Study Guide

Brave New World Identity

By Aldous Huxley


Chapter 1

Told them of the test for sex carried out in the neighborhood of Metre 200. Explained the system of labelling—a T for the males, a circle for the females and for those who were destined to become freemartins a question mark, black on a white ground. (1.64)

Like age, sex can be an ambiguous element of identity in Brave New World.

And in effect the sultry darkness into which the students now followed him was visible and crimson, like the darkness of closed eyes on a summer's afternoon. The bulging flanks of row on receding row and tier above tier of bottles glinted with innumerable rubies, and among the rubies moved the dim red spectres of men and women with purple eyes and all the symptoms of lupus. The hum and rattle of machinery faintly stirred the air. (1.52)

The image of sheer mass production comes across here perhaps more than anywhere else in Brave New World. The creepy red light business adds to the reader's discomfort, and even the individuals working in the room are altered by its color (hence Lenina having purple eyes and coral teeth).

Tall and rather thin but upright, the Director advanced into the room. He had a long chin and big rather prominent teeth, just covered, when he was not talking, by his full, floridly curved lips. Old, young? Thirty? Fifty? Fifty-five? It was hard to say. And anyhow the question didn't arise; in this year of stability, A. F. 632, it didn't occur to you to ask it. (1.8)

To eliminate individual identity, specific aspects of identity have been removed—in this case, age.

One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress. (1.12)

Of course, nothing else speaks to the lack of identity in Brave New World more than this, the Bokanovsky process. If individuals have identical genes and are raised in the same environment (think mass-conditioning as a youth), then there's not really anything to distinguish one from another.

A SQUAT grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. (1.1)

This is an interesting motto, to say the least—we get the "community" and "stability" part, but identity is an odd duck, since the whole governing factor of the World State is that individual identity has gone by the wayside. The way we look at it is that identity is couched in community and stability—it exists only within those bounds.

Chapter 2
The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning

Not so much like drops of water, though water, it is true, can wear holes in the hardest granite; rather, drops of liquid sealing-wax, drops that adhere, incrust, incorporate themselves with what they fall on, till finally the rock is all one scarlet blob.

"Till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too—all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!" The Director almost shouted in his triumph. "Suggestions from the State." He banged the nearest table. "It therefore follows…" (2.85-6)

Here is some insight as to why "Identity" is part of the World State's Motto. Individual identity may be erased, but through conditioning, a new, communal identity can be written over it.

Chapter 3

Fanny worked in the Bottling Room, and her surname was also Crowne. But as the two thousand million inhabitants of the plant had only ten thousand names between them, the coincidence was not particularly surprising. (3.58)

The upper castes may not consist of dozens of identical copies, but individuals still lack any sort of independent identity.

Bernard Marx

"Talking about her as though she were a bit of meat." Bernard ground his teeth. "Have her here, have her there." Like mutton. Degrading her to so much mutton. She said she'd think it over, she said she'd give me an answer this week. Oh, Ford, Ford, Ford." He would have liked to go up to them and hit them in the face—hard, again and again. (3.139)

Bernard's disgust has much to do with identity; he feels that Lenina is being defined solely by her body—as mere "meat."

Chapter 4: Part 2

But if she were to say yes, what rapture! Well, now she had said it and he was still wretched—wretched that she should have thought it such a perfect afternoon for Obstacle Golf, that she should have trotted away to join Henry Foster, that she should have found him funny for not wanting to talk of their most private affairs in public. Wretched, in a word, because she had behaved as any healthy and virtuous English girl ought to behave and not in some other, abnormal, extraordinary way. (4.2.2)

Bernard builds up an unrealistic expectation of Lenina. He makes her out to be extraordinary because he feels he himself is extraordinary—he creates a false identity that she proves unable to fulfill.

Yes, a little too able; they were right. A mental excess had produced in Helmholtz Watson effects very similar to those which, in Bernard Marx, were the result of a physical defect. Too little bone and brawn had isolated Bernard from his fellow men, and the sense of this apartness, being, by all the current standards, a mental excess, became in its turn a cause of wider separation. That which had made Helmholtz so uncomfortably aware of being himself and all alone was too much ability. What the two men shared was the knowledge that they were individuals. (4.2.15)

The mirrored characters of Helmholtz and Bernard make it clear that identity has as much to do with how others perceive an individual as with how that individual perceives himself.

Chapter 5: Part 1
Lenina Crowne

"What a marvellous switchback!" Lenina laughed delightedly.

But Henry's tone was almost, for a moment, melancholy. "Do you know what that switchback was?" he said. "It was some human being finally and definitely disappearing. Going up in a squirt of hot gas. It would be curious to know who it was—a man or a woman, an Alpha or an Epsilon.…" He sighed. (5.1.13-4)

Not only has individual identity been destroyed, but so has the very notion of what it means to be a human. This society has been dehumanized to the point where dead bodies are akin to a thrilling bump in the road. The interesting part of this passage is that Henry is momentarily bothered by this fact. Lenina, of course, isn't. Dissatisfaction and individuality are solely the realm of the males in the novel.

"I suppose Epsilons don't really mind being Epsilons," she said aloud.

"Of course they don't. How can they? They don't know what it's like being anything else. We'd mind, of course. But then we've been differently conditioned. Besides, we start with a different heredity."

"I'm glad I'm not an Epsilon," said Lenina, with conviction.

"And if you were an Epsilon," said Henry, "your conditioning would have made you no less thankful that you weren't a Beta or an Alpha." (5.1.9-12)

What's interesting about this conversation is that Henry is completely conscious of the manipulations used to craft identity in the World State—and yet he still isn't bothered by them.

Chapter 5: Part 2

Sarojini apologized and slid into her place between Jim Bokanovsky and Herbert Bakunin. The group was now complete, the solidarity circle perfect and without flaw. Man, woman, man, in a ring of endless alternation round the table. Twelve of them ready to be made one, waiting to come together, to be fused, to lose their twelve separate identities in a larger being.


"Ford, we are twelve; oh, make us one,
Like drops within the Social River,
Oh, make us now together run
As swiftly as thy shining Flivver." (5.2.11-6)

It's hard to get more explicit than the lyrics of this song. In fact, it's so explicit that we'll just let it speak for itself as far as notions of identity go.

Chapter 6: Part 1
Bernard Marx

"In a crowd," he grumbled. "As usual." He remained obstinately gloomy the whole afternoon; wouldn't talk to Lenina's friends (of whom they met dozens in the ice-cream soma bar between the wrestling bouts); and in spite of his misery absolutely refused to take the half-gramme raspberry sundae which she pressed upon him. "I'd rather be myself," he said. "Myself and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly." (6.1.11)

Bernard highlights one of the key powers of soma—the ability to strip an individual of what little personal identity he has left.

Chapter 6: Part 2

"That'll teach him," he said to himself. But he was mistaken. For Bernard left the room with a swagger, exulting, as he banged the door behind him, in the thought that he stood alone, embattled against the order of things; elated by the intoxicating consciousness of his individual significance and importance. Even the thought of persecution left him undismayed, was rather tonic than depressing. He felt strong enough to meet and overcome affliction, strong enough to face even Iceland. And this confidence was the greater for his not for a moment really believing that he would be called upon to face anything at all. People simply weren't transferred for things like that. Iceland was just a threat. A most stimulating and life-giving threat. Walking along the corridor, he actually whistled. (6.2.11)

For John, individuality lies in his knowledge of Shakespeare. For Helmholtz, it is in his writing. For Bernard, however, it lies in rebellion against authority. Unfortunately, Bernard ends up being a weakling.

Chapter 10

"I know. But that's all the more reason for severity. His intellectual eminence carries with it corresponding moral responsibilities. The greater a man's talents, the greater his power to lead astray. It is better that one should suffer than that many should be corrupted. Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behaviour. Murder kills only the individual—and, after all, what is an individual?" With a sweeping gesture he indicated the rows of microscopes, the test-tubes, the incubators. "We can make a new one with the greatest ease—as many as we like. Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself. Yes, at Society itself," he repeated. "Ah, but here he comes." (10.7)

The process of mass production—more than any other factor—has rendered meaningless the life of any one person in the World State.

Chapter 11

There was no envy in the comment; good-natured Fanny was merely stating a fact. Lenina was lucky; lucky in having shared with Bernard a generous portion of the Savage's immense celebrity, lucky in reflecting from her insignificant person the moment's supremely fashionable glory. Had not the Secretary of the Young Women's Fordian Association asked her to give a lecture about her experiences? Had she not been invited to the Annual Dinner of the Aphroditeum Club? Had she not already appeared in the Feelytone News—visibly, audibly and tactually appeared to countless millions all over the planet? (11.82)

Like Bernard's, Lenina's identity—as perceived by others—changes as a result of her contact with John. But her identity in her mind changes in a very different way; she starts to wonder if she may be capable of emotion that runs deeper than those easily fulfilled desires for promiscuity.

And, in effect, eighty-three almost noseless black brachycephalic Deltas were cold-pressing. The fifty-six four-spindle chucking and turning machines were being manipulated by fifty-six aquiline and ginger Gammas. One hundred and seven heat-conditioned Epsilon Senegalese were working in the foundry. Thirty-three Delta females, long-headed, sandy, with narrow pelvises, and all within 20 millimetres of 1 metre 69 centimetres tall, were cutting screws. In the assembling room, the dynamos were being put together by two sets of Gamma-Plus dwarfs. The two low work-tables faced one another; between them crawled the conveyor with its load of separate parts; forty-seven blonde heads were confronted by forty-seven brown ones. Forty-seven snubs by forty-seven hooks; forty-seven receding by forty-seven prognathous chins. The completed mechanisms were inspected by eighteen identical curly auburn girls in Gamma green, packed in crates by thirty-four short-legged, left-handed male Delta-Minuses, and loaded into the waiting trucks and lorries by sixty-three blue-eyed, flaxen and freckled Epsilon Semi-Morons.

"O brave new world…" By some malice of his memory the Savage found himself repeating Miranda's words. "O brave new world that has such people in it." (11.39-40)

It is fitting, then, that the one aspect of the World State that disgusts John more than anything else is this very process of mass production.

Chapter 12

Bernard's other victim-friend was Helmholtz. When, discomfited, he came and asked once more for the friendship which, in his prosperity, he had not thought it worth his while to preserve. Helmholtz gave it; and gave it without a reproach, without a comment, as though he had forgotten that there had ever been a quarrel. Touched, Bernard felt himself at the same time humiliated by this magnanimity—a magnanimity the more extraordinary and therefore the more humiliating in that it owed nothing to soma and everything to Helmholtz's character. It was the Helmholtz of daily life who forgot and forgave, not the Helmholtz of a half-gramme holiday. Bernard was duly grateful (it was an enormous comfort to have his friend again) and also duly resentful (it would be pleasure to take some revenge on Helmholtz for his generosity). (12.49)

Bernard's identity has certainly changed since he met John—which also has some relation to his new soma habit. What little individuality he had before John arrived is destroyed by the drug. What Bernard envies in Helmholtz isn't necessarily any one aspect of his identity, but the fact that he has an identity at all.

Chapter 13
John the Savage

"Oh, you so perfect" (she was leaning towards him with parted lips), "so perfect and so peerless are created" (nearer and nearer) "of every creature's best." Still nearer. The Savage suddenly scrambled to his feet. "That's why," he said speaking with averted face, "I wanted to do something first… I mean, to show I was worthy of you. Not that I could ever really be that. But at any rate to show I wasn't absolutely un-worthy. I wanted to do something." (13.41)

Like Bernard and Helmholtz, John also struggles with an identity crisis. He needs to prove both to Lenina and to himself that he a man of principle, strength, and honor.

Chapter 14

Her lips moved. "Popé!" she whispered again, and it was as though he had had a pailful of ordure thrown in his face.

Anger suddenly boiled up in him. Balked for the second time, the passion of his grief had found another outlet, was transformed into a passion of agonized rage.

"But I'm John!" he shouted. "I'm John!" And in his furious misery he actually caught her by the shoulder and shook her. (14.38-40)

This is a particularly painful problem of identity for John; in the throes of his Oedipus Complex, the thought of his identity meshing with that of Linda's lover is both repulsive and appealing. (This is a lot like his feelings for Lenina, come to think of it.)

Chapter 15

He woke once more to external reality, looked round him, knew what he saw—knew it, with a sinking sense of horror and disgust, for the recurrent delirium of his days and nights, the nightmare of swarming indistinguishable sameness. Twins, twins.… Like maggots they had swarmed defilingly over the mystery of Linda's death. Maggots again, but larger, full grown, they now crawled across his grief and his repentance. He halted and, with bewildered and horrified eyes, stared round him at the khaki mob, in the midst of which, overtopping it by a full head, he stood. "How many goodly creatures are there here!" The singing words mocked him derisively. "How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world…" (15.3)

John resorts to thinking of the bokanovskified twins as animals, but this is a coping mechanism. To face the thought of multiplied, identical humans is disgusting and unbearable, so he mentally strips them of their humanity.

John the Savage

"But do you like being slaves?" the Savage was saying as they entered the Hospital. His face was flushed, his eyes bright with ardour and indignation. "Do you like being babies? Yes, babies. Mewling and puking," he added, exasperated by their bestial stupidity into throwing insults at those he had come to save. The insults bounced off their carapace of thick stupidity; they stared at him with a blank expression of dull and sullen resentment in their eyes. "Yes, puking!" he fairly shouted. Grief and remorse, compassion and duty—all were forgotten now and, as it were, absorbed into an intense overpowering hatred of these less than human monsters. (15.37)

Again, John has trouble recognizing any sort of humanity in these people; in his mind, their identities shift from "maggots" to that of "less than human monsters."

Chapter 17

"We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters. We are God's property. […] as time goes on, they, as all men, will find that independence was not made for man—that it is an unnatural state—will do for a while, but will not carry us on safely to the end…" (17.20)

These words are quoted by Mustapha from Cardinal Newman's writings. Amazingly, these words about God can also be applied to the World State and its society. The citizens are "not [their] own masters," they are certainly not independent, and they definitely did not make themselves. Hmm!

Mustapha Mond

"My dear young friend," said Mustapha Mond, "civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended—there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense." (17.47)

It's not only the conditioning that strips man of individual identity, but his life situation in the World State as well. Man is given neither the instrument nor the opportunity for individual thought, not to mention individual action.

Chapter 18

The Savage had retreated towards cover, and now, in the posture of an animal at bay, stood with his back to the wall of the lighthouse, staring from face to face in speechless horror, like a man out of his senses. (18.71)

And in case you missed that animal imagery before…

Others at once took up the cry, and the phrase was repeated, parrot-fashion, again and again, with an ever-growing volume of sound, until, by the seventh or eighth reiteration, no other word was being spoken. "We—want—the whip."

They were all crying together; and, intoxicated by the noise, the unanimity, the sense of rhythmical atonement, they might, it seemed, have gone on for hours-almost indefinitely. (18.83-4)

It is the need to be part of a community—to lose individual identity—that drives the citizens to partake in the masochistic orgy of the final chapter. In their minds, it is no different than, say, a Solidarity Service.

Like locusts they came, hung poised, descended all around him on the heather. And from out of the bellies of these giant grasshoppers stepped men in white viscose-flannels, women (for the weather was hot) in acetate-shantung pyjamas or velveteen shorts and sleeveless, half-unzippered singlets—one couple from each. In a few minutes there were dozens of them, standing in a wide circle round the lighthouse, staring, laughing, clicking their cameras, throwing (as to an ape) peanuts, packets of sex-hormone chewing-gum, pan-glandular petite beurres. And every moment—for across the Hog's Back the stream of traffic now flowed unceasingly—their numbers increased. As in a nightmare, the dozens became scores, the scores hundreds. (18.70)

The citizens have made John into an animal (an ape) in their minds, just as John makes them into animals (grasshoppers). Human identity is completely absent from this final scene.