Book Summary: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Quick Summary: Aldous Huxley’s profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anaesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.

One of our favourite quotes from Brave New World is:

“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

About The Author

Aldous Huxley (1894–1963), was born in Surrey, England. Novelist, a man of letters, social critic, mystic. Born into a distinguished family of British scientists and intellectuals. Moved to America in 1937. 

His novels range from social satire to serious philosophical inquiry: Chrome Yellow (1921), Point Counter Point (1928), Brave New World Revisited (1958), and others. Wrote the satiric Brave New World to show what he considered to be threats to civilization as we now know it: mind control, selective breeding of human beings in the laboratory, biogenetic engineering, the relentless pursuit of scientific “progress,” etc.

Brave New World Summary

Chapters 1–3

Tragedy occurs in the brave new world—an “ideal” world of test-tube babies and people who think alike—when two rebellious citizens introduce a “Savage” to their society.

Many years ago, the devastating Nine Years’ War brought an end to civilization as it was known. It is now the year 632 After Ford, and the new society is called the brave new world, or Utopia. 

Its leaders are proud of the great progress they have made, and this is reflected in their motto, “Community, Identity, Stability.” The Director of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre (D.H.C.), a tall man of uncertain age, is giving a tour of the plant to some new students who will soon begin working there. 

It is a factory where humans are hatched from eggs and mass-produced in bottles using a variety of methods including the Bokanovsky Process, in which an egg is arrested in its development and is “predestined” to grow between 8 and 96 buds that will produce identical brothers and sisters.

The students eagerly write down every word the Director says since they are expected to conform rigidly to the rules. When he makes the sign of a T on his stomach, out of respect for Ford’s Model T car, they reverently follow suit.

Individualism is outlawed, and everyone belongs to everyone else. Walking from room to room, they witness the five stages in the development of the embryos, from artificial insemination through the final “decanting” process (birth) where embryos are removed from the bottles in which they have matured. 

Henry Foster, a young worker at the Hatchery, eagerly tells the students about embryo production. One of the problems of the old civilization was overpopulation and social unrest. Population in the era of Our Ford—their hero is the automotive pioneer Henry Ford, whose early plant was a model of assembly-line efficiency—is controlled by increasing or decreasing the number of embryos fertilized.

Social stability is maintained by the creation of five different “castes,” or classes of humans, according to intelligence. Eggs are placed into a variety of chemical solutions, depending on what caste they are intended for, and intelligence is regulated by the amount of oxygen to which they are exposed. 

The most intelligent embryos, the Alphas, will become the future leaders, and therefore only a few are created. The Epsilons, who will serve as mindless laborers, are morons, and because they are identical, will have no desire to exploit one another. 

Between these two extremes lie the Betas, Gammas, and Deltas. Henry sees Lenina Crowne, an “uncommonly pretty” nurse in the Embryo Store, and arranges a date with her. The tour proceeds to a nursery, where electric shocks condition baby Deltas to dislike books and roses—objects that would distract them later in life from consuming goods produced by the factories. 

As a result of their own conditioning, the students feel uncomfortable when the Director asks them about the old days when Henry Ford was still alive and when human beings were “viviparous” (when they still had parents and the embryo grew inside the mother’s body). They learn about hypnopaedia, or sleep-teaching, in the dormitory where they see 80 Beta children sleeping on cots, being conditioned by recorded messages whispered to them from under the pillows.

In the garden, several hundred naked boys and girls are playing elaborate sexual games. Mustapha Mond, one of the 10 World Controllers, arrives and tells the students about the shocking ancient days when children used to live with their parents. 

People had strong emotions in those days, and this damaged social stability. In the campaign against the Past, museums have been closed, historical monuments have been blown up, and books published before A. F. 150 have been suppressed. 

Sex contributes to the happiness of the new world, and a tranquillizing drug called “soma” allows people to escape reality altogether.

Chapters 4–5

Bernard Marx, an Alpha-plus, is uncomfortable in his society. The rumor is that alcohol had been put into his blood-surrogate when he was an embryo and, as a result, had equipped him with emotions (such as love) that people had in the old days. 

He is in love with Lenina Crowne, who defends him to her friend Fanny Crowne (who has the same last name as Lenina, though they are not related, except possibly as members of the same Bokanovsky group). 

In a society whose goal is to have people behave like everyone else, Bernard feels “alien and alone.” He visits Helmholtz Watson, an Emotional Engineer who is so talented that he, too, feels secretly discontented. Bernard also attends a meeting of his Solidarity group and joins in the feverish singing of “Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun.” But he does not share the religious frenzy felt by the other members of the group.

Chapters 6–9

Bernard and Lenina go on vacation to New Mexico to visit the Savage Reservation, a primitive area where Indians and half-breeds who are unworthy of being conditioned for the new order “still preserve their repulsive habits and customs,” including marriage, family, and child breeding. 

Lenina is confused by the oddity of Bernard, who longs to be a free individual. At the pueblo of Malpais, they witness an Indian ceremonial snake dance in which a young man is beaten. Lenina is horrified. 

They meet a young white man named John (later known as the Savage), whose mother, a white woman named Linda, had come to the Reservation from the “Other Place” (brave new world) long ago with a man named Tomakin (who turns out to be the Director of the Hatchery).

She had fallen into a ravine, hurt her head, and was left behind. Malpais hunters found her and took her in. She is now fat, decrepit, and reeks of alcohol—and Lenina is disgusted by her.

In the brave new world, Linda had been conditioned to be sexually promiscuous. But on the Reservation, her promiscuity led her to be beaten by angry wives, and this caused John much pain as a child. Their happiest moments were spent talking about the Other Place. 

Linda taught young John to read, and reading gave him pleasure. When John was 12, Linda’s lover Popé brought him an ancient copy of Shakespeare and John responded powerfully to the magic of Shakespeare’s words. 

Emboldened by his reading of Hamlet, John once stabbed Popé in the shoulder as he lay drunk in bed. John was taught the folklore of the tribe, but the other young braves drove him out, calling him “white-hair” and leaving him to feel “alone, always alone.” Bernard invites John and his mother to return to London with him, and it excites John that he will soon see the brave new world. He is attracted to Lenina and spies on her, asleep in a “soma-holiday.”

Chapters 10–15

Back in London, the Director denounces Bernard as a “subverter of all Order and Stability” for his unorthodox beliefs; the Warden’s office at the Reservation has been in touch with Mustapha Mond, so the officials of the brave new world are aware of Bernard’s action. 

Bernard counters by introducing John and Linda. “Don’t you remember?” asks Linda, and John falls on his knees, addressing the Director as “my father.” The Director, humiliated, runs from the room and resigns his position. Linda goes on a permanent soma- holiday, while John, an oddity to the new world citizens, becomes a celebrity.

But he is horrified by the mass-produced people and the shallowness of their conditioned viewpoints. Lenina also shares in the Savage’s popularity. When her attempt to seduce John fails, due to his primitive morality (he rejects the sexual license of the new world), she cannot understand that he is “obedient to laws that had long since ceased to run.” 

The Savage refuses to appear at a party at which he and the Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury, a religious official of the state, are the featured guests, and Bernard begins to fall from favor.

Meanwhile, Helmholtz has gotten into trouble after writing a poem about solitude, but he senses happily that he is finally using his creative power.

The lovesick Lenina again visits the Savage, with a golden T dangling over her breasts. John declares his love, but he and Lenina are at cross-purposes.

When he says they should get married, she thinks it is a “horrible idea” since in the brave new world everyone belongs to everybody. She undresses and murmurs words from popular love songs, but he thrusts her away roughly and calls her a whore. 

Then he is summoned to his mother’s bedside. She has taken too much soma and is dying “with all the modern conveniences” and with an expression of “imbecile happiness.” John sobs uncontrollably when Linda dies.

Increasingly crazed, he tries to convince 162 Delta workers to give up their soma: “Don’t you want to be free men?” he rages as he throws handfuls of soma out the window. The police break up the fracas.

Chapters 16–18

Bernard, Helmholtz, and the Savage are brought before Mustapha Mond, who explains and defends the social system of the brave new world. “The world’s stable now. People are happy.” 

The caste system, based on the Bokanovsky groups, is the foundation on which everything else is built.

True, scientific inquiry is rigidly controlled because science can lead to instability. Knowing that Bernard and Helmholtz are potential threats to peace, Mustapha tells them that they will be exiled. Bernard is distressed, not realizing that he’ll be living with interesting men and women who could never be satisfied with the beliefs of the brave new world. 

John wants God, poetry, danger, freedom, goodness, and sin rather than comfort. He argues for a free world in which people are allowed to feel pain, suffering, anxiety, and misery—conditions that the brave new world has banished in the interest of stability and universal happiness.

John moves to an old lighthouse outside London, where he lives simply, trying to escape the “filth of civilized life.” He is soon discovered by the media and becomes a tourist attraction. He remains haunted by thoughts of Lenina, and tries to mortify his flesh by whipping himself. 

After a film crew makes a “feely” of him (a film where the audience holds on to two knobs on the seat and feels the action on the movie screen), masses of people come by to see him. Lenina arrives in a helicopter and, in the frenzy of the crowd, he beats her with a whip.

The crowd of people, unaccustomed to pain, are excited by his actions; caught up in the frenzy, John’s resistance weakens and he indulges in an orgy of soma and sex. Later that night, when he awakens from the stupor, he sees that his actions have been reported in all the papers. He hangs himself, knowing that he will never be happy in this society that does not understand him.

Brave New World Characters

Thomas, Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning (“Tomakin”): Pompous administrator. Gives tour at beginning of novel that introduces reader to brave new world. Years earlier, he had taken Linda on a trip to the Savage Reservation, where she got hurt, became lost, and was left behind. Resigns in humiliation after it is discovered that he is the father of John, the Savage.

Bernard Marx: Alpha-plus specialist in hypnopaedia. Maladjusted; feels miserable and alone while everyone around him is mindlessly happy. Thrives on the attention he receives as the Savage’s friend. His role in the novel declines as the Savage’s becomes more important.

Lenina Crowne: Main female character. Typical woman of brave new world: beautiful, but incapable of seeing beyond her conditioning. She finds the small, maladjusted Bernard “rather sweet”; because of a flaw in her conditioning, she develops real feelings of love for the Savage when he rejects her.

Mustapha Mond: Important ruler; one of 10 World Controllers (Resident Controller of Western Europe); called “his fordship.” Strong, deep voice. Mysterious, but kind. Reveals in Chapter 16 that he had once pursued truth as a scientist, but that he gave this up to become World Controller; wanted to help dispense happiness, maintain stability—and not pursue the futile goals of scientists.

John, The Savage: Human being from the old society; represents Western values. Usually anguished; considered primitive and uncouth. He is the most important character in the second half of the novel. Upbringing in tribal culture, passion for Shakespeare, and romantic idealism make it impossible for him to adapt to brave new world society. Outsider in both worlds, he finally kills himself. 

Linda: John’s mother. Originally an attractive Beta-minus worker from brave new world. Careless about birth control; got pregnant. Her conditioning in brave new world dooms her to life of drunken misery on Reservation. Upon returning to brave new world with Bernard, she takes a permanent soma-holiday until her death.

Brave New World Analysis

1. Satire of Society

Huxley wrote that the major theme of Brave New World is “the advancement of science as it affects human individuals.” The novel satirizes modern society by creating a future world in which population control and mental programming have been carried to extremes. 

As opposed to the cold, cruel police state in George Orwell’s novel 1984 (published in 1949)—the other great modern anti-utopian novel—citizens of the benign brave new world have been conditioned to be happy and well adjusted. But Huxley believes that along with this kind of happiness comes the loss of individualism, and perhaps even the loss of human values, history, and civilization.

2. The System

The two major goals of the brave new world are to control the population and maintain social stability. This is accomplished by rigid birth control, artificial insemination, and the creation of a caste system with five levels of intelligence (ranging from Alpha-plus to Epsilon-minus). 

The stages of the “decanting” (birth) process take place in five rooms. 

(1) Fertilizing Room: Ovaries are surgically removed from healthy women; eggs are detached and kept in solution, fertilized, then placed in incubators; Alphas and Betas (intelligent) are given more oxygen than Gammas, Deltas, Epsilons, who undergo the Bokanovsky Process.

(2) Bottling Room: Fertilized eggs are transferred to bottles and labeled. 

(3) Social Predestination Room: Predestinators calculate the number of people needed for various positions; they inform the Fertilizers, who give them the correct number of embryos. 

(4) Embryo Store: Rows and rows of bottles move slowly along the conveyor belt toward the Decanting Room, where embryos are chemically conditioned for future castes. 

(5) Decanting Room: Embryos are removed from the bottles and are “born.” The process continues into infancy and childhood in a kind of neo-Pavlovian conditioning, with shrieking sirens and mild electric shocks that make children dread certain objects or activities, and hypnopaedia, or sleep-training.

3. Conformity 

Individuality is discouraged; rigid conformism is encouraged from the earliest embryonic stages. Biological, psychological conditioning produces people engineered to think and feel alike. For ordinary citizens such as Lenina, Fanny, and Henry, original thinking is almost impossible. 

Instead, they mouth slogans that have been conditioned into them; they prefer group activities and can’t stand to be alone. Regular meetings of Solidarity groups reinforce group feelings.

4. Escapism and The Pursuit of Pleasure 

When people are not at work in the brave new world, they are pursuing pleasure. The goal of conditioning is to make people enjoy their “unescapable social destiny”: They fly to Amsterdam to see the Semi-Demi-Finals of the Women’s Heavyweight Wrestling Championship; they go to the feelies to see movies like Three Weeks in a Helicopter; they are trained from early childhood to enjoy sex and physical pleasure. 

Vibro-vacuum massage machines make their flesh firmer; Synthetic Music machines warble dreamy music; saxophones wail romantic ballads as men and women dance the five-step. 

Family life has been outlawed because it leads to possessiveness. If problems occur, people can take soma, which provides forgetfulness. Huxley is critical of the vulgar hedonism (i.e., the pursuit of pleasure) of modern times and illustrates his point by creating a world in which mindless happiness is the norm.

5. Cult of Youth 

Life in the brave new world is relentlessly youthful and the pursuit of youth is a form of escapism. Science has eliminated the physical signs of old age and, as a result, the decrepit Linda is a shocking sight when she returns. 

People are trained to live in the present; to seek comfort, promiscuous sex, and pleasure. Death takes place in special hospitals for the dying, and everyone is conditioned to accept it. Yet death is seen as an embarrassment, a surrendering of youth.

6. Economic Consumption 

Everyone in the brave new world is conditioned to spend money and to consume products so that the industry will prosper. Consumption distracts people, keeps their minds off problems, and diverts them from social unrest. 

All games must require elaborate equipment— and, therefore, elaborate expenditures—before they are allowed in this society. Citizens are encouraged to enjoy country sports since this will mean using (consuming) the transport system. Huxley is critical of the modern tendency to own material goods as an end in itself.

Brave New World Symbols

1). Soma: Powerful tranquilizer. A symbol of escape from reality, soma is used to keep citizens of brave new world in a state of “happiness” and to distract them from thinking.

2). The Indians: Primitive people living in Reservation. Represent a symbolic contrast between “ancient” tribes (which Huxley uses as symbols of Western civilization) and society of brave new world. They live in squalor and misery, but have a family life, rituals, human values, and religious reverence for mystery of life. Though they suffer, their lives have shape and meaning.

3). Shakespeare: Represents the power of art and imagination to give life meaning and beauty. The phrase “brave new world” is taken from a speech by Miranda in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest: “O brave new world, / That has such people in’t!”

4). Ford: One of novel’s weakest symbols, Ford is symbolic hero or god of brave new world. His birthday is the beginning date of the new world, though this is historically impossible. Huxley uses Ford’s name for wit and slogans: “Year of our Ford,” “Our Ford’s T-Model,” etc.

5). Political Symbolism: The characters’ names are reminders of extremist political systems: communism is suggested by Lenina Crowne, Polly Trotsky (Lenin and Trotsky were leaders of the Russian Revolution and founders of the Communist regime); the fascism of Benito Mussolini is suggested by Benito Hoover. Marxist socialism is suggested by Bernard Marx. Motto of brave new world underlines the socialist nature of society, where everyone (and everything) belongs to community.

Brave New World Review

The novel is at once serious, funny, and ironical. Huxley satirizes modern life through wit and mockery, though his condemnation of modern civilization is softened by humor: the brave new world is horrifying by implication, but also humorous and far-fetched. Utopia here is shown to be the perfection of technology rather than of the individual. 

Huxley tries to show what happens when one kind of “perfection” is pursued single-mindedly. At the same time, his satire is made more complex by the fact that the alternative to the brave new world in the novel—primarily the Savage and his tribal culture—is primitive and unattractive. 

Brave New World is actually an anti-utopian (or dystopian) novel in which Huxley points out society’s weaknesses by highlighting its fanaticism.

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