Brave New World
Written in the 1930s, this grim view of a plastic world, in which science and technology condition people to passivity, is a warning against false optimism and the dangers inherent in scientific progress. Huxley got it; man's obsession with material goods and movement away from moral and spiritual values leads to a dystopian society. The book is a warning of where our society could be headed.
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Here are the notes for Chapter 1:
Chapter 1 [Summary]
SETTING: Central London; year: A.F. 632 (not clear what this means as there is no such thing as A.F. right now – we have B.C. and A.D. – later we find out this stands for Ano Ford or something like that)
Readers get a tour of a futuristic facility in which people are being “made” artificially. In this super-industrialized World State, which has the motto of “Community, Identity, Stability,” people are made artificially and raised (up to a certain age) in a Hatchery and Conditioning Center.
The Director of this facility is giving a tour to a group of (what we can assume are) future employees. This is a group of “boys” who are very young and super-excited to be introduced to the center by the Director himself.
First, they see the Fertilizing Room – we learn that women willingly donate their ovaries to this facility and then, from one ovary, thousands of embryos are created. It seems that no women ever have children the “old way” anymore. This society is creating children by using a Ford Assembly Line system instead.
Apparently, the eggs are submerged into a mass of sperm – so, nobody has “parents” anymore – it would be difficult to know who the “mother” is and impossible to know who the “father” is – and apparently this is not at all important to relevant.
Through a technique called “Bokanovsky’s Process” an egg is forced to divide, thus creating many identical twins – except they are making thousands of identical babies.
When one of the students asks why do they need to make so many identical human beings, the Director explains that this is a “major instrument of social stability” (p. 5) Why? How? – Well, imagine “Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!” (p. 5) – so, people are manufactures "en masse," then the people work mechanically – in essence, people become like machines themselves.
We also learn that, in this society, people are divided into castes. More interestingly – they are “made” to fit into certain castes – there are Alpha+, Alpha, Betas, Beta-, Deltas and Epsilons. People from different castes are socially-predestined – from the embryo, people are designed to fit into a certain caste. For example, the lower-caste embryos are given less oxygen and are even injected with alcohol in order to obtain people of lower intelligence and with under-developed bodies. Why? Because Epsilons don’t need much intelligence – they do menial jobs, where being less intelligent allows them to do boring, repetitive work and feel happy while doing it.
p. 11 “The lower the caste, the shorter the oxygen. At seventy per cent of normal oxygen you got dwarfs. At less than seventy, eyeless monsters.”
Also, the population is controlled by not allowing all embryos to develop normally. Only about 30% of the female babies are allowed to be born normal – the rest are given male hormone injections so they are born sterile. They are called “freemartins.”
p. 10 “So we allow as many as thirty per cent of the female embryos to develop normally. The others get a dose of male sex-hormone every twenty-four metres for the rest of the course. Result: they’re decanted as freemartins – structurally quite normal (except that they do have just the slightest tendency to grow beards), but sterile. Guaranteed sterile.”
After the children are “decanted,” they are “conditioned.” Children grow within the center and they are raised so they love what they do, where they live and the caste they belong to. Why?
p. 12 “…that is the secret of happiness and virtue – liking what you’ve got to do.”
Example discussion questions:
WHAT DO YOU THINK HUXLEY IS CRITICIZING HERE?
Huxley wrote this book around 1930 – at that time, industrialization was just hitting America at full force – the Ford Assembly Line was generating cars at a speed never before known – Huxley was worried about a future that would be too industrialized – a future, in which even people might be produced instead of born.
IS BOKANOVSKY A REAL PERSON?
No, it seems to be a fictional character. The name sounds Russian – probably on purpose – Huxley must have feared the Russian’s research into fields such as cloning.
ISN’T THE WORLD OVER-POPULATED? WHY WOULD WE WANT TO PRODUCE PEOPLE AT THIS SCALE?
Later in the book, it becomes apparent that a terrible war happened in the world before this completely-industrialized system was put in place. So, the world is probably no longer over-populated.
WHAT IS A FREEMARTIN?
In nature, sometimes a horse bears twins – a male calf and a female calf – often, the female calf resulting from this is sterile because she was exposed to male hormones in the womb – this female calf is called a “freemartin”.
WHAT IS THE MAIN PROBLEM WITH CLONING?
The fact that people are playing God – they are taking embryos and are manipulating how the future children will look
***Notes on every chapter of the book - summary + detailed questions and answers on major discussion points, themes, characters, etc.