In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley looks at ‘the sins of the father’ to depict a world gone astray by scientific materialism and blind adherence to progress and hedonism. Huxley is concerned less with the events of the distant future than with analysing what is happening in the world now. His characters are superficially drawn and are therefore puppets or caricatures illustrating the arguments propounded by the author. The central characters are, in fact, deviants from the social majority; Huxley’s arguments being that this satirized utopia cannot accommodate true human beings. The nature and fate of John Savage proves this. The product of a mixed marriage in Brave New World terms, he is the natural-born son of a one-time beta-minus from the Fertilizing Room. He believes in God and loves his mother and Shakespeare, which are several anathemas in the fictional world of modern London. Having been brought up on the New Mexican Reservation, John is also unhappy, dirty and disease-ridden and prone to masochistic impulses—all of which he claims as human rights and preferable to the mindless, drug-enforced ‘happiness’ of the new world.
John Savage is presented as a ‘moral norm’ to the reader, but because Huxley is only concerned with presenting the antithetical extremes of the new state, he is not a fully developed character and can turn the somatised world of London to no real purpose, feeling nothing but puritanical disgust for all the artificiality of the new world. In the end, in despair and disgust, the Savage flees to an isolated lighthouse to indulge in violent self-abasement and finally suicide.
Huxley is concerned with human truths and sees the essence of man as naturally creative, passionate and deeply dependent on the gift of free will to allow to intrinsic qualities to reach fruition. In the new state system, creativity, passion and free will are all heresies. The average creature in the new world has been indoctrinated from birth (or before) against these heresies and is therefore essentially inhuman. There is only one fully autonomous human being in Brave New World and this is the Controller, Mustapha Mond, himself once a deviant, who chose to ally himself to the system and now maintains that ‘truth’s a menace, science is a public danger’. This is the perverse doctrine of the new world and, as the Controller knows both sides of life, there is no one better equipped to deliver this message dispassionately. Mond is not unsympathetic to the Savage’s primitive instincts and is almost envious of Helmholtz Watson’s individual creativity; all of which characteristics blend to produce a credible character, but being voluntarily allied to the Wrong Side, Mond is merely a useful mouthpiece for Huxley’s message. After pointing out the flaws in John’s arguments against the Trinity of the World State, he yields indifferently to the Savage’s preferences with a laconic ‘You’re welcome to it’. What is ironic about Mustapha Mond is that with his knowledge and his position as a law-maker, he is in fact ingeniously, if perversely, creative in his shaping of his ideal world of ‘Community, Identity, Stability’. It is disquieting that at the end of his debate with John Savage, there is no clear victor. Huxley is therefore less concerned with the two characters than with subtly balancing two powerfully conflicting ideological claims.
Huxley’s detachment from his characters is particularly evident in his curious creation of Bernard Marx. Bernard is not a static character, but he develops in an unusual way. With his ‘small thin body and melancholy face’, his acute self-consciousness and suggestion of romantic sensibility, Bernard initially seems to be deliberately cast to engage reader sympathy. His diffidence and chronic fears, as well as the rumours of a pre-natal mishap, all combine to make Bernard an appealing misfit in this sterile world. He appeals initially exactly because he is a misfit, but it is gradually revealed that all Bernard yearns for is to be an accepted member of the community – admired by other alphas and respected, even feared, by the lower castes and also to claim the most pneumatic women. For these selfish ends, he uses the unwitting Savage, gaining overnight popularity and losing all reader sympathy. This shift in the reader’s attitude towards Bernard, as all sympathy is removed, makes Bernard a shallow character in moral terms (although not necessarily lacking in substance in terms of Huxley’s fiction). His purpose may be to show how far the realms of passion have been separated from the realms of reason in the author’s projected utopia. Bernard’s seeming non-conformism—his alleged contempt for the values of his society and his intellectualism—is not the result of profound insight into the value of beauty and truth, but merely an impulse reaction to his sense of difference. Bernard’s cowardly grovelling to the controller to be allowed to remain in London instead of being exiled amongst misfits merely emphasizes Huxley’s gruesome view of the power of science, showing how successful this projected system of predetermination and indoctrination can be.
This view is explored further in the character of Lenina Crowne, who seems to be poised on the brink of transcending the purely mechanical responses with which she has been indoctrinated. Her ability to experience passion, therefore, remains dormant and her responses to the unidentifiable emotional disturbances caused by the Savage’s ardour can only be articulated in the form of ludicrous slogans. Lenina is therefore reduced to the tragi-comic caricature, a pneumatic robot, incapable of development as an individual character. Perhaps Huxley uses her to make a statement about the impossibility of developing ‘character’ under this situation.
Helmholtz Watson is treated rather more sympathetically, but he remains a minor, undeveloped character. He is nevertheless important as a bridge between the passionate Savage and the dispassionate Controller. If allowed to develop, Helmholtz could be the successful rebel of the Brave New World, and indeed there are hints about his hidden depths, but his function seems to be to demonstrate the extent to which art has been replaced by ‘emotional engineering’ and the unfeasibility of free expression in this mechanized world.
With the suicide of John Savage and the banishment of Helmholtz and Bernard, the unstable elements are eliminated. The state of artificial happiness that is achieved at the cost of freedom, imagination and poetry is no longer threatened. The bleak ending emphasizes the author’s preoccupations with themes and not characters. Throughout Brave New World, Huxley builds up arguments and incidents and uses his caricatures to present these contrapuntal themes, while at the same time remaining personally detached from judgement. Instead, the chaos of modern life speaks for itself.
(Page numbers not supplied since the Kindle version of the text was used for this essay)
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Further Online Reading:
Brave New World at 75: The New Atlantis
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