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Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

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Kristen Over, Associate Professor at Northeastern Illinois University, explains the themes in Aldous Huxley's book Brave New World.

Brave New World | Themes


Oppression and Conformity

Stifling the people's right to think and speak independently is always a primary tactic to ensure control of the population in Brave New World. The controllers of the 10 World States stay true to this concept but take it a step further. Through genetic engineering and conditioning, they impede people's ability to think. In Chapter 1 genetic scientist Henry Foster explains that to stunt the intellectual growth, the embryos' oxygen levels are reduced at a crucial time in their brains' development. Following the caste specifications, the elite Alpha eggs are impaired with the slight depletion of oxygen levels, but they increase incrementally from the Betas, through the Gammas and Deltas and finally to the Epsilons, who endure the most stunting. In support of this system, Foster says, "But in Epsilons, we don't need human intelligence." From infancy through adulthood, repetitive conditioning reinforces people's recognition of cognitive aptitude with messages such as "Alphas are frightfully clever," "Gammas are stupid," and "Epsilons are too stupid to be able to read or write."

The controllers do not use physical force or the fear that Big Brother is watching like the totalitarian government does in 1984. Instead they turn to hypnopaedic conditioning to brainwash people into accepting the life principles that form the foundation of their benevolent dictatorship. "Old clothes are beastly," "Ending is better than mending," and "I do love flying" encourage people to accept the materialistic and group sports activity paths that support mass production. If by chance people feel gloomy, they have the government-created and government-sanctioned "Euphoric, narcotic and pleasantly hallucinant" drug, soma, to carry them back to the happy home of instant gratification—the World State.

Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson, both Alpha-Plus males, are proof that genetic engineering and conditioning are not always successful. Neither of these very intelligent men buys into the repression of individuality. They choose to show their dissatisfaction with this concept through their indirect criticisms—Bernard by his gruff attitude and mumbled opposition to conditioning and its results, and Helmholtz through his original poems about solitude. The government wins these battles as it always has, by exiling the two men to islands where they can freely express their thoughts without damaging the government's subjugation of thinking in the majority of the population.


The separate and unequal caste system has the greatest effect on individual identities. All people come from test tubes, where they are predestined and conditioned to fit a list of genetically engineered intellectual and physical characteristics. Within their caste people can have the Plus or Minus designation, which refers to their brain and brawn skills. Because of the Bokanovsky Process, all people in the Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon castes are developed through cell division to be identical to their group's mental and physical traits. Once they are decanted, the World State's brainwashing techniques keep the people willingly obedient to the principles the State pushes.

All of the characters the author develops demonstrate the strength of society's principles by their adherence to promiscuity, soma usage, group activities such as Centrifugul Bumble-puppy, and sexual games for the children, as well as Obstacle Golf and Solidarity Services for the adults. Lenina shows little independent thought, mainly reiterating hypnopaedic phrases such as "Everyone works for everyone else" and "Even Epsilons are useful." She accepts being looked at as a sexual object because this attitude supports the State's "Everybody belongs to everyone else" tenet. Women's identities are also affected by the in utero practice of sterilization. Henry Foster explains to the group of students touring the Hatchery, "One ovary in twelve hundred is quite sufficient for our purposes," so two-thirds of the women are neutered. They become so-called freemartins, women who are mentally and physically normal to their caste, but sterile.

Lack of Personal Impact

People are created to fit the State's criteria and not permitted to develop their own physical targets or mental ideologies, to choose which emotions to develop or reject, or to reach for life goals of their own determination. Because of this, they have very little individual effect on society. People who do survive their genetic design and conditioning and try to make a difference in their civilization, like Bernard and Helmholtz, are banished from the group. Even Mustapha Mond, the Controller of London and Western Europe, had to choose between exile and the possibilities of pure science or inclusion in society as he followed the path to power. By choosing the latter, he has total control over everything the people learn about cultures prior to their After Ford world and the doctrines of their own that they must follow. His choices become the population's laws. But John the Savage grew up on the New Mexico Reservation, where he was free to develop his own philosophy of life through the elder Mitsima's stories about their tribe's spirituality or the Christian values and morals they adopted, and to study Shakespeare's works. He could have made a tremendous impact on the London society except that his education was so narrow that the ideology he formed was as rigid as the World State's, although opposite in its beliefs and practices. He is unable to find a balance between both worlds that he can share with the people, one that accepts the best of both societies. Instead he becomes famous for his physical attractiveness and quaintness and is powerless to have an effect on the people living in this brave new world.


Consumerism, or materialism, is the backbone of the World State concept. From the beginning of their lives, people are predestined to fit into a specific aspect of automation and its offspring—mass production. As long as people follow the conditioning that promotes buying and participating in activities that need a good deal of equipment and shun individual activities—such as enjoying nature or reading, which require few manufactured products—the wheels of industry turn. This results in a robust economy, a sound financial sector, and the government's main goal—stability. When Linda sees Lenina after 20-plus years of missing the people of her world and enduring the ostracism of the majority of the Indians, her main focus is on clothes. "Civilized clothes. I thought I should never see a piece of real acetate silk again," she enthuses. The rest of her conversation revolves around the beauty and softness of Lenina's clothes and her lovely green Moroccan belt that holds contraceptives, the hot baths with all of the beauty products she could enjoy, and the soma available. Never did she wonder about friends or family, but then again, topics that revolved around emotions didn't fit into any cog of the impersonal mass production wheel.


People can feel alienated from their society no matter where it falls on the ideological continuum that spans from freedom to tyranny. Bernard, Helmholtz, and John prove this. The Solidarity Service never draws Bernard into its group hysteria-fed embrace. Helmholtz's poem speaks about loneliness even in a crowd, and John has to create his own ceremonies because the Indians never allow him to participate in theirs. When John and Bernard are discussing how they each have felt so alone in their diverse worlds, John says "If one's different, one's bound to be alone." As long as people believe that their thoughts, ideas, values, and morals are too divergent from the majority of people, they will feel alienated. As long as they are ostracized for their ethnicity, gender, or sexual views, they will feel alienated. As long as they are created to be a part of a crowd that prohibits the individualism that they accept as their identity and that offers them security, they will feel alienated.

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