This article explores the usage of satire as a vehicle for social commentary in Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World, where a futuristic society changes the landscape of the social order. Read the article and take the quiz!
Setting of Brave New World
Unlike the dark, dreary world of 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is set against a world of progress and happiness. This was definitely the intention of Aldous Huxley in his attempt to give the idea of utopia an ironic twist. Otherwise forbidden chemical and physical pleasures are always available, and nurtured from a young age. In this world of extreme automation, there is no war and no social struggle.
There are just five classes of people, from Alphas to Epsilons, who are psychologically conditioned from birth to love their lives and their community. However, with the introduction of John Savage, an outsider from a New Mexico reservation, the lack of real happiness in the culture is exposed.
Soma, Sex, and Society
Throughout the work, satire is used to attack the idea of progress taken too far without regard for the consequences. The basis of the whole society has changed dramatically, and it is ironic that a culture that assumes it has solved all of society’s ills is really just ignoring them. Have a bad day at work? Pop a soma, a drug with all the benefits of alcohol, cocaine, and, to some extent, LSD, but with none of the nasty side effects. In short, the answer to not having solved the complexities of life that come with mass consumerism is simply to consume more, fueling the fire of the same society that torments.
However, at least one aspect of the old ways has endured. Sex figures prominently throughout the book. From a young age, residents of this new society are taught to both find pleasure in their bodies and to share their bodies for the pleasure of others.
You may be asking how families would condone this. Simply put, families don’t exist. In fact, ‘mother’ is now the most derogatory word in the English language. Lenina, the primary female protagonist of the work, is described as ‘pneumatic,’ a double-entendre to both her extreme vapid nature and her sexual prowess.
In a change in gender roles, it is she who sees John Savage as an object of sexual desire. However, we see that despite this sexual free-for-all, it is through sex that many of the fissures of the book erupt. The character of Bernard is deemed as a subpar partner, and it’s clear no amount of soma will erase that feeling. John himself feels cheapened after Lenina uses him.
John as a Satirical Vehicle
In fact, John is a vehicle for the author to show much of his satirical views towards the idea of progress. In the example with Lenina mentioned just a moment ago, he falls in love with her while Lenina treats him as a notch on her bedpost. As a result, John loses his mind before ultimately committing suicide, disgusted with a world so bent on its own contentedness that it would prevent him from finding happiness.The most proving conversation to that effect comes when John meets Mustapha Mond, the Resident World Controller. Mond offers the argument that while so many great things had to be sacrificed, the happiness of the many was more important than the happiness of the few. In one example, Mond argues for happiness instead of high art. In another, Mond states that the islands, Iceland in particular, are open to those with different thoughts.
John finds it ironic that a society bent on happiness should settle for the lowest common denominator, choosing to find it in sex and drugs, while the only places that the free of mind can really be happy are those places that have been rejected by the majority.
Written in 1931 during a time of immense social, psychological, and scientific change, Brave New World shows Huxley’s satirical take on a world that is too dependent on such changes, all represented through John Savage, an outsider from a New Mexico reservation and the protagonist of the novel. From seeking easy pharmaceutical cures (soma, a drug with all the benefits of alcohol, cocaine, and, to some extent, LSD, but with none of the nasty side effects) and dependent on more than casual sex (a means to control the population and represented by how Lenina, the female protagonist of the story described as ‘pneumatic,’ treats John) to a world that has sacrificed art and its most unique personalities for the good of the many, as explained by Mustapha Mond the Resident World Controller, who also explains the undesirables are sent to the islands.
The book shows Huxley’s warning of a world that tries to solve everything through modernization instead of addressing the problems created by this.