Huxley views commodified society as a detriment to human creativity. In the novel, society modifies human behavior so that people will seek to consume goods and services as much as possible. This modification in turn means that everyone who makes such goods or provides such services will be able to stay employed. Thus, the society's economy will remain stable.
However, such reliance upon commodification also blunts any attempt at original thought. Consumption becomes so important to the society that all of a person's energy and reason is put into activities of work and play that consume goods that in turn keep the economy running. This is, of course, important for maintaining the structured and controlled environment of Huxley's dystopia, but it also produces human beings who simply do what they have been taught and have no reason to think on their own.
A dystopia is a kind of science fiction, or fantasy, world that predicts the future in a negative light. Huxley's Brave New World and George Orwell's 1984 were two of the first modern dystopian novels. Both told of a future society in which governments had complete dictatorial control over people, while state control and conformity replaced the freedoms of modern life and a person's right to the pursuit of happiness.
Dystopian novels such as Brave New World are critiques of modern institutions. Such works take an instance of injustice or perceived ill in a society and take those situations to what would be their logical ends. In Brave New World, Huxley critiques modern governmental institutions whose power has slowly crept into the lives of ordinary people. This process often occurs in the name of security or peace, yet such actions inevitably lead to the destruction of everything that is good in a society such as freedom or creativity.
Brave New World largely defines freedom through the structures that prevent freedom. Bernard feels these constraints most acutely, as in a scene from chapter 6, when Bernard and Lenina have a conversation about freedom. Lenina insists that everyone has a great deal of freedom - the freedom "to have the most wonderful time." Soma represents this kind of freedom, as it puts people in a hypnotic state in which they no longer feel as though they should ask questions or defy the structures of society. Bernard insists that this is no freedom at all.
Bernard claims that his ideal of freedom is the freedom to be an individual apart from the rest of society. Bernard strives to be free in his "own way...not in everybody else's way." Huxley argues here that certain structures in our own modern society work in the same way that drugs like soma work in this fantastical dystopia. Huxley often argues against the use of advertising specifically for the way that it hypnotized people into wanting and buying the same products. Such things keep people within predefined structures, and it quashes free thought, which ultimately restricts freedom.
Human impulses play a complicated role in the novel. First, Huxley suggests that they can both stabilize and destabilize society, as in the case of sexual activity. In Brave New World, the authorities encourage all humans to sleep with as many other people as often as they can. In previous generations, institutions such as marriage controlled these impulses. People tried to confine their impulses, buy when they no longer could, such institutions unraveled.
By abolishing institutions such as marriage and encouraging behavior that society once considered immoral, the leaders of the new world have gotten rid of the inherent dangers of these sexual impulses. However, Huxley also suggests that the freedom of these impulses undermines humanity's creativity. Complete freedom to have pleasure has made each person like an infant, incapable of adult thought and creativity. For example, Bernard longs to have more control over his impulses, but the display of such control unnerves others who have learned to be free with their impulses.
The Power of Knowledge
Huxley's civilized world is a society of ultimate knowledge. Humans have conquered almost all areas of scientific inquiry; they control life, death, aging, pleasure, and pain. This mastery of knowledge has given human beings great control over their world, and this control in turn has given great power to those who first envisioned such a society, and who continue to maintain its existence.
However, such knowledge and the abuse of power that it inspires often lead to downfall, as symbolized by Huxley's frequent allusions to Shakespeare's Macbeth. In Shakespeare's play, Macbeth gains small pieces of knowledge of present and future events that leads him to seek more power and control over his kingdom. However, this knowledge leads to abuse of power and is the cause of his ultimate demise. In the same way, characters in Huxley's novel must stay in the dark about the true workings of society because knowledge will lead to their ultimate demise.
A utilitarian society aims to produce the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. In Huxley's society, this particular good is happiness, and government, industry, and all other social apparatuses exist in order to maximize the happiness of all members of society.
John the Savage rebels against this notion of utilitarian happiness. He argues that humanity must also know how to be unhappy in order to create and appreciate beauty. The use of soma is an example of the opposite. People take the drug in order to go on a "holiday" from any kind of unhappiness. Because they refuse to experience unhappiness, the drug keeps them from wonder and the appreciation of beauty, as in the scene when Lenina and Bernard fly over the tossing English Channel. He sees a beautiful display of nature's power; she sees a horribly frightening scene that she wants to avoid.
The Transformation of Human Relationships
The society in Brave New World can only survive because it has destroyed any remnants of human relationships and bonds. The relationships of father and mother no longer exist because all human beings are born in a scientific lab. The relationship between husband and wife is no longer necessary because society shuns monogamy, and all men and women learn to share each other equally.
The cost of such actions is that human beings cannot truly experience the emotions of love. Both John and Lenina begin to feel these strong emotions over the course of the novel, but they cannot act on these emotions in a constructive way because neither can comprehend how to have such a relationship in their society.
The Limits of Science
While society has mainly banned art and religion rather than science, Mustapha Mond also claims that too much scientific progress can also reduce the ultimate happiness of each individual. Science, he tells the reader, is responsible for a great many of the achievements of their society and for the levels of happiness that each individual achieves. Nevertheless, if scientific progress occurs without restraint, it will lead to less happiness.
For instance, the government does not engineer food in a scientific laboratory, even though it would be faster and would feed more people. By farming food naturally, the government gives more work for the lower caste people to do and thus keeps them occupied and happy. This example shows that progress does not always maximize happiness, a fact that John the Savage clearly sees in his new society.
Brave New World Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Brave New World is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.