Brave New World Reading Notes

Updated March 28, 2021

Chapter 1

  • “Each of them carried a notebook, in which, whenever the great man spoke, he desperately scribbled. Straight from the horse’s mouth” (4).
    • This reminds me of the North Korean practice of having officials around the dictator always take notes of any “on-the-spot guidance” that might come up.
  • “the operation undergone voluntarily for the good of Society, not to mention the fact that it carries a bonus amounting to six months’ salary” (5).
    • There’s a belief that what they’re doing is really bettering the society, and they heavily incentivize people to do it by paying them a lot.
  • “By which time the original egg was in a fair way to becoming anything from eight to ninety-six embryos—a prodigious improvement, you will agree, on nature” (7).
    • There seems to be a lot of emphasis on improving the way that nature normally does childbirth, and pride in the idea that they’ve been able to engineer birthing much better than nature was able to.
  • “Bokanovsky’s Process is one of the major instruments of social stability” (7).
    • In other words, having a bunch of people who are identical keeps things stable.
  • “We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future…” (13).
    • People’s careers and lives are predestined from the time that they are developing. There is extremely limited free will, since it’s all been decided for you already.
  • “Hasn’t it occurred to you that an Epsilon embryo must have an Epsilon environment as well as an Epsilon heredity?” (14).
    • Here, we realize that these embryos are not just scanned and categorized. Embryos are worsened if they’re destined to be worse, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to maintain the class system and society’s order, they must hamper embryos to become less intelligent or capable adults.
  • “But though the Epsilon mind was mature at ten, the Epsilon body was not fit to work till eighteen. Long years of superfluous and wasted immaturity, If the physical development could be speeded up till it was as quick, say, as a cow’s, what an enormous saving to the Community!” (15).
    • They really think of certain groups of people as sub-human, only useful for physical labor. There’s no discussion or thought about the morality of forcing children to grow up much quicker so they can fulfill their work to society and die.

Chapter 2

  • “They’ll grow up with what the psychologists used to call an ‘instinctive’ hatred of books and flowers. Reflexes unalterably conditioned” (22).
    • Again, we see people treating people that are artificially placed in castes below theirs as sub-human. When you’re closer to the top, it’s extremely hard to feel empathy for those below you.
  • “Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too—all his life long” (29).
    • This makes you think about what the concept of “me” is, actually. Many of the things we think are part of us, have just been trained or ingrained into us, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Chapter 3

  • “Nowadays the Controllers won’t approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games” (31).
    • They have this idea that every activity needs to add to consumption or society’s output. Even recreation has gotten to a point where it isn’t simple games anymore, but instead it needs to directly contribute to society.
  • “And yet, among the savages of Samoa, in certain islands off the coast of New Guinea… The tropical sunshine lay like warm honey on the naked bodies of children tumbling promiscuously among the hibiscus blossoms. Home was in any one of the twenty palm-thatched houses” (39).
    • Ford modelled the new way of life after the trope of “happy, blissfully unaware savages”, which is around in our society today. He thought that going to this way of life could make people happier, since they wouldn’t have to live in cramped families with a mother and father.
  • “Has any of you been compelled to live through a long time-interval between the consciousness of a desire and its fulfilment?” (45).
    • Life has been made easy, painless. They see it as a benefit, which it definitely is in some ways. But in other aspects, life loses its meaning when it becomes easy and utterly devoid of any friction.

Why does Huxley structure the chapter as he does? What is the effect of that structure?

Huxley first begins by trading off sections between the boys’ tour and Lenina and Fanny’s conversation. He eventually splices in what’s simultaneously happening with Bernard Marx. Eventually, the splicing becomes so common that every other line is a different situation. It throws the reader off balance, and forces the reader to try to figure out which of the characters each line is talking about, so we can begin to split the characters’ personalities apart from one another.

Chapter 4

  • “Benito was notoriously good-natured. People said of him that he could have gotten through life without ever touching soma. The malice and bad tempers from which other people had to take holidays never affected him” (60).
    • Since people face very little hardship in their lives, bad tempers are something that one has to take time off for. When you have nothing worse to compare it to, everything feels horrible.
  • “The mockery made him feel an outsider; and feeling an outsider he behaved like one, which increased the prejudice against him and intensified the contempt and hostility aroused by his physical defects” (65).
    • Bernard’s insecurity and bad treatment is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a bit like the depression spiral where people see others’ interactions as hostile even when they aren’t, and therefore spiral further.

Chapter 5

  • “Every two and a half minutes a bell and the screech of whistles announced the departure of one of the light monorail trains which carried lower caste golfers back from their separate course to the metropolis” (72).
    • Members of different castes also have different facilities in public. This feels a bit like American segregation during the Civil Rights movement.
  • “He was as miserably isolated now as he had been when the service began—more isolated by reason of his unreplenished emptiness, his dead satiety” (86).
    • Even in a church-like service, Bernard feels isolated from the group. He doesn’t seem to fall into the norms that others fall into, and it makes him miserable not to fit in.

Chapter 6

  • “I’d rather be myself. Myself and nasty. Not someone else, however jolly” (89).
    • Even in the face of Lenina reciting sleep-taught phrases to him, Bernard stands by his thinking for himself. That’s rare in this world, and it shows how different Bernard is.
  • “what would it be like… if I were free—not enslaved by my conditioning” (91).
    • Bernard also actually realizes that he’s been conditioned, but he’s resigned to it. He sees it, but he sees no way to escape it.

What, in Aldous Huxley’s writing style / storytelling manner, engages you? (Or turns you off…)

The story itself is quite interesting. However, some of the descriptions are a bit long-winded and I’m still scarred by the flipping perspectives at the end of chapter 3 making no sense.

Chapter 7

  • “And you feel so small when you’re on the ground at the bottom of a hill” (108).
    • In a world without pain or any problems at all, Lenina has never been made to feel small.
  • “They’re so hateful, the women here. Mad, mad and cruel” (122).
    • One interesting thing is that there’s a lot less jealousy and nastiness in the World State, since there’s nothing to be jealous over. If everyone belongs to everyone else, and there’s no pain, then there’s nothing to complain or be unkind to others about.

Chapter 8

  • Linda to her son John: “But not your mother. I won’t be your mother. Turned into a savage. Having young ones like an animal.” (127).
    • Because she grew up in the World State, Linda has an enormous superiority complex. You can see through her interactions with all the other villagers, and even her son, that she thinks of them as beastly savages. She doesn’t want to accept that she’s one of them, too.
  • “‘But how do you make chemicals, Linda? Where do they come from?’ ‘Well, I don’t know. You get them out of bottles. And when the bottles are empty, you send up to the Chemical Store for more. It’s the Chemical Store people who make them, I suppose. Or else they send to the factory for them. I don’t know. I never did any chemistry. My job was always with the embryos’” (130).
    • In the World State, people’s work is so siloed and specific that they have no idea how even basic things related to their job works. It also seems like Linda hasn’t really taken any time to think about where chemicals come from herself, until John pointed out this blind spot in her knowledge.
  • “It was the same with everything else he asked about. Linda never seemed to know. The old men of the pueblo had much more definite answers” (130).

Is Aldous Huxley satirizing the Eugenics era in BNW, or espousing it?

Huxley seems to have written characters who believe in the theory of eugenics, such as Linda believing that she is so much superior over everyone else. However, it seems to be more of a satire that makes fun of characters like Linda — despite her thinking that she is superior to all others, she doesn’t understand when other women “say those men are their men” (126). Linda’s environment changes, and she’s no longer the superior being she sees herself as. Similarly, the Harvard professors think of themselves as above all others in the hierarchy of eugenics, but in a different environment would be entirely lost. They’re only in the positions that they’re in because of what we currently value in society, not because of some inherent trait in them.

Chapter 9

  • “Then suddenly he found himself reflecting that he had only to take hold of the zipper at her neck and give one long, strong pull…” (144).
    • It seems that John hasn’t entirely learned the social norms and expectations of the village either, maybe because he has been ostracized and made to feel like an outsider.

Chapter 11

  • “you can’t allow people to go popping off into eternity if they’ve got any serious work to do. But as she hasn’t got any serious work…” (155).
    • Everything in this world is optimized around work, and making sure that work is as efficient as possible. If you aren’t doing “serious work”, your life doesn’t really have a purpose.

Chapter 12

  • “The men were furious at having been tricked into behaving politely to this insignificant fellow with the unsavoury reputation and the heretical opinions” (173).
    • It becomes quite clear that people are only nice to Bernard Marx because he can give them the access to John that they want. Without that, Bernard is nothing to them once again.
  • “It was the sort of idea that might easily decondition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes—make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. But not, in the present circumstance, admissible” (177).
    • It’s interesting that Mustapha Mond understands that there are some truths being kept from the people. He even seems like a fairly sympathetic character, bound by the constraints of his position and desire to maintain order. If the people were put onto the idea that there could be a greater human goal than what was before them, it might tear down the optimizations in human productivity that have so carefully been constructed.
  • Helmholtz, speaking about Shakespeare: “That old fellow, he makes our best propaganda technicians look absolutely silly” (184).
    • This is a little nod to the idea that propaganda and conditioning aren’t exactly unique to this world. In our world we also have literature and media that conditions us, but we’re mostly unable to see it as that. The emotion in Shakespeare’s stories is also able to bring something out in the reader.

Chapter 14

  • “Should she speak to him? try to bring him back to a sense of decency? remind him of where he was? of what fatal mischief he might do to these poor innocents?” (206).
    • It seems that dying isn’t of particular importance in this world, and since people have no familial ties, there isn’t anyone to mourn their death especially greatly. Do most people die alone in this world?

Chapter 15

  • “Linda had been a slave, Linda had died; others should live in freedom, and the world be made beautiful” (210).
    • Although John sees that Linda lived as a slave to the world around her, Linda was also in such a rush to get back to her civilization. She raced back to be enslaved once again, because it was what she was used to.

Chapter 16

  • “You can’t make flivvers without steel—and you can’t make tragedies without social instability. The world’s stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get.” (220).
    • Mustapha Mond actually seems quite reasonable and sympathetic here. He recognizes that life without suffering is quite different from life with suffering, and that great artistic work comes out of suffering. This is something that Helmholtz doesn’t seem to understand.

Chapter 18

  • “The whip… Do the whipping stunt. Let’s see the whipping stunt” (256).
    • Again, we see that the people in the World State do not see John as a real person. Instead, he’s a piece of entertainment, and they travel far to disturb his peace and jeer at him. The next night, after people see him whipping, even more people come to see. There’s no thought of him as an individual person, just another thing to provide amusement.