Brave New World Literary Criticism

Instructor: Evan Peterson

Evan has taught college composition since 2006, college creative writing since 2011, and college literature since 2015. He has an MFA in creative writing from FSU.

In this lesson, you will get a better understanding of the context of Aldous Huxley's ''Brave New World,'' it's lasting insights, and literary critics' responses.

Sex, Drugs, and Genetic Engineering

Why has Brave New World been banned so often in schools? Is it the drugs? The sex? It seems like there are as many reasons to be offended by this book as there are reasons to love it. Let's take a look at some critical responses to Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel and get a better understanding of it.

book cover

Brave New World is a dystopian novel, most of which are banned and challenged frequently in schools and libraries. A dystopia is the reverse of a utopia: instead of a perfect, peaceful culture, a dystopia is a place where the government has complete control over its citizens, often keeping them in misery, poverty, and/or under mind control. Currently popular dystopian novels include The Hunger Games franchise, and the classics include 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, and Fahrenheit 451.

Tone: The Funniest Totalitarian Regime Ever

Brave New World is a bit different than other classic dystopian novels. For one thing, it's frequently funny, even absurd. In one scene, delta-class children are being mentally programmed to look forward to death rather than fear it. The children are led into a hospital room full of people who are about to be euthanized, and each child is given a chocolate eclair to eat. Most of the patients are good-looking, physically fit, and feeling peaceful. However, the character Linda, who has lived on an American Indian reservation rather than in the greater dystopia, looks elderly, overweight, and ill. The children notice this and one child uses the 'stump' of his chocolate eclair to gesture at her and ask what's wrong. This image is intentionally funny, absurd, and disturbing all at once.

eclair, yum!

Whereas 1984 offers an extremely bleak look at a dictatorship that regularly abducts and tortures its citizens, Brave New World seems like a friendlier place. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid's Tale, calls this book 'a softer form of totalitarianism' in which people conform because they've been genetically engineered and hypnotically persuaded rather than tortured and threatened.

To the citizens of this new world order, their culture is a utopia, not a dystopia. Everyone does the job they've been genetically and psychologically programmed to do, they do it happily, and then they die happily. In between, they have lots of sex and consume drugs daily. Brave New World, perhaps more than any other classic dystopian novel, emphasizes that one person's utopia is another's dystopia. In this book, those who dissent are exiled to Iceland, where they can live in an intellectual community discussing whatever they want. They are kept away from the normal people, who would be upset by all of this intellectual questioning of the way things work.

The Person Factory

Atwood also points out that this is a world of industry and consumption. Even people are manufactured, and all of this is presented to the reader as something as delightful as buying a new car. Critics like Atwood connect the dystopia of Brave New World to our own current culture of mass-produced glamour and emphasis on buying ourselves happiness.

In the book, the concept of God has been deleted, with Ford substituted in phrases such as, 'Oh, Ford' instead of, 'Oh, Lord.' The years are counted as AF, 'After Ford.' Ford is a reference to the real life historical Henry Ford, the man who perfected assembly line factory production. Humans, like cars, are manufactured by assembly line in this world.

manufactured people

Predicting the Future: Sex + Drugs = Happiness?

Whereas many dystopias involve a government controlling or repressing the sex practices of its citizens, the culture of Brave New World encourages orgies and other promiscuous behavior as a way of resolving sexual tension and jealousy. It's also a great way to distract the citizens from questioning authority. No one gets pregnant or forms families, but people can still enjoy sex for its own sake.

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