Society Compared to the Individual in Brave New World

Instructor: Terri Beth Miller

Terri Beth has taught college writing and literature courses since 2005 and has a PhD in literature.

Aldous Huxley's 1932 masterpiece, 'Brave New World', presents a chilling image of individuality in a postmodern dystopian society. Huxley suggests that stability and security may only be bought at the cost of our individuality.

Huxley Asks Some Big Questions

If you could be promised safety from war, would you give up your individuality and freedom?

Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel, Brave New World, is a chilling image of a dystopian world that contends with some of our modern world's biggest questions: what price are we willing to pay for security? Is it right to sacrifice our individuality for the sake of stability? When the individual and society clash, who should win? Is the self more important than the social, or does the well-being of the community trump all?

Aldous Huxley

The Context for the Novel

Brave New World appeared at a bleak moment in human history. The most devastating war in human history to that time, World War I (1914-1918), had just claimed millions of lives. The subsequent global economic collapse left so much of the world's population adrift, hopeless, and afraid. In the 1920s and 1930s, the forces of fascism emerged and ancient European powerhouses like Germany, Italy, and Spain fell under the sway of brutal, often genocidal dictatorships.

Far from the idyllic utopia readers crave, Huxley paints a portrait of an advanced, technology-driven, and highly ordered society in which security is purchased at the price of individuality.

Brave New World first edition book jacket
Brave New World

Family Structure

The family structure has been erased in Huxley's dystopia, known as the World State. Men and women live in communal dormitories and children are produced in laboratories, or hatcheries, through highly elaborate processes of genetic engineering.

Familial relationships are viewed as an ancient and barbaric obscenity. To the people of the World State, the clannish connections of blood and marriage are often the source of the kind of disorder they try are trying to avoid. Therefore, relationships are equal. The special ties of blood and marriage do not exist. One person in the World State is just as important as any other, no more and no less.

Reproduction is a methodical and highly clinical affair. Children are produced precisely in proportion to the State's needs. They are genetically, physically, and psychologically engineered so that when they mature they will perfectly and willingly fulfill the social role the World State requires.

The only way to control reproduction so profoundly is to make any other form of reproduction impossible. Promiscuity is promoted from a young age as a means to siphon sexual energy and emotion, but contraception is rigorously, almost brutally, enforced.

It's quite the scandal therefore, when the Director of the Hatchery, is discovered to have fathered a child, known as John the Savage, because he has lived his entire life outside of the World State, on a so-called Savage Reservation in New Mexico, with his mother, Linda.

The Director resigns his post in shame. Being a father is akin to being a savage, the antithesis of everything the proper functioning of the World State demands. The Director of the Hatchery has gone from being the creator of many pre-fab World State citizens to being the father of one savage.

Preventing Personal Connection

Citizens of the World State are encouraged to take numerous lovers to prevent the possibility of any exclusive attachment. The goal is physical pleasure, not commitment or emotional connection. In the World State, human connections are the source of chaos, the seed of trouble that causes friction between people and ultimately undermines the stability of the community.

This, of course, is often easier in theory than in practice, as Lenina Crowne demonstrates. By almost all measures, Lenina is the model of World State conditioning (i.e. the internalization of expected beliefs and behaviors through education and training, including the World State's practice of hypnopaedia, or sleep-teaching). She is blissfully content with the life and work for which she was literally scientifically designed.

But Lenina violates a number of the World State's requirements when it comes to sex. She takes fewer lovers than is expected of her, and even commits herself to periods of monogamy.

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