Brave New World is Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel set in London in the year A.F. 632 – or, to us, AD 2540 – where the World State’s motto is “Community, Identity, Stability.” The novel’s futuristic backdrop allows it to explore themes that would have been otherwise unacceptable to present. It follows a canon of novels that use the future in order to present the anxieties of the present, a notable other being Orwell’s 1984. It is for this reason that I am entirely in favour of Aldous Huxley’s most well-known novel being hailed as a ‘classic’, and in part why I regard it as one of my favourite novels.
The novel opens at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, which we are taken on a tour of by the director with a group of new students. It is in this hatchery that new populations are created, rather than natural reproduction, in order to limit the population of the World State to no more than two billion. The artificial creation of the population allows for the foetuses to be split into five groups- the highest of which being “Alpha” and “Beta.” It is these groups that determine a person’s position within society, both socially and economically. As they grow up, the children receive education based on their social group through the reception of subconscious messages whilst asleep.
It is the character of Bernard who we receive as the protagonist in Brave New World. Despite being an Alpha Plus (the highest social group), Bernard finds himself to be an outsider. He begins to question the notions of recreational sex, the taking of hallucinogens and the attitudes that are expected of everyone in the World State. As a result of Bernard’s disdain for the customs of their world, the director wishes to ostracise him.
As the novel progresses, Bernard finds a sense of social standing- at the hands of an unreliable savage named John. After holidaying in a savage reserve – which is treated as though they were visiting a zoo – Bernard takes John to show him the civilised society of the World State, intending to better the character to help with his own social status. When Brave New World is coming to an end, the question of whether or not someone who attempts to break free of the rigid, and unreasonable, social structure can ever find their place is examined.
On the surface, the plot of Brave New World is a very interesting one to read. However, it is not the plot of the novel that pushes me to see it as such a classic. It is the sleep programming of citizens from birth, the scientific construction of social classes, and the importance of being happy at the hands of a hallucinogen named “soma” that place this Huxley’s novel in high standing. When reading Brave New World, the hardest part to get your head around is that it was written in 1932. The issues criticised, mostly through Bernard, seem so far ahead of their time. Far enough ahead, that is, that they are still relevant today.
It is a great feat for a writer to construct a novel so ahead of its time as Huxley does, and one that can be tied to other such canonical novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in its themes of scientific power. A definite classic.
Brave New World is an engaging novel that is enticingly ahead of its time.