By Narrelle Gilchrist
Due to the length of this article, I have chosen to separate it into two parts, which will be published in the December and January editions of Homeschooling Teen. This month’s article will focus on Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, while next month’s will discuss 1984 by George Orwell before comparing and contrasting both novels.
The twentieth century was one of the most uncertain and frightening time periods in human history. The 1910s saw a world ravaged by war and divided by ethnicity and animosity. In 1929, societies still recovering from war were struck by another crisis, a debilitating, crushing economic crisis that became known as the Great Depression. The crisis left millions jobless, dejected, and even homeless. This condition of despair, hopelessness, and desperation led rise to terrible dictators in Germany, Italy, and Japan. In 1939, the world was thrust back into a state of war. This conflict led to an unprecedented death count after five years of warfare and genocide. The war culminated in the unveiling of the atom bomb, the most terrifying weapon the world had ever faced. For the first time, humans possessed weapons of mass destruction and thus the ability to annihilate an entire population, easily and swiftly. Humanity spent the next forty-five years, holding their breath, waiting to see if a nuclear war was what the future would bring them. Fortunately, humanity survived and recovered. But what if it hadn’t? What if the concept of mutually assured destruction had not prevented humans from firing weapons of mass destruction? The destruction would have been catastrophic and the death toll could easily have been in the billions. And that brings to mind another question: in such an event, where more than half of the world’s population were killed, how would the survivors move forward? Would they come together and learn from the mistakes of the past? Or would this give rise to an absolute dictatorship, far worse than any before?
Amidst the uncertainty of the 1900s, two writers, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, explored these questions that were plaguing humanity in their novels Brave New World and 1984. These dystopian, fictional novels, today considered classics, both depict societies that have risen from the aftermath of a global war. In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley depicts a post-apocalyptic society in which individuals have given up personal liberty and freedom in order to restore stability and momentary happiness. In 1984, George Orwell creates a future where individual freedom is nonexistent and the government is omnipotent and impregnable. Both novels explore the concepts of human dignity, freedom, and the strength of knowledge, while subtly warning us of what will happen if we abandon these universal truths.
In 1932, one of the most frightening aspects of the future was the great impact of technological advancement on human society. The potential of inventions like the atom bomb was terrifying, and many people feared that the sudden outbreak of technological innovation would be detrimental to society rather than progressive. Set in 2540 A.D., Brave New World depicts a society where technology has replaced religion and where humans are mass-produced on an assembly line as constantly and as casually as consumer products are today. A totalitarian regime known as the World State controls the entire world and rules over its subjects by conditioning humans from before they are born. In the third chapter, World Controller Mustapha Mond describes how humanity was nearly destroyed in the fictional Nine Year War and the Great Economic Collapse, after which humans cared more about stability than freedom. Happiness, he claims, is more important than all else, including liberty and equality. However, pure forms of happiness, such as love, achievement, and satisfaction, have been eliminated. Monogamy and family relationships are forbidden because the strong emotions associated with them are considered to be too dangerous. Where there is strong love and attachment, Mond argues, there is equally strong sorrow and anger. Instead, pleasure in the World State comes from the immediate gratification of physical desires and the constant use of soma, the “perfect” drug. Instead of being brought up by their parents, children are bred and raised in Hatchery and Conditioning Centers. As part of their education, children are conditioned through a series of carefully planned lessons and a process of sleep-learning, known as hypnopædia. Children are taught to love consumerism, to hate unorthodoxy, and to cherish their place in the class system. The society is strictly divided into five castes: Alphas, Betas, Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons. Members of the upper classes, the Alphas and Betas, are genetically advanced and programmed to perform complex, white-collar jobs. Members of the lower three classes, the Deltas, Gammas, and Epsilons, are cloned and deliberately harmed as fetuses in order to limit their cognitive and physical development. These lower class workers are condemned to lives of menial labor and monotonous work. However, from the time they are born, individuals are conditioned to unquestioningly accept their place in society. Epsilons are taught to feel blessed that they do not have to carry out the complex, difficult jobs of the upper classes, while members of the other classes are taught to disdain those below them and respect their superiors. Each individual is taught from birth that the World State’s way of life is the only way of life. They have never imagined that life could be any different, because they are never given any reason to. The World State’s values have been so engrained in their minds that ideas that would seem absurd and immoral to us are normal for them, and vice versa. Words like “mother” are considered obscene, and this seems completely normal and acceptable for them. Each individual is conditioned to believe their society is perfect, and therefore, no one is unhappy.
The World State’s society is shown to the reader through the experiences of Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, and Lenina Crowne, who are all members of the upper classes. Lenina is a perfectly content, carefree young woman, but both Bernard and Helmholtz are discontented with their lives. Bernard is a misfit in society, while Helmholtz is highly successful but bored by the emptiness of his life. In the middle of the novel, Bernard and Lenina travel to a Savage Reservation, where Native American tribes live in isolation from modern society. There, Lenina is shocked by the apparent barbarity of the Reservation, which she sees as the antithesis of civilization. The “savages” still practice religion and value abstinence and sacrifice as a means of determining self-worth and nobility. On the Reservation, Bernard and Lenina meet Linda, a World State resident who has been trapped on the Reservation since she discovered that she was pregnant, an act forbidden in the World State. Bernard and Lenina return to the World State with Linda and her son John, who has never left the Reservation before and envisions the World State as a safe haven full of wonders. The World State citizens treat John as a fascination and celebrity, while Linda, relieved at having returned to civilization, incapacitates herself with soma. Bernard uses John’s fame to elevate his social status, while he flaunts his unorthodoxy. Bernard’s selfishness distances himself from Helmholtz, who is searching for meaning in his life. Meanwhile, John is shocked by the frivolity and baseness of the World State. John, who has a passion for Shakespeare, is disappointed to find that the aspects of civilization his mother had described to him, the happiness, brotherhood, intellect, and compassion, are nonexistent. No one even has heard of Shakespeare. John finds himself attracted to Lenina, who is also attracted to him, but he refuses to indulge his physical desires until he proves himself worthy. Lenina, on the other hand, is distressed by John’s queerness and, for the first time in her life, cannot get something she wants. After Linda dies of drug overdose, John, overcome with disgust for the society around him, attempts to rouse a crowd of workers into rebellion by shouting words of liberty and freedom. The crowd only stares blankly at him, uncomprehending, and are enraged when John attempts to destroy their soma rations, which he believes are enslaving them. When Helmholtz and Bernard arrive at the scene, Helmholtz joins John, delighted, but Bernard is torn between helping his two friends and saving himself. After the mob has been quieted, John, Helmholtz, and Bernard are arrested and taken to the World Controller, Mustapha Mond. In the climax of the novel, John and Helmholtz engage in a philosophical conversation with Mustapha Mond, who insists that happiness and stability are more important than the meaning and morality that John and Helmholtz are searching for. Mond maintains that everything that the World State has given up for stability – religion, the arts, Shakespeare, love – only would cause inconveniences and conflict in the long run, for with them they would bring negatives, which would lead to unhappiness. John emphatically states that he wants the inconveniences and that he wants God, poetry, real danger, freedom, goodness, and sin. Mustapha Mond asserts that that would mean claiming the right to unhappiness, “not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.” John claims them all. Mustapha Mond informs Helmholtz and Bernard that they will be sent to an island, where other discontented, unorthodox citizens live in relative peace. John, however, will remain in the World State. When John realizes that he will never be free, and that life will never hold any meaning for him, he commits suicide.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1932
Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics.