Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

A Gramme is Better than a Damn

As the World State was formed, it appears that any troubles were violently suppressed: "Eight hundred Simple Lifers... mowed down by machine guns at Golders Green... the famous British Museum Massacre. Two thousand culture fans gassed with dicholoethyl sulphide..." But by AF 632, if things do get out of control, the World State has its own unique 'police' force to suppress dissent. When John attempts to prevent the distribution of soma to a Bokanovsky Group, the police arrive carrying anaesthetising water pistols, soma gas and a Synthetic Music Box: "Suddenly, from out of the Synthetic Music Box, a Voice began to speak. The Voice of Reason, the Voice of Good Feeling. The sound-track roll was unwinding itself in Synthetic Anti- Riot Speech Number Two (Medium Strength). Straight from the depths of a non- existent heart, 'My friends, my friends!' said the Voice so pathetically, with a note of such infinite tender reproach that, behind their gas-masks, even the policemen's eyes were momentarily dimmed with tears, 'what is the meaning of this? Why aren't you all being happy and good together? Happy and good,' the Voice repeated. 'At peace, at peace.' It trembled, sank into a whisper and momentarily expired. 'Oh, I do want you to be happy,' it began, with a yearning earnestness. 'I do so want you to be good!'"

From time to time it is necessary for individuals to undergo a "Pregnancy Substitute", or a "Violent Passion Surrogate treatment" (A burst to the adrenals: "It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences."). Most of the time, however, the population is pacified by that thing with "all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects," the ubiquitous soma. "A gramme in time saves nine... One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments... a gramme is always better than a damn," apes Lenina.

Huxley's use of the word 'soma' has a double meaning. It is the name of a Zoroastrian ritual drink - an intoxicating plant extract used in Ancient India as an offering to the gods, and a drink of immortality by worshipers in Vedic ritual. It is also used in science to refer to the cell body, or all the cells of an organism except for the germ cells (sperm and eggs as opposed to the 'somatic' cells of normal tissue). The message is that soma is a vital binding of the 'body' of the State, and each of the humans is merely a cell in the greater organism. Furthermore, as normal procreation has been effectively outlawed, like somatic cells, each human is incapable of producing new life. Individuals must remain no more than components of a greater being, as, like everything else in the World State, in ensures stability - of the individual and therefore of the State itself. As the Director says, attempting to condemn and exile Bernard for his unorthodoxy, "'It is better that one should suffer than that many should be corrupted. Consider the matter dispassionately... and you will see that no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour. Murder kills only the individual - and, after all, what is an individual?' With a sweeping gesture he indicated the rows of microscopes, the test-tubes, the incubators. 'We can make a new one with the greatest ease - as many as we like. Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself. Yes, at Society itself.'"

Soma helps to suppress any unorthodoxy of emotion: whenever Lenina is unable to cope with the turmoil that her and Bernard's visit to the Savage Reservation precipitates, she takes a gramme or two of soma - even on one occasion, six, and she is lost in a "soma-holiday". And when Linda returns after all those years in the Savage Reservation, all she can do is immerse herself in massive doses of soma that are eventually to kill her.

Soma is also at the heart of the semi-religious rituals that encourage unity in the World State. There are soma-fuelled Community Sings; and the Solidarity Services, which often culminate in an orgiastic frenzy, comprise, "twelve of them ready to be made one, waiting to come together, to be fused, to lose their twelve separate identities in a larger being." This annihilation of the self is a key theme in dystopian writing, and indeed much of horror and science fiction - from Nineteen Eighty-Four to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Much of it has been prompted by a fear of the hegemony of Soviet Communistic, and it is this that Huxley emphasises in Brave New World Revisited (1958). But communism held no truck with sexual liberation, and Huxley's use of what is often regarded as an expression of individual liberty as an instrument of social control is innovative. During the Solidarity Services, and through promiscuity ("everyone belongs to everyone else"), sex is used to provide unity as well as prevent the suppression of any sexual urges that might lead to stronger feelings. As the singularly disturbing Ford Solidarity Hymn goes, "Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun / Kiss the girls and make them One / Boys at one with girls at peace; Orgy-porgy gives release.

Another crucial effect of soma is that it allows the user to exist only in the present. When Bernard begins to talk about the past and the future, Lenina declares, "Was and will make me ill... I take a gramme and only am." And indeed when she persuades him to take a few grammes, "roots and fruits were abolished and the flower of the present rosily blossomed." On another occasion, Lenina takes six grammes and "It would be eighteen hours at the least before she was in time again." When John accuses the doctor of shortening Linda's life by allowing her to overdose on soma, he replies that, "Soma may make you lose a few years in time... but think of the enormous immeasurable durations it can give you out of time. Every soma-holiday is a bit of what our ancestors used to call eternity".

It is worth noting that when Linda was still in the Savage Reservation she was addicted to the Savages own drug mescal. This is, in fact one of the many parallels between the two worlds (See Sample Questions). Extracted from the peyote mushroom, the drink that Linda takes contains mescaline as its principle active agent. It was this drug that Huxley was to experiment with a great deal in his later life (see Doors of Perception (1954), Heaven and Hell (1956)), but it is clear he was already aware of its effects at the time of writing Brave New World. Mescaline, as well as altering perception and producing vivid colour hallucinations, produces an inaccurate estimation of time - not to mention anxiety and nausea. It is, as John notes, soma with side-effects: "The stuff in the gourd was called mescal; but Linda said it ought to be called soma; only it made you feel ill afterwards."