Study Guide

Brave New World Power

By Aldous Huxley

Power

Chapter 1
The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning

"Just to give you a general idea," he would explain to them. For of course some sort of general idea they must have, if they were to do their work intelligently—though as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible. For particulars, as every one knows, make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Not philosophers but fret-sawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society. (1.5)

Much of the power the World State has over its citizens has to do with intellectual control. The Director's inclination that people should know only a little about the "general idea" is similar to Mustapha's later claim that thinking about purpose is a danger to society. Big thoughts lead to ideas of God, to philosophy, to questioning, to curiosity—all incompatible with blissful ignorance.

"My good boy!" The Director wheeled sharply round on him. "Can't you see? Can't you see?" He raised a hand; his expression was solemn. "Bokanovsky's Process is one of the major instruments of social stability!"

[…]

"Community, Identity, Stability." Grand words. "If we could bokanovskify indefinitely the whole problem would be solved." (1.18-21)

Science is used only insofar as it is a tool for control.

"We also predestine and condition. We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or […] future Directors of Hatcheries." (1.67)

Power in Brave New World stems from eliminating choice but also from giving the illusion of choice—or at least erasing any conception of choice. In other words, it allows for people to miss the freedom they don't have. In this case, such control is exerted through pre-conditioning.

Henry Foster

"For of course," said Mr. Foster, "in the vast majority of cases, fertility is merely a nuisance. One fertile ovary in twelve hundred— that would really be quite sufficient for our purposes. But we want to have a good choice. And of course one must always have an enormous margin of safety. So we allow as many as thirty per cent of the female embryos to develop normally. The others get a dose of male sex-hormone every twenty-four metres for the rest of the course. Result: they're decanted as freemartins—structurally quite normal (except," he had to admit, "that they do have the slightest tendency to grow beards), but sterile. Guaranteed sterile. Which brings us at last," continued Mr. Foster, "out of the realm of mere slavish imitation of nature into the much more interesting world of human invention." (1.65)

The World State controls its citizens by controlling their fertility— but this makes it clear that to have this kind of power over an individual is to strip that individual of her humanity. Having children, after all, is one of the most fundamentally natural processes of human life.

Chapter 2

He waved his hand again, and the Head Nurse pressed a second lever. The screaming of the babies suddenly changed its tone. There was something desperate, almost insane, about the sharp spasmodic yelps to which they now gave utterance. Their little bodies twitched and stiffened; their limbs moved jerkily as if to the tug of unseen wires.

[…]

…at the approach of the roses, at the mere sight of those gaily-coloured images of pussy and cock-a-doodle-doo and baa-baa black sheep, the infants shrank away in horror, the volume of their howling suddenly increased. (2.19-23)

This is where the real abuse of power becomes clear to us, and also where we begin to be absolutely horrified by it. But, if you think of all the adults as infantile (which we argue in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory," and which Bernard so succinctly points out), then they are as powerless as these poor adorable little munchkins here, which means the control that the State exerts over grown-ups is just as manipulative. 

Going in a completely different direction altogether, this is the only time in the novel where the State allows—and is in fact inflicting—physical pain. If John is right in thinking that suffering and enduring are both part of the human condition, then these little babies are far closer to the human experience than are the adult citizens.

"Silence, silence," whispered a loud speaker as they stepped out at the fourteenth floor, and "Silence, silence," the trumpet mouths indefatigably repeated at intervals down every corridor. The students and even the Director himself rose automatically to the tips of their toes. They were Alphas, of course, but even Alphas have been well conditioned. "Silence, silence." All the air of the fourteenth floor was sibilant with the categorical imperative. (2.67)

While the different classes are given different abilities, note that the State exerts its control over all of them.

The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning

"We condition the masses to hate the country," concluded the Director. "But simultaneously we condition them to love all country sports. At the same time, we see to it that all country sports shall entail the use of elaborate apparatus. So that they consume manufactured articles as well as transport. Hence those electric shocks." (2.33)

All the control the State has over its citizens exists to serve consumerism.

Chapter 3
Mustapha Mond

"Stability," said the Controller, "stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability." His voice was a trumpet. Listening they felt larger, warmer. (3.105)

Mustapha's voice becomes an important part of his character, both here and later in Chapter 17 when he has his philosophical discussion with John. Check out his "Character Analysis" for more info and to read about our suggestion that words = control in Brave New World.

"The Nine Years' War, the great Economic Collapse. There was a choice between World Control and destruction. Between stability and…"

[…]

"Liberalism, of course, was dead of anthrax, but all the same you couldn't do things by force."

[…]

"Government's an affair of sitting, not hitting. You rule with the brains and the buttocks, never with the fists." (3.164-170)

Mustapha draws a line between violence and non-physical control, but is there really a difference? He argues that one is more effective, but is one more acceptable than the other?

"Now—such is progressthe old men work, the old men copulate, the old men have no time, no leisure from pleasure, not a moment to sit down and thinkor if ever by some unlucky chance such a crevice of time should yawn in the solid substance of their distractions, there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon; returning whence they find themselves on the other side of the crevice, safe on the solid ground of daily labour and distraction, scampering from feely to feely, from girl to pneumatic girl, from Electromagnetic Golf course to…" (3.239)

It seems as though soma is such an effective instrument of control because of its ability to distract. Any institution's power is threatened by the discontent of those it subjugates, so the World Controllers have eliminated discontent altogether.

The D.H.C. looked at him nervously. There were those strange rumours of old forbidden books hidden in a safe in the Controller's study. Bibles, poetry—Ford knew what.

Mustapha Mond intercepted his anxious glance and the corners of his red lips twitched ironically.

"It's all right, Director," he said in a tone of faint derision, "I won't corrupt them." (3.44-7)

Power is derived from a denial of knowledge. Forced ignorance keeps the citizens in line.

Chapter 4: Part 2
Bernard Marx

To have dealings with members of the lower castes was always, for Bernard, a most distressing experience. For whatever the cause (and the current gossip about the alcohol in his blood-surrogate may very likelyfor accidents will happenhave been true) Bernard's physique was hardly better than that of the average Gamma. He stood eight centimetres short of the standard Alpha height and was slender in proportion. Contact with members of the lower castes always reminded him painfully of this physical inadequacy.

[…]

"Hurry up!" said Bernard irritably. One of them glanced at him. Was that a kind of bestial derision that he detected in those blank grey eyes? "Hurry up!" he shouted more loudly, and there was an ugly rasp in his voice. (4.2.3-5)

Bernard isn't satisfied with his intellectual superiority. For him, power is threatened by physical inadequacy. Of course, the only threat to his authority is his own doubt. Confidence—it's a tricky business.

Chapter 5: Part 2

The President reached out his hand; and suddenly a Voice, a deep strong Voice, more musical than any merely human voice, richer, warmer, more vibrant with love and yearning and compassion, a wonderful, mysterious, supernatural Voice spoke from above their heads. Very slowly, "Oh, Ford, Ford, Ford," it said diminishingly and on a descending scale. A sensation of warmth radiated thrillingly out from the solar plexus to every extremity of the bodies of those who listened; tears came into their eyes; their hearts, their bowels seemed to move within them, as though with an independent life. "Ford!" they were melting, "Ford!" dissolved, dissolved. […]

"I hear him," she cried. "I hear him."

"He's coming," shouted Sarojini Engels.

"Yes, he's coming, I hear him." Fifi Bradlaugh and Tom Kawaguchi rose simultaneously to their feet. (5.2.20-3)

The state's power lies also in the desire of the citizens to conform, to be part of a larger entity, to exist as a group and not as individuals. In this case, the orgy participants convince themselves of a higher power (or, in Bernard's case, simply pretend).

Chapter 6: Part 2

Alphas are so conditioned that they do not have to be infantile in their emotional behaviour. But that is all the more reason for their making a special effort to conform. It is their duty to be infantile, even against their inclination. (6.2.10)

The idea of infantilism comes up a lot in Brave New World; it basically refers to the expectation of immediate gratification of one's physical needs and desires.

Chapter 8
Bernard Marx

"I wonder if you'd like to come back to London with us?" he asked, making the first move in a campaign whose strategy he had been secretly elaborating ever since, in the little house, he had realized who the "father" of this young savage must be. (8.77)

Bernard takes a role similar to the World State herehis power lies in his ability to manipulate.

Chapter 10

There was a gasp, a murmur of astonishment and horror; a young girl screamed; standing on a chair to get a better view some one upset two test-tubes full of spermatozoa. Bloated, sagging, and among those firm youthful bodies, those undistorted faces, a strange and terrifying monster of middle-agedness, Linda advanced into the room, coquettishly smiling her broken and discoloured smile, and rolling as she walked, with what was meant to be a voluptuous undulation, her enormous haunches. Bernard walked beside her. (10.17)

John and Linda have power in the new world because of their individuality. In this case, Linda, in her natural, aged state, can effect change in the way these pre-conditioned citizens never could.

Chapter 11

Mustapha Mond's anger gave place almost at once to mirth. The idea of this creature solemnly lecturing himhimabout the social order was really too grotesque. The man must have gone mad. "I ought to give him a lesson," he said to himself; then threw back his head and laughed aloud. For the moment, at any rate, the lesson would not be given. (11.36)

Mustapha is an incredibly interesting character because of the way he handles his own power. He knows he's above Bernard, but doesn't need to prove it. This is basically the opposite of Bernard himself, who, insecure with his power, has to exercise it constantly.

Chapter 12

"A New Theory of Biology" was the title of the paper which Mustapha Mond had just finished reading. He sat for some time, meditatively frowning, then picked up his pen and wrote across the title-page: "The author's mathematical treatment of the conception of purpose is novel and highly ingenious, but heretical and, so far as the present social order is concerned, dangerous and potentially subversive. Not to be published." He underlined the words. "The author will be kept under supervision. His transference to the Marine Biological Station of St. Helena may become necessary." A pity, he thought, as he signed his name. It was a masterly piece of work. But once you began admitting explanations in terms of purposewell, you didn't know what the result might be. It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castesmake them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere, that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstance, admissible. He picked up his pen again, and under the words "Not to be published" drew a second line, thicker and blacker than the first; then sighed, "What fun it would be," he thought, "if one didn't have to think about happiness!" (12.39)

The Controllers may have gained their power by manipulating science, but they can only keep it by curbing the same sort of technological advances that got them to their current positions.

Chapter 13

But her perfume still hung about him, his jacket was white with the powder that had scented her velvety body. "Impudent strumpet, impudent strumpet, impudent strumpet." The inexorable rhythm beat itself out. "Impudent…" (13.100)

Lenina's power over John comes solely from sexa power she would cease to have, Mustapha might argue, once they consummated their feelings.

Chapter 15

The policemen pushed him out of the way and got on with their work […] carrying water pistols charged with a powerful anæsthetic […], methodically laying out, squirt by squirt, the more ferocious of the fighters.

[…]

Suddenly, from out of the Synthetic Music Box a Voice began to speak. The Voice of Reason, the Voice of Good Feeling. […] even the policemen's eyes were momentarily dimmed with tears […] "what is the meaning of this? Why aren't you all being happy and good together? Happy and good," the Voice repeated. "At peace, at peace." (15.45-7)

Look at how verbal control is tied to power in Brave New World. Perhaps this is why Mustapha is so strongly defined by his deep, resonating voice…

Chapter 16
Mustapha Mond

"But how useful! I see you don't like our Bokanovsky Groups; but, I assure you, they're the foundation on which everything else is built. They're the gyroscope that stabilizes the rocket plane of state on its unswerving course." The deep voice thrillingly vibrated; the gesticulating hand implied all space and the onrush of the irresistible machine. Mustapha Mond's oratory was almost up to synthetic standards. (16.39)

At this moment, Mustapha's voice is likened to that of a machinebut that is because he is simply regurgitating the mechanical theories of the World State. Later, in his conversation alone with John, Mustapha becomes more human in his message.

Mustapha Mond shook hands with all three of them; but it was to the Savage that he addressed himself. "So you don't much like civilization, Mr. Savage," he said.

The Savage looked at him. He had been prepared to lie, to bluster, to remain sullenly unresponsive; but, reassured by the good-humoured intelligence of the Controller's face, he decided to tell the truth, straightforwardly. "No." He shook his head. (16.6-7)

It is a testament to John's self-control that he doesn't lie to Mustapha, but it also speaks to Mustapha's use of his own power over others. Mustapha makes it clear, right from the start, that his only desire is to speak calmly.

"It's lucky," he added, after a pause, "that there are such a lot of islands in the world. I don't know what we should do without them." (16.67)

This is an important quote, because it reminds us of the fundamental failures of the attempt to subjugate and dehumanize. Mustapha freely admits that there are many people whom the Controllers cannot control. But he doesn't seem to recognize the next logical conclusionthat the system isn't working, and that individuality prevails.