Brave New World by Aldous Huxley has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
The year is 632 A.F., (which stands for After Ford). Henry Ford’s name is reverenced and used the way Christians once used the Lord’s name. Innovation and technology abound in this society, which abides by the motto “Community, Identity, Stability.”
The story opens with the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning (DHC) explaining his work to young students. He shows them around the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, where children are mass-produced. He explains the Bokanovsky Process, in which groups of up to 96 identical human beings can be created at once. It provides uniformity and stability, he explains, if groups of identical individuals can all work in the same factories doing the same tasks.
Children are grown and conditioned at the Centre to be Alphas or Betas and downward to include the least intelligent Epsilons. They receive messages when they sleep (called hypnopaedia) and conditioning, including shock therapy, while they’re awake. They’re trained to know exactly what to think, say, feel and believe based on their predestined position in society.
They’re also conditioned about how to think and feel about the other social classes. They’re repeatedly assured that everyone is happy now. They’re told history is bunk, including religion and other stories contained in forbidden books like the Bible or anything else published before 150 A.F.
No matter the social class, children are taught to be consumers for the good of society. They should always buy something new rather than try to repair something old. Some embryos are developed as freemartins. They are structurally normal but guaranteed sterile. Technology allows people to remain fairly young-looking until they reach about 60, when they die quickly and happily.
Viviparous reproduction (or the development of a child within its mother’s body) is scorned as an antiquated and repulsive practice. Leaders believe the kind of strong love and passion that once existed between mother and child or monogamous lovers caused unnecessary pain and isolation. In this society, sexual promiscuity is encouraged and even required.
As all children are taught hypnopathically, everyone belongs to everyone else. People also use a substance called soma regularly. It supposedly includes all of the advantages of Christianity and alcohol but none of the side effects.
Lenina Crowne is a young woman who follows the conventions of her time. The problem is that she’s been having sex with the same man lately. Her friend urges her to follow protocol and be more promiscuous. Lenina decides to accept an invitation from co-worker Bernard Marx to go on holiday in America.
Even though he’s an Alpha, Bernard is shorter and thinner than the typical highly intelligent male. Some speculate alcohol accidentally got mixed in with his chemicals during fertilization. Bernard always feels he’s not receiving the credit and attention he deserves. He feels isolated on many levels, and people look down on him for his desire to spend time alone.
He seems less susceptible to the conditioning messages and soma-induced relaxation than others. Bernard’s only real friend is Helmholtz Watson. Helmholtz is a massive, handsome specimen. But like Bernard, he suffers from mental excess. Both men are just a little too smart, which makes them keenly aware of the emptiness in the people and activities around them.
Bernard wants to take Lenina to an Indian reservation in New Mexico, but he has to get clearance from the Director. The Director lapses into a story of a time he took a woman named Linda to that same reservation. She got lost, and he was never able to find her again. He had to leave without her.
The reservation is a startling contrast from Bernard and Lenina’s insulated society. The so-called savages don’t have pleasant golf games, scented rooms or anti-aging technology. They honor Jesus and practice other ancient worship rituals. Most unsettling, women still give birth to babies.
Bernard is fascinated, but the overwhelmed Lenina drowns her feelings in soma until she runs out. They meet a young savage with light-colored skin named John. When Bernard hears that John’s mother was trapped here, he realizes John must be the Director’s son. Bernard and Lenina are shocked to meet Linda, an ugly and old woman.
On the reservation, Linda had continued to practice her conditioned promiscuity. She was scorned and even beaten by the Indians who believed in marriage and fidelity. Since soma wasn’t used on the reservation, Linda drowned her sorrow in alcohol. She tells Bernard and Lenina she doesn’t know how her contraception failed. Since there was no abortion clinic available, she had to go through the horrible process of childbearing.
Because of Bernard’s unorthodox behavior at the Centre, the Director has threatened to transfer him to an island. Bernard realizes Linda and John are his bargaining chips. He brings them back to London with him as part of a social experiment. When the Director tries to publically transfer him, Bernard brings the boy and his mother in to meet Daddy.
The abashed Director resigns immediately. Linda is too horrid for anyone to look at, so she’s hospitalized and given large doses of soma that will ultimately kill her. People are fascinated by the savage John, and Bernard quickly takes on the role of publicist. For the first time in his life, Bernard enjoys the respect of others.
He starts taking soma, sleeping with more women and enjoying all the happiness offered by his society. John, however, is shocked and appalled by the society he’s entered. Having grown up with a combination of Native American tradition and a love for Shakespeare, he can’t fathom people’s desire to numb all of their emotions.
John is enamored with Lenina, but he’s a romantic with a vastly different value system. They go on a date to see a feely, which is a 4-D, sexually-charged movie. Lenina is disappointed that John is appalled by the movie and that he won’t sleep with her.
Bernard plans a major event at which his savage is supposed to appear. John, who is growing more distraught, refuses to attend. Bernard is scorned by all, and his foray into fame immediately ends. Lenina tries again to seduce John, who wants to have a pure and romantic relationship.
He asks her to marry him, which she considers absurd. She begins to undress, and the aghast John pushes her off, calling her a whore. She hides in the bathroom while, in his anger, he quotes Shakespeare . Just then, John gets a call that his mother is dying. He rushes to Linda’s side.
John is shocked by the cheerfully decorated Hospital for the Dying. Linda barely knows John, though she remembers her old lover from the reservation. John panics and starts crying out God’s name as her face turns blue. Traumatized children, who are present because they’re supposed to be receiving positive conditioning about death, are quickly given chocolate eclairs.
John rushes from the ward to find the menial staff, two large Bokanovsky groups, lining up for the nightly soma distribution. John addresses the men and women, passionately urging them to choose freedom from soma. When they will not, he starts throwing the pills out the window. Their supervisor calls Bernard to tell him John is there and has gone mad. Bernard and Helmholtz arrive while police calm the anxious employees by playing relaxing messages and spraying soma gas.
The police take John, Bernard and Helmholtz to the office of Western Europe World Controller, Mustapha Mond. John is surprised to hear Mond likes Shakespeare, too. He’s allowed to read such an old book because he makes the rules. But, Mond explains, Shakespeare doesn’t work in the society he rules.
People must be encouraged to find beauty in new things, not old. In their blissful ignorance, the people in his society wouldn’t understand the pain and passion in Shakespeare. This is the price that must be paid for a stable society. Science, too, must be muzzled. That’s the reason he’s sending Bernard and Helmholtz to an island. He explains this is really a reward. It means they’ll get to be with smart, interesting people who don’t fit in with the bulk of society.
Mond should be on an island himself, but he chose to help the greater good by staying and creating false happiness for the masses. He acknowledges John’s points when the savage says true happiness means a person can feel things. John and the Controller then discuss God and His absence in this society.
The Controller says he believes God may very well exist, but that a culture of perfect, ignorant happiness like theirs can’t include Him. They don’t feel a need for Him. The Controller explains there is even a compulsory treatment that produces all the feelings of rage and passion so the people won’t have to express them outwardly. John says he chooses the right to feel pain.
John moves to an old lighthouse where he can be alone. He repeatedly prays, beats himself and drinks warm mustard-water in an effort to purge himself of societal evils and lustful feelings. Reporters stalk him. At one point, reporters chant that they want to see him whip himself. Lenina arrives on the scene. In his rage, John turns the whip on her. A giant orgy ensues. When John awakens from a soma haze to realize what he’s done, he is devastated and hangs himself.
The savages on the reservation believe in God and Jesus, along with other gods and ancient rituals. John tries to purify himself by standing with arms outstretched like Jesus on the Cross and by practicing various forms of self-punishment. John and the Controller engage in a lengthy debate about God and His place in modern society.
The Controller is familiar with and quotes the writings of religious leaders such as Cardinal Newman. He believes there may be a God, but he says too much has changed in their modern society for people to find God appealing or necessary. People don’t suffer or grow old, so they have no occasion to seek Him.
Since God isn’t compatible with their utopian society, He manifests himself as an absence, as though He weren’t there at all. John contends that belief in God is natural in people. The Controller argues that belief in God comes because people are conditioned to believe in Him.
In this new society, Christianity is no longer accepted. Most books are banned, including the Bible. Christianity is remembered as a philosophy that encouraged people not to consume. It also repressed women, forcing them to continue giving birth to babies.
When God and Jesus were eliminated from their societal consciousness, all crosses had their tops cut off and became “T”s in honor of Ford’s Model T. People genuflect in the shape of a “T” when Ford’s name is mentioned. A narrator recalls the concepts of immortality and heaven in ancient times, but notes that people still consumed a lot of drugs and alcohol. The current society offers a substance called soma as an answer to the old society’s drugs, alcohol and religion. The Controller calls soma Christianity without tears.
Members of the society attend Solidarity groups. They listen to music, sing Solidarity hymns, and make the sign of the “T.” They partake in the dedicated soma tablets and soma -laced strawberry ice cream drink. They sing praises to Ford, calling him the Greater Being and asking him into their presence. They strive to annihilate self as they become one with Ford and each other. Caught up in the music and the high from the soma, they begin to dance and sing their orgy song. As the music pulsates, members cry that they hear him coming. The service morphs into an orgy. The twice-monthly service offers peace, balance and release.
The Controller believes he is serving the greater good by offering the society false happiness rather than God, pain and passion.
A–, d—, h— appear. The Lord’s name is taken in vain. Ford’s name is used in any context “Lord” might be used in our society, both in reverence and in vain. John calls Lenina a strumpet and a whore. He misuses the name of God repeatedly, generally when he feels remorse for things he’s done or experienced in the brave new world.
Linda slaps John around when he’s a child, banging his head. She calls him a beast who has turned her into an animal because she gave birth like one. Later she feels remorse and kisses him over and over. John catches his mother sleeping with a man, the man’s hand on her breast. John tries to stab the man, who only laughs at him.
The violence John experiences on the reservation conditions him to act out violently when Lenina offers herself to him sexually. Another time, he whips Lenina when she tries to give herself to him. Crowds and media are on the scene, and a soma orgy ensues.
Children are urged to engage in erotic play, just as adults are encouraged to have many sexual partners. The Director laughs with the students about a time when erotic play was suppressed and considered immoral.
Lenina sees a group of men in her office and recalls sleeping with most of them. Lenina has been sleeping with Henry Foster on a regular basis. Her friend chides her for not having more random sex and urges her to be more promiscuous. Women are required to have pregnancy substitutes, pills and injections that stimulate the effects of pregnancy.
Bernard dislikes that men talk about their sexual conquests and discuss women as though they were pieces of meat. As Lenina prepares for a trip with Bernard, she wears a belt bulging with the regulation supply of contraceptives. Hypnopaedia from age 12 to 17 along with drills three times a week have ensured that contraception use is automatic in young women.
People chew sex-hormone chewing gum. The society’s religious services, called Solidarity meetings, end in orgies. Linda regularly sleeps with several men at the reservation. Most people attend movies called “feelies.” These are erotic motion pictures that also include tactile sensations.
Lenina and John attend a feely in which a black man rapes a white woman. Lenina is relieved when Bernard starts fondling her breast on their trip. Bernard and John note that sex without relationship is infantile and unsatisfying. Lenina can’t comprehend this idea and throws herself at John by undressing in front of him.
Note: The book always uses a capital H in “Him” when referring to Ford.)
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