Huxley's Brave New World is a modernist novel which reflects characteristics of a perfect society. Everything works properly, everyone seems to be happy and stable; however, all of these characteristics are presented in an ironical way by the author. Happiness and stability are achieved by suppressing people's freedom, feelings and emotions. Nevertheless, certain features of authoritarianism and oppression can be seen throughout the novel. These elements are typical of a dystopian society, that is to say, a society in which everything is supposed to be perfect and stable but the cost of this perfection is the creation of a dehumanized and artificial world, where people lack of will and self decision as they are totally controlled by the higher authorities. Related to this issue, the main purpose of this paper is to show the reader how Huxley's Brave New World depicts characteristics of a dystopian society.
In this research paper, the reader will be introduced to the concepts of dystopia and dystopian society, concepts which have to do with the establishment and maintenance of a 'fake ideal of society', which is quite the opposite of a utopia; and how these concepts are reflected in people's behaviour and humanity. The revision and understanding of these key concepts will help the reader to comprehend the reasons why Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is considered to be a representative picture of a dystopian world.
The second part of this research is concerned with analyzing how the concepts previously mentioned apply to Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World. To achieve this purpose the reader is going to be presented examples and quotations from the book to illustrate how some of the characteristics of a dystopian world are depicted throughout different passages of the novel.
The main objectives pursued by this literary research paper, which are going to be presented through the development of this work, are the following:
To explain the reader the concept of dystopia and its characteristics in order to discover how this concept applies to literary works.
To explain in a global way how a dystopian society works.
To describe four main characteristics of a dystopian society.
To make a parallel between a literary dystopian society and the world created by Huxley in his novel Brave New World.
To discover through this work how the dystopian characteristics here mentioned represent our current society at some point.
In this way, through the achievement of these objectives, it is expected for the reader to be able to understand and identify dystopian characteristics in different literary works, as well as they are present and depicted in Brave New World. The reader is also expected to notice and realize the main aims of this research paper, in order to have a global understanding of the different parts of this work as a whole to finally, prove by himself/herself if the thesis statement has resulted to be true.
Social stability, happy citizens, a properly working society, no grief or sadness, no social question left unresolved, freedom; all of these characteristics belong to a utopian world. To talk about a utopia is talk about an ideal, a perfect situation, a perfect society; that is the reason why many authors have developed this concept in a wide variety of works concerning politics, socialism, religion, etc. Moritz Kauffman exposes this ideal and almost impossible world by saying:
What is utopia? Strictly speaking, it means a 'nowhere Land', some happy island far away, where perfect social relations prevail, and human beings, living under an immaculate constitution and a faultless government, enjoy a simple and happy existence, free from the turmoil, the harassing cares, and endless worries of actual life (qtd. in Levitas 12).
However, as there is a utopian world, there is also an anti-utopian world, in which social instability has been overcome through the application of science, technology and politics, as well as the sacrifice of certain cultural and historical values. Although the concept of this dystopian world seems to be perfect and ideal, as everyone is happy and everything is under control, most of the times this ideas of progress, science and politics are depicted in negative ways as their employment in the society cause the sacrifice of such themes as religion, history, freedom, feelings and emotions. This phenomenon, in which the perfect world is achieved by negative or not the ideal means, is known as dystopia.
Among the infinite number of dystopian definitions, the one provided by Booker and Thomas represents the general idea:
Briefly, dystopian literature is specifically that literature which situates itself in direct opposition to utopian thought, warning against the potential negative consequences of errant utopianism. At the same time, dystopian literature generally also constitutes a critique of existing social conditions or political systems, either through the critical examination of the utopian premises upon which those conditions and systems are based or through the imaginative extension of those conditions and systems into different contexts that more clearly reveal their flaws and contradictions (3).
To clarify the main concepts to be develop in this paper, first a comparison between a utopia and a dystopia has to be made. As it was said, a utopia is an imaginary place, that is socially, morally, and politically ideal. A dystopia is a futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, technological, moral, religious or totalitarian control. In other words, "dystopia represents the fear of what the future may hold if we do not act to avert catastrophe, whereas utopia encapsulates the hope of what might be" (Levitas 165).
There is a strong relationship between these two concepts; for example, Priest states that dystopia focuses on the negative aspect of utopia, thus, showing the imperfection of the perfection (8). Basically, the purpose of a dystopia is to make readers aware of the weakness of the seemingly perfect society, that is to say, to alert people about the dangers of becoming so unnatural in a future. So, the reality of dystopia, results to be the imperfection of the seemingly perfect society. This is done in order to make readers aware of the values of human beings and humanity; and to help readers understand that what is apparently good from the outside might be stained and flawed when seen from within.
According to Baker, dystopia is drawn on "political and emotional events, anchoring its vision of a nightmarish future in contemporary fears of totalitarian ideology and uncontrolled advances in technology and science" (22).Â The dystopian setting is brought about by technology and by higher authorities.Â As technology increases, the use for human beings in the work force decreases leaving an overwhelming amount of depression among humans.Â Therefore, a way to continue the production of technological findings is by bringing up humans from day one to accept their unhappiness as normal, by convincing people to accept the fact that they are born to do a specific job.Â Higher authorities know the usefulness of humans' emotions in order to stabilize what they think to be a utopian society.Â
In general words, dystopia can be represented as a failed try of a 'utopian' society which has been overcome by reality.
Characteristics of a dystopian society
In literature there is a sociological concept known as the dystopian society. These societies are often encountered in science fiction, as dystopia is usually thought to be concerned with the future. The dystopian society has many different characteristics, concerning the different aspects of a traditional society, but it is always based on totalitarianism or authoritarianism. Repression, lack of individual freedom, limitation of thought, total social control and manipulation, the use of technology to replace biological process, limitations of access to information and nature, creativity and emotions are also commonly depicted in dystopian works:
If utopian societies are typically designed to enable the maximum fulfillment of individual human potential, dystopian societies impose oppressive conditions that interfere with that fulfillment. These oppressive conditions are usually extensions or exaggerations of conditions that already exist in the real world, allowing the dystopian text to critique real-world situations by placing them within the defamiliarizing context of an extreme functional society (Booker and Thomas 66).
There are many characteristics in a dystopian society. This research paper is going to focus on four major characteristics of a dystopian society; these are the control of citizens, the use of technology, the concept of individuality and the constant entertainment provided by the state:
Citizens are rigidly controlled: In dystopian societies, people are not allowed freedom of thought and their movement is strictly limited or impeded. Booker and Tomas stated that "the rulers of the One State are particularly concerned with exerting control over those aspects of human life that might lead to strong emotions and thus disrupt the rational tranquility of life" (67). There are many ways by which dystopian societies authorities (also referred as 'the One State') control people:
Conditioning: In dystopian societies, the use of psychological conditioning as a tool of official power is widely used. The idea is to control and do not let people to wonder things about the society, so this way people's spirit is absent; there is only a rational think which is also conditioned and controlled. Through conditioning, people are brain washed and convinced to accept everything as normal and functional in order to keep the social stability working.
B. Control of feelings and emotions: On the other hand, feelings and emotions are strictly controlled by the state too. Priest depicts this dystopian characteristic by saying that:
This was also true for the elimination of the feeling of love and other feelings, and the right to make their own decisions. All of those things were taken away from them without them realizing it. Thus, a perfect society was created for their own convenience, but at the same it also made them blind and stupid. It was a utopia for those who were blind, but a dystopia for those who understood and cared (128).
Censorship control over the majority by a few: Those in control use censorship in order to change the public's perception. Censorship includes controlling information by, both eliminating undesirable information, as well as controlling all of the information that a person receives.
In the dystopian state, however, social control generally has the upper hand. Official institutions such as churches, schools, and the police are used to regulate thought, imagination, and behaviour, providing individuals with a very limited range for the expression of alternative viewpoints or exploration of alternative lifestyles' (Booker and Thomas 66).
People are also denied the right of being informed, for instance, ancient art is hidden; they do not have access to this kind of information. In dystopian societies, people are hidden from the existence of god, of mothers and fathers, of natural and biological processes such as reproduction and creation; in other words, they are hidden the past and history:
A dystopian society, like that of most traditional utopias, has as its ideal a condition of eternal and static stability. Once perfection (of whatever kind) is achieved, change automatically becomes a threat- and the problem with the past is that, simply by showing that things were once different, it demonstrates that change is at least possible. The very existence of the past where things were different implies that society is 'not static but kinetic', and dystopian societies uniformly go out of their way to obliterate its memory (Ferns 119).
Technology replaces nature: Often, dystopian works analyze the concept of technology going too far. For example, dystopian societies replace actual nature with a replicated environment. This distorts the views of citizens of the dystopia by having them trust or rely on technology. Technology is also used as a means to control society. Bookers and Thomas talk about this characteristic saying that "certain mechanical applications of technology lend themselves directly to political oppression" (68).
A distorted view of an "ideal" society: In a dystopian world, the functional society is the ideal society. One of the requirements to maintain this functional society working is the elimination of individuality. Individuality does not work for dystopian societies; in fact it is seen as something bad: "people are even referred to as numbers rather than people. These numbers have lost all true individuality; they are merely interchangeable parts in the giant machine of the State" (Booker and Thomas 67). Uniformity is assured, the line of the private, the individual and the public is destroyed. For example, the dystopian citizens wear uniforms, reinforcing the sense that people are types rather than distinct individuals, enhancing the fact that the individual is merely part of the social machine (Ferns 113). This is just one example of how dystopian societies do whatever necessary for maintaining social stability, in this case even fomenting people to lose any kind of personal identity, as this is not convenient for the One state purposes. Priest also talks about the usefulness uniformity represents for the maintenance of the social stability saying that "there was no value for the human beings in themselves. They were valuable only when they contributed to the community, when they were useful" (127).
According to Booker and Thomas, in a world where individuality does not exist there is "little room for individual choice" (67); which results to be very convenient for keeping people away from participating actively in society. In other words, "where everything belongs to everybody, nobody will care about anything" (Richter 5).
Constant entertainment: In order to keep people from considering their circumstance and what may be missing in the society, they are instead provided with distractions that help to keep them away form dealing with the reality of their situation. As Bookers and Thomas stated,
Individuals spend most of their time in the pursuit of instant happiness through the use of drugs, and mind-numbing multisensory entertainments, that are continually broadcast to keep the minds and senses of the citizenry occupied at all times (67).
Some of the most common elements which represent this distraction throughout a wide variety of dystopian works are the use of sex and the delivery of free drugs: "sex, drugs, and popular culture prevalent in this society are intended primarily to divert attention from social problems and to prevent individuals from developing any sort of strong feelings that might lead them to challenge official authority" (Booker and Thomas 67).
In Huxley's Brave New World dystopia can be seen in both political and emotional events in which a frightening future is presented. In Brave New World society, contemporary fears of totalitarian, authoritarian and oppressive ideology; together with uncontrolled advances in technology and science have as a result an extremely high cost for humankind, who lives in an unhealthy and unnatural environment. Gottlieb states that:
If we begin with Brave New World, it becomes obvious that each dystopian society contains within it seeds of a utopian dream. These are articulated by the ruling elite's original promise when its new system was implemented, a promise that then miscarried (in We); was betrayed (in 1984); or was fulfilled in ways that showed up the unexpected shortcomings of the dream (in Brave New World) (8).
Throughout the different passages of Huxley's novel Brave New World, the four main dystopian characteristics presented in the first section of this research paper can be clearly distinguished:
I. Citizens are rigidly controlled: The dystopian setting in Huxley's novel is guided not only by technology, but also by higher authorities who control everything. In the book, this control can be seen through the application of 3 different techniques: conditioning, control of feelings and emotions and censorship.
A. Conditioning: The habituations to different activities and ways of behaviour are pre- programmed in all the citizens of Brave New World by means of 'hypnopedia', a conditioning method which is made by regular repetitions of selected phrases during sleep from infancy until adolescence, with the purpose of creating irrefutable truths on people's minds. In the novel, it can be seen how another kinds of conditioning are applied to people from the very beginning, that is to say, since children are raised in laboratories:
"Heat conditioning," said Mr. Foster. Hot tunnels alternated with cool tunnels. Coolness was wedded to discomfort in the form of hard X-rays. By the time they were decanted the embryos had a horror of cold. They were predestined to immigrate to the tropics, to be miner and acetate silk spinners and steel workers. Later on their minds would be made to endorse the judgment of their bodies. "We condition them to thrive on heat," concluded Mr. Foster. "Our colleagues upstairs will teach them to love it." (Huxley 13).
In these laboratories kids are emotionally and socially conditioned, trained and habituated to this brave new world by means of technology and the use of drugs.
Conditioning has also to do with the complete control of economy from part of the State which, in pro of the stability so pursued, controls every single detail about the financial system of the world. Even when, in dystopian societies the economic system is not only source of the appropriate society's working, in Brave New World, being part of the social body means working for everyone else. In relation to this, people in Brave New World are trained, through hypnopaedia to accept this proverb as true: "every one belongs to every one else," (Huxley 29).
B. Control of feelings and emotions: Because of the strict control exercised over people in the society depicted by Huxley in Brave New World, depression among human race appears and, consequently, as a way for going on with the invention and production of technological finding, scientists and higher authorities decide to condition humans, since day one, to understand their unhappiness and discontent as normal feelings:
Till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too-all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides- made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions! The Director almost shouted in his triumph. "Suggestions from the State." He banged the nearest table. "It therefore follows."(Huxley 21)
C.Censorship and control over the majority by a few: This point is representative of dystopian societies where the majority is controlled by a few who use censorship to alter and modify the public's perception and view. Censorship consists of controlling and eliminating undesirable information or material which authorities consider to be dangerous for the purposes which are pursuit, in the specific case of Brave New World this central purpose is to maintain stability. Citizens are also forbidden to read or even have access to reading material, for example, women of the World State in Brave New World are taught that "you can't consume much if you sit still and read books" (Huxley 50).
Moreover, censorship and control over the majority by a few can be seen in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in the forgetfulness of history on purpose. In Brave New World's society books and the past times are, not only forgotten and hidden, but also forbidden. In the society depicted by Huxley, people are greatly suppressed by the controllers of the planet.
â€¦our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel-and you can't make tragedies without social instability. The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma. (Huxley 151)
In Brave New World people are conditioned to be interested in other things but books, they are supposed to be concerned with the job they are going to do as part of society and depending the cast to which they are going to belong to. This can be exemplified with the following passage:
They'll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an 'instinctive' hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned. They'll be safe from books and botany all their lives. The Director turned to his nurses. "Take them away again" (Huxley 17).
Furthermore, in connection to the hidden past and history, there is another aspect of the past which is considered forgotten: the belief of the existence of God. In Brave New World, the civilization has no God; authorities and scientists have replaced religion and God; they have played God and have reorganized the world in their own manner, making use of technology and science. Obviously there is a reason for not needing a superior being: everything is so stable that it is not necessary for them continue supporting themselves in God: 'God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness.' (Huxley 159).
II. Technology replaces nature: This is a central and imperative characteristic of a dystopian society which is also present in Huxley's Brave New World. Often dystopia societies replace actual nature with a replicated environment. This is the case of Brave New World where, through the use of technology and the vast knowledge of the scientists, pregnancy among females is rejected, as it goes completely against this new world nature. That is the reason why, in the world portrayed by Huxley in his novel, births given by women are considered to be sins. Instead, the children's production and birth from a test tube or a bottle, as a replacement of a natural birth, is seen as a usual and normal issue. This can be seen when the laboratory where embryos are produced is described:
Still leaning against the incubators he gave them, while the pencils scurried illegibly across the pages, a brief description of the modern fertilizing process; spoke first, of course, of its surgical introduction- "the operation undergone voluntarily for the good of Society, not to mention the fact that it carries a bonus amounting to six months' salary"; continued with some account of the technique for preserving the excised ovary alive and actively developing; passed on to a consideration of optimum temperature, salinity, viscosity; referred to the liquor in which the detached and ripened eggs were kept; and, leading his charges to the work tables, actually showed them how this liquor was drawn off from the test-tubes; how it was let out drop by drop onto the specially warmed slides of the microscopes; how the eggs which it contained were inspected for abnormalities, counted and transferred to a porous receptacle; how (and he now took them to watch the operation) this receptacle was immersed in a warm bouillon containing free-swimming spermatozoa-at a minimum concentration of one hundred thousand per cubic centimetre, he insisted; and how, after ten minutes, the container was lifted out of the liquor and its contents re-examined; how, if any of the eggs remained unfertilized, it was again immersed, and, if necessary, yet again; how the fertilized ova went back to the incubators; where the Alphas and Betas remained until definitely bottled; while the Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons were brought out again, after only thirty-six hours, to undergo Bokanovsky's Process. (Huxley 6).
Another aspect related to the replacement of nature is seen in the society depicted by Aldous Huxley in his novel Brave New World where the family, as it is known today, has been eradicated. In this Brave New World, where people are scientific and falsely produced, the concept of mothers and fathers is thought to be obscene:
"Human beings used to be." he hesitated; the blood rushed to his cheeks. "Well, they used to be viviparous."
"Quite right." The Director nodded approvingly.
"And when the babies were decanted."
"'Born,"' came the correction.
"Well, then they were the parents-I mean, not the babies, of course; the other ones." The poor boy was overwhelmed with confusion. "In brief," the Director summed up, "the parents were the father and the mother." The smut that was really science fell with a crash into the boys' eye avoiding silence. "Mother," he repeated loudly rubbing in the science; and, leaning back in his chair, "These," he said gravely, "are unpleasant facts; I know it. But then most historical facts are unpleasant." (Huxley 18).
III. A distorted view of an "ideal" society where all people should be equal: As in Huxley's dystopian society human beings as forced, by means of conditioning, to accept they are born for belonging to a specific cast or group, the higher powers decide to eradicate humans' emotions as a way to stabilize what they are convinced to be a utopian world. Yet, In Huxley's Brave New World people are conceived and mass-produced in test tubes in a laboratory where embryos are genetically manufactured with homogeneous characteristics which is absolutely considered a feature of a dystopian society: "standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg' (Huxley 7).
Additionally, Aldous Huxley depicts an important characteristic of a dystopian society in which scientists order the civilization in specific classes. In Aldous's novel, this class system is divided into five major casts: Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons which are designated even before babies are born. In the case of the lower classes existing in Brave New Word, single embryos are bokanovskified which makes them produce around eight and ninety-six identical embryos. The idea is to make people as uniform as possible:
Alpha children wear grey they work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm really awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able (Huxley 21).
Individuality is another aspect to consider in Brave New World. In this respect, Brave New World is integrated by people who have been altered, changed and created to fit the new invented society. To achieve this purpose, the higher powers of Brave New World provide people with commodities and, at the same time, they are being conditioned to be easily dominated and controlled.
IV. Constant entertainment: One of the most important and central characteristics of a dystopian society is the control of the masses which is achieved, among other ways, by the constant entertainment provided by the regulators of the society. In this sense, in order to keep people far apart from considering their circumstance and what might be missing in society; they are instead provided with distractions that help to keep them from dealing with reality of things. In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World this can be appreciated when cinema or 'feelies' and television are mentioned as major ways of having fun.
In Brave New World's laboratories kids are emotionally and socially conditioned, trained and habituated to this Brave New World by means of technology and the use of drugs. The delivery of free-drugs by the State is another feature of a dystopian society which uses this to control people who are not allowed freedom and whose thoughts, emotion together with their movement is strictly limited or impeded and, who also see the use of drugs as a means of entertainment.
Nonetheless, in relation to the constant entertainment provided by the government of this dystopian society, in Brave New World the delivery of free drugs from part of the central State is an accepted reality. The delivery of soma, which is the name of the drug that was legal, free of charge and distributed by the authorities, is considered as a perfect drug, for the purposes of the higher powers in Brave New World. Soma is a fundamental factor in guarding the so important and appreciated stability pursued by the authorities in this dystopian society depicted by Huxley. This drug is vital because, together with conditioning, it makes people run away from reality, unhappiness and dangerous feeling which go against personal and, therefore, social stability:
â€¦you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering (Huxley 161-62).
Another important source of entertainment present in Brave New World is sex, as children grow up and face their adult lives completely conditioned to be immersed in the society. Moreover, people's predetermined lives are filled with licentious and promiscuous sex which has no other purpose but satisfy their natural and inevitable human instinct and have fun. Again, through conditioning, scientists avoid any kind of emotions or feelings, like love, towards the opposite sex:
In a little grassy bay between tall clumps of Mediterranean heather, two children, a little boy of about seven and a little girl who might have been a year older, were playing, very gravely and with all the focussed attention of scientists' intent on a labour of discovery, a rudimentary sexual game (Huxley 23).
As it can be noticed, all four characteristics of a dystopian society, presented and described in the first part of this essay, that is to say, in the theoretical framework, can be seen throughout the diverse passages of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and they can also be supported with numerous quotations from the same book.
This literary research paper has looked upon the concepts of both dystopia and dystopian society to discover and explore if some characteristics of them are present in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Besides, throughout the present study, four chosen features of a dystopian society have been described and explained to the reader to, finally, make a parallel between these characteristics and the world depicted by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World.
After analyzing the novel Brave New World under the light of the elements formerly stated, it can be said that this literary research paper has proved its initial hypothesis, as it has been confirmed that Aldous Huxley's novel does depict characteristics of a dystopian society. The first evidence of dystopia in the novel is represented by the control applied by the higher authorities by different means, such as conditioning, censorship and emotional control. The second evidence is exemplified by the use of technology beyond the traditional applications, that is to say, the use of technology for achieving other purposes such as controlling the population. The third manifestation of dystopia in this novel is the establishment of uniformity instead of individuality, while the fourth point concerning dystopia is the use of many distractions to keep people away from questioning important issues. These four different evidences have been exemplified and supported, by the parallel made between a literary dystopian society and Brave New World society and, also, with numerous quotations and passages taken from the book.
Furthermore, the present research study has succeeded in addressing all the four main objectives which had been set out, that is to say, explaining the reader the concepts of both dystopia and dystopian society and their characteristics to determine how they are presented in Brave New World. This paper has also achieved the purpose of explaining, in a general and global manner, how dystopian societies work and, also, describing four main characteristics of them. The last objective expected for this work, that of discovering how some dystopian characteristics here mentioned are present in our current society is a task left for the reader, as it has to do with every person's criteria and opinion.
Concerning the replication of this research paper, some future guidelines will be suggested by the authors of this literary research for carrying out research on this topic; as the present study has missed some important and relevant aspects concerning dystopian societies and the comparison here made, mainly because of a matter of length.
It is suggested for other researchers interested in this topic to go deeper and investigate, for instance, about additional characteristics of a dystopian society, as this paper has only covered four of them. Moreover, future research can also be done in the light of establishing a comparison between two or more dystopian novels, in order to have a wider understanding of dystopian literary works and its characteristics. Lastly, it could also be explained and analyzed in a deeper way different dystopian characteristics and how these are reflected in specific literary works throughout the history of literature, in various cultures and for a variety of writers.