Ranked as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the Modern Library, Brave New World is one of the first truly dystopian novels. The title’s fantastic world is derived from Huxley’s understanding of history and current events—including the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and World War I—and its depiction of the conflict between progress and the human spirit still resonates today.
Huxley’s bleak future prophesized in Brave New World was a capitalist civilization which had been reconstituted through scientific and psychological engineering, a world in which people are genetically designed to be passive and useful to the ruling class. Satirical and disturbing, Brave New World is set some 600 years ahead, in “this year of stability, A.F. 632″–the A.F. standing for After Ford, meaning the godlike Henry Ford. “Community, Identity, Stability,” is the motto. Reproduction is controlled through genetic engineering, and people are bred into a rigid class system. As they mature, they are conditioned to be happy with the roles that society has created for them. The rest of their lives are devoted to the pursuit of pleasure through sex, recreational sports, the getting and having of material possessions, and taking a drug called Soma. Concepts such as family, freedom, love, and culture are considered grotesque.
Against this backdrop, a young man known as John the Savage is brought to London from the remote desert of New Mexico. What he sees in the new civilization a “brave new world” (quoting Shakespeare’s The Tempest). However, ultimately, John challenges the basic premise of this society in an act that threatens and fascinates its citizens.
Huxley uses his entire prowess to throw the idea of utopia into reverse, presenting us what is known as the “dystopian” novel. When Brave New World was written (1931), neither Hitler nor Stalin had risen to power. Huxley saw the enduring threat to society from the dark side of scientific and social progress, and mankind’s increasing appetite for simple amusement. Brave New World is a work that indicts the idea of progress for progress sake and is backed up with force and reason.
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