Aldous Huxley (1894–1963)
Study Questions and Activities
Sir Thomas More coined the word “utopia” in his fictional work Utopia, first published in Latin in 1516. He created the word by combining the Greek prefixes “ou”and “eu” with the sufffix “topos.” Define the two Greek prefixes and the Greek suffix, and then show how the concept of utopia is inherently playing with two different places.
Epigraph—What is an epigraph? Huxley uses the following quotation from Nicolas Berdiaeff, Un nouveau moyen age 1927, p. 262: Les utopies apparaissent comme bien plus réalisable qu’on ne le croyait autrefois. Et nous nous trouvons actuellement devant une question bien autrement angoissante: Comment éviter leur réalisation définitive? Les utopies sont réalisables. La vie marche vers les utopies. Et peut-être un siècle nouveau commence-t-il, un siècle où les intellectuels et la classe cultivée rêveront au moyens d’éviter les utopies et de retourner à une société non utopique, moins “parfaite” est plus libre. [Utopias appear to be more realizable than we used to believe. And we now find ourselves facing a deeply troubling question: How to avoid their definitive realization? Life marches towards utopia. And maybe a new century will begin, a century where the intellectuals and cultivated classes will dream of ways to avoid utopias and to return to a non-utopian society, less perfect and more free.]
- Notice the two sentence fragments with which Huxley begins the novel. If a 34-storey building is described as “squat,” then what kind of irony is Huxley using here?
- Look up the word “identity” in a good dictionary. What aspect of the word is central to the world state’s philosophy?
- Compare Huxley’s use of colour imagery in this chapter with that of Dickens in the second chapter of Hard Times. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dickens/charles/d54ht/contents.html
- Do Alphas and Betas undergo Bokanovsky’s Technique?
- Describe how the government of the brave new world resembles that of H. G. Wells’s A Modern Utopia (1905) or that of Men Like Gods (1923). http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/w45mu/contents.html A Modern Utopia http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/w45me/contents.html Men Like Gods
- Write a brief essay in which you speculate that Huxley borrowed ideas from Wells, especially Chapters 14, 15, and 20 from his dystopia “When the Sleeper Wakes.” http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/w45ws/contents.html
- What kind of irony does Huxley use when he gives the following line to the DHC: “The greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time”?
- What is the status of the English language in A.F. 632? French?
- Compare the first two chapters of Dickens’s Hard Times (“The One Thing Needful” and “Murdering the Innocents”) with the first two chapters of Brave New World. How is Henry Foster like Bitzer? What values do they share? Which kind of education do both dystopias—i.e., the Brave New World and Dickens’s Coketown— prefer: particular or general education—or, in other words, vocational or liberal education? https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dickens/charles/d54ht/contents.html
- What is the world’s population in 632 A.F.?
- Brave New World, like T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, uses montage technique as in film. This device is especially evident in Chapter 3, where settings and character shift with no transition devices being offered to the reader. Scenic cuts become faster as the chapter advances. In the first two and a half pages of Scene 1, in Chapter 3, we observe the DHC and his students outside the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre, watching the children at play—first, Centrifugal Bumple-Puppy, then erotic play; followed by the introduction of the World Controller, Mond; then to indicate a shift of scene and character, comes a double space. Then we see Henry Foster snubbing Bernard Marx at the embryo store as Lenina enters. Scenes shift between the DHC and Mond’s history lesson and the dialogue between Foster, the Assistant Predestinator. Try placing an M for Mond at the beginning of each of his scenes, L for Lenina’s as they counterpoint, and notice how gradually the interval between Mond’s words and Lenina’s gets reduced. Sometimes only one line intervenes until Mond or Lenina/Fanny take up their lines.
- Give one example of Mond’s being depicted as an ironic Christ figure: it occurs near the end of the chapter. How is Mond an ironic Christ figure?
- How is Mond like one of H. G. Wells’s samurai in his A Modern Utopia? http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/w45mu/contents.html
- In a brief essay, compare Huxley and Eliot’s use of juxtaposition of past versus present.
- After reading Mond’s history lesson in Chapter 3, give the chief reason for the creation of the Brave New World.
- The utopian society of the Brave New World apparently minimizes the problems associated with old age through hormone treatments (Violent Passion surrogates, gonadal hormones). Look up the scientists Serge Voronoff (1866-1951) and Eugen Steinach (1861-1944). Huxley refers throughout the novel to ductless glands, adrenals, pituitary glands, internal and external secretions, and gonads. He is almost certainly referring to the rejuvenation theories of Steinach and Voronoff.) Interestingly, late in his life, W. B. Yeats underwent such rejuvenation therapy and reported positive results.) By 1929, the Marx Brothers famously alluded to this rejuvenation fad in their song “Monkey Doodle-Doo” in their film The Cocoanuts: “Let me take you by the hand/Over to the jungle band/If you’re too old for dancing/Get yourself a monkey gland/And then let’s go, my little dearie, there’s the Darwin theory…”
- You might consider writing an essay on Huxley’s use of rejuvenation therapy in BNW.
- List the uniform colour for Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons.
- Why is Community Singing encouraged in the brave new world?
- Notice the special meaning for the word “Corporation.” List a few examples and then clarify what a Corporation is. What European state was known as a “corporate state” between the wars? Is the Brave New World a “corporate state”?
- Before her date with Bernard, Lenina rushes to meet Henry Foster, fearing her lateness will annoy Henry, who is a stickler for punctuality. His efficiency-expert attention to time introduces the satire on industrial rationalization as championed by F. W. Taylor, a time-and-motion engineer, dubbed “the father of scientific management,” and whose books greatly influenced Ford. See first http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Winslow_Taylor Then, look at the following article: http://www.willamette.edu/~fthompso/MgmtCon/Scientific_Management.html.
- The chapter begins with several allusions to Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Read the poem, especially the first 50 lines. http://www.thomasgray.org/cgi-bin/display.cgi?text=elcc
- Make a list of words that Huxley borrows from Gray here. Write a brief essay on the thematic use Huxley makes of the contrast between Gray’s poem and the novel.
- Contrast what Henry Foster expects from his relationship with Lenina with what Bernard Marx wants from her.
- What is the main conflict in this chapter? Between which characters?
- A key symbol is the electric fence separating “civilization from savagery”: Uphill and down, across the deserts of salt or sand, through forests, into the violet depth of canyons, over crag and peak and table-topped mesa, the fence marched on and on, irresistibly the straight line, the geometrical symbol of triumphant human purpose. And at its foot, here and there, a mosaic of white bones, a still unrotted carcase dark on the tawny ground marked the place where deer or steer, puma or porcupine or coyote, or the greedy turkey buzzards drawn down by the whiff of carrion and fulminated as though by a poetic justice, had come too close to the destroying wires. “They never learn,” said the green-uniformed pilot, pointing down at the skeletons on the ground below them. “And they never will learn,” he added and laughed, as though he had somehow scored a personal triumph over the electrocuted animals.”
- This image needs to be examined carefully. Typically, the straight line symbolizes human reason, science. Notice that man has conquered nature, and that the animals are killed by the voltage in the man-made fence. Just before he was writing Brave New World, Huxley was highly critical of LeCorbusier, the famous French/Swiss architect. Look him up in Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier#Major_buildings_and_projects
- In his foreword to Urbanisme (Englist translation, The City of Tomorrow) (1929), he said, “A curved road is a donkey path; a straight road is a road for men.” One thinks here of the myth of Pandora’s box and of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden for eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Pride is the common denominator in both myths. Look at the “Forays into Urbanism 1922-1929 section of the site mentioned above. Pay particular attention to the photo of Le Corbusier’s sketch of a city for three million people, with its 60-storey buildings, rooftop helipads, etc. Note also that Le Corbusier hoped that politically minded industrialists in France would lead the way with their efficient Taylorist and Fordist strategies adopted from American models to reorganize society. In this new industrialist spirit, Le Corbusier began a new journal called L’Esprit Nouveau that advocated the use of modern, industrial techniques and strategies to transform society into a more efficient environment with a higher standard of living on all socioeconomic levels. He forcefully argued that this transformation was necessary to avoid the spectre of revolution that would otherwise shake society. His dictum “Architecture or Revolution,” developed in his articles in this journal, became his rallying cry for the book Vers une architecture (“Towards an Architecture,” translated into English as Towards a New Architecture), which comprised selected articles from L’Esprit Nouveau between 1920 and 1923.
- Huxley had a long-standing aversion to LeCorbusier’s urban style, calling him “an enemy of privacy,” and BNW is an attack on his kind of futuristic city.
- Is Huxley warning against human pride here, our tendency to try to dominate nature, to improve upon it as Henry Foster is so eager to demonstrate?
- You might consider writing an essay on Huxley’s critique of modernist architects such as LeCorbusier.
- The expression, “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not from the Bible. Who popularized the adage?
- What is John’s mother Linda’s relationship to nature and technology?
- Explain how Linda’s allusion to the Chelsea Abortion Centre is an example of bathos. Note that Sir Christopher Wren’s classically designed Chelsea Hospital has now become an abortion centre.
- What key information concerning the D.H.C. is divulged in this chapter?
- How does young John react to the relationship between his mother and Popé, the man who gave John a tattered copy of Shakespeare’s complete works?
- John learns to read, but the only book besides Linda’s technical manuals is The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Immediately the descriptions in Hamlet and other plays provide John with the negative vocabulary and another perspective with which to view Popé and Linda’s sexual behaviour: “Nay, but to live /In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,/Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love/Over the nasty sty.” (Hamlet, 3.4.83-84).
- In Hamlet, Shakespeare depicts women as either madonnas (innocents like Ophelia before she falls out of Hamlet’s favour) or else whores (Gertrude with Claudius or Ophelia after her rejection of Hamlet’s love). John will soon begin to idealize Lenina, who is so unlike his aging mother. John had earlier loved the Indian maid Kiakimé, but at age 16 his heart was broken as she married another—a young, full-blooded Zuñi man, not an outsider like John. John was also an outsider to the rites and mysteries discussed in the kiva, so the essence of John’s experience is rejection. He will be an outsider in both communities, because of his different race in the reserve, and because of his different values in the brave new world.
- Notice Freud’s articulation of the whore-madonna theory: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna%E2%80%93whore_complex
- Look up Ernest Jones, Freud’s biographer. Then read this article, which explains how Jones interpreted Shakespeare’s Hamlet in light of the Freudian Oedipus complex. http://elsinore.ucsc.edu/Freud/freudSphinx.html
- Why do you think Mond allows John and Linda to come with Bernard and Lenina to “civilization”?
- What is the attitude to romantic love in the Brave New World?
- What is the significance of the perfectly synchronized clocks in all 4,000 rooms of the Centre? How does this image link to F.W. Taylor?
- In what ways does the Brave New World resemble a beehive or ant colony?
- What scene causes John to repeat Miranda’s famous phrase “O, brave new world” and how is his meaning different from the first time he says this at the end of Chapter 8? In what later chapter does John utter these lines yet again? Clarify the irony with respect to John’s three separate quotations of Miranda’s words.
- Why is it more difficult, according to Miss Keate, to educate upper caste, one-egg, one adult students?
- What is the central paradox in the poem Helmholtz writes? In what way does it resemble William Wordsworth’s sonnet, “Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802”? http://allpoetry.com/Composed-Upon-Westminster-Bridge,-September-3,-1802
- What does it have in common with T.S. Eliot’s “Preludes”? http://www.bartleby.com/198/3.html
- In a brief essay, analyze Helmholtz’ 24 line poem, beginning “Yesterday’s committee…”
- Discuss the significance of the promising Alpha-minus administrator’s dying of trypanosomiasis. Try to relate it to one of the main hypnopaedic maxims of BNW.
- What does John Savage mean when he says “some kinds of baseness are nobly undergone”?
- In what way is Lenina atavistic?
- When Lenina grabs John and kisses him, what does he experience and why?
- Describe the change in the image patterns found in the poetic lines that John suddenly starts to quote from Shakespeare. Account for the sudden change in the kinds of images.
- What is the earliest entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for the word “television”?
- Whose name does Linda call out when John visits her in the hospital?
- How does the historic soma and its use differ from the soma of BNW?
- “Chapter 16 shows Bernard Marx at his worst.” Do you agree or disagree?
- What was the Cyprus experiment?
- In the discussion scene between with Mond and John, it is hard not to think of another poem by Thomas Gray here, “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.” In that poem, Gray contrasts the thoughtless days of youth before the pain of adulthood are known. “Regardless of their doom/The little victims play!/No sense have they of ills to come,/Nor care beyond today.” (ll. 51-54). As Mond knows, and as John must learn, the Brave New World eliminates all the ills which Gray attributes to adulthood: the Passions of Anger, Fear, Shame, pining Love, Jealousy, Envy, Care, Despair, Sorrow, Ambition, Death, Poverty, and slow consuming age. The inhabitants of Mond’s stable, controlled society, unlike men, are not “condemned alike to groan.”
- How can Mond’s position be partly summed up by the last stanza (lines 91-100)?
Huxley was indebted to Dostoevsky’s famous Grand Inquisitor chapter from The Brothers Karamazov in Chapters 16 and 17, with John resembling Dostoevsky’s Christ figure, and Mond representing his Grand Inquisitor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Grand_Inquisitor
The essence of the conflict between John and Mond is whether happiness (Mond’s goal) is the chief goal in human society or whether it is some form of heightened consciousness/freedom for each person (John’s goal). Dostoeivsky used Satan’s triple temptation of Christ in the wilderness as his starting point. [See Matthew: ch 4]
- In the context of the Grand Inquisitor, why do you think Mond encourages the Fordian religion? Why does the Brave New World bother with religion at all?
- Do you consider Bernard Marx a static or a dynamic, changing character? That is, does he grow or change during the novel? Is he any different in his final appearance in Chapter 18?
- Who is Darwin Bonaparte and who might be his modern equivalent?
- In the last scene, what might the references to the compass points suggest?
Aldous Huxley by unknown (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aldous_Huxley.gif) is in the Public Domain.