-to-date and immediately relevant.

The characters presented in the books are to some extent influenced (inevitably) by the mores of Huxley's own era. But because the most 'twentieth-century' in attitude are outsiders — Bernard and John — they do not intrude an out-dated outlook to distract the modern reader.

None of the characters in the story is really sympathetic. It is too easy to see the flaws of each for any of them to be really likeable. Bernard's whining and sense of inferiority are irritating: when he is granted the chance to be a 'real' Alpha, his behaviour is distasteful, and his lack of old-fashioned honour is most unattractive. Lenina is quite likeable, but too vacuous for real appeal. John the Savage ought to be able to command the reader's sympathy for his pitiable situation. Yet his difficulties are always presented with at least a tinge of farce: Huxley is deliberately keeping us at arm's length. John is an outsider through whose perspective we achieve a clearer picture of the WS, but he is not a hero. In fact, the closest character to the 'hero' model is Helmholtz Watson: presented as an Ideal Male, he manages to be quite likeable anyway. His reactions to Bernard's boorishness, his calm tolerance and acceptance, and better yet, his self-awareness, make him the most likeable person in the story. But we are not given much of Helmholtz Watson.

Because Huxley does not really bring his characters to life, they are more flexible than carefully-characterised personalities would be. There is little risk that they will appear 'dated'. This, I think, contributes to the way the book can continue to appeal to fresh audiences—it is not a period piece set in the future.

The sheer cleverness of the writing is another reason why Brave New World remains a classic.

First, there is the humour. Although generally very black, there is a great deal of humour through the book. An example is the extended scene in which the Director intends to fire Bernard, and is disgraced instead by the introduction of John and Linda. To begin with, the Director is being highly pompous, declaring that he must make a public example of Bernard and prosing on about moral responsibilities. As we already know of his own shameful conduct in abandoning Linda, there is a tasty counterpoint under his speechifying. Then there is the entrance of Linda, deliberately grotesque. "Someone upset two test-tubes full of spermatozoa." Then the pitiful, rejected woman becomes the focus of the onlookers' laughter—and the reader is not altogether disinclined to join in.

John's Shakespeare quotes are often a source of humour. His definition of a philosopher:

"A man who dreams of fewer things than there are in heaven and earth"

is clever and inept, perfectly demonstrating that although John is not stupid, he has no idea what the plays mean. He has gained more meaningless knowledge than actual learning from his precious volume of Shakespeare (like most schoolchildren today, very probably). Of course, Huxley is paying his readers the compliment of assuming that they, by contrast, not only understand the quote but also recognise its inappositeness and the humour of John's absurd definition.

The quotes and references contained in this novel are extensive and wide-ranging, and again contribute to its air of being disengaged from the time in which it was written. Had Huxley confined himself to referencing his contemporaries, the book would have been too settled in its own era to maintain such ongoing appeal.

One aspect of the cultural references is the author's use of names. Referents like Bernard Marx, Lenina Crowne and Polly Trotsky are fairly close to his own time—but Marx, Lenin and Trotsky are names which resonate today. Edzel (Ford's ill-fated Edsel model was named after his son) may not be widely recognised, but Hoover is still a contemporary reference as a product, and has acquired interesting new overtones too. Huxley was similarly fortunate with Watson—named after a behavioural psychologist, the name now reminds me of the co-discoverer of DNA. Fanny, of course, is the obvious name for a properly promiscuous member of the WS society.

In his descriptions, Huxley's skill as a writer is shown in the way he adds nuance to the scenes depicted. Students taking the Hatcheries tour life their eyes "like chickens drinking", in an image which combines complete vacuousness with a hint of the battery farm. The people in the 'crimson twilight' of the embryo rooms are described as having lupus—a picturesque and rather grotesque description which carries the implication that they have been disfigured by their work.

Images of death pervade the book, adding enormously to the atmosphere of the whole work, and subtly enhancing the reader's reaction to the book. Lenina, applying talcum powder, is presented as acting "as though she meant to commit suicide". Clara Deterding cries out in ecstasy at the 'religious' ceremony, "and it was as though she were having her throat cut". Buildings are likened to fungus. A 'marvellous switchback' results from a death. The Savage reservation is also littered, with "a dead dog... lying on a rubbish heap" and a reminder that the fence around the reservation is deadly.

Some of Huxley's other authorial devices lend a very modern feel to the book. It is not unlike a film, setting the scene in a typical new environment to establish time and place, before focussing in on Bernard. Then the fast inter-cutting sequence, with Bernard's resentful thoughts, Lenina's conversation, and the continuing tour, is a fast-paced and very fresh technique which again keeps this novel from being embedded in a particular era and situation.

The fact that Brave New World is not a 'period piece' is a partial explanation for why it is still so well-known today. More importantly, the uneasy reflections is must generate in its readers make it constantly memorable. There is so much in the postulated society that is, or could be, tempting, and so much too that is recognisable. The life of an average citizen of the World State is easy, comfortable and without challenge, and this is not an altogether unappealing picture, even with the idea of baby factories and brutally enforced social conditioning. Certain unpalatable truths are made clear: society does need its Deltas as well as its Alphas (though most of the Epsilon-Minus Sub-Moron tasks have been replaced through mechanisation).; great opportunity and great art generally require suffering as a background or incentive; people do talk in clichés and hand-me-down slogans. Moreover, the alternative culture represented by the Savages is no more appealing or reasonable than the WS.

In short, Brave New World is bound to create both an emotional and an intellectual reaction in its readers. Whether these reactions are caused by the writer's subject matter or his techniques, the effect is to present a classic work of challenging fiction.


Back to Module
A-Level Module Index