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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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7. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS THROUGH DRUGS

Soma is a drug used by everyone in the brave new world. It calms people and gets them high at the same time, but without hangovers or nasty side effects. The rulers of the brave new world had put 2000 pharmacologists and biochemists to work long before the action of the novel begins; in six years they had perfected the drug. Huxley believed in the possibility of a drug that would enable people to escape from themselves and help them achieve knowledge of God, but he made soma a parody and degradation of that possibility.

8. THE THREAT OF MINDLESS CONSUMPTION AND MINDLESS DIVERSIONS

This society offers its members distractions that they must enjoy in common-never alone-because solitude breeds instability. Huxley mentions but never explains sports that use complex equipment whose manufacture keeps the economy rolling-sports called Obstacle Golf and Centrifugal Bumble-puppy. But the chief emblem of Brave New World is the Feelies-movies that feature not only sight and sound but also the sensation of touch, so that when people watch a couple making love on a bearskin rug, they can feel every hair of the bear on their own bodies.

9. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FAMILY

The combination of genetic engineering, bottle-birth, and sexual promiscuity means there is no monogamy, marriage, or family. "Mother" and "father" are obscene words that may be used scientifically on rare, carefully chosen occasions to label ancient sources of psychological problems.

10. THE DENIAL OF DEATH

The brave new world insists that death is a natural and not unpleasant process. There is no old age or visible senility. Children are conditioned at hospitals for the dying and given sweets to eat when they hear of death occurring. This conditioning does not-as it might-prepare people to cope with the death of a loved one or with their own mortality. It eliminates the painful emotions of grief and loss, and the spiritual significance of death, which Huxley made increasingly important in his later novels.


11. THE OPPRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES

Some characters in Brave New World differ from the norm. Bernard is small for an Alpha and fond of solitude; Helmholtz, though seemingly "every centimetre an Alpha-Plus," knows he is too intelligent for the work he performs; John the Savage, genetically a member of the World State, has never been properly conditioned to become a citizen of it. Even the Controller, Mustapha Mond, stands apart because of his leadership abilities. Yet in each case these differences are crushed: Bernard and Helmholtz are exiled; John commits suicide; and the Mond stifles his own individuality in exchange for the power he wields as Controller. What does this say about Huxley's Utopia?

12. WHAT DOES SUCH A SYSTEM COST?

This Utopia has a good side: there is no war or poverty, little disease or social unrest. But Huxley keeps asking, what does society have to pay for these benefits? The price, he makes clear, is high. The first clue is in the epigraph, the quotation at the front of the book. It is in French, but written by a Russian, Nicolas Berdiaeff. It says, "Utopias appear to be much easier to realize than one formerly believed. We currently face a question that would otherwise fill us with anguish: How to avoid their becoming definitively real?"

By the time you hear the conversation between the Controller, one of the men who runs the new world, and John, the Savage, you've learned that citizens of this Utopia must give up love, family, science, art, religion, and history. At the end of the book, John commits suicide and you see that the price of this brave new world is fatally high.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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