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Brave New World

Term Definition
Brave New World

Huxley's novel Brave New World develops a vision of a dystopian society set in the year 2540. The characters within the novel actually keep time in terms of Before Ford or After Ford—that is, before or after the standardization of production introduced by Henry Ford. The work is generally considered more subtle and astute that Orwell's 1984, insofar as it explores the ways in which people contribute to and even sometimes desire their own oppression.  

Summary of Brave New World

Brave New World is a 1932 dystopian novel by English writer/philosopher Aldous Huxley (1894-1963). Set in London 600 years into the future, the novel explores the consequences of a world in which all forms of human emotion have been eliminated and where the only concerns are material possessions and physical pleasure; the latter provided by soma—a euphoric drug—and sex. 

The story centers on Bernard Marx, a young London psychologist who has grown disenchanted with the current state of society. Uneager to engage in the physical and sensory abandonment that consumes those around him, he falls out of favor with his peers. However, he manages to persuade a colleague, Lenina Crowne, to accompany him on a trip to a reservation in New Mexico, where a community of people live according to older, "unenlightened" customs. Here, the two meet a middle-aged woman, Linda, and her son John: the product of an affair with Marx's indignant superior, the D.H.C., who had visited the reservation decades beforehand. Marx and Crowne bring the mother/son pair back to London, and havoc famously ensues as the savages unleash a range of emotion on the dystopian society.

Major Themes of the Narrative

Though set in the distant future, the concerns addressed in Brave New World—psychological manipulation, reproduction technology—were very much inspired by recent world developments. The industrial revolution had yielded unprecedented strides in the realms of automation, communication, and transmission with the respective developments of cars, telephones, and radios. The effects of the Great War, the Russian Revolution, and the recent Stock Market crash were reverberating worldwide, and Huxley used the book to channel his concerns about the increasing trend towards emotional detachment in modern society. The Great Depression, with its devastating impact on employment figures and currency, convinced the author that civilization could not survive its current trajectory if humans lost all sense of emotional empathy.

One of the main tipping points for Huxley was his impressions of American culture during his first visit stateside. American society struck him as an inward-looking culture with an unthinking adulation for disposable entertainment and celebrity culture, and he feared of that influence spreading to Europe. One of Huxley's readings on this trip was My Life and Work, the 1922 autobiography by Henry Ford, which came to embody everything the British author feared about the current direction of society. The famed carmaker's surname was used as a godlike symbol in Huxley's novel, in which humans were manufactured to perfection—at the expense of their humanity—in a similar manner to Ford's assembly-line production of the automobile.

Other Adaptations

Brave New World has been the subject of two TV movie adaptations that originally aired on NBC in 1980 and 1998, respectively. In 1999, Huxley's classic was ranked number five on the National Library's list of the 100 greatest English-language novels of the proceeding 100 years.

Upon its initial release, Brave New World was banned in Ireland for the coarseness of its content, which was deemed blasphemous and anti-family by local officials (read more about banned books). Subsequent decades have seen varying levels of controversy resurface over the book, particularly among school boards in Maryland (1965), Missouri (1980), and California (1993). Additionally, the book was subject to a 1967 nationwide ban in India, where the now-deceased author was labeled a "pornographer." As such, Brave New World was listed as the 52nd most challenged book by the National Library Association. 

Later in his career, Huxley reexamined the ideas of his defining work in a 1958 essay, Brave New World Revisited, as well as in his last novel: Island (1962). 

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