What makes a society successful? Wealth? Stability? Many believe visible representations such as landmass and economic growth quantify the success of a nation, but Aldous Huxley is among those who beg to differ. In his novel Brave New World, Huxley constructs a society that has achieved nationwide affluence. Despite fulfilling the criteria of a thriving community by any conventional measure, Huxley’s Brave New World teeters on the brink of corruption. Its lack of emotions and loss of awareness shed light on the emptiness of a lavish yet mindless lifestyle. Through various themes in Brave New World, Huxley shows the horrors of a society based solely on prosperity, which extols the dangers of a regime led without moral repercussions.
A prominent theme in Brave New World is the absence of emotions. Without suffering from the heartbreaks of losing a loved one, or the guilt from infidelity, the citizens of Brave New World are able to dedicate all their attention to endless consumption and abundant labor. At first glance, this may seem like a great way to uplift the efficiency of the workforce and boost the economy, but upon further inspection, it is evident that living a life deprived of empathy or commitment entails its own horrors. Lenina Crowne, a persistent believer of Brave New World’s values, has enjoyed an existence of unlimited promiscuity.
Free from emotional attachments, Lenina takes the liberty of “unbuckl[ing] her white patent cartridge belt” (Huxley 169) and ripping “her white sailor’s blouse to the hem” (169) in front of anyone she pleases. Though liberated from ever experiencing heartaches, her emotionless lifestyle has never yet inoculated her against the caprice of her insecurities. Used to instant gratification, Lenina struggles to regain her balance whenever she is denied her sexual impulses, and is left to recoil in despair from scrutinizing her body, wondering if she is “too plump” (80), or too ugly to deserve another man’s attention. She will never be granted the security of unconditional support from another being, having to constantly seek approval from various lovers, and never learn to judge her own competence by anything other than her “awfully pneumatic” (80) body. Therefore, her allegedly pleasurable life, led without any ethical constraints, has degraded her status to a mere tool that can easily be replaced.
Also, the absence of emotions is also featured in the indifferent attitude regarding life and death in Brave New World. From a very young age, the children of Brave New World have been conditioned to overlook the significance of their lives. Not only are they fed with soma, a tranquillizing drug that plunders their fear, making them at perfect ease on their deathbeds, they have also been taught to view themselves simply as machines that propel the advancement of the production chain while alive and fuel the “phosphorus recovery” (63) process after being cremated. For this reason, the citizens of Brave New World deem themselves incapable of contributing to the community in any other way than being “socially useful” (63), which gives them no motive to value their existence, as it has been made crystal clear that they are no more than nuts and bolts with little influence on the overall functioning of a grand apparatus.
What is more, many citizens of Brave New World are entranced at the idea of having a permanently stimulated metabolism that maintains their appearances at a “youthful equilibrium” (95) and undisturbed at the consequence of dying “long before they reach” (95) old age? Their lack of tribute to the living and deficit of respect for the dead have ultimately resulted in their materialistic pursuit, seeing that they would gladly sacrifice years of their lives in exchange for something as shallow as a prolonged youthful physique. Despite being shielded from the sorrow of losing a loved one, and the torment of heartaches, the citizens of Brave New World will never appreciate their being at a meaningful scale. They are rich in all manners of temporary satisfaction but impoverished in all aspects that give their lives a sense of purpose. Such an emotional void leads to destruction and a lack of integrity in their society that no amount of prosperity is able to substitute.
Apart from the lack of emotions, Brave New World also portrays the loss of awareness among the general public. As an attempt to issue orders and ensure absolute obedience in the population, the leaders of Brave New World have hypnopaedically conditioned their citizens to adopt the morals promoted by their government. They have taught their citizens to love what they have been predetermined to do, forcing them to surrender their chance at harnessing their own paths, and submit to passively following commands for the rest of their lives, whether it is slamming gates and pressing buttons on an elevator (51), or “press[ing] levers” (17) in a laboratory. They have also led their citizens into believing that all activities unrelated to “increase[ing] consumption” (25) are pointless, encouraging them to dedicate every minute of their spare time to enjoying sensational entertainment.
Unaware of any other viable options to occupy their time, the citizens of Brave New World have become content with “scampering from feely to feely… from Electromagnetic Golf Course” (48) to “Centrifugal Bumble Puppy” (25), despite its lack of accomplishment. The leaders of Brave New World may argue that their citizens are perfectly content in the comfort of their ignorance, that they enjoy their mindless working environment, and take pleasure in participating in the recreational entertainment, but that is because their citizens cannot even articulate a life free of meaningless “labor and distraction[s]” (48), and are foreign to the satisfaction that can be gained from achievement. Never giving their citizens the option to another way of living, Brave New World’s seemingly enchanting lifestyle has only created a population incapable of questioning its purpose and unaware of the lack of fulfillment in their pointless lives which will eventually lead to its own obliteration.
Not only does the loss of awareness in Brave New World lead to the absence of accomplishment, but it also enables the leaders of Brave New World to easily manipulate their citizens. The leaders have numbed their citizens with soma, a drug that creates artificial pleasure, making them at peace with fulfilling the needs of their society, or rather the needs of whoever controls the society. For this reason, Brave New World’s government officials have established a very effective execution of the command, as they can embed any criteria they prefer on people effortlessly and receive a collective response that they expect in return.
Responsive to the leaders’ orders, the citizens have gladly satisfied every need of their society. They have endured weeks of being kept in “constant rotation” (13) and adhered to “tropical heat” (12) when the society calls for a supply of “rocket-plane engineers” (14), “miners” (13), and “acetate silk spinners” (13). They have chanted, “Ending is better than mending” (42), “One cubic centimetre cures ten gloomy sentiments” (46), and every other set of the standards they have been instructed to adopt when there is a demand for advocacy. They have put the well-being of their society above their own, consequently giving up their individual passions, ego, and life choices. Ignorant of the exploitation they are under, the citizens of Brave New World have become gullible servants of their abusive leaders, who strive for benefits unavailable to themselves, and are incapable of sounding the alarm even under such an oppressive reign. Such is a society pampered with superficial happiness but void of independent judgment and awareness that enables it to stand up against inequity.
What outlines a successful society? Wealth? Stability? Brave New World has achieved both, yet its affluence has pushed it to the verge of desolation. Driven by prosperity and prosperity alone, Brave New World functions in the absence of emotions and awareness. Through various themes in Brave New World, Aldous Huxley highlights the lack of fulfillment and judgment in a society deluded by the false sense of security that prosperity has promised. The vision of living a life deprived of the ability to feel and the right to judgment shows the perils and disorder provoked by the eradication of morals, placing great emphasis on preserving human nature in future endeavors.
Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Chatto & Windus, 1932.