Brave New World presents a startling view of the future which on the surface appears almost comical. Yet humor was not the intention of Aldous Huxley when he wrote the book in the early 1930s. Indeed Huxley’s real message is very dark. His idea that in centuries to come, a one-world government will rise to power, stripping people’s freedom, is not new. In fact there are hosts of books dedicated to this topic. What makes Huxley’s interpretation different is the fact that his fictional society not only lives in this totalitarian government, but embraces it like mindless robots.
Soma, not nuclear bombs, is the weapon of choice for the World Controllers in Brave New World. These men have realized that fear and intimidation have only limited power; after all, these tactics simply build up resentment in the minds of the oppressed. Subconscious persuasion and mind-altering drugs, on the other hand, appear to have no side effects. Add to this the method of genetic engineering, and soon almost all “pre-Ford” problems have been wiped out permanently.
The caste system of this brave new world is equally ingenious. Free from the burdens and tensions of a capitalistic system which separates people into social classes by natural selection, this dictatorship government is only required to determine the correct number of Alphas, Betas, etc., all the way down the totem pole. There is no class warfare because greed, the basic ingredient of capitalism, has been eliminated. Even Deltas and Epsilons are content to do their manual labor. This contentment arises both from the genetic engineering and the extensive conditioning each individual goes through in childhood.
Freedom (as well as art and religion which are results of freedom) in this society has been sacrificed for what Mustapha Mond calls happiness. Indeed almost all of Huxley’s characters, save Bernard and the Savage, are content to take their soma ration, go to the feelies (the superficial substitute for actual life), and live their mindless, grey lives. The overwhelming color throughout Brave New World is grey. Everything and everyone seems dull to the reader, except perhaps the Savage, who is the only bright color in the novel. This grey happiness is the ultimate goal of the World Controllers like Mond.
Yet Mond has incorrectly associated lack of pain with happiness. Only the Savage knows that true happiness comes from the knowledge that one has value. He alludes to this when he describes his childhood in the Reservation where the only time he was happy was after he had completed a project with his own two hands. This, not soma, gave him the self-confidence to find happiness. The Savage knows his own value is as an individual, not a member of a collective.
Other characters in Brave New World, however, have no concept of self-worth. This results in their inability to find the happiness known to the Savage and the rest of the pre-Ford world which lives in the Reservation. True happiness is a consequence of freedom, not slavery. No slave can experience happiness until he is free. Yes, any slave can experience the contentment of a full belly and a full supply of instant gratification, but this doesn’t lead to happiness.
Bernard suffers throughout the book, being caught between both worlds. Although he has been conditioned to accept his servitude, he is constantly longing for freedom. He sees this freedom in the Savage, and envies him for possessing the inner happiness— genuine happiness— which Bernard’s society outlaws. Huxley uses Bernard to exemplify this struggle between freedom and slavery. Huxley argues that a genuine, free life requires suffering and pain. Men without anguish are men without souls. Huxley’s future describes a world without pain and a world without soul.