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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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FORM AND STRUCTURE

Brave New World fits into a long tradition of books about Utopia, an ideal state where everything is done for the good of humanity as a whole, and evils like war and poverty cannot exist.

The word "Utopia" means "no place" in Greek. Sir Thomas More first used it in 1516 as the title of a book about such an ideal state. But the idea of a Utopia goes much further back. Many critics consider Plato's Republic, written in the fourth century B.
C., a Utopian book.

"Utopia" came to have a second meaning soon after Sir Thomas More used it-"an impractical scheme for social improvement." The idea that Utopias are silly and impractical helped make them a subject for satire, a kind of literature that makes fun of something, exposing wickedness and foolishness through wit and irony. (Irony is the use of words to express an idea that is the direct opposite of the stated meaning, or an outcome of events contrary to what was expected.)

In this way two Utopian traditions developed in English literature. One was optimistic and idealistic-like More's, or Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (1888), which foresaw a mildly socialist, perfect state. H. G. Wells, an important English writer, believed in progress through science and wrote both novels and nonfiction about social and scientific changes that could produce a Utopia.


The second tradition was satiric, like Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), in which both tiny and gigantic residents of distant lands were used to satirize the England of Swift's day. Another satiric Utopia was Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872; the title is an anagram of "nowhere"), which made crime a disease to be cured and disease a crime to be punished.

In Brave New World, Huxley clearly belongs in the satiric group. (Though toward the end of his career he wrote a nonsatiric novel of a good Utopia, Island.) He told a friend that he started to write Brave New World as a satire on the works of H. G. Wells. Soon he increased his targets, making fun not only of science but also of religion, using his idea of the future to attack the present.

As in most works about Utopia, Brave New World lacks the complexity of characterization that marks other kinds of great novels. The people tend to represent ideas the author likes or dislikes. Few are three-dimensional or true to life; most resemble cartoon characters. As do many writers of Utopian works, Huxley brings in an outsider (John the Savage) who can see the flaws of the society that are invisible to those who have grown up within it.

As Huxley worked on his book, his satire darkened. The book became a serious warning that if we use science as an instrument of power, we will probably apply it to human beings in the wrong way, producing a horrible society. Brave New World belongs firmly in the tradition of Utopian writing, but the Utopia it portrays is a bleak one, indeed.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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