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Literature: Brave New World

"Don't you wish you were free, Lenina?"
"I don't know what you mean. I am free. Free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody's happy nowadays."

A 1932 dystopian novel written by Aldous Huxley. Quite possibly the only serious Western Dystopia involving too much happiness... as provided by the totalitarian state.

In the future, most of humanity and the environment people live in has been tailored to make everyone happy. There are five castes of people (Alphas through Epsilons), divided further into sub-castes ranging from the leader Alpha Pluses down through the barely-human grunt Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons. Everyone is grown in jars and their general roles in society planned before "birth". The population is pacified with virtual reality and the pleasure drug soma. Human needs are satisfied—by biological engineering when necessary; orgies are the norm; and anything that might possibly cause dissatisfaction is simply left out of society.

The cost of continuing to breed people smart enough to keep society running is the risk of emotional instability in those people. Genius creates the risk of madness—yes, in this society, unhappiness qualifies as madness. We have a Type Alpha who is not as tall and strong and beautiful as most, looking more like a Type Gamma; there are continual jokes about his jar getting spiked with alcohol. He fantasizes about being unhappy. And we have a Type Alpha who's in a critical position in society: he writes advertising jingles. Unfortunately, he suddenly wants to create True Art, and True Art Is Angsty. (No, he doesn't actually create True Art. Wanting to is bad enough.)

The only exception to all of this are the "Savage Reservations", barbaric and primal communities where people still live with nature and its cruelties and limitations, where people are born naturally and know the full range of emotions. After growing up on a New Mexico reservation, one of the novel's protagonists leaves for the wider world (along with bringing some Shakepeare with him), where he quickly becomes a celebrity but at the cost of his own sanity as his ideals and emotions clash horribly with that of the rest of society.

This novel is famous for quite a few things. For one, the biological techniques described in the book (such as cloning) would turn out to be remarkably similar to those used in the modern day, despite this novel being written in the 1920s, decades before real science would ever reach this stage. It helps that Huxley is a member of one of Britain's most important and productive scientific families (his older brother Julian was a leading evolutionary biologist and his grandfather Thomas was Darwin's Bulldog, the man who argued Darwin's idea in public for him.).

It's also a true example of Crapsaccharine World and Crapsack Only by Comparison. The Brave New World is a fully-functioning society where everyone is happy, youthful, healthy and productive, but it is presented as a dystopia because this comes at the cost of creativity, free will and progression. The Reservation is a free community of emotion, but it is also a dirty, disease-ridden tribal wasteland where the weak are ostracized and pain equals redemption. Aldous Huxley would later go on to express regret at not including a third option that would have been a happy medium of the two. (He does, in his later book Island, but not for the Savage.)

Huxley has often been accused (including by Kurt Vonnegut) of plagiarizing We in writing Brave New World. Despite the numerous similarities between the two books, Huxley has always denied this, so compare and contrast the two.

Also, this book is frequently compared to 1984 as a way of showing the perspectives of the dystopia-esque society. Note that 1984 shows that what we fear controls us, while Brave New World shows that what we love controls us.

Also compare Fahrenheit 451, a later work with similar themes of an oppressive, pleasure-driven society, vacuous entertainment, suppression of emotions and the elimination of the past (i.e. books).

Also compare Equilibrium, which also uses many of the same themes of emotion control oppression by a World State that decides how people should feel.

And before you ask, the Iron Maiden song of the same name was inspired by the book. Not to be confused with the second expansion of the fifth installment of Civilization. Or the Japanese novel and anime series Shin Sekai Yori, whose English name is From the New World


This novel provides examples of:

  • All Issues Are Political Issues: Bernard does this a lot.
  • Alliterative Name: Mustapha Mond.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Jon the Savage is kept from volunteering for sacrifice in America because he is white. He is then treated as an outsider and gawked at in London. And Bernard, as he is treated like a leper for being prudish about the free sex culture in the Brave New World.
  • Anti-Villain: Despite being one of the ten World Controllers, Mustapha Mond comes off as sympathetic (in both senses - he has sympathy for others, and the reader may tend to like him), because he secretly enjoys much of the old 'smutty' material such as Shakespeare and regrets the sacrifice of things such as truth and freedom. He believes, in his own full capacity, that the sacrifices are worth it.
    • As pointed out by Mark Rosenfelder: "Mond underestimates human potential, but his values are not evil, as Big Brother’s are. He doesn’t want to stamp on the face of humanity forever; he wants peace, prosperity, and happiness."
    • At one point when ordering the exile of Bernard and Helmholtz to an island, he comments that he's happy that the world has so many islands to send dissidents to, as the alternative would have to be their execution. He offers exiles, such as Helmholtz, their choice of places to be sent to; Helmholtz chooses an island with a bad climate, such as the Falklands, on the grounds that it would stimulate his creativity.
  • Alternative Calendar: The story starts in 632 AF ("After Ford"), or AD 2540. 1 AF was 1908, the year the Model T came out.
  • Arc Words: "O brave new world, that has such people in it..."
  • Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Having invented the production lines that produce everything (people included), Henry Ford is retconned by society into a literal Christ-like figure. (And combined with Sigmund Freud.)
    • Played with in that these people were not in and of themselves different or leading some secret life, but were retconned into this by the regime, who needed people to inspire the masses.
  • Blithe Spirit: Subverted with John the Savage, who gets pitted against a Crapsaccharine World, fails miserably at changing anything, and isn't particularly blithe, either.
  • Blue and Orange Morality or Grey and Grey Morality: The new world, according to the Savage (and many readers) — "Mother" is an obscene word, sex is as quick and impersonal as a handshake, and Romeo and Juliet would be considered a comedy.
    • Described In-Universe as an example: When the Savage gets into a discussion with Mond, Mond explains that the reason this world feels so wrong to the Savage is that he is still using the old system of good and evil, as opposed to the modern system of happiness and unhappiness. One of the very few cases in which this trope is done well.
  • Bread and Circuses
  • The Beautiful Elite: In the upper castes, everyone is genetically engineered to look beautiful, and they show no signs of aging.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Mustapha Mond doesn't really like his job as World Controller all that much, but someone has to do it.
  • Character Filibuster: One chapter near the end of the book consists of a big debate between John Savage and Mustapha Mond on The Evils of Free Will.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The caste uniforms.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: Most people have no idea just how vapid and insignificant their lives are. The ones who do know this are so difficult to integrate that they're just shipped off to isolated islands just so they don't have to think about it so much.
  • The Constant: An old, dirty and barely preserved book of Shakespeare, kept in the savage reservation, checked by the only savage that, as the son of a civilized woman, has learned how to read.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Your options are either a utopia that encourages neglect of individuality, or an exile in a squalid low-technology reservation or a remote island. An attempt to make a society where everyone is treated equally and everything is provided by robots collapsed into civil war within a few years. (Everyone on that island was an Alpha, even though jobs done by other castes in the rest of society still needed to be done; predictably, all the islanders considered themselves above such tasks, they didn't get done, and things snowballed.)
    • Crapsack Only by Comparison: John the Savage views the "utopian" world of London as amoral, unnatural, and pointless, while Lenina sees John's home on the savage reservation as backwards, uncivilized, and barbaric.
  • Creative Sterility: Art without content or substance is what Helmholtz makes, and it's ultimately why he doesn't like the system.
  • Culture Police: Turned completely on their head considering the usual portrayal, but no less stringent about enforcing their particular stripe of morality.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Bernard Marx. Literature teachers often use him to introduce the concept to students.
  • Deconstruction: Of the Enlightenment Utopia, and particularly Plato's The Republic. More specifically, the Theme Park Version of Utopia, "where everyone's happy".
  • Designer Babies: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. In short, pretty much 95% of society with the lower orders even being an inversion.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance
  • Dirty Coward: Bernard, Henry.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Bernard ruins the DHC's career because he wanted to transfer him.
    • "Transfer" to Iceland amounts to permanent exile without chance for appeal for the heinous crime of being a bit anti-social.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Too many to count.
  • Domed Hometown
  • Downer Ending: See below.
  • Driven to Suicide: John is at the end when he is unable to escape or resist society.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: But necessary for the greater good, according to Mustapha Mond.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Subverted: John tried and fails and ultimately kills himself because of it.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Mustapha tells about an experiment with an all-Alpha population. It soon devolved into a civil war and resulted in the citizens requesting that the government take back control.
  • For Happiness: In a deconstructed way.
  • Free-Love Future: Everyone is encouraged from earliest childhood to have sex with as many people as possible, and never to form strong attachments to any of them. Chastity is the deadest of virtues. John confuses Lenina by not jumping her bones at the first opportunity; because of this, she ends up longing for him, and comes the closest she will ever come to actually feeling love in her whole pathetic, sex-saturated life.
  • Friendly Enemy: Mustapha Mond toward the central malcontents.
  • Freud Was Right: In-Universe, as Freud Was Right is practically a religious tenet.
  • Future Imperfect: Invoked by the government. No history is taught and texts from before a certain date are strictly forbidden; the few references to the past that come up would appear to our minds to have gone through centuries of misinterpretation. For example, Henry Ford has been conflated with Sigmund Freud, but only in psychological contexts.
  • Future Music
  • Future Slang:
    • "Ford" has basically replaced "God" and "Lord" in all contexts, resulting in titles like "his fordship" and exclamations like "For the love of Ford!" The reason is because he created the assembly line, the absolute base of the civilization.
    • "Pneumatic." This actually was a slang term back in the 1920s, but it's become so obscure that it sounds like Future Slang.
  • Genius Breeding Act: Embryos are created in labs, and people are born into different classes: Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and Epsilon. These groups are engineered to have different intelligence levels both through genetic selection and differences in their artificial fetal environment; for example, an Alpha is made from Alpha gametes and incubated in an optimal fetal environment.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: One of the major themes of the book is whether keeping everyone passive and happy is worth eliminating any deeper emotions which could cause conflict.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: Soma and Malthusian Belts.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Pretty much all of society is conditioned to like exactly where they are. Those at the top enjoy their intelligence, those at the bottom enjoy not having complicated responsibilities, and those in the middle think they have just enough intelligence without having too many responsibilities.
  • Happiness Is Mandatory
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Bernard and Helmholtz.
    • Bernard seems to see John and Helmholtz as this later on.
  • Honor Before Reason: John, so very much. By the end, he nearly found a third option of a quiet and happy life in seclusion but his commitment to being unhappy meant he couldn't accept it. (Then the crowds came to gawp at him and everything got worse.)
  • Ignore the Fanservice: John in regards to Lenina.
  • I Have Many Names: Ford is stated to go by "Freud" in psychological contexts, as if the name were a godly epithet.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Bernard Marx and Linda.
  • I Just Want to Have Friends: Bernard. A darker take on this trope than usual—when he does luck his way into popularity, he has no problem abusing it and doesn't mind that it's shallow. At the end, Mond implies that Bernard will make friends...in exile with all the other malcontents.
  • Inherent in the System: The brainwashed existence and/or the menial labor.
  • Info Dump: The reader follows a group of new students through a tour of the Hatchery & Conditioning Center to learn how this society functions.
  • In with the In Crowd: Bernard after he brings "the Savage" to London.
  • Ironic Echo/Title Drop: "Oh brave new world, that has such people in it."
  • Large and in Charge: The lower classes are shorter than the Alphas and Betas.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall/Literary Allusion Title: John grew up reading Shakespeare's works, and he's often prone to reading from them while in the "happy society". Since the book's title comes from The Tempest, a Shakespeare work...
  • Literary Allusion Title
  • Live-Action Adaptation: The little known miniseries.
  • Long Title: An in-universe jazz standard, "There ain't no Bottle in all the world like that dear little Bottle of mine".
  • Love at First Sight: John for Lenina. Must come from reading so much Shakespeare.
  • Loving a Shadow: John, who knows romance mostly through Shakespeare and the Reservation, desperately wants to see Lenina as innocent and unavailable, rather than a typical member of her society.
  • Machine Worship/All Hail the Great God Mickey!: The future society worships Henry Ford. They even set the calendar by him. Played with inasmuchas "Ford" is a conflation: they ascribe all those whose inventions and discoveries make their way of life possible. Ford's mechanization and automation policies, Freud's theories of childhood development, etc.
  • Meaningful Name: Most characters have names that refer to famous political and cultural figures, like Bernard Marx, Mustapha Mond, Lenina Crowne, Benito Hoover, Darwin Bonaparte and so on.
  • Memetic Mutation: Invoked as a form of mind control.
  • Murder Suicide: Implied at the end when John possibly whips Lenina to death before hanging himself. Again, might come from reading too much Shakespeare.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Henry's attitude towards Lenina, typical of the Alpha caste; when he thinks she already has a date with someone else, for example, he's always excited to know with whom.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Bernard and John, on the other hand...
  • My God, What Have I Done?: John, after participating in a soma-fueled orgy, and possibly even whipping Lenina to death in the process; retreats to his secluded cottage and hangs himself.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: John's life is utterly ruined by Bernard bringing him to the "civilized world".
  • Noble Savage: The trope given form as John the Savage. Subverted by the other members of the Reservation, whose standard of living and way of life are intended to be just as troubling to the audience as the World State.
  • Older than They Look: Everyone stays young (physically, mentally, etc.) until their deaths.
  • One Drink Will Kill the Baby: Lower-caste fetuses are deliberately poisoned with alcohol (and deprived of oxygen) to make them stupid and weak. Notably, this was before alcohol was discovered to actually be a poison to infants.
  • One World Order
  • Peerless Love Interest: Lenina for John.
  • Raised by Natives
  • Really Gets Around: Almost everyone (since this is the norm), although Lenina deserves a special mention.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: If only all totalitarian dictators followed Mustapha Mond's example and simply sent malcontents to islands of "normal" civilizations instead of to Room 101...
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Well, to Iceland, actually.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Literally applied in-universe as The Theme Park Version. The "Savage Reservations" have people who were deemed as unusual and irresponsible while in this new world. If it comes to the point where a person has to be deported, they have the option to pick which island they want to go to.
  • Repressive But Efficient: Played with. Any free thought is severely frowned upon, and even the most dull and unimaginative person from our time would hate living there, but everyone has a high standard of living, the citizens are insanely happy, and there's no crime. Occasionally someone's conditioning will fail and they'll be a free thinker and unhappy with their lot, but those people aren't punished, imprisoned, or executed, just given the choice between joining the ruling class or going into voluntary exile in an island community of like-minded people, which is relatively humane by dystopian standards. The society is juxtaposed with that of the "savages," who are people who live in a tribal society, and standards of living that are terrible in comparison, but they are still, for lack of a better word, human.
  • Robotic Assembly Lines: Opens with a description of the cloning assembly line.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: The Savage versus the technocratic World State.
  • Sarcastic Title
  • Science Is Bad: Well, a threat to social stability if not kept in check.
  • Science Marches On: Huxley was ahead of his time in saying that fetal exposure to alcohol is a Bad Thing, but his assumption that it's possible to create a specific level of disability with a specific amount of alcohol is not true. In real life, the results are immensely more variable than Huxley suggests, and much of the difference has to be random chance: it's common for one member of a pair of identical twins born to an alcoholic to be severely disabled and the other to be completely normal. His assumption that women need to go through fake pregnancy if they don't really get pregnant, and that darker-complexioned women need to go through it at an earlier age because they're "born to have babies young", is an unfortunate remnant of early 20th century racial and sexual theories that portrayed women in general as constantly subject to My Biological Clock Is Ticking and darker people as more "primitive" on a biological level.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Blatantly invoked by Mustapha Mond when he points out that reading Othello is illegal, but since he makes it illegal, he can still read it if he wants (not that anyone except him and John want to read it anyway).
  • Send in the Clones: Humanity is mass produced in batches of "identical twins" on the order of hundreds at a time.
  • Servant Race: The Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons.
  • Sex Is Evil and I Am Horny: John's fundamental conflict. His traditional values on things such as love and sex clash horribly with those of civilized society, and when he finally gives into his impulses, he becomes so guilt-ridden afterwards that he commits suicide.
  • Sexophone: The briefly mentioned sexophones are either renamed saxophones or some odd new instrument. Sex is so blasé in this civilization that a deliberate rename wouldn't be out of the question.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The title comes from The Tempest, and since one of John's first books was an anthology from the Bard, he's prone to quoting him.
    Miranda: O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world! That has such people in it!
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: See above Shout-Out to Shakespeare.
  • Stepford Smiler: Both more and fewer than you'd think.
  • Take a Third Option: Bernard and Helmholtz chose this when presented with the "Stability or Freedom" question. The concept itself is not explored in depth until Huxley's later work, Island. Mustapha Mond tells them that he was also faced with this choice, but took a third offer to become a Controller. He regards this as the harder path than going to an island, but more worthwhile.
    • A foreword written by Huxley in 1946 suggests that, given the chance to go back, he might have given John a third option in the end.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: The book's climax consists of a dialogue between John the Savage and Mustapha Mond.
  • Theme Naming: All the characters except John the Savage are named after renowned capitalists, communists, industrialists, psychologists, philosophers or scientists.
    • John's behaviour indicates he's probably named after the concept of the Noble Savage.
  • Title Drop: The verse that the book's title comes from is said by John repeatedly.
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: The story takes place in a society where For Happiness have become such a great cultural obsession that it has become oppressive.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: We're troubled. The adults in-story aren't.
  • Uterine Replicator
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Mustapha Mond's defense of the new world and its ruthless suppression of intellect, creativity and freedom. He genuinely believes the happiness and comfort the world's gained is more than worth it, and makes a scarily strong argument against The Evils of Free Will.
  • The War to End All Wars: The Nine Years War, which happened roughly 500 years before the start of the novel.
  • Variant Chess: All the sports available are more complex versions of current ones, like Riemann Tennis or Magnetic Golf—the additional equipment increases consumption.
  • Villains Never Lie: The protagonists all take Mustapha Mond's story about the Alpha society of Cyprus failing at face value, even though Mond is probably the most Unreliable Narrator imaginable for dictating why a free society of equals can't work. Also see Released to Elsewhere.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Mustapha Mond recognizes that individuality, creativity, and self-awareness are lofty and noble things. He also believes that sacrificing them in the name of stability, order, and banal happiness is necessary to preserve human civilization.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: The lower (read: intentionally retarded) castes. Justified; they've got the technology to make a great deal of that work obsolete and in fact tried just that, only to find out that it made people unhappier. It's better to give the Epsilons somewhere to go and something to do for 8 hours, so labor-saving technology was intentionally dialed back to create more make-work. As for why they didn't just stop breeding/manufacturing the lower castes and let a society of free, intelligent humans operate the labor-saving devices themselves: they tried that too, and the island they tried it on collapsed into civil war within a couple of years; it turns out that the higher castes need someone to boss over and will not do anything that they feel is beneath them.
  • What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Wanting to be with one person? Caring if your partner is with someone else? Minding when someone dies?! What hilarious concepts!
  • Zeerust


The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had ToLit FicBreakfast at Tiffany's
The Boy who was as hard as StoneScience Fiction LiteratureLa Brèche
The Boy in the Striped PyjamasSchool Study MediaBridge to Terabithia
The Box of DelightsLiterature of the 1930sBrighton Rock

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