'Brave New World' Themes

How Utopia Always Becomes Dystopia

Brave New World deals with a seemingly utopian, yet ultimately dystopian society based on utilitarianism. The themes explored in the novel detail the implications, and consequences, of a regime such as the World State.

Community vs. Individual

The motto of the World State reads “community, identity, and stability.” On one hand, it offers identity and stability, since each individual has a purpose and belongs to a community and caste system. However, on the other hand, it deprives its citizens of their individual freedom, a fact most of them are not even aware of. The “Bokanovsky Process” consists of creating people who are nothing but biological duplicates of one another; while the hypnopaedic method and the solidarity services encourage people to act as part of a greater whole, rather than as individuals.

In this society, those who display a hint of individual behavior, such as Bernard and Helmholtz, are threatened with exile. Society is controlled through hypnopaedic conditioning, a method of sleep-teaching where they’re inoculated the tenets of their expected behavior in sleep. Intense or unpleasant emotions are kept at bay through soma, a drug that can generate feelings of shallow happiness. 

Truth vs. Self-Delusion (Or Happiness)

The World State subsists on self (and government-administered) delusion for the sake of stability, which allows its citizens to avoid facing the truth about their situation. According to the World State, happiness is reduced to absence of negative emotions. This is primarily carried out through soma, a drug that replaces difficult emotions or the hard reality of the present with hallucination-induced happiness. Mustapha Mond claims that people are better off with a superficial sense of happiness than facing the truth. 

The happiness that the World State perpetrates rests on immediate gratification, such as abundance of food, sex, and consumer goods. Conversely, the truths that the regime aims to conceal are both scientific and personal: they want to prevent individuals from gaining any form of scientific and empirical knowledge, and from exploring what makes them human, such as feeling strong emotions and valuing interpersonal relationships—both are threats to stability.

Paradoxically, even John, who was raised in the Reservation, developed his own method of self-delusion by reading Shakespeare. John filters his worldview through Renaissance values, which, in part, make him more perceptive to some of the fallacies of the World State. However, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, the Bard is no help; by equating Lenina first to Juliet, then, once she sexually propositions herself, to an impudent strumpet, he is unable to see the truth of an individual. 

Technocracy

The World State is an allegorical example of the consequences of a regime exerting its control through technology. While in the novel 1984 control rested on constant surveillance, in Brave New World, technology regiments people’s lives. 

One good example of this is reproduction: 70% of the female population is known as “freemartin,” meaning that they’re sterile, and procreation is carried out artificially in an assembly-line method that allows technicians to shape individuals in a way that is fit for the demands of society. Feelies are a form of entertainment that artificially creates superficial pleasure, whereas soma is a drug that was specifically designed to dull all burgeoning feelings other than happiness. In the World State, technological advancement does not go hand-in-hand with scientific progress: science is there only to serve technology, and access to scientific truths is heavily censored, as access to too much information can compromise stability.

The Commodification of Sex

Brave New World portrays a highly sexualized society. In fact, while we can say that there is rigid control over sexual mores, said control manifests itself by encouraging promiscuity. For instance, Lenina is chided by her friend Fanny for having slept exclusively with Henry Foster for four months, and young children are taught to engage in sexual play. 

Reproduction has become mechanized too: two thirds of women undergo sterilization, and those who are fertile are required to use contraceptives. Natural conception and pregnancy are referred to, contemptuously, as “viviparous reproduction,” a thing of the past.

Lenina, a conventionally attractive woman, is described as “pneumatic,” an adjective also used to describe chairs in a feelie theater and in Mond’s office. While it’s primarily meant to imply that Lenina is a curvaceous woman, by using the same adjective for both Lenina and a piece of furniture, Huxley indicates that her sexuality is as commodified and utilitarian as an object.

John, also known as The Savage, provides an outsider’s point of view on the matter. He feels a strong desire, bordering on love, for Lenina. However, since he sees the world through the values represented by Shakespeare, he is unable to return her advances, which are only motivated by sex. At the end of the novel, he hangs himself, having succumbed to the depravities of the World State.

Symbolism

Henry Ford

The 20th century industrialist Henry Ford, the man credited for promoting the assembly line, is revered as a god-like figure. Common interjections include "My Ford"—instead of "My Lord"—, while years are counted as “years of our Ford.” This is meant to convey that utilitarian technology has replaced religion as a core value of society, while also inspiring a similar degree of fanaticism. 

Literary Devices

The Use of Shakespeare

References to Shakespeare abound in Brave New World. Huxley bases John's entire value system on Shakespeare’s works, as it was one of the only two texts he had access to while growing up isolated in the Reservation. 

Not coincidentally, the title of the book derives from a line from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which John utters when marveling at the technological wonders of the World State. In The Tempest, Miranda, having grown up on a secluded island with her father Prospero, marvels at the usurpers her father has lured to his island by conjuring a storm. To her, they are new men. Both her original quote and John’s usage of it are meant to convey naive, and misguided enthusiasm. 

Throughout the novel, John references Romeo and Juliet when talking about love to Helmholtz, he equates himself to Othello for being an outcast who “lov’d not wisely,” and he sees his relationship to his mother and her lover, Pope, as parallel to Othello's relationship with Claudius and his mother.