Have you ever been on a vacation that just didn't go well? Maybe you got food poisoning, or you fought with your family, or got bad news from back home? Or maybe you discovered your boss' illegitimate child and long-lost wife, brought them home with you, and continued to exploit them until your life completely unraveled?
Okay, maybe we're getting a little too specific here. But this vacation-gone-wrong is pretty much exactly what happens to poor Bernard Marx in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Huxley first published this novel in 1932, but the story takes place far in the future, where government-sanctioned drug use and massive public orgies happen on the regular. Sound appealing? Not so fast.
As we quickly find out, the future isn't all it's chalked up to be. Individuality is a thing of the past, babies are created in test tubes, and everyone lives in a caste society of clones and "Alphas."
The story follows Bernard Marx, an Alpha who just can't manage to fit in. In this future of genetic modification and strictly stratified society, Bernard is as close a thing to an individual you'll encounter. The only problem? Being an individual is so 2000s in this society.
As you might imagine, Bernard encounters all sorts of problems as a result of his individuality. His boss (known only as The Director) really has it out for him. When Bernard takes a romantic vacation to the Reservation—a primitive area of New Mexico the future never reached—The Director not-so-kindly lets Bernard know he shouldn't plan on coming back to work because he's being deported to a remote island. Yeah, talk about a buzzkill.
We don't want to give away too much just yet, but let's just say things take an interesting turn when Bernard encounters The Director's long-lost wife and son on the Reservation. Remember, this is the future, and in the future, the concept of "parents" and "couples" don't exist. So it's pretty controversial that the big-shot Director broke the norm and fathered a child (gasp!).
We can't say this book has a very happy ending, but it does raise a lot of important questions about individuality, human nature, and the downfalls of technological advancement. The novel is frequently compared to a much later novel, Orwell’s 1984, because the two tackle similar dystopian subject matter, only in different lights.
In 1958, Huxley published an essay called Brave New World Revisited, in which he basically says, “I was right” and predicts that his horrifying vision of the future will come to fruition sooner rather than later. Is the future so bright we have to wear shades? Or is it so dark that we should thank our lucky stars Huxley's predictions haven't quite come true? …Yet.
Read on and find out for yourself.
In Brave New World’s new world, there is no God. There’s no religion, no Ten Commandments, no spiritual pilgrimages. Why? Because “God is incompatible with machines,” we’re told. Eliminate suffering, and you don’t need God to give you comfort.
OK, now let’s back up 525 years to roughly… today. Or maybe, by the time you’re reading this, yesterday. If you’ve turned on your TV in the last few years, you’ve probably heard something on the news about evolution, creationism, and intelligent design. As we learn more and more through science and can do more through technology, the question is this: Will the belief in God disappear once we don’t need a higher being to give us answers or comfort?
Comfort, answers… either way, the topic here is one of unease. In Brave New World, physical ease means God isn’t needed. In today’s world, the question can be expanded to ask whether mental ease means God isn’t needed.
We spent some time looking into what the world has to say about this intelligent design/creationism/evolution debate. As it turns out, the big debate isn’t so much about which is true—it’s about which theory we should teach in schools.
Wait a minute…we’re having this HUGE, raging argument about God, and it’s not even really about God? It’s about education?
And now we’d like to turn your attention, once again, to Brave New World. Huxley’s novel isn’t just a warning about science—it’s a warning about education. The citizens of his future-world-gone-wrong are indoctrinated with irrational lessons in morality and behavior from day one. Teach them the same mindless platitudes over and over, and before you know it, this indoctrination is a part of who they are. (Actually, according to Huxley, it drips onto them like wax and forms a big, blobby mess where a person used to be.)
Huxley’s “hypnopaedia” (a.k.a. brainwashing) makes it clear that with education comes responsibility. You Shmoopsters out there might be learning, you might be teaching, but no matter who you are, you’re in a position to question, debate, and decide what will be taught. We all are. So let’s not mess it up.
1998 TV Movie
Brave New World, a made-for-TV movie starring Peter Gallagher (you know him from The O.C., or if you're super-cool, from Center Stage) and Leonard Nimoy (from Star Trek).
1980 TV Movie
Brave New World, another made-for-TV movie. No fun famous people, as far as we can tell, and it looks like they took some liberties renaming the characters (Lenina Disney? OK…).
Iron Maiden did a song called "Brave New World." Check it out.
Hmm…another "Brave New World" song, this time by Motorhead.
Aldous Huxley in a posed picture.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
A Classic Book Cover
The classic image from the cover of the book.
"When the Future Looked Brave and New"
A recent book review of Huxley's selected letters, edited by James Sexton.
"Brave New World Revisited"
In 1958, Huxley wrote an essay on his novel called "Brave New World Revisited" in which he examines how society has advanced toward his horrid vision of the future. If you're into the novel as a piece of literature, this isn't too exciting, but if the science excites you, then this is for you.
Online Copy of Brave New World
Here's an online text of the novel, convenient for searching and reading.
Transcript of an Interview with Huxley
Here you can download a full PDF a The Paris Review interview with Aldous Huxley in 1960.