'Brave New World' Overview

Aldous Huxley's Controversial Dystopian Masterpiece

Brave New World book cover
First edition cover art for Brave New World.

Leslie Holland / Chatto and Windus (London)

Brave New World is Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel set in a technocratic World State, a society that rests on the core of community, identity, and stability. The reader follows two main characters, first the disgruntled Bernard Marx, then the outsider John, or “The Savage,” as they question the tenets of the World State, a place where people live on a baseline-state of superficial happiness in order to avoid dealing with the truth.

Fast Facts: Brave New World

  • Title: Brave New World
  • Author: Aldous Huxley
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windous
  • Year Published: 1932
  • Genre: Dystopian
  • Type of Work: Novel
  • Original Language: English
  • Themes: Utopia/dystopia; technocracy; individual vs. community; truth and deception
  • Main Characters: Bernard Marx, Lenina Crowne, John, Linda, DHC, Mustapha Mond
  • Notable Adaptations: Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Brave New World for SyFy
  • Fun Fact: Kurt Vonnegut admitted to ripping off the plot of Brave New World for Player Piano (1952), claiming that Brave New World’s plot “had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's 'We.'" 

Plot Summary

Brave New World follows a few characters as they live their lives in the seemingly utopian World State metropolis of London. It is a society that rests on consumerism and collectivism and has a rigid caste system. Bernard Marx, a petty and depressive psychiatrist who works for the Hatchery, is sent on a mission to the New Mexico Reservation, where “savages” live. He is accompanied by Lenina Crowne, an attractive foetus technician. On the Reservation, they meet Linda, a former citizen of the World State who had stayed behind, and her son John, born through a “viviparous” procreation, a scandal in the World State. When Bernard and Lenina bring the two back to London, John serves as the mouthpiece for the conflicts between the Reservation, which still abides by traditional values, and the technocracy of the World State. 

Main Characters

Bernard Marx. The protagonist of the first part of the novel, Marx is a member of the “Alpha” caste with an inferiority complex, which prompts him to question the core values of the regime of the World State. He has an overall bad personality.

John. Known also as “The Savage,” John is the protagonist of the second half of the novel. He grew up in the Reservation and was birthed naturally by Linda, a former citizen of the World State. He bases his world view on Shakespeare’s work and antagonizes the values of the World State. He loves Lenina in a way that is more than lust.

Lenina Crowne. Lenina is an attractive foetus technician who is promiscuous according to the social requirements of the World State, and seems perfectly content with her life. She is sexually attracted to Marx’s melancholy and to John.

Linda. John’s mother, she got accidentally impregnated by the DHC and was left behind following a storm during a mission in New Mexico. In her new environment, she was both desired, since she was promiscuous, and reviled for the very same reason. She likes mescaline, peyotl, and craves the World State drug soma.

Director of Hatchery and Conditioning (DHC). A man devoted to the regime, he at first intends to exile Marx for his less than ideal disposition, but then Marx outs him as the natural father of John, causing him to resign in shame.

Main Themes

Community vs. Individuals. The World State rests on three pillars, which are community, identity, and Stability. Individuals are seen as part of a greater whole, and superficial happiness is encouraged, and difficult emotions are artificially suppressed, for the sake of stability

Truth vs. Self Delusion. Delusion for the sake of stability prevents citizens from accessing the truth. Mustapha Mond claims that people are better off living with a superficial sense of happiness than with facing the truth.

Technocracy. The World State is ruled by technology and is particularly controlling of reproduction and emotions. Emotions are mitigated through shallow entertainment and drugs, while reproduction happens in assembly-line fashion. Sex, by contrast, becomes a very mechanized commodity. 

Literary Style

Brave New World is written in a highly detailed, yet clinical style that reflects the predominance of technology at the expense of emotions. Huxley has a tendency to juxtapose and jump between scenes, such as when he interposes Lenina and Fanny’s locker-room talk with the history of the World State, which contrasts the regime with the individuals that dwell in it. Through the character of John, Huxley introduces literary references and Shakespeare quotes. 

About the Author

Aldous Huxley authored nearly 50 books between novels and non-fiction works. He was part of the Bloomsbury group, studied the Vedanta, and pursued mystical experiences through the use of psychedelics, which are recurring themes in his novels Brave New World (1932) and Island (1962), and in his memoiristic work The Doors of Perception (1954).

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Frey, Angelica. "'Brave New World' Overview." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/brave-new-world-review-739021. Frey, Angelica. (2020, August 28). 'Brave New World' Overview. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/brave-new-world-review-739021 Frey, Angelica. "'Brave New World' Overview." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/brave-new-world-review-739021 (accessed June 4, 2023).