Brave New World occurs six hundred years in the future. The world has submitted to domination by World Controllers, whose primary goal is to ensure the stability and happiness of society. The underlying principle of the regime is utilitarianism, or maximizing the overall happiness of the society. The novel begins at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center, a production factory for human beings. A group of students receives a tour of the facilities by the Director.
The students view various machines and techniques used to promote the production and conditioning of embryos. The scientists take an ovary, remove and fertilize the eggs, force the eggs to bud up to ninety-six times, and subsequently grow the embryos in bottles. Predestinators then decide the future function of each embryo within the society, essentially assigning a future job to each human.
The society contains a five-tiered caste system that ranks Alphas and Betas on top. Only the Alphas and Betas come from single eggs that are not budded and hence have no twins. The Centre conditions all the non-Alpha and Beta embryos for their future status in society by dividing them into Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. Thus, the Alphas represent the intellectually superior group, followed by the Betas, and continuing down to the Epsilons, who have little to no intelligence.
The idea of totalitarian social stability occurs first in this chapter. While few critics have called the governmental regime "totalitarian" in nature, Huxley explicitly describes it as such. Huxley stated in Brave New World Revisited that the only way to create a permanently stable society is for a totalitarian regime to have absolute power. The regime must then ensure that people are happy all the time, be able to control the behavior of each individual, and ensure that independent thinkers are forbidden from disturbing the social fabric.
Huxley creates a society that frowns on individual creativity and that only welcomes those who conform. The social motto "Community, Identity, Stability" frames this social structure. Huxley generates "community" by dividing the population into segments, where the Alphas serve as intellectual superiors and Epsilons function as pure menial labor. Huxley shows how "identity" comes from the Conditioning Centre through the selection of the embryos into each of five groups. "Stability" occurs through the limitations placed on the intelligence of each group.
The fundamental tenet behind the society is utilitarianism, which describes a society that seeks to create the maximum happiness. Limiting the intelligence of each person to fit their future job is one way this society makes them happy. Thus, Alphas receive challenging jobs and Epsilons receive grunt work that would be boring for higher caste members. Social conditioning and stunted development maximizes each person’s happiness. The goal of utilitarianism is to make the society "happier" and thus more efficient. The society described by Huxley is therefore a "utilitarian totalitarianism."
The students continue their tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. They watch "Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning," a technique that trains infants. Here, the use of electric shocks and sirens in response to touching roses or books modifies the behavior of Deltas. This discourages behavior that might destabilize society, such as allowing Deltas to read books and acquire knowledge. The students also view a group of sleeping infants who receive moral instruction through hypnopaedic learning as they sleep. Sleeping babies listen to repeated catchphrases, and in this chapter, infant Betas listen to a tape played hundreds of times which indoctrinates them to believe they are superior to Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons, but not as clever as Alphas.
Huxley reveals some of the main sources of social stability. Science creates and conditions people to become happy members of society. The comment by the Director, "What man has joined, nature is powerless to put asunder," reveals the extent that the conditioning can alter behavior.
Pavlovian conditioning comes from Pavlov’s research, which showed that animals could learn to do an action through punishment and reward. Huxley expands this concept to humans, who use it to condition the babies of the lower classes. In his example, Deltas learn to avoid roses and books by giving them electric shocks when they touch those items. Psychologically, this conditioning also lowers these classes to the status of animals.
The use of hypnopaedia strengthens the conditioning and indicates the subversive nature of the state. Huxley is showing the readers that propaganda starts at birth and can occur even when we are unaware of it, as when sleeping. He reinforces the point that people are unaware of how influential the propaganda is by constantly having his characters quote "hypnopaedic phrases."
The goal of the state is to ensure social stability, and the conditioning creates the "community" by segregating each infant into separate classes. This promotes stability by creating a group of workers with state-controlled preferences. Thus, economic stability comes from creating preferences that promote spending. This is touched on more in Chapter 3.
The student tour goes outside where they watch some children playing a game of Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. The game is elaborate and requires complex machinery. They learn that the heavy reliance on machinery increases consumption of material goods and thus boost the economy. Young children are also encouraged to play erotic, sexual games. A boy who refuses to play with a young girl must go to a psychologist.
The Director begins to talk about the past when parents rather than the state raised children. Mustapha Mond, the Controller of Western Europe, interrupts him and tells the students that the "home" consisted of a mother, father, and children and, along with being diseased and smelly, contained overbearing intimacies and emotions.
Freud receives credit for showing that the "appalling dangers of family life" lead to individual instability. The Controller indicates that this in turn leads to social instability. Society has therefore coined the phrase "everyone belongs to everyone else" in an effort to eradicate individualism.
The Controller also gives a history lesson, and describes how the old governments banned the first reformers. After the Nine Years’ War destroyed most of the old world and brought the World Controllers to power, they struggled to defeat embedded culture by initiating a campaign against the past, destroying monuments and books, and banning sexual reproduction. Religion, and in particular Christianity, was reduced to a form of worship of Ford. To emphasize Ford's great contribution, mass production, they cut all the crosses to make a T in honor of the Model T car. Additionally, a new drug called soma was invented which acted like cocaine or heroin but which had no ill side effects. The drug ensured that people would spend their time hallucinating rather than thinking. The government continues to distribute soma to its citizens every week.
Meanwhile, Lenina Crowne, a Beta Plus, discusses her four-month relationship with Alpha Henry Foster with her friend Fanny Crowne, a Beta. Fanny is upset that Lenina is having such a long relationship with only one man. She quotes the phrase "everyone belongs to everyone" and tells Lenina to have sex with other men. Lenina agrees with Fanny and tells her that she likes Bernard Marx, an Alpha Plus, and has decided to join him on a trip to the Savage Reservations. Fanny is skeptical and says that she thinks Marx is a loner and an introvert.
Bernard Mar is a specialist on hypnopaedia. The reader first meets him while he eavesdrops on a conversation between Henry Foster and another worker. Foster and the other man are discussing Lenina and Foster tells the man he should "have" her, implying sexual relations. Marx gets upset when he hears this, indicating that he is in love with Lenina.
Chapter 3 introduces many of the main philosophical issues within the novel. Huxley presents the social necessities for perfect stability within his society. These include the role of consumption, the interplay between sexuality and emotions, the role of history, and the redefinition of religion.
Society views consumption as beneficial. The society believes that more consumption means more production of good, which will increase the number of jobs and keep the society fully employed. Examples of how consumption is increased include hypnopaedic phrases that tell people to throw away old clothes and buy new, indoctrinating Deltas to enjoy country sports so they will use the state transportation system to exit the city, and complex machinery being required for any sort of sport or game.
The interplay between sexuality and emotions is complex. Huxley realized that monogamy, sex, and family ties generate most human emotions. Thus, the society rests on promiscuity and baby factories. The goal is to eradicate emotions by replacing them with pure sexual desire and nothing else. This, combined with the baby factories, destroys family life and monogamous relationships. The state directs most emotions, which is necessary for social control and stability. Interestingly, George Orwell used the opposite technique in 1984. Orwell banned sexual relationships in order to eliminate dangerous emotions that might go against the state. However, since both authors realized that sexual emotions destabilize society, each technique achieves the identical goal of elimination of sexual emotions.
Society views history and religion as dangerous and potentially corrupting. Having a history gives people a sense of time outside of their own lifetimes. This in turn makes people think about progression through time, which is something the society cannot permit without causing social upheaval. Thus Huxley uses the quote from Ford, "History is bunk," to indicate that history is worthless and should not be studied. The Controller describes history in a way that further emphasizes its negative aspects. He also blames Christianity for the inability of past societies to achieve ectogenesis (in this context Huxley means growing babies outside of the human body).
The new "religion" in the society has close ties with consumption. There is not really religion to speak of, but rather a system of ideologies that acknowledges Ford as its leader. Thus, the society replaces the Christian "Our Lord" with "Ford" and uses the T instead of the cross. Consumption is as extremely positive due to the introduction of mass production. Huxley plays with the fact that Henry Ford introduced mass production with the Model T car. Huxley then bases the society’s "religion" around that fact. However, strong elements of Christianity remain. Chapter 3 ends with a scene taken from the New Testament where Jesus tells his disciples to let the children stay with him. Two noisy children harass His Fordship Mustapha Mond. The Director of the Centre orders them to leave, but Mustapha replies as Jesus did, saying, "Suffer little children."