The book Brave New World was written as a futuristic tale by English author Aldous Huxley in the early 1930s. This story of a utopian society struggling with the nuances of existence shares significant parallels with the common issues experienced in Europe and America in the 1920s. This period of modernism in the world broke the traditional mold of the way society was for the past several hundred years.
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A stronger emphasis on socialism, consumerism, technology, drugs, and sex filled the era. Huxley, who experienced this change firsthand, could have written Brave New World as a form of social commentary to provide his own rendition of the way things were and the way things could eventually become. Americas “cultural civil war.” (1) could have been viewed by Huxley as the beginning of moral decay in a soon-to-be undesirable society. To support this hypothesis and provide a better understanding of Huxleys purpose, the comparing and contrasting of both the psychoanalytical theory and Feminist theory will take place.
Psychoanalytic literary theory is the brainchild of psychologist Sigmund Freud and can be used to uncover critical connections between the author and their work. Freudian analysis states that our mental lives derive largely from biological drives (2), that all compulsions can be traced back to animalistic impulses and instincts which originate within us from different points in development including childhood and puberty. Its not coincidental that these compulsions can be seen clearly in Brave New World. Feminism literary theory, when looked at simplistically, examines the roles of women in literature from an equality standpoint. Are women treated differently than men? If so, how are they different and how can that relate to the author? Specifically, looking into the role of mothers within the story could prove to be extremely important to uncovering Huxleys true purpose.
The excerpt from Brave New World that offers extreme insight to the psychoanalytic perspective is the infant nursery where babies undergo classical conditioning on a severely inhumane level. Readers are introduced to the thought process of being motherless through the existence of the childrens less than conventional rearing. The notion that children can be conditioned for the benefit of all is where we see the parallels with Freuds notion of animalistic impulses and instincts (2) stated above. The idea of the unconscious taking over when forced out to produce conditioned behavior is straight out of the Freudian handbook. These primal compulsions, brought about through the stated conditioning and oxygen restriction, are the main factors for control within Huxleys created society. A passage from the story reviews just how underplayed these actions are in this crafted world. The surrogate goes round slower; therefore passes through the lung at longer intervals; therefore gives the embryo less oxygen. Nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par (Huxley). Freudian tendencies in ample supply with this scene.
Peering at the very same scene through a feminist lens offers a significantly different outlook for the conditioning rooms and the nurseries. The roll of the mother is effectively swapped out with nurses, often sterilized and of undisclosed genders, to carry out the conditioning. The nurses are played out as cold individuals who wear covering attire and carry out the horrific tasks without a single shutter in their step. This behavior is undoubtedly the result of going through anti-nurturing conditioning of their very own during their developmental stages. A perfect example of this conditioning taking place, along with the nurses actions, can be viewed in the passage from the novel below:
The Head Nurse, who was standing by a switchboard at the other end of the room, pressed down a little lever. There was a violent explosion. Shriller and ever shriller, a siren shrieked. Alarm bells maddeningly sounded. The children started, screamed; their faces were distorted with terror. And now they Director shouted (for the noise was deafening), now we pro proceed to rub in the lesson with a mild electric shock. (Huxley)
As this chapter continues it becomes more and more evident that this lack of mothering behavior is a necessity to carry out this conditioning. Any mothering tendencies displayed by the nurses would result in less than effective results. The production of these conditioned perfect citizens was directly impacted by this process. Even uttering the M-word (mother) was considered remarkably taboo in this new world of Huxleys.
Peering through these two lenses at A Brave New World brings to light significant differences in what they reveal about the story when relating it to Huxleys real modern world in the 1920s. Each theory focuses on what the other cant. Psychoanalysis tends to focus on what the people are receiving while feminism offers what they are not. When only viewing Huxleys vision through one perspective you are undoubtedly missing out on the other half of the story. When applied together, readers are given the entire picture to consider. Sadly, neither the real world nor his fictitious society seem to have a bright future. Huxley is looking at the real world as if hes viewing them in his book. Real life people appear to be becoming conditioned through the cultural civil war (1) brought about by the changes of the 1920s. Huxleys apparent dislike for Americanism only could have intensified as more and more problems seemed to arise. The 1920s in American brought about prohibition, the Ku Klux Clan, womens roles, and race issues. If everything were to have stayed the same, if these Americanized changes would have never happened, then perhaps society would have been more conforming.
Digging deeper into Huxleys own upbringing, we are reintroduced to the role of the mother. Huxley lost his mother when he was very young. He wasnt able to have that mothering upbringing to supply him with a well-rounded rearing during his developmental stages. Perhaps this is why the act of mothering is taboo in his written world. He witnessed firsthand what it feels like to not have a mother. Therefore, he must oppose this Americanized challenge to the roles of women. They need to be home to properly raise the children. If not, then just read in his book to find out what can happen.
Aldus Huxley was a man viewing the world he knew change before him. One can only hypothesize how much of Brave New World came about from fear or pure observation. The themes of change brought about in the 1920s draws obvious parallels to his crafted world. The Roaring 20s were a time where the younger generation rebelled against traditional taboos while their elders engaged in an orgy of speculation (4). Huxleys social commentary on this changing time, when assisted with psychoanalysis and feminism lenses, offers a unique view into his own outlook on the world of tomorrow.
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