Brave New World has many themes, but the main themes are the future based on scientific advancements a.k.a. progress, declining morals, and New World Order. The book was written in 1932. Eighty-three years later Huxley's words are still topical, chilling, and prophetic.
The book takes place in the future or 600+ years A.F. The A.F. stands for After Ford. Space travel/global flight is only part of the setting. In England, one of the twelve districts of the world, Huxley describes a totalitarian government filled with citizens who are born with genetic modifications and put into a caste system. The caste is comprised of Alphas (the smartest), Betas (pretty smart, Gammas, Deltas (not too bright), and Epsilon (the most stupid of all). People are not born from mothers, but born from synthetic wombs after genes are modified. The people chosen to be Epsilons are given less oxygen while in the womb to ensure they will be mentally slow, enjoy their menial work and never complain. Once born, babies are conditioned through sleep therapy, constant repetition of phrases, and negative reinforcement to accept their place in the social caste. For example, Alphas cannot hang out with Deltas or Epsilons are electronically zapped when curious about books or everyone is put on the planet for everyone sexually speaking. Sadly, the latter part begins at six or seven years of age when children are encouraged to act in an inappropriate sexual manner during recess time. Families, politics, and art are banned. All work encompasses science with constant progress being the goal of the world. Some of the perks include a "happy" society, peace, health, and security.
Citizens are encouraged to have sex during their free time with as many partners as possible. Part of the conditioning revolves around birth control. Pregnancies equal social suicide. Besides sex, citizens of the higher orders can go to bars, golf, and even take trips around the world. A big part of the society is drug use. When citizens are in a bad mood, bored, depressed, or even want to celebrate, they take a pill called sona. They have an allowance of six sonas per week, but there is an exception to that rule within the story. There is only one religion they are allowed to partake in which has something to do with Henry Ford. A lot of touchy-feely cliches and phony inspirational exaltation take place. The main characters are Lenina, Bernard Marx, John the Savage, and his mother, Linda.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the names Marx and Lenina or Lenin were not random. I'm guessing Huxley chose them as an ode to communism. Did he think that's where the world would end up? Makes sense. Democracy and capitalism can be unstable. Factions emerge. Politics are inevitable. But with communism where no one is particularly special and no one has anything to take away, the rules change.
There are some similarities like no religion and everyone working for the good of the state. However, I am not sure of the economic structure of this set-up. There seems to be no wealth, just a social hierarchy based on genetics not merit or family connections.
Most of the book describes the world, especially England, in the future. But there is a story line. Bernard Marx is an Alpha who hangs out with another Alpha. The two men think too much. Bernard's friend has the soul of a poet or artist but keeps his passion a secret. With exception to manuals, informational texts, and some history books, every other kind of reading is censored. Bernard also wonders if there is something more, something with value in life besides working and having sex for fun. Bernard asks Lenina, a girl he wants to have sex with and actually likes, to go with him to an Indian reservation in America. They keep these reservations in tact to study Indians for anthropological reasons. Bernard asks his boss for the time off and his boss readily agrees. His boss also mentions how he went to see the Indian reservation twenty years ago and brought Linda who disappeared and never came back. Bernard takes Lenina to the Indian reservation in New Mexico. She is not impressed. The people are uncivilized, disgusting, and outright savages. As they tour the reservation, they meet two white people who don't blend in. One of the whites is his boss's Linda. She tells him that she disappeared because she was pregnant, a social no-no. Her baby is the other white named John. Although raised without any genetic modifications and conditioning, John still does not fit in with the Indians. Linda also does not fit in. In the Indian culture, man and woman are monogamous. Unaware of the social norms, Linda sleeps with many of the men in the tribe which leads to hatred from women tribal members. Bernard has an idea-take them back to England with him.
Linda taught her son how to read English at the reservation. One of the only books at his disposal was Shakespeare's complete works. He grows up reciting romantic poems. Lenina has caught his eye, but unbeknownst to him she's a sure thing and doesn't need any romance. He can't believe how forward she is and calls her a whore when she tries to sleep with him.
Linda no longer fits in with the world she once knew. Depressed, she takes sona. Some people, like Bernard's boss, find her more of a hindrance than a productive citizen and give her much, much more sona than the weekly allotment. She overdoses and dies. John the Savage goes berserk in the hospital and renounces the civilized society. He takes refuge on an island and lives in a lighthouse. England's citizens visit his sanctuary for entertainment, kind of like viewing him as the star of a reality show. He hates the attention at first, but eventually invites them into his new life for one night. They all take lots of sona and have a full-blown orgy. Disgusted, John hangs himself the next day. The reader is left wondering who the savage and who the civilized really are.
What about Bernard, Lenina, and Bernard's friend? I'm not sure what happened to Lenina. She probably met a few dozen new guys to screw, but Bernard and his friend get fired from their jobs for questioning the authority. They do not believe that the purpose of their lives is to serve the government and want more. Both men are exiled to Iceland where they are free to read, study, and question the world.
Quite a story, huh! Obviously this is a five star no-brainer. Progress comes at the expense of freedom, religion, and family. This is the kind of book that I will remember for a long-time. I guess what I got most out of it was not the brilliant writing or profound themes, but the prophecy of where this world is headed. Again, we are talking 1932. Let's see where Huxley went right:
Test Tube Babies
Genetic Modifications (we got in plants and animals, only the naive would think that we don't "test" it on humans. Hmmm...Wonder if Planned Parenting might be privy to this kind of work.)
Breakdown of Family Unit
Synthetic wombs (not quite there, but working on it with cloning)
One World Government (not quite there, but it's coming and it will be divided into sections under a totalitarian rule)
Sona (We know it as SSRIs such as Zanex and Prozac)
Government making us stupid (Think of our current educational system-especially math and history)
Censorship (US is using the "it offends me" as a way to censor)
Eliminating the Trouble-makers
Comments or questions welcome!