Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

Plot Summary

Brave New World is set in the year AF 632 - that is, 632 years after the advent of American car magnate Henry Ford (1863-1927) - after the Nine Years War and great Economic Collapse. The planet has been unified under a single World State, controlled by Ten World Controllers and dominated by the 'religion' of the god-like Ford. All crosses have become 'T's - after the Model T Ford - the first car to be manufactured by purely mass-production methods. Stability is the watchword for all elements of life, and this is maintained though a scientific caste system sustained through biological engineering and intensive conditioning. Humans are graded from the highest (the intellectual 'Alpha-plus') to the lowest (menial labouring 'Epsilon- minus semi-morons'), states which they cannot - nor have any desire to - alter. Each of these individual has been "decanted" from a bottle where they are grown - or rather manufactured on a huge biomechanical production line. The world population has been stabilised at two thousand million people, who share only ten thousand surnames. The World State's motto is "COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY", and individuals are conditioned with the idea that each is only a cell in the greater being of society. Through sleep teaching ('hypnopaedia') they are all taught to carry out, and to love, their assigned roles, as well as to indulge in constant material consumption and sexual promiscuity. Leisure time is spent playing elaborate and equipment-intensive games such as "Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy", "Escalator-Squash" and "Obstacle Golf", and negative emotions and experiences are mollified through free handouts of the pacifying and perception-altering drug 'soma'. Other activities to keep the population away from any sort of solitary activity, which is distinctly discouraged, are the 'Feelies' (an all-sensory cinema experience), Community Sings, and Solidarity Services. Everyone is maintained in a state of almost constant physical youth through biochemical processes, and encouraged to be emotionally infantile, until they suddenly drop dead around sixty and are promptly cremated so that the Phosphorus can be recovered from their bodies.

Bernard Marx, though an Alpha-plus, is something of a misfit: physically stunted, and hounded by taunts that his hatching bottle was contaminated with the alcohol that is used to retard the growth of the lower castes. He is shunned by women he attempts to have, and is mocked by his colleagues, a state of affairs that has caused him to rebel against the approved attitudes and ways of life. His friend Helmholtz Watson is also something of an outsider, but for the opposite reason to Bernard: he is practically physically perfect and has a mind potentially too brilliant even for an Alpha-plus, who despite their position at the peak of the social pyramid, must still remain subservient to the greater good of the State.

With Lenina Crowne, a conventional girl he desires, Bernard undertakes an expedition to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico. Here, behind deadly electrified fences, life proceeds 'in the state of nature'. It is largely nasty, brutish and short, but not solitary: people are born, marry, bear children and die of conventional old age. In the reservation, Bernard encounters a Savage called John, who is actually the son of Linda, a Beta girlfriend of the London Directory of Hatcheries and Conditioning who went missing in the reservation many years before.

Bernard brings John and Linda back to London. Linda, her ageing body repellent to the civilised population, immediately throws herself into the arms of a soma-holiday from which only death is to liberate her. John, who has learned English from Linda - 'The cat is on the mat, the tot is on the pot' - and an old volume of Shakespeare, is at first delighted by the civilised world: "Oh, brave new world, that has such people in't!" (the quotation is from The Tempest). However, awe quickly turns to disillusionment and despair at the sheer inhumanity of 'civilised' life. Initially fêted by London society, John becomes hounded by an over-curious world and his own consciousness. After a confrontation with World Controller Mustapha Mond in which the true nature of the World State is explained, he escapes to a derelict lighthouse. Meanwhile Bernard and Helmholtz, who cannot be accommodated by society, are sent to one of the many islands that are occupied by the world's misfits. At the lighthouse, John attempts acts of penitence for what he perceives as his sins of indulgence in the Brave New World, but is once again set upon by hoards of the curious, until he is driven to suicide.