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Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley: an Examination

November 12 2018
November 12 2018

Brave New World Cover


Note: I have not read any reviews or analyses of this book, so all the observations contained herein are mine. To the extent they contradict others, I don’t care. To the extent they jibe with others, it is coincidence.


This, believe it or not, is the first time I’ve read this book. I had a rough idea what it was about, but it turned out to be vastly different than I expected. One thing that struck me was how silly a lot of it is. It’s a parody, really. The silliest thing was the use of “Ford” in place of “Lord,” with the symbol of the “religion” being a T, standing for the Model T Ford. This is an obvious (too obvious) reference to the notion that mass consumerism is a type of religion. Phrases like “Lordy,” become “Fordy,” and years are measured not in years AD (now the ridiculous CE), but in years AF. That makes it parody.

Concept of the Story (briefly)

In the world of “Brave New World”, people are not born of a mother, but rather germinated in test tubes and conditioned to perform certain tasks. The idea of motherhood has been made repugnant. The conditioning, which begins at the embryonic stage, results in different classes of workers who believe that their place in society is the best, and wish to do their tasks, and abhor the idea of doing that of another. This contributes to their happiness. The goal, after all, is that everyone be happy. All needs are taken care of, sex is free and open, no one is tied to anyone and, and to the extent that an unhappy feeling may creep in, there is the drug “Soma,” which makes everything all right.

Everything is geared toward mediocrity, frivolity, and consumption. It is, for example, bad form to repair anything. One is expected to purchase new, which keeps those engaged in making things employed.

Anyone expressing individualism is removed from society and sent to an island. They could also be killed.

Comments from a writer’s standpoint

This is not one of the most masterfully written books I have read. It’s interesting enough, and the story keeps my attention and is thought provoking, but there are technical issues with it.

Huxley throws adverbs around like candy. When I critique a story in Critique Circle, I admonish people not to use so many adverbs. It’s a hard sell when a book like this, considered to be a masterpiece (which it ain’t) is riddled with adverbs. The second paragraph of the book contains three. (This paragraph is difficult to follow and understand to the point of being near gibberish, but things improve in that respect.) Huxley also used adverbs to modify “said,” which is contrary to Elmore Leonard’s ten rules.

There is also no shortage of passive voice. The first paragraph of the third chapter is a good example. In this short paragraph there are five occurrences of “was” or “were.”

This illustrates the difficulty in trying to convince new or young writers to avoid adverbs and passive voice. A book that every high school or college kid reads, and which is considered one of the great masterpieces of the 20th Century, is filthy with both. What does that tell us? It’s really the story that counts, but I submit that if your writing is crammed with adverbs and passive voice, editors and agents are not going to get to the story.

A World-building Device

This book is science fiction, and therefore takes place in a world different than ours. New writers tend to want to tell the reader about this world in a long, tedious blast of information. On and on they go, giving detail after detail, including the history of the world and the names and descriptions of several characters, none of which the reader will remember, even if he manages to plow through it. There is a better way.

Huxley does it by having “the Director” give a tour of the London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre to a group of students. By showing the students (and, therefore, the reader) how things work, and by breaking it up with dialogue and imagery, we get the information in an interesting and memorable way.

Another device to give important information is through dialogue. For example, through a conversation between two women, we learn, that it is not permitted to get too emotionally involved with one person, and that people are expected to have sex with many people with no expectation (or possibility) of developing a monogamous relationship. One of the women thinks the other may be getting too attached to one man, and through this dialogue we learn (more or less) what the rules are.

These devices not only inform the reader about the world, but at the same time introduces characters. World building and character development intertwine.


I’m not going to beat structure to death here because I’ve done it elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the structure is there. The point is that even a book like this basically follows the three-act structure.

One thing interesting about it, though, is that we end up with more than one main character, or at least three of the characters are treated as though they were the main character.

First, there is the woman Lenina. She develops a relationship with Bernard. At the beginning, we are led to believe that the story will be about their relationship. She is fully conditioned and is a product and proponent of the system. Bernard, who is not as attractive as one would expect given his caste, is having doubts. He is more interested in the individual, a notion that has been all but wiped out.

About a third of the way through the book they go on a date to an Zuni Indian reservation in the American Southwest (crossing the first threshold). There they meet Linda, a white woman from London who ended up living on the reservation. She has a son, John, whom Lenina and Bernard befriend. He has been conceived through sex and born of a mother, something unheard of in the “civilized” world. Bernard decides it would be good to bring John back to London as kind of a specimen. John does not want to abandon his mother, so they arrange to bring her too.

In the course of the story, John, whom they call “John Savage,” or “the savage,” becomes the central character. John is not of the civilized world, but is freer soul, which idea those of the civilized world find interesting. Bernard uses John as a means of gaining acceptance, something that has eluded him because of his physical appearance.

Bernard has arranged to have John meet some very high officials, but John refuses to appear. This leads to the downfall of Bernard, who is sent off to an island with those who can’t conform. After that, John is the main character, and the story ends with his destruction by the system.

I found this shift strange. 65% of the way through the story, Bernard is ruined and the focus shifts to John. In fact, Bernard disappears altogether before the final climax and, to the extent there is one, the denouement. I don’t know of any other book where the central character through most of the story is not in the final climax and denouement (except for tragic heroes who are killed).

The Meaning

This book was originally published in 1932, early in the Fordism paradigm, which persists to this day. The industrial revolution had led to mass production and mass consumption. Cars, radios (it was before TV), refrigerators, clothing, housewares, and even housing, were being mass produced at the time. Cheap products were in demand, and those that were not cheap could be bought on time. The era of crass consumerism, facilitated by consumer financing, had taken hold of the world.

What is prophetic about the book, though, is the idea of everyone being happy. Nothing offensive is allowed. Old things (such as the Bible) are kept locked up, and history is forgotten, or at least ignored. People are told what to think and what to do through conditioning starting from inception, even while still a fetus in a test tube. Entertainment is trivial and frivolous. Welcome to the United States in the 21st century.

Today, no one can be offended. We are told by the media what to think, what not to think, and what is offensive. Violating their mandate results in the destruction of careers and lives. These newly found mores are applied not only to present-day behavior, but are also applied retroactively. To say or do anything now, or to have said or done anything in the distant past, which violates these rules, and you’re done for.

These mores are being applied retroactively to historic figures as well, with the result that we, like those in “Brave New World,” are erasing history. It will soon be forgotten, if it’s not already. We’re taking down monuments and eliminating holidays because those in whose honor they are do not fit today’s standards of behavior. It wouldn’t surprise me if the day comes when the founding fathers come into disfavor because they owned slaves, or were not respectful of women. A time when the only monument left in Washington will be Martin Luther King, and a time when the images on Mt. Rushmore are eradicated Taliban and ISIS style.

Our entertainment is the lowest and crassest it’s ever been, and that is a real achievement. Idiotic talk shows, and disgusting reality TV shows, for example, all designed for the lowbrow and pedestrian. News programs are biased and sensationalist, presented by fools. Sure, there are some decent programs, but not many. I digress.

So, here we are in a brave new world, and such people in it.


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