April 30, 2001
Embodiments and Contextual Difference in Brave New World
Despite its surface theme of future prognostication, Brave New World is a novel that is profoundly representative of its own time and context, which most critics contend is America of the 1930s (Firchow, 77). Owing to the shared history between our own context and that of Brave New Worlds originary context, it is a novel that has remained relatively unchanged as far as the critical interpretation of its larger meaning. However, in the case of the four main characters, Bernard Marx, John the Savage, Helmholtz Watson, and Lenina Crowne, my contention is that the roles Bernard and John are seen as embodying have remained relatively static, while those of Watson and Lenina have undergone revision, which in Leninas case could be considered quite radical. In order for us to further understand this, it short summation of the text involve becomes necessary.
The style of Brave New World is erratic, and the situational viewpoints are many and juxtaposed, and this is indicative of the style which Huxley was developing throughout his career, namely counterpoint. Huxley, as the derivation of the title from Mirandas statement in The Tempest implies, was a Shakespeare aficionado, and proposed that counterpoint existed in his work as well. In an essay entitled Shakespeare and Religion, Huxley argues, the Shakespeare canon becomes a repertory of contrapuntal religious viewpoints (Meckier, 132). And this contrapuntal style which Huxley locates in Shakespeare is key to the development of his own novel.
Brave New World begins by taking the reader along on a tour of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre under the guidance of the director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, and this is the readers first insight into the world of the novel. The new world is propagated by human beings that have been mass-produced in test tubes, rather than as a result of singular sexual reproduction. The Bokanovsky process, as it is referred to in the novel, allows the twelve Directors of the totalitarian run world-state to completely control the type and quantity of human being that is to be produced, through manipulation of the human being prior to its hatching. Heating and cooling the embryos is cited as just one example of pre-birth conditioning. By the time they were decanted the embryos had a horror of cold. They were predestined to emigrate to the tropics, to be miners and acetate silk spinners and steel workers (Brave New World, 16). And it is by this method that the society of the new world is regulated and controlled.
The apparent protagonist, Bernard Marx, then appears in the novel. Bernard is isolated from society because of slight abnormality in his physical appearance. Bernard is slightly smaller and shorter than he should be, and this difference is the site of speculation not only for himself, but also Lenina, our female protagonist, who surmises that alcohol may have inadvertently gotten into Bernards blood surrogate. The two other characters that appear to make up the main cast are, like Bernard, relative individuals within society. John the Savage is an outsider from his own people, as well as from those of the new society, as a result of being conceived naturally amidst the savages by a member of the new world, who then turns to prostitution to support herself. His natural conception alienates him from the society of the new world in which conception is considered and aberration, and the actions of his mother, a former inhabitant of the new world, are amoral in the context of the Savage reservation, and cause John to be alienated there as well. Helmholtz Watson, on the other hand, is an outsider from the new world because he is too smart to accept his position as professor at the College of Emotional Engineering. The hypnopaedic songs he writes, to be put into use conditioning infants during sleep, have become bland, and he longs to express his own emotion in words. Together, the movement of these four relative individuals dictates the meaning of the novel. In essence, Lenina remains unchanged throughout the novel, while Bernard, John, and Watson are used as conduits through which to perceive the effect of this new society on a variety of individuals, which finally results in Johns suicide and the voluntary exile of Bernard and Watson.
This is an extraordinary novel to speak of the characteristics and traits that characters embody specifically because the new society of the novel places such a heavy emphasis upon the body as indicating the type of person. A body in the brave new world defines a person. The lower castes of the society are groups of hundreds of identical twins, and this defines them as laborers. The Alpha males are the highest grade of class, and Bernard, although he is an Alpha, remains separate because of his slight physical abnormality.
However, in order to us to appropriately speak of this novel, it is first necessary that we understand the context in which it was created. Brave New World was published in 1932, amidst what could be considered the height of cultural modernism. In order to understand this movement, I propose to examine concrete living conditions, the status of art, and the basic philosophical thought of the time. The first of these items is arguably the most important, in that it seems to have had the greatest effect on the others. As is evident by the reverence paid to Our Ford throughout Brave New World, Henry Ford is an enormous cultural force to be dealt with. Ford is largely attributable for the emergence of assembly line production, a process, much like Bokanovskys, which changed both the economy and culture of the United States. In his article entitled, Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Post-Fordism? David Gartman proposes a chronology of modernism: around the turn of the century competitive capitalism gave way to the monopoly or Fordist stage. This period is defined by the rise of the large, monopolistic corporation and the mass production of standardized goods (Gartman, 121). The ability of the corporation to provide mass amounts of a product reverberated through the cultures art.
Gartman says, The shock of the rapid economic and political changes of Fordism produced cultural modernism, identified with artists such as James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, and Le Corbusier (Gartman, 121). Especially in the case of Le Corbusier, an architect, the movement which began to invade all aspects of modern art began to be known as a machine aesthetic. The rationalized forms of Fordist mass production seemed appropriable for architecture, and Le Corbusier, himself, postulated that a house was a machine for living in an ought to be built on the same principles as the Ford car I bought (Gartman, 119). Le Corbusier went on to design housing complexes in the modern style, de-emphasizing detail and adornment and highlighting functionality and utility. It appeared as if the only way to satisfy the demands of the expanding society would be to produce goods in this way. Gartman says, The modernists took this opportunity to employ their stripped-down, functionalist, machine aesthetic to provide ideological testimony to the brave new world of mass production and mass consumption being created by the technocratic elite (Gartman, 130). However, it was not only art and architecture which imbibed this ideological testimony.
Much of modernism is apparent in this philosophical thought of Freud and Pavlov, who also featured prominently in Brave New World. In his essay entitled, Our Ford, Our Freud, and the Behaviorist Conspiracy in Huxleys Brave New World, Jerome Meckier analyzes the portrayal of Freud within the novel. Mustapha Mond, one of the World Controllers, is cited in the novel as speaking of Our Freud in regards to matters of a psychological nature, and this is not because the theories of Freud had been forgotten, rather, they make up the psychological groundwork to which the Pavlovian methods of conditioning are applied, in order to make up the new society of the new world. Basically, the Freudian theory of individual development is applied to the Pavlovian methods of structuring experience (Meckier, 41). For Huxley, the treatments of Freud and Pavlov ignore the higher ends of human nature. Citing Freuds insistence on never meeting a person who was not sick, Huxley sees Freuds worldview as negating the positive aspects of mankind. Meckier, summarizing Huxleys opinion, states, Where Ford wanted to run life like one of his factories, Freud treated the mind as a piece of neurological machinery. Ford and Wells adore machines, Freud and Pavlov treat man as if he were one. Our Ford equals Our Freud because Huxley saw both men as glorified mechanics (Meckier, 41). Hence, the modernist movement, triggered by the Fordist system of mass production and solidified in its origination of the term by its deification in Brave New World, managed to transport its ideals through art and architecture into philosophical thought. And it is the negative aspects of this movement, as are especially apparent in this last construction of the ideological testimony of modernism, that Brave New World satirizes.
Having briefly summarized the development of modernism in respect to its influence on concrete living conditions, artistic development, and philosophical thought, it is now possible for us to analyze the roles which the main characters embody in the context of the originary moment of the novel.
The perceptions of Bernard Marx, and to a lesser extent, those of John the Savage, have undergone little change in their interpretive meaning within the text. Largely, they reflect the contrapuntal style of Huxley, through displaying two different perspectives on the same problem. In Peter Firchows essay, Brave New World Satirizes the American Present, he describes, The Savage as an individual like Bernard, an individual merely by accident (Firchow, 83). Both Bernard and John, had they been able to choose, would have chosen to be insiders within their respective societies. Bernard would have been perfectly happy had he not always thought people were viewing him as inferior due to the difference in stature between himself and other Alpha males. Likewise, John would have been perfectly happy had his mother not been a prostitute, which would have enabled him to live within the hyper-moral society of the savages. Overall, both of these characters are doomed to failure because they would not have actively chosen their roles if they had had the chance. In her essay entitled, Brave New World and The Tempest, Ira Grushow supposes that Bernard embodies Caliban. Being deformed from birth, Bernard is unable to fit into the new society, which breeds in him discontent and rebellion (Grushow, 43). Eventually, however, according to Grushow, Bernard has no more success than a drunken Caliban at overthrowing his master. John, for Grushow, is the innocent suddenly brought into an evil world (Grushow, 43).
However, it appears to me as if this conception of John is too simple. John is an outside already in his own world. Bringing him into the new world opens the possibilities of quality, but only for an instant before John realizes how equally backwards is the society of the new world. Both John and Bernard, from the beginning, are inevitably doomed. Neither is able to surpass his conditioning and the eventual fates of each negate the possibility of assigning the role of hero to either character. Initially, this was a large criticism levied against Huxley following the publication of his novel. It was seen as being largely too pessimistic, a novel without a hero. But, as the historical context surrounding the novel began to change, so too did the perceptions of several of the other main characters within the text.
Both Bernard and John are relatively complete characters within the text. However, Lenina and Helmholtz Watson prove particularly troublesome, especially when trying to consider their effect within the originary context of the novel. Grushows discussion of Lenina is especially indicative of the way in which Lenina might have been perceived during the originary context. For Grushow, Lenina must be Miranda based on the fact that John represents Ferdinand, and likewise, the controller Mustapha Mond, must be a father-surrogate to Lenina (Grushow, 43,44). Typical of period representations of women in literature, Lenina is either nothing other than a sexual object or one who needs protection from a father figure. The recent feminist movement has provided a new area of criticism for Brave New World, namely, the marginalization of the feminine as embodied by Lenina.
There is almost no scholarly discussion at all regarding Helmholtz Watson or his effects on the novel until quite recently, and this is perhaps a function of Watson as representing not an actuality but a possibility. Increasingly, Watson has begun to be viewed as the site of true utopian possibility within the novel. In the originary context, possibility was not a place of fixity for idealism. The modernist aesthetic promoted functionality, not possibility. Watsons possibility, in the context of modernism, was unfulfilled, and therefore wasteful or useless.
In order to examine the changing position of Watsons role within Brave New World, it will be necessary to take a brief look at historical changes in modernist thought in an effort to understand a new cultural climate that allows Watsons position to be revealed as one of possible utopianism within this ultimately dystopian novel. The end of the modern movement in art and architecture, says Gartman, and the beginning of postmodernism, is dated by the architectural theorist Charles Jencks on July 15, 1972, when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis was razed by dynamite (Gartman, 119). This public housing project, based on the designs of Le Corbusier and his organization of modern architecture, is seen as indicative of the modern movement in architecture, and that is why Jencks proposes its demolition as the end of the modern movement.
However, the changes in modernism are much too broad to postulate a single date for the actual break, it is merely important to note that theorists have recognized that one exists. By the late 1960s, Gartman contends, Fordist work could not be further divided not machines further specialized, so productivity growth slowed and profits lagged (Gartman, 124). A new system of production and consumption was needed, and it involved the diversification of product lines that had remained standard during the era of Ford. These physical lifestyle changes enacted changes on all aspects of culture. Famed architect Robert Venturi highlighted areas such as the Las Vegas Strip and declared they were almost perfect for they were an expression of diversity which the change into a Post-Fordist economy mandated (Gartman, 133). Overall, it is this diversity with postmodern culture reveres. The stagnant, non-expressional buildings of a Le Corbusier failed to speak to the current culture, and this is why their demolition indicated the end of this movement. It is a bit more difficult to analyze the effect of the postmodern movement on modern thought, since as of yet, we have yet to pass the era of the postmodern, but I believe changes in the readings of the main characters of Brave New World indicate the changes in philosophical thought.
As stated earlier, the conceptions of Bernard and John have remained largely unchanged, with readings actually growing less sympathetic towards John. Whereas Grushow depicts John as an innocent brought into a world of evil, Meckier views John much less sympathetically. John, according to Meckier, is as thoroughly conditioned as the brave new worldians who arouse his disgust (Meckier, 43). He is fallible for much the same reason as the scientists of the new world. Johns infatuation with Shakespeare is viewed, in this postmodern context, as equally harmful as the views of the scientists. Whereas Grushow postulates John as the romantic hero n the bad world, Meckier would propose that John as an equally skewed view of life, ultimately leading to his end. Meckier states, Trying to make the world behave according to Art is no different from forcing it to correspond to the restrictive truths uncovered by Science (Meckier, 44). Earlier readings neglected to draw this similarity between art and science, and romanticized John. However, Huxleys novel, especially is final scene of John swinging from the rafters in the lighthouse, cannot support this reading. And, as much as the postmodern context has restricted the earlier readings of John, so to has it expanded the possibilities which Watson embodies.
In the modern context, possibilities were not valued unless realized, however, in the postmodern, possibilities are all that remain, and this is what has enabled Watson to become the most privileged character of the novel. As Meckier states, Watson discovers a path between the utopian and primitive horns that otherwise make the novel a philosophical cul-de-sac Brave New World remains primarily a modern satirical novel because Huxley cannot follow Watson between the dilemmas horns (Meckier, 47). Thus, through Watson, we are able to view a decidedly anti-utopian utopia; one in which, according to this re-read of Watson, which privileges the gifted individual. It becomes obvious that this is especially against the tenets of modernism which proposed uniform products for all, and intimates as to why readings of Watson have changed to allow him a privileged position within the novel. As much as the conception of Watson has changed, the readings of Lenina have proposed at least twice as much revision of the novel. As is apparent in Grushows summation of the novel, Lenina is read largely as a helpless subject, and the object of sexual control. The emergence of feminism between the time of the originary context and our modern context has exploded historical readings of Lenina.
Invoking much the same principles as I have in my introduction, Deanna Madden criticizes Brave New World, in her article entitled, Women in Dystopia: Misogyny in Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange, for being largely representative of its originary context, which Madden views as being misogynistic. Madden, speaking of all three writers collectively, states, "They project into heir visions of a future the patriarchal power structure and gender inequities of their own times as well as their own prejudices (Madden, 289). For Madden, the fact that Lenina, the most high profile female in Brave New World, appears as a Beta, and has relatively little development as a character throughout the text, is indicative of Huxleys views on women. Maddens argument, however, is difficult to distinguish because it critiques all aspects of Huxleys novel so equally as misogynistic. "The setting of Brave New World, a future London of phallic skyscrapers, is a world in which the male principle of science has subjugated and nearly eradicated the female principle of nature Madden, 289). Equating even the physical makeup of the environment with oppression, if becomes oftentimes hard to distinguish Maddens argument. It appears as if, contrary to this statement, Huxleys novel critiques the subjugation of nature across gender boundaries, and Maddens invocation of the female principle of nature seems somewhat indicative of her own misogynistic tendencies. A critique of Huxley based on the lack of a rebellious female presence in the novel does appear as a valid criticism, however, if we are to act as gender blind readers, we should assume that either Bernard, John, or Helmholtz could have just have easily been female, and I would argue that it would hardly change one iota of the novel if either of the three had been.
Overall, it is arguable as to whether or not Leninas portrayal in the novel is misogynistic, or whether the Brave New World in itself is overtly misogynistic, however, it is apparent that feminism has allowed the readings of Lenina to become greatly expanded. In general, then, it becomes apparent that the main characters of Brave New World have undergone subtle revisions in regards to the changes that have taken place between the originary context of the novel and the modern. Oddly, readings of Bernard, the apparent protagonist, have remained the most relatively constant throughout the contextual change. John, on the other hand, has been revised slightly and taken down from his position of hero in the novel to be sidled with romanticism. The persona which had been thrust upon him through his use of Shakespeare and actions throughout the novel has been modified slightly to place him on equal footing, and perhaps even less so, with Bernard. Watson and Lenina, on the other hand, have undergone what could be referred to as radical revision. Watson, a character who remained largely unproblematic during the originary context of the novel, has surfaced as the apparent postmodern hero. In Watson, the possibilities of a utopia are realized, however, they are done so outside of the confines of the novel, an issue which Meckier which contends situates this novel as primarily modern (Meckier, 47). And then, Lenina, even more so than Watson, has undergone critical revision. Largely viewed as a non-entity in the novel by postmodern critique, she has come to embody, for those like Madden, the misogynistic trends inherent in Huxleys own time and in himself. Taken as a whole then, it should be apparent that the interpretations of what each of these four main characters embody have been modified, slightly in the case of Bernard and John, and radically in the case of Watson and Lenina, to reflect our postmodern context, and the analyzation of these changes hopefully provides greater insight into both the originary context and our own modern one.
Firchow, Peter. Brave New World Satirizes the American Present, Not the British Future. IN de Koster, Katie Ed. Readings on Brave New World. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 1999. 174 pp.
Meckier, Jerome. Shakespeare and Aldous Huxley. Shakespeare Quarterly, Volume 22, Issue 2 (Spring, 1971), pp. 129-135.
Gartman, David. Postmodernism; or, the Cultural Logic of Post-Fordism? Sociological Quarterly (1998), 39(1), pp. 119-137.
Meckier, Jerome. Our Ford, Our Freud and the Behaviorist Conspiracy in Huxleys Brave New World. Thalia: Studies in Lit. Humor, Ottawa, 1978, 1:1, pp. 35-59.
Grushow, Ira. Brave New World and The Tempest. College English, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1962, 24, pp. 42-45.
Madden, Deanna. Women in Dystopia: Misogyny in Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange. IN Ackley, Katherine Anne Ed. Misogyny in Literature: An Essay Collection. New York: Garland, 1992, pp. 77-86.
de Koster, Katie. Readings on Brave New World. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 1999. 174 pp.
Nugel, Bernfried, Ed. Now more than ever :: proceedings of the Aldous Huxley Centenary Symposium, Munster, 1994. New York: Peter Lang, 1995.