In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley responds to specific dictatorships around the globe, borne of global warfare, social chaos and economic necessity by not only attacking the crux of the issue but also with the complexities that those who live in such societies face. As the wealth of dystopian literature would be quick to point out, the totalitarian manipulation of the masses can take many forms. However the result is a powerful wave that drowns the society and leaves individuality as a mere eddy, rippling on the banks. It is important to note that Huxley is not treating a new idea, indeed societies have yoked people into conformity since the beginning of nation-states. No, rather he is looking at the mechanism through which such systems endure, system in which the motives of an elite, enlightened, self-perpetuating minority rule over the majority. In turn, the novel looks at reality and can be seen as a dangerously accurate prophesy of technology’s capacity to dominate society.
The world in Brave New World has one goal: technological “progress”. The morals and aspirations of the society are not those of our society today – such as family, love, and success – but instead are focused around industry, economy, and technologic growth and improvement. The citizens are not concerned with themselves as individuals; they have been conditioned to see the world as a collective and technologically oriented. A close reading of the text shows how brilliantly Huxley uses the novel as a dangerously accurate prophesy of technology’s capacity to dominate society, and the capacity of this domination to rewrite the goals, moralities, and values of a culture.
The most prevalent themes in Brave New World are centered on the industrial and economic systems in novel, and how technology has brought the advancements of these themes to fruition. The mentality of the society is that progress, through invention, is the key goal of mankind. Consumerism is the guiding purpose of life in Huxley’s industrial utopia. The consumerist ideals of the society can be captured by one of the hypnopaedic proverbs demonstrated in this quote from the novel: “‘But old clothes are beastly,’ continued the untiring whisper. ‘We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending.” [i] All the citizens of The World State in the novel are conditioned since birth to maintain that buying new is proper and repairing is immoral. They are taught to conform to the consumer-oriented mentality of the culture. This is a transition in society is taking place today, and has its roots in the dawn of the 20th century, the very time Huxley was writing. In the intervening years between world wars, the idea that if something could be done, it should be done was embraced by newly industrialized nations. Seen as integral to the continued “success” of invention, the concepts objectivity, efficiency, expertise, standardization, measurement, and progress were thrust upon the world like never before. It also came to be believed that the engine of technological progress worked most efficiently when people are conceived of not as children of a God or even as citizens but as consumers. This perspective describes with pinpoint accuracy how Huxley’s society functions. The people are no longer oriented to believe in god, but instead only believe in the principles of consumption.
The inhabitants of London in 632 After Ford (A.F) pray to Henry Ford. Huxley knew perfectly well Henry Ford’s life and also his theories, so he picked out some dangers of Ford’s theses. Indeed, Ford himself was aware of the dangers of mass production and industrial progress in general, although he was strongly in favor of the industrial era. According to Henry Ford “…absence of fear of the future and of veneration for the past…What is past is useful only as it suggests ways and means of progress” [ii] . Standardization is the key of mass production and the society in the novel is so dehumanized that even mass production is applied in creating babies. Without this system of mass production in terms of creating embryos, stability wouldn’t have been achieved. The way of creating human being assures the state a whole caste of people who are glad doing the worst jobs of all. If Ford is God, than it is the assembly line that is the altar. It is the instrument of standardized manufacturing. Working in an assembly line also makes work a routine, and this is what the World Controllers want, because routine gets the workers away from thinking. The World State builds automatic people to do manual work.
The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the idea of invention itself. By Ford and Huxley’s time, the human race had learned how to invent things, and the question of why receded in importance By constantly inventing, replacing, and consuming, a society loses its ties with the history and gains new ones to technology; personal transcendence is replaced with technological triumph. The way the World State eliminates alternatives to itself captures this transition. It does not make ban them. It does not make them unpopular. It does not even need to make them heretical. It makes them irrelevant.
The World State is a society focused on progress, and created according to it. But the Brave New World is a cringing, cowardly one; it cannot look at the past even if it wanted to. And why would it want to gaze upon the past; theirs is new world, happy and without dangers or wars or problems; and progress has been the method of achieving this situation. But all is not what it seems. Progress in the novel is not real progress. No, it is the façade erected over the holes made by bombs. It’s the structure of the future as demise comes seething through those very holes. Huxley writes that progress with a threat, the cutting edge is dulling because there are too many people to slice through. With this satire, Huxley tells us that, instead of living in a perfect Utopia with all these technological facilities, the debt paid for progress is humanity itself.
These themes are brought to the fore late in the novel, when John the Savage engages World Control Mustapha Mond in a discourse. The focus of their conversation is art, feeling, dreams and life itself. They also argue literature, specifically Shakespeare, whose books the Controller is exceedingly well-versed in. When Mond concedes the beauty that dwells within old books, John asks why the citizens of the World State are unable to read Shakespeare. Mond tells him that the World State prohibits old things, even, especially if they are beautiful. Besides, people wouldn’t understand tragedies like Othello because there is no social instability anymore. Mond reminds John that the World State was born out of the horrors of the Nine-Year War, and rhetorically asks John “What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? [iii] “
The society has to pay the price for stability and progress, and the true depth of what has been lost reveals itself when the conversation turns to how happiness is defined. For John the happiness of the citizens of Brave New World is not real happiness, it’s an artificial one. His happiness is much more complicated than having fun in the feelies or playing golf, it has something, something nebulous yet concrete, to do with the soul. But Mond describes what the World State has thrown out along with literature.
For the Brave New World to work, feelings, beauty and truth were all left behind. Even progress must be controlled because it can mean a menace for the society. Progress is very important in the New World, but only through orthodox science, as defined by the World Controllers. Science in the World state cannot be questioned, because if one begins questioning, conclusions cannot be far behind. And if those conclusions were published, let alone read, change might occur. And Brave New World is an immobile society, it doesn’t want changes that may modify its “perfection”. Science has brought stability, but it can also undo it, so the Controllers have to be careful with the investigations that are underdone.
In the Fordian era, because, true progress is inherently dangerous because it develops and brings newer truth with each discovery, it didn’t concern itself with stability, so it was eliminated. Happiness flows from stability, with the price of it being the suppression of truth and beauty. Combined with the eradication of literature and the concept of happiness that flows from the soul is almost laughable. The World State has no need of one. At the end of the conversation, John claims the right to be unhappy. Living means for him also means feeling, although they can lead to unhappiness. John prefers being unhappy than living without feeling.
By analyzing the novel from a contemporary vantage point it becomes clear that Huxley’s work is a prediction for a future that is not so very far away. It has been said that the road to hell is paved straight through with good-intentions, and on that road, Huxley is a writing signposts. As humanity rushes forward with great determination and no destination, it seeks answers in technology. It is Daedalus we need, Icarus we get.
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