Brave New World Themes
Aldous Huxley was a well-read and learned thinker having his own views on various matters. Seeking to convey these views, he adopted the form of the novel, because he could convey them more effectively and appealingly through this medium. He held definite views on various subjects and conditions on the modern age, and these subjects formed the themes of his novels especially in Brave New World. For example, he had his own approach to and views on matters related to science, progress and modern civilization, etc., and he took up these themes for his novels.
Huxley was a keen observer of contemporary social and political reality, and sought to portray it in his novels, especially the early ones, and to satirize the ills inherent in it. He realized the dangers of an over-dependence on science which brought in its wake an over-indulgence in materialistic pursuits and physical pleasures. The immense progress made by science tended to suppress the emotional and spiritual aspects of human life. Huxley dealt with this situation in Brave New World which is concerned with the theme of what would become of man and the world he lives in, if such excessive subservience to science and technology continued.
Brave New World presents the picture of a distant future portrayed in order to satirize the present. There is an alarming tendency among human beings to make the best of the latest advances in the fields of scientific and technological knowledge. Their life is gradually becoming mechanized and standardized, and there is occurring a corresponding loss of human individuality and personal initiative. If these things are allowed to go on, man will become an automaton controlled and guided by the powers that be, with no feelings, emotions, sentiments and aspirations of his own. In a way, he will be dehumanized.
This extreme situation, likely to arise in future, also forms a theme treated in Brave New World. By presenting it, Huxley actually wants to warn us against it. He deals with the present problem of over population and the dangers attending it, by showing the production of children in laboratories in the future world, and letting them grow into manhood with complete serfdom to the rulers, and an absence of moral values in them.
“These bottle products were released from moral tensions because they were so conditioned that none of their actions had moral consequences.”
(Laurence Brander : Aldous Hyredey: A Critical Study, p. 64).
Brave New World contains a foreboding of the future, and depicts the predicament of the individual in a mass community. It shows as to what will become of the individual in a socialized community where greater emphasis will be laid on community than on the individual man and woman. As Lionel Stevenson points out, about Brave New World,
“its theme had been foreshadowed in incidental passages in his previous novels. Mr. Scogan, in Crome Yellow, prophesied a scientific era when babies would be produced in laboratories, and tests in infancy would consign each individual to training for a life-long vocation. The labour leader in Those Barren Leaves offered a blueprint for social salvation through public housing projects. Brave New World expanded these forebodings into a horrifying picture of a socialized and sterilized society dominated by the principles of Community, Uniformity, and Stability. There are many echoes of other authors: primarily it is a challenge to Wells’ Men Like Gods and Shaw’s Back to Methu-selah, but also it recalls Wyndham Lewis in deploring the trend toward social conformity that paralyses individual judgment, and D.H. Larence in exalting primitive instincts.” (The History of the English Novel, vol. XI, p. 191).
World embodies a warning based on scientific and technological progress. It seeks to caution man against the likelihood of the establishment of a totalitarian state or society if the right of the individual to be an individual-each man unique and free – is not safeguarded. According to Husey, “The theme of Brave New World is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals.” (“Foreword‘, Brave New World, p. 9).
The 20th century has witnessed unprecedented advances in the fields of science and technology. “Huxley realized that these advances which were almost universally hailed as Progress were fraught with danger. Man had built higher than he could climb; man had unleashed power he was unable to control. Brave New World is Huxley’s warning: it is his attempt to make man realize that since knowledge is power, he who controls and uses knowledge wields the power. Science and technology should be the servants of man-man should not be adapted and enslaved to them. Brave New World is a description of our lives as they could be in the none too distant future, if the present obsessions persist for standardization according to the sciences – eugenics and psychology, as well as economics and mechanics.” (Paul W. Gannon: Aldous Hudley’s ‘Brave New World”, pp. 15-16).
Thematically, Huxley presents the mutual opposition of two worlds, one based on the ideal of scientific industrialization and represented by Mutaph Mond, and the other on the Lawrentian ideal of primitive vitalism represented by John, the Savage. Man has to make a choice between these two worlds. The dualism inherent in Huxley’s theme may also be expressed in terms of another kind of dualism. As Joseph Needham remarks “Mr. Huxley’s theme, embellished though it is by every artifice of that ingenuity of which he is a master, is primarily dual, one of its aspects being the power of autocratic dictatorship, and the other, the possibilities of this power when given the resources of a really advanced biological engineering.” (Aldous Huxley: The Critical Heritage, p. 203).
The most private activities and relations of man like sex are directed from above. “Mr. Huxley shows us the state of affairs when the attack on post-and-pre-marital, and pre-pubertal taboos has long succeeded. The erotic play of children is encouraged, universal sexual relations are the rule, and indeed any sign of the beginning of a more deep and lasting affection is rebuked and stamped out, as being anti-social.” (Ibid.)
Huxley presents an alternative in the form of the Savage’s escape from this world, even though it may be an extreme one, i.e. death (or suicide). He seems to condemn the life or society into which the Savage has been brought. He is on the side of the Savage, and opposed to the future world likely to be created by science. “Having built up his picture of a scientifically controlled State, Huxley proceeds to demolish it by introducing the Savage, John, who represents the old world of religion and natural values and who voices Huxley’s opinions in two long conversations with the controller of this Brave New World. The Savage tries to call on the people to revolt against this spiritual serfdom, but they do not understand him and he is driven to suicide.” (S. Diana Neill: A Short History of the English Novel, p. 358).
Thus, Brave New World deals chiefly with the theme of science affecting human life, the process of dehumanization and the antagonism between the two worlds of scientific progress and primitive vitalism.