Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
What is to be understood about this book? First it was written in 1932. Technologically the world then was by no means the world as it is now. That includes technologies that existed then and that exist now but also technologies that did not exist at all then. You must look at not only technologies that are machine based but also look at those which are chemically, physically and biologically based. Eventually you must consider the impact of various technologies on human behaviour and values
When you come to the end of the year you will need to know what happens in Brave New World so you will be provided with a chapter by chapter summary.
As you know you will never be asked to regurgitate a plot summary in the exam and would automatically receive fail marks for such a contribution.
In recent times there have been several apocalyptic novels written. These are novels written about the future and which attempt to predict the future in other than utopian terms. The writers do not see a brighter and better future for humans. George Orwell's 1984 was such a novel. It predicted a society where 'Big Brother' watched people and controlled their lives. Nobody was allowed to think independently. The science fiction writer Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 which was about firemen who task was not to put out fires but to burn books. Books, of course, represent the dissemination of knowledge and represent a threat to those who would exercise power over others. Such attitudes have been prevalent in recent times in Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's Germany, Mao Tse Tung's China.
Brave New World was written as an apocalyptic novel. It sets out to describe a future. But the future describe is not a utopia, a dream, but one where people are reduced in their quality of life. (The inhabitants do think it is a utopia.) The antonym to utopia is dystopia.
The book is designed to be provocative and to make readers think about where we, as the latest generation of humans, are going with our lives. It should cause readers to think about what is the point of their own lives for those few years that we have alive on this earth. As readers in 2001 do we see any truths in Huxley's 1931 predictions? Is there any element of truthful fate in what he was writing about? This what you will primarily be concerned with in your study of this book
Task One. The novel opens with a visit to the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. What does the motto 'Community, Identity, Stability' mean for all people in this society? Consider chapters 1 and 2. How and why is the past, particularly parenting, demeaned? For Task One your response should be no less than 300 words.
Task Two. (It is possible that you will have covered some or all of this material in completing Task One so you will make your own judgement of how you should tackle the task out-lined below.)
What is the purpose of the games that are played in this society? Refer in particular to the Director's statement at the beginning of Chapter 3? Refer at least to the statements like 'Ending is better than mending. The more stitches, the less riches;..' Also consider Fanny's statement later in the same chapter when she says '...one's got to play the game. After all, everyone belongs to everyone else.'
To what extent in this novel has this society reduced life to a series of clichés and sex to a game? Write at least 300 words in response to this task.(Remember to use apt evidence.)
Task Three. Bernard Marx. Bernard is a major character in this novel. He makes judgements of others and himself. 'Idiots, swines! Bernard was saying to himself...' (p.54) 'Did you ever feel ...you had something inside you ...a feeling that I've got something important to say and the power to say it.' (.63-64) 'Odd, odd, odd, was Lenina's verdict on Bernard Marx.' (p.77) It is Bernard who does take Lenina away to a Reservation and meets up with John.
How and why is Bernard different? Also consider whether he really is different. Look at his behaviour when he returns from the Savage Reservation with John. Does he not take advantage of all those things that he has missed out on before and are not his motives and actions those of the rest of the members of Brave New World?
Consider this not just in terms of him in the context of the storyline and his personal circumstances but also in terms of Huxley's own need for Bernard as a major vehicle to show up the inadequacies of this society and the consequences for individuals.
Make a study of Bernard's own inadequacies and the real reasons for their existence. In other words do not just take the other characters' explanation that it was too much alcohol in his birth surrogate. (Write about 500 words referring to Bernard within the context of the whole story. Remember to use apt evidence.)
Task Four. You have examined how Bernard does not easily fit into his society. Now it is time to examine how John, the Savage, fits into the scheme of the novel. John frequently quotes Shakespeare. All of the quotes in Chapter 8 are from Shakespearean plays. Yet it is obvious from the text of the novel that he does not really understand the words, 'The strange words rolled through his mind...' So why has Huxley included them within the experience of John? Look at his reaction to the film Lenina is viewing in Chapter 9.
How is John intellectually different from the Alphas of civilised society'? In what ways is John emotionally different from the Alphas?
Why are the Shakespearean words raised when he is thinking of Pope and Linda? (Note that there are the two issues to be dealt with; his intellectual and his emotional capacities. They are related.)
These issues and the contrast between the two societies as embodied in the various characters are a major part of the theme of this novel. Write about 500 words in response to them.
Task Five. What meaning do you think that this novel should have for present day readers? Write at least 300 words.
Use the comments below to assist you to clarify your views for Task Five. They are taken from the book Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman, published in 1985. (You can quote from these comments to assist you if you wish.)
from the Foreword We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression.
But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarian and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us
from the chapter Media as Epistomology To people like ourselves any reliance on proverbs and sayings is reserved largely for resolving disputes among or with children. That "Possession is nine - tenths of the law." "First come, first served." "Haste makes waste." These are forms of speech we put out in small crises with our young but would think ridiculous to produce in a courtroom where "serious" matters are to be decided... Judges, lawyers and defendants do not regard proverbs or sayings as a relevant response to legal dispute. In this, they are separated from the tribal chief by a media-metaphor. For in a print-based courtroom, where law books, briefs, citation and other written materials define and organise the method of finding the truth, the oral tradition has lost much of its resonance - but not all of it
from the chapter The Age Of Show
In watching American television, one is reminded of George Bernard Shaw's remark on his first seeing the glittering neon signs of Broadway and 42nd Street at night. It must be beautiful, he said, if you cannot read. American television is, indeed, a beautiful spectacle, a visual delight, pouring forth thousands of images on any given day. The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds, so that the eye never rests, always has something new to see. Moreover, television offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend, and is largely aimed at emotional gratification.
from the chapter Now... This
... (this) is why Aldous Huxley would not in the least be surprised by the story. Indeed, he prophesied its coming. He believed that it is far more likely that the Western democracies will dance and dream themselves into oblivion than march in to it, single file and manacled. Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions. Although Huxley did not specify that television would be our main line to the drug, he would have no difficulty accepting Robert MacNeill's observation that "Television is the soma of Aldous Huxley' is Brave New World." Big Brother turns out to be Howdy Doody.