Study Guide

Brave New World Chapter 1

By Aldous Huxley

Chapter 1

  • We begin with the image of a grey building of thirty-four stories called the "Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre." Inscribed over the door is the World State's Motto: "Community, Identity, Stability."
  • Inside are workers wearing white overalls and gloves.
  • Enter the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning with a group of new students. He is giving them a tour, starting with "the Fertilizing room."
  • The Director makes sure to give these new students just enough information so they will be competent at their jobs, but not so much information that they have an idea of the big picture.
  • We don't know how old the Director is, and in this time period— "A.F. 634"—it doesn't matter anyway.
  • The Director begins lecturing while the enthusiastic students take frantic notes. He shows them the incubators, the "week's supply of ova," and the male gametes. We're creeped out.
  • It seems the eggs are taken surgically from women, the duds thrown out, and the good ones fertilized in a warm sperm bath.
  • So now you've got a bunch of fertilized eggs. The Alpha and Beta zygotes chill out for a bit, but the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons are put through "Bokanovsky's Process," which makes one fertilized egg divide and divide until you can get ninety-six human beings instead of one.
  • There's more. The Bokanovsky Process, which causes the eggs to divide, does so by using X-Rays—you know, those harmful things you have to wear shields for in the doctor's office. Lots of the eggs die after eight minutes of radiation, but the ones that survive keep duplicating themselves.
  • After that, the eggs are poisoned with alcohol until near death. No, we're not kidding.
  • One of the students asks the Director about the advantage of having one hundred identical people. (Now, we would have been more inclined to ask about the damage from radiation and alcohol poisoning, but still, not a bad question.)
  • The Director responds that, obviously, it's a "major instrument of social stability."
  • In fact, the Director can hope for little more than that: someday, they can bokanovskify indefinitely; that way, all the Epsilons will be copies of each other, all the Deltas the same, etc.

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  • Science has made other advances. In nature, as we know, it takes about thirty years for a person to mature. Luckily, there's "Podsnap's technique," which brings that number down to about two years.
  • We find out that London is not the only place where this crazy stuff is going down; in Singapore and Mombasa, their bokanovskification is even more impressive (seventeen-thousand clones from one egg).
  • Onward—to the Bottling Room! Here, the fertilized eggs (which now, having divided, have become a ball of cells called a morula) are dropped one each into bottles lined with cow peritoneum (stomach lining).
  • Everything is mechanical; the bottles slide along on a conveyor belt and machines routinely line them up and drop the morulae inside. Next, there are labelers to… label the bottles. They write down stuff like the date of fertilization and heredity.
  • The labeled bottles then slide onward into the Social Predestination Room, where the Predestinators make calculations based on those labels.
  • The Director next leads his students into the Embryo Store, kept at tropical heat and exposed only to red light.
  • Among the rows and rows of stored embryos walk the workers— all of whom have "the purple eyes of lupus."
  • [NOTE: There's a little bit of confusion here over the mention of lupus, a skin disease. The text describes the workers as having the purple eyes and coral teeth of lupus—but we also know that they're standing under the red light of the embryo lamps. So…either EVERYONE has lupus, or this is just a contrived metaphor for describing the way they look. We think the latter, especially since we find out later that disease has been eradicated in this new world.]
  • The Director, finally tired of talking, asks a man named Mr. Foster to give the students some figures.
  • Mr. Foster does. There are fifteen racks on which the bottles are stored, each traveling through the various rooms at thirty-three-and-one-third centimeters an hour. (And as fascinating as we find fractions, suffice it to say there are many more extremely precise numbers—if you're interested in them, consult your book.)
  • So at every meter along the way (it takes two hundred sixty-seven days), some other concoction is fed to the eggs, or some test is taken, and so on.
  • At meter two hundred, they test for sex: male, female, freemartins (to be explained shortly).
  • Now fertility, Mr. Foster explains, isn't necessary for most of the females (because of the Bokanovsky thing), so they give most of the eggs enough male sex hormone to make them infertile. Flawless, except sometimes the women grow beards.
  • After that, the doctor continues, it's a simple matter of conditioning the young'ins to be whatever it is they've been predestined to be, like Directors or sewage workers.
  • It becomes clear that these labels we heard earlier like "Alpha" and "Epsilon" are categories for various groups of people. Alphas seem to be the top of the heap, which is nice and logical.
  • It follows, then, that Epsilons are at the bottom. And they're stupid. But they're stupid because they're engineered to be stupid by oxygen deprivation.
  • The current issue on the table is how to get Epsilons to mature faster physically, since their brains do not need time to mature anyway. 
  • They're working on it.
  • The students observe the predestinating process: men are conditioned to love whatever job they will have. In other words, men who have to mine in the tropics are conditioned to hate the cold. Men who have to hang upside-down doing rocket repairs are conditioned to only be happy when they're upside-down.
  • While the Director elucidates further, Mr. Foster greets one of the workers—Lenina. This is a "Helloooooo nurse" kind of moment (i.e., she's gorgeous).
  • It becomes apparent that Lenina and Mr. Foster have some sort of "thing" between them (sex), but she smiles equally beamingly at the Director when he gives her two or three "little pats." We are left to guess where the little pats landed. And we're guessing "sexual harassment" in the world of Brave New World is as outdated as natural birth.
  • Mr. Foster insists on taking the group into the Decanting Room to look at the new batch of "Alpha-Plus intellectuals."

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