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"Don't you wish you were free, Lenina?"
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, 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, 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 Crap Saccharine 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four as a way of showing the perspectives of the dystopia-esque society. Note that Nineteen Eighty-Four shows that what we fear controls us, while Brave New World shows that what we love controls us.
- Alcohol Is Poison: 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.
- All Issues Are Political Issues: Bernard does this a lot.
- Alternative Calendar: The story starts in 632 AF ("After Ford"), or AD 2540. 1 AF was 1908, the year the Model T came out.
- 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.
- The Beautiful Elite: In the upper castes, everyone is genetically engineered to look beautiful, and they show no signs of aging.
- 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 Crap Saccharine 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 the reader) — "Mother" is an obscene word, sex is as quick and impersonal as a handshake, and Romeo and Juliet would be considered a comedy.
- Bread and Circuses
- 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.
- 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.
- Crap Saccharine World: Your options are a Dystopia that destroys creativity and free will by overfilling you with pleasure or an exile in a squalid, low-technology reservation. An attempt to make a society where everyone is treated equally 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.
- Deconstruction: Of the Utopia genre, and particularly Plato's The Republic. More specifically, the Theme Park Version of Utopia, "where everyone's happy".
- Decoy Protagonist: Bernard Marx. Literature teachers often use him to introduce the concept to students.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance
- Designer Babies: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. In short, pretty much 95% of society with the lower orders even being an inversion.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Bernard ruins the DHC's career because he wanted to transfer him.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Too many to count.
- Domed Hometown
- Driven to Suicide: John is at the end when he is unable to escape or resist society.
- 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 deadliest 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.
- 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!"
- "Pneumatic." (actually 1920s slang, but almost forgotten today so it seems 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.
- 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.
- Inherent in the System: The brainwashed existence and/or the menial labor.
- 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.
- Literary Allusion Title: The title is taken from The Tempest.
- Live Action Adaptation: The little known miniseries.
- Machine Worship/All Hail the Great God Mickey: The future society worships Henry Ford. They even set the calendar by him.
- Meaningful Name: Most characters have names that refer to famous political and cultural figures, like Bernard Marx, Lenina Crowne, Benito Hoover, Darwin Bonaparte and so on.
- Also, "Linda" means beautiful.
- Memetic Mutation: Invoked as a form of mind control.
- My God, What Have I Done?: John after participating in a soma-fueled orgy; he retreats to a secluded cottage to flagellate himself, and eventually 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.
- Older Than They Look: Everyone stays young (physically, mentally, etc.) until their deaths.
- One World Order
- Overly Long Title: An in-universe jazz standard, "There ain't no Bottle in all the world like that dear little Bottle of mine".
- Raised by Natives
- Really Gets Around: Almost everyone (since this is the norm), although Lenina deserves a special mention.
- 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.
- Released to Elsewhere: People who are too smart or innovative are sent to islands. However, Mustapha Mond's comment of "Why, if we didn't have all these islands, we'd probably have to send them to gas chambers!" may make you a little suspicious about the exact nature of these "islands." Especially when Mond mentions the Cyprus experiment, specifically how Cyprus was "cleared of all its existing inhabitants". Cyprus was an island.
- Alternatively, the inhabitants of Cyprus really were sent elsewhere; Bernard regards being sent to an island as a terrible punishment, but Helmholtz is quite positive about it.
- Robotic Assembly Lines: Opens with a description of the cloning assembly line.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: The Savage versus the "progressive" World State.
- Sarcastic Title
- Science Is Bad: Well, a threat to social stability if not kept in check.
- 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.
- Send in the Clones: Humanity is mass produced in batches of "identical twins" on the order of hundreds at a time.
- Sexophone: The briefly mentioned sexophones are either renamed saxophones or some odd new instrument. Sex is so blase in this civilization that a deliberate rename wouldn't be out of the question.
- Shallow Love Interest: Lenina, intentionally.
- 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!
- Shown Their Work: At the time, the idea that alcohol could cause developmental disabilities was almost unknown, and Huxley's ideas about in vitro fertilization and cloning were similarly cutting-edge
- Stepford Smiler: Tons.
- 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 suggests that, given the chance, 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 behavior 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.
- Unishment: Bernard fears being exiled thanks to Thomas’s threat, but Mustapha Mond explains to that “Everyone belongs to Everyone Else”, meaning Bernard would just be able to be myself without the social pressures.
- 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.
- 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.