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Although Huxley's writing style makes him easy to read, his complex ideas make readers think. Even if you're not familiar with his vocabulary or philosophy, you can see that, as the critic Laurence Brander says, "The prose was witty and ran clearly and nimbly."
Huxley's witty, clear, nimble prose is very much an upper-class tradition. Brave New World-like all of Huxley's novels-is a novel of ideas, which means that the characters must have ideas and must be able to express them eloquently and cleverly. This demands that the author have considerable knowledge. In pre-World War II England such novels were more likely to have been written by members of the upper class, simply because they had much greater access to good education. Huxley, we remember, attended Eton and Oxford.
Huxley, like other upper-class Englishmen, was familiar with history and literature. He expected his readers to know the plays of Shakespeare, to recognize names like Malthus and Marx, to be comfortable with a word like "predestination." (Literally "predestine" means only "to determine in advance," but it is most importantly a word from Christian theology-describing, in one version, the doctrine that God knows in advance everything that will ever happen, and thereby decides who will be saved and who will be damned.)
Although Huxley was very serious about ideas, he never stopped seeing their
humorous possibilities. His biographer, Sybille Bedford, says that in
1946 he gave the commencement speech at a progressive school in California,
where he urged the students not to imitate "the young man of that
ancient limerick... who ....said "Damn,
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram!"
To appreciate this joke, you have to remember how a tram or trolley car moves on its tracks. It's a reminder that you'll have much more fun with Brave New World and get much more out of it if you don't let the language scare or bore you. Use the glossary in this guide and your dictionary as tools. See how many of the words you know. See if you can guess what some words mean from their spelling and the context in which you find them. Look them up and see how close you are. Look up the ones whose meaning you can't guess. If you put even a few of the words you meet for the first time in Brave New World into your vocabulary, you'll be winning a great game.
Games were an important part of an upper-class English education in Huxley's day. Many elite students developed a readiness to make jokes with words and ideas. You may find some of Huxley's jokes funny, while you may think the humor has vanished from others. But you'll have more fun with the book if you try to spot the humor. You'll find big jokes like the Feelies, movies that you can feel, as well as see and hear. You'll also find little jokes like plays on words-as in calling the process for getting a baby out of its bottle "decanting," a word ordinarily used only for fine wine. There is humor in "orgy-porgy," a combination of religious ritual and group sex, a parody of a child's nursery rhyme.
In Brave New World Huxley plays many games with his characters' names. He turns Our Lord into Our Ford, for Henry Ford, the inventor of the modern assembly line and the cheap cars that embodied the machine age for the average man. He names one of his main characters for Karl Marx, the father of the ideas of Communism. His heroine is called Lenina, after the man who led the Russian Revolution. Benito Hoover, a minor character, has the first name of the dictator of fascist Italy and the last name of the President of the United States who led the nation into the Great Depression, but he is "notoriously good-natured." Look up any names you don't recognize.
POINT OF VIEW
Huxley's point of view in Brave New World is third person, omniscient (all-knowing). The narrator is not one of the characters and therefore has the ability to tell us what is going on within any of the characters' minds. This ability is particularly useful in showing us a cross section of this strange society of the future. We're able to be with the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning in the Central London Conditioning and Hatchery Centre, with Lenina Crowne at the Westminster Abbey Cabaret, with Bernard Marx at the Fordson Community Singery. The technique reaches an extreme in Chapter Three, when we hear a babble of unidentified voices-Lenina's, Fanny Crowne's, Mustapha Mond's-that at first sound chaotic but soon give us a vivid understanding of this brave new world.