Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
There are two parts to this assignment. Both parts are to be passed in on time as LATE PAPERS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED.
Part 1: Do ONE of the following essay questions. (50%)
1. In the Forward to his book, Huxley discusses his vision of a "new totalitarianism" -- one no longer dependent upon "clubs" and "artificial famine, mass imprisonment, and mass deportation -- but one premised upon "efficiency." What precisely is Huxley's criticism of an all-consuming concern for "efficiency," and how is this critique demonstrated in Brave New World?
2. When Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1932, he projected that such a world might be attainable in six hundred years. Immediately after the Second World War, Huxley mentions in the Forward to his book that, "it seems quite possible that the horror may be upon us within a single century." Using Huxley's four criterion for "deep, personal revolution in human minds and bodies" that he lays out in the Forward to Brave New World, discuss why Huxley thinks that the horrors of his Brave New World might be closer to realization than when he initially wrote the book. Explain whether or not you agree with him.
3. The caste system is used in Huxley's Brave New World to create social stability. Briefly outline how the caste system is enforced in his futuristic account. Next, read the short section of Plato's Republic that concerns the "myth of the metals" (414b-415d). In the Republic, Plato's characters construct a "noble lie" that is to be used to persuade both the rulers and the rest of the citizens (in the absence of friendship) to love their country, their work, and each other. Just as in Brave New World, in the "city in speech" discussed in the Republic, everyone is supposed to belong to everyone else, and yet all must also "mind their own business" by remaining specialized workers. Compare, contrast, and assess the effectiveness of both caste systems. In each case, what do the authors see as the primary deficiency of such social systems?
4. In Brave New World, human nature has been effectively mastered through technology. The mastery of human nature has entailed the destruction of "exclusive" forms of love (such as family and romantic love) as indecency and obscenity. Discuss the reasons why love is thought to be a destructive force in totalitarian regimes such as the one envisioned by Huxley in Brave New World.
5. Do a character study of Mustapha Mond, the World Controller. What are the duties of his occupation? How does Mustapha understand his job? Tell your reader about his life history, and what led him into his current job. What privileges does Mustapha's job grant him? What choice was foisted upon Mustapha, and what was his decision? What does Mustapha claim to know? Are you persuaded that Mustapha really knows what he claims to know? Why or why not?
6. Henry Ford, the Supreme Paradigmatic Figure in Brave New World, is quoted as having said, "History is bunk." In other words, everything that has come before the present day is irrelevant. The important thing is progress and the future. Investigate how Ford's aphorism is embodied in the world of Huxley's novel, and evaluate Ford's statement according to your own sensibilities.
7. The "brave new world" described in Huxley's novel is constructed upon several statements about happiness that are treated axiomatically -- that is, they are treated as absolutely and self-evidently true, and therefore are beyond questioning. Through hypnopaideia, certain dogmatic statements are accepted "not merely as true, but as axiomatic, self-evident, utterly indisputable" (Ch. 3). Anyone in the "civilized" society of Brave New World who questions these "first principles" is deemed to be a subversive danger to society. Peruse Huxley's book to discover and discuss some of these axiomatic or dogmatic statements. Be subversive: question these statements; offer explanation and criticism of them. Finally, look to our own society. Can you find any unquestioned societal axioms that are worth questioning?
8. In Brave New World, a great deal of effort is exerted by the Controllers to hinder any human awareness of feelings and emotions; thoughts are most dangerous of all. Discuss some examples from the book where thinking and feeling are being thwarted in "civilized" society. How are thinking and loving discouraged in the brave new world constructed in Huxley's book? Why are these things discouraged? Are there ever instances when thought and feeling still emerge in human beings despite all the societal prohibitions? Why, do the Controllers offer citizens of the society intense sensory stimulation instead? What is it about sensation that is preferable in a totalitarian regime to thinking and loving?
9. In the society envisioned by Huxley, love is a subversive force that is carefully monitored and discouraged in the name of social stability. How is love contorted and perverted by the Controllers and societal conventions in Brave New World? Discuss instances of love in the novel, and how love serves to subvert political order in totalitarian regimes like the one described by Huxley.
10. Solitude is viewed throughout the novel as a subversive force -- as destructive to social order in Huxley's Brave New World. Using examples from the text, discuss why privacy and solitude are considered dangerous. Why might solitude be important to you in the development of your own character? What might a person do in private or in solitude from others that cannot be done in the company of others?
11. In Huxley's novel, liberty or freedom is often opposed to efficiency, social stability, and happiness. Explain and evaluate this claim using examples from Brave New World, as well as your own ideas about happiness. What is happiness, and how is it related to freedom? Are you persuaded by Mustapha Mond about the true nature of happiness? Why or why not?
12. Scour Huxley's book for references to the importance of "consumption." Why is the consumption of goods and services absolutely essential to the efficient running of the society in Brave New World? Compare the reduction of human beings in Huxley's fictional world to "consumers" with our own society. To what extent is our own society -- ex., our politics, our economics, our visions of what would make us truly "happy" -- based upon a similar reduction of our nature to mere consumption. Look around you and find instances that validate Huxley's portrayal of modern human beings as consumers. Is there anything in either Huxley's world or in our own that cannot be commodified, and yet is absolutely essential for our happiness?
13. Chapter seventeen of Brave New World offers the reader a discussion of religion and philosophy, and why each is no longer needed in the modern world as envisioned by Huxley. Explain and analyze Mustapha's views on religion and philosophy, and John Savage's Shakespearean response. Which account is more persuasive? Why? What, if anything, is left out of both?
14. The feeling of being "an outsider" plagues both Bernard and Helmholtz. How is the feeling of being an outsider different for each of these characters? Discuss this feeling of alienation gives rise to thoughts and feelings that are destructive to the social order of Huxley's Brave New World. How are Bernard's feelings of alienation resolved, and what does this say about his character? How are Helmholtz's feelings of alienation resolved? Do you think the feeling of alienation (or loneliness) is ever a good thing? Why or why not?
15. Throughout Huxley's novel, the behaviour, thoughts, and feelings of all of the characters are limited by their own lack of language. Without the words to think about their feelings and sensations, they cannot consider or understand them, with the result that the feelings fade, and questions about experiences of wonder cannot even be asked. Whole parts of ourselves (and our relation to others) cannot be examined. Read George Orwell's essay entitled, "Politics and the English Language." What does Orwell -- who wrote propaganda during the Second World War -- say about the power of language to stifle thought and understanding? How might we apply Orwell's understanding of language to Huxley's Brave New World?
16. Do a comparative character study of at least TWO of the characters in Huxley's book. Examine the positive and negative aspects of their personalities. What is each character's primary struggle or problem in the novel? Is this problem overcome? Which of the two characters is superior and why?
17. The word "soma" literally means "body" (as opposed to mind or soul) in ancient Greek. The psychotropic drug soma plays a very important role in the brave new world constructed by Huxley. Explain the various reasons why soma is integral to the maintenance of social stability in the novel. Develop your own critique of soma by paying close attention to the following considerations: Examine the rationale for its use, as well as John Savage's criticism of the use of soma. Note some of the dramatically important instances in which soma is taken in the novel. Finally, relate the use of soma to our own world and to your own experience. Is there anything today that resembles soma? What is the allure of these things, and why are they harmful?
18. Throughout Brave New World, there are a number of accounts of rituals, both among "civilized" and "savage" societies. Compare and contrast the "civilized" ritual of the "loving cup" (Part 2 of Ch. 5) wherein the individual is made to feel like "a cell in the social body" with the "savage" ritual described in Chapter 7, or John's private rituals in Chapter 8. What is the purpose of each ritual? What is the significance of the similarities and differences between the rites?
19. Linda's extended encounter with the "savages" of Malpais suggests that, although she is civilized, she lacks knowledge or understanding. At the end of Chapter 7, she says, "There's so much one doesn't know; it wasn't my business to know" (cf. Ch. 8). Similarly, Mustapha Mond discusses how scientific inquiry in civilization is, at its roots, empty of true knowledge, but is rather concerned solely with application and technological manipulation (Ch. 16). Evaluate the "knowledge" of the brave new world against the older mythical-religious "knowledge" of the "savages." Which way of life seems to most knowledgeable? What are the limitations of each?
20. The word "science" comes from the Latin scire, meaning "to know." The word "myth" comes from the Greek mythos, meaning "story." In Brave New World, science and myth are often compared and contrasted. Where Linda "never seemed to know" the answers to John's questions about the origins of things, "the old men of the pueblo had much more definite answers" (Ch. 8). Similarly, whereas John could read ancient books of literature as a boy, the language of science and technology was wholly inaccessible to him (Ch. 8); indeed, John can only think of the technological world of his mother in terms of myth, picturing "rows of babies in clean bottles and Jesus flying up and Linda flying up and the great Director of World Hatcheries and Awonowilona" (Ch. 8). In Mustapha Mond's opinion, the technological-scientific society of Brave New World cannot tolerate mythological thinking: "God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness" (Ch. 17). Examine the relationship between science and myth in Huxley's novel. To what extent are myth and science opposed to one another? To what extent is the totalitarian society envisioned by the author based upon "scientific" knowledge? What is flawed about the science of the brave new world constructed by Huxley? To what extent is the brave new world of the novel built upon "myth," or a story that everyone believes to be true? Without myth, what happens to people? Without an authentic science, what happens to people? What might be the proper relation between science and myth?
21. The title, Brave New World, takes on different meanings throughout the book. John Savage quotes Miranda in Shakespeare's Tempest at the end of Chapter 8, then again in Chapters 11 and 15. Each time, John's understanding of the quote develops. Analyze John's use of this quote in each case, and offer your own analysis of why Aldous Huxley chose this Shakespearean utterance for the title of his book.
22. Shakespeare and all ancient literature is banned in the "civilized" world of Huxley's novel. John Savage looks to Shakespeare, in particular, to teach him about himself. What is it about Shakespeare that is so important and precious to John, on the one hand, but considered so dangerous to "civilized" society, on the other hand?
23. In Chapter 10, the Director plans to banish Bernard for his heretical views, and also perhaps because Bernard reminds him of something about himself that he has tried to destroy. Curiously, the Director invokes the moral imperative of banishing Bernard on the one hand, saying, "[Bernard's] intellectual eminence carries with it corresponding moral responsibilities." And yet, on the other hand, the Director simultaneously dismisses any foundation for his moralizing with the remark that, "Murder kills only the individual -- and, after all, what is an individual?" Assess the "moral" understanding of the Director, and the "moral" education of the inhabitants of the brave new world of Huxley's novel. How do the inhabitants of "civilization" decide what is right and wrong, what is good and evil? Develop your own critique of their moral education.
24. The technological society described in Brave New World appears to be without any sense of shame. By contrast, a sense of shame plagues and gnaws at John Savage, particularly when he is considering what he loves, or what is noble. Why would shame be out of place in "civilized" society? What is important about shame? Is shame simply a "conditioned" state, or is it deeply embedded in human nature? Is shame a kind of recognition of something about ourselves that entirely escapes the inhabitants of the brave new world constructed in Huxley's novel? What part of ourselves does shame recognize? How is shame a kind of self-awareness? What happens to people when they are shameless?
25. Competing visions of happiness are depicted in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Explicate and evaluate the visions of happiness proffered, on the one hand, by Mustapha Mond and "civilized" society, and John Savage on the other. What are the problems with each understanding of happiness? How do you think human beings ought to seek out happiness?
26. It is noteworthy that, although most other things about the brave new world of Huxley's novel are completely distorted and perverted, the beauty of music is left untouched. Indeed, John Savage remarks, that "all that music in the air" is one of the "nice things" about "civilized" society (Ch. 16). Examine the various instances throughout the novel in which music is mentioned. What purpose does music serve in each case? How is the music described? What might it sound like? Why would music still be good in Huxley's totalitarian society when everything else is so horribly "poisoned," to use John's term?
27. What is the purpose of "the Feelies" in Huxley's Brave New World? Examine why going to "the feelies" affects Lenina and John oppositely in Chapter 11. How do "the feelies" turn love upside-down? What are John Savage's criticisms of "the feelies"? Analyze the significance of the different activities of John and Lenina after their conversation about "the feelies." Finally, compare and contrast modern cinema and technological innovations (ex. cyber-sex) with "the feelies" of Brave New World. What is the spiritual effect of both?
28. In Brave New World, there are stringent prescriptions against exclusive love relationships wherein special preference is given to one person over all others. For instance, both family affections (between parent and child) and intimate, monogamous relationships between lovers are considered ridiculous and obscene. However, friendship too is a kind of "exclusive" love relation since friendship implies preference: you are friends with some people but not others; friendship implies distinction and not simply goodwill towards other people in general. Why is friendship still permitted in Brave New World when all other forms of exclusivity are banned? Would true friendship be common in the "civilized" world of the novel? Would friendship be more easily found in the "savage" society? Examine at least TWO of the examples of friendship in the novel (ex. friendship between Bernard and Helmholtz; between Bernard and John; between Helmholtz and John; between Lenina and Fanny). What binds the friends together? Is there exclusivity in the relationship? Is the friendship in any way subversive of political authority? How might social engineering and "conditioning" serve to prevent true friendships in "civilized" society? How is true friendship related to happiness? Do you think it was easier to be friends with people two hundred years ago than it is today? Do you think that it is difficult to have good friends today? What does it take to cultivate a good friendship, in your own experience?
29. In Brave New World, action seems to be the means through which "civilized" individuals avoid thinking and feeling, whereas for John Savage, action is the means to demonstrate his own worth or nobility. Compare and contrast the actions of Lenina and John in Chapter 13. When is it appropriate not to act? In what way are the actions of Lenina and John opposite, even though both are amorous? What is it about John's actions that Lenina cannot understand? Why?
30. Huxley's novel Brave New World depicts a society entirely without honour and nobility. John Savage, by contrast, is wholly concerned with honour and nobility. Cite instances from the novel that illustrate John's view of honour. How does "civilized" society's complete ignorance of the honourable and the noble affect the society and the individuals within society? How important is honour and nobility to you? How are the limitations of loving honour made manifest in the character of John Savage, and his own spiritual confusions?
31. The word "conscience" comes from the Latin roots con- and scientia. "Conscience" literally means "knowing with"; simply put, your conscience is a kind of "science" by which you know moral things; it enables you to make judgements about good and evil. It is noteworthy that the voice of conscience rarely appears anywhere in Huxley's novel except for in the character of John Savage, whose inner voice is said to be like "thunder" (Ch. 13), warning him about the difference between love and lust, nobility and ignobility. The only other major instance of conscience welling up in the novel seems to be Bernard's inner conflict over coming to the aid of his friends during the riot in Chapter 15. Why would the human conscience speak out so rarely in the novel? Is this because conscience is a "conditioned" state -- that is, something that is the result of social engineering rather than integral to human nature? (If so, then how could Bernard be troubled by a conscience, when all of his social conditioning has worked to deny its existence?) Or is this because there are things that we can do -- both as individuals and as a society -- that serve to muffle the voice of conscience? Cite examples and marshal evidence for your opinion.
32. Analyze and evaluate the discussion of old and new writing in Chapter 16 of Brave New World. What is the main difference between old and new writing in the discussion? Why could no one in "civilized" society understand Shakespeare? Why could no modern human being ever write like Shakespeare? Why is modern writing "idiotic" by comparison? What is it that ancient writing can speak about that modern writers and modern readers cannot begin to understand? Why is this the case?
33. John Savage insists upon the need among human beings for lamentation, hardship, and suffering at the end of Chapter 17. Speaking to Mustapha, he says, "What you need... is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here." What does he mean? Why is lamentation important?
34. There is not a single case of sorrow among the "civilized" until the very end of the novel, when Lenina, having come to see John at the Hermitage, suddenly cries "two tears" (Ch. 18). What must Lenina have felt, and why did she cry at this moment? How might this be a kind of revelation in the novel? What is the symbolic significance of these tears? Why is there no tearful sorrow among the "civilized" characters in Huxley's novel? By contrast, when we read the novel, parts of it make us very sad; we may even be sad about the disappearance of sadness in Brave New World. Why is it that John Savage and we, as readers, affirm the importance of sadness for our own happiness?
35. Aldous Huxley's use of humour in Brave New World is sparse at best. However, incidents of humour are important. On the one hand, the perversity of "civilized" laughter in the novel (as when the children laugh at the movie footage of "savage" religious rituals and flagellation in Ch. 11, or when Helmholtz laughs at the thwarted love of Juliet for Romeo in Ch. 12) emphasizes how shallow are the thoughts and emotions of the inhabitants of the brave new world, how little they grasp of ancient things, and how little they understand or even intimate of themselves. On the other hand, Huxley's use of comedic devices and humour (as when bottles are spun continually to teach the unborn "balance" in Ch. 2, when Lenina overdoses a test-tube with sleeping sickness, or when she cannot understand John Savage's heartfelt confession of love in Ch. 13) illustrates more directly to the reader just how ridiculous and unenviable the "happy" society envisioned in Brave New World is meant to be. Simply put, Huxley uses comedy in order to mock and to criticize a futuristic "happy" society that has made it impossible to laugh from real joy, and that understands neither comedy nor tragedy. Explain in your own words, with reference to the text, why "civilized" people in the novel cannot understand either comedy or tragedy, and why their laughter arises from ignorance rather than true joy.
36. Huxley's Brave New World is modelled upon the same two axioms that underlie the "city in speech" as discussed in Plato's Republic. First, each citizen must "mind his own business" by practicing only one specialized occupation that is enforced through propaganda and a caste system since birth. Second, each must "share all things in common" in order to give the society its cohesiveness. Since all things must be held in common, therefore all forms of exclusivity (such as family and romantic love) are abolished. Read the short excerpts from Plato's Republic that deal with the family and the rearing of children (423c-424a; 457c-471e). Compare, contrast, and evaluate both Huxley's and Plato's visions of a society engineered for social stability at the expense of our natural, exclusive loves. What problems do you find with each society?
37. The "civilized" society that is described in Brave New World has both art and science; however, stringent controls are placed upon each, as both art and science are considered to be dangerous. What is said to be dangerous about art and science in the novel? What measures and prescriptions are enforced against each? Why? Does "savage" society in the novel have similar prescriptions against art and science? Why or why not?
38. In Brave New World, religion is replaced with reverence for technology and the World State, as in the following quotation: "All crosses had their tops cut and became T's. There was also a thing called God... We have the World State now. And Ford's Day celebrations, and Community Sings, and Solidarity Services." Ideology has replaced religion and philosophy in Huxley's fictional world with terrible consequences. Read the short essay by the Canadian philosopher, George Grant, entitled "Ideology in Modern Empires." What does Grant say distinguishes philosophy and religion from ideology? What does Grant say happens when we become ideologues, or when a society becomes ideological? How is Grant's philosophic insight demonstrated by Huxley's fictional account of such a regime in Brave New World?
39. In "civilized" society, it is thought that human nature can be entirely mastered technologically -- that human beings are infinitely malleable, and that there are no natural limits to what we can do; effectively, human beings can have complete mastery over themselves through the technology of conditioning. The idea that there is no such thing as "human nature" -- that everything is the result of manipulation, socialization, and conditioning -- is best illustrated in Bernard's journal observation about John Savage:
'The Savage,' wrote Bernard, 'refuses to take soma, and seems much distressed because the woman Linda, his m--, remains permanently on holiday. It is worthy of note that, in spite of his m--'s senility and the extreme repulsiveness of her appearance, the Savage frequently goes to see her and appears to be much attached to her -- and interesting example of the way in which early conditioning can be made to modify and even run counter to natural impulses (in this case, the impulse to recoil from an unpleasant object).'
Discuss and evaluate the underlying assumption of "civilized" society in the novel -- namely, that there is no such thing as human nature, and that human beings are wholly creatures of conditioning and socialization. How is this view expressed in the novel? Are there any incidents in which this view is questioned or shown to be problematic?
Part 2: Do ONE of the following projects. (50%)
1. Compare brainwashing techniques in Brave New World with those of real modern day cults. Choose at least one cult to draw your comparisons. Make a poster that illustrates the similarities and differences. Recommended website for cult research: The Rick A. Ross Institute for the Study of Destructive Cults, Controversial Groups and Cult Movements
2. Create a poster that compares and contrasts our own society with the "civilized" society envisioned in Huxley's Brave New World.
3. Do a movie review of the 1998 made for television version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (Directors: Leslie Libman, Larry Williams). Be sure to detail what you thought was good about the movie, as well as what you thought was bad about it. Was the movie true to the book? Did it leave too much out? Did it add things that took away from the book's message? On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this movie?
4. Do a bit of research on eugenics. What is the history of eugenics? Why have eugenic schemes been imagined or even adopted periodically throughout history? When and where in Canada was eugenics popular, and what was done in Canada to people who failed to meet I.Q. standards? How might modern eugenics relate to Huxley's vision of a brave new world?
5. Assume the role of Controller in our own society. Your current assignment is to develop some hypnopaideiaic slogans for the education and indoctrination of our own "civilized" citizenry. Create a poster that offers up some of your best axiomatic slogans.
6. Create a poster that illustrates the social hierarchy/caste system adopted in Huxley's Brave New World. Be sure to include information on the size, occupations, and social ordering of each of the main groups. Include on your poster any ways in which our own society is similar to the one described in the novel.
7. The brave new world envisioned by Huxley is based upon consumption of goods and services. Assume the role of a marketer or advertising executive. Make a poster that sells one or more of the products or services described in the novel.
8. In "civilized" society, only certain books may be read. All others must be censored due to their potentially dangerous effects upon social stability. Imagine you are the Controller. You are in charge of banning books. Make a list of ten books you would ban from your society. Give reasons why these books are dangerous and cannot be read by citizens of your totalitarian state if they wish to be "happy" and stable.
9. Develop an artistic representation entitled, "The Savage's Dream." What might John Savage have dreamt when he became familiar with "civilized" society in the novel?