Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Summary, Characters & Themes

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  • 0:04 Background & Summary
  • 3:22 Characters
  • 5:16 Themes
  • 5:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kimberly Yates

Kimberly has taught college English and has a master's degree in education.

''Brave New World'' was published by Aldous Huxley in 1932. This lesson looks at the main characters as well as the theme of government control. It will also explain dystopian fiction.

Background & Summary

If you've ever watched the news, you know that a lot of the world is in turmoil. Have you ever wished people could just get along with each other? Have you ever thought that the government should do something to help people be happier with each other? On the surface, this might seem like a great idea, but in his dystopian novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley shows how dangerous it can be to let the government regulate happiness.

The novel is an example of dystopian fiction, a story in which a society's attempt to create a perfect world goes wrong. The society in question is set in a futuristic version of London where the government has tried to create a completely stable civilization, one where the people are always happy. Unfortunately, the government has done this by conditioning people to focus solely on physical pleasure.

The novel opens inside the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre where babies are mass produced in test tubes, then grown and conditioned according to their social class. One of the workers, Lenina Crowne, is criticized for exclusively dating one man. The society believes that everyone belongs to everyone else, so people are encouraged to have sex with many different people. Soon, Lenina decides to go out with a different man, Bernard Marx. The two of them take a trip to New Mexico to a Savage Reservation so they can see how people act when they're free from the rules of civilized society.

Lenina reacts to the Savage Reservation the way you would probably react to a village of cavemen. She thinks the people are dirty, she finds their religious rituals confusing, and she is horrified by the signs of sickness and aging. It's everything she has been taught to hate. Even more shocking to both Bernard and Lenina is their interaction with Linda, a member of civilization who had been living on the reservation for years. She had gotten trapped there years earlier and was never able to get back to London. She is overweight, unkempt, and desperate to get back to civilization.

Bernard gets permission to bring Linda and her son, John, back to London. Unfortunately, neither Linda nor John are able to fully conform with society's ideals. Civilized babies are all created in a lab; the idea of actual parenthood is considered obscene. Therefore, the people are horrified at the thought that Linda has given birth like an animal. They staunchly avoid her. For her own part, Linda is content to be avoided. All she wants to do is lie in bed and take drugs.

John's conflict with civilization is different. He had hated the Savage Reservation because he never really fit in with the people there. Linda's promiscuity and lack of useful skills made them both outcasts. Plus, Linda had taught him to read and appreciate culture, so he often felt superior to the other boys. However, the morals and ideals of savage culture have left their mark on him, so much so that he thinks civilization is immoral and superficial.

Civilization, however, is fascinated by John because he is so strange and different. They stalk him even more than modern paparazzi stalk celebrities. Bernard tries to convince him to come to parties, while Lenina tries to seduce him. The Controller, Mustapha Mond, tries to convince him that happiness is better than art and personal freedom. When John rejects society and tries to go live by himself, reporters follow him and broadcast his every move. Helicopters fly over his house and mobs of people come just to stare at him. In the end, John commits suicide.

Characters

Lenina Crowne, a worker at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, is unusual in the society because she doesn't embrace promiscuity as much as she's supposed to. However, she's also example of the power of the government conditioning. She wants to have a real relationship with John, but can't understand why he might object to casual sex.

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