Study Guide

Brave New World Society and Class

By Aldous Huxley

Society and Class

"Reducing the number of revolutions per minute," Mr. Foster explained. "The surrogate goes round slower; therefore passes through the lung at longer intervals; therefore gives the embryo less oxygen. Nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par." Again he rubbed his hands.

[…]

"The lower the caste," said Mr. Foster, "the shorter the oxygen." The first organ affected was the brain. After that the skeleton. At seventy per cent of normal oxygen you got dwarfs. At less than seventy eyeless monsters." (1.70-4)

Mr. Foster's calculating enthusiasm (rubbing his hands in excitement) is concentrated here with the horror of the caste system—horrible not only for its restrictive, predetermining qualities, but also for the destructive, malevolent, harmful way in which its ends are achieved.

They hurried out of the room and returned in a minute or two, each pushing a kind of tall dumb-waiter laden, on all its four wire-netted shelves, with eight-month-old babies, all exactly alike (a Bokanovsky Group, it was evident) and all (since their caste was Delta) dressed in khaki. (2.8)

That castes are distinguished by their clothing further dehumanizes them. To any member of a higher caste, ALL Deltas will look exactly the same.

"… all wear green," said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, "and Delta Children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."

[…]

"Alpha children wear grey They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able…" (2.75-7)

It's likely that the castes are kept separate for the sake of stability; this way there is no envy and no complications from intermingling. Each individual can view members of a different caste as a faceless, nameless "other."

"Why not? Bernard's an Alpha Plus. Besides, he asked me to go to one of the Savage Reservations with him. I've always wanted to see a Savage Reservation."

"But his reputation?"

"What do I care about his reputation?" (3.123-5)

Clearly the social interactions of the upper castes are a little more nuanced than a simple matter of predetermined caste status.

The liftman was a small simian creature, dressed in the black tunic of an Epsilon-Minus Semi-Moron. (4.1.12)

Notice how this Epsilon is compared to an animal (simian = ape-like); as the novel progresses, all the citizens of the World State—regardless of caste—are rendered similarly bestial. It takes more than intelligence, Brave New World seems to argue, to make a human a human.

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. "I am I, and wish I wasn't"; his self-consciousness was acute and stressing. Each time he found himself looking on the level, instead of downward, into a Delta's face, he felt humiliated. Would the creature treat him with the respect due to his caste? The question haunted him. Not without reason. For Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons had been to some extent conditioned to associate corporeal mass with social superiority. Indeed, a faint hypnopædic prejudice in favour of size was universal. (4.2.3)

Bernard has been so indoctrinated by the rules of the caste system that he cannot get over his physical inadequacies. Of course, his height means absolutely nothing intrinsically—it is intelligence that functionally distinguishes an Alpha.

Lenina, meanwhile, had turned her eyes away and was looking perpendicularly downwards at the monorail station. "Fine," she agreed. "But queer that Alphas and Betas won't make any more plants grow than those nasty little Gammas and Deltas and Epsilons down there."

"All men are physio-chemically equal," said Henry sententiously. "Besides, even Epsilons perform indispensable services." (5.1.6-7)

In a world where the individual is defined only by his contribution to society, caste has replaced all other defining characteristics.

And I was so ashamed. Just think of it: me, a Beta—having a baby: put yourself in my place." (The mere suggestion made Lenina shudder. (7.56)

Linda finds her experience that much more degrading because of her caste.

It was John, then, they were all after. And as it was only through Bernard, his accredited guardian, that John could be seen, Bernard now found himself, for the first time in his life, treated not merely normally, but as a person of outstanding importance. There was no more talk of the alcohol in his blood-surrogate, no gibes at his personal appearance. Henry Foster went out of his way to be friendly; Benito Hoover made him a present of six packets of sex-hormone chewing-gum; the Assistant Predestinator came out and cadged almost abjectly for an invitation to one of Bernard's evening parties. As for the women, Bernard had only to hint at the possibility of an invitation, and he could have whichever of them he liked. (11.14)

Notice that nothing about Bernard has changed—he is still an Alpha, he is still intelligent, he is still short, he is still physically deficient. But value, at least among Alphas and Betas, goes beyond caste divisions and factors in reputation. Bernard can't act as an Alpha until he's convinced everyone thinks of him that way.

In the end Bernard had to slink back, diminished, to his rooms and inform the impatient assembly that the Savage would not be appearing that evening. The news was received with indignation. The men were furious at having been tricked into behaving politely to this insignificant fellow with the unsavoury reputation and the heretical opinions. The higher their position in the hierarchy, the deeper their resentment.

"To play such a joke on me," the Arch-Songster kept repeating, "on me!" (12.16-7)

Certain positions in the World State command more respect than others, but respect is nonetheless tied to functionally. The Arch-Songster is only "special" because he performs a special function for the World State.

The menial staff of the Park Lane Hospital for the Dying consisted of one hundred and sixty-two Deltas divided into two Bokanovsky Groups of eighty-four red headed female and seventy-eight dark dolychocephalic male twins, respectively. At six, when their working day was over, the two Groups assembled in the vestibule of the Hospital and were served by the Deputy Sub-Bursar with their soma ration. (15.1)

How does the soma use of the lower castes compare to that of the upper castes?

"I was wondering," said the Savage, "why you had them at all—seeing that you can get whatever you want out of those bottles. Why don't you make everybody an Alpha Double Plus while you're about it?"

Mustapha Mond laughed. "Because we have no wish to have our throats cut," he answered. "We believe in happiness and stability. A society of Alphas couldn't fail to be unstable and miserable. Imagine a factory staffed by Alphas—that is to say by separate and unrelated individuals of good heredity and conditioned so as to be capable (within limits) of making a free choice and assuming responsibilities. Imagine it!" he repeated. (16.40-1)

The World Controllers have rendered the lower castes little more than machines. This is why Alphas could never do Epsilon work—it's not considered human.

"It's an absurdity. An Alpha-decanted, Alpha-conditioned man would go mad if he had to do Epsilon Semi-Moron work—go mad, or start smashing things up. Alphas can be completely socialized—but only on condition that you make them do Alpha work. Only an Epsilon can be expected to make Epsilon sacrifices, for the good reason that for him they aren't sacrifices; they're the line of least resistance. His conditioning has laid down rails along which he's got to run. He can't help himself; he's foredoomed." (16.43)

This sounds like the worst kind of imprisonment—Epsilons aren't even allowed (intellectually) to comprehend the fact that they are imprisoned.

"The optimum population," said Mustapha Mond, "is modelled on the iceberg—eight-ninths below the water line, one-ninth above." (16.47)

Mond claims that those under the water line are actually happier than those above it (or at least better off than those whose intelligence leads them to question the system). Is this true?