Brave New World envisions a future totalitarian society in which individual liberty has been usurped by an all-powerful state. But while other dystopian novels envision totalitarian measures being carried out through tactics like surveillance and torture, Brave New World, in contrast, argues that the most powerful totalitarian state would be one that doesn't suppress and frighten its citizens, but instead manages to convince its citizens to love their slavery.
As the Director of London’s Central Hatchery explains to a student tour group, “That is the secret of happiness and virtue—liking what you’ve got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny.” In keeping with its name, then, the Hatchery produces and both chemically and psychologically conditions humans to enjoy the roles predestined for them. But even as the Director touts “happiness,” it’s clear that such a condition is enforced; people’s destinies are “inescapable,” and the State’s chief concern is to make people believe their destinies are what they really want. Totalitarianism is exemplified by the hive-like atmosphere of the London hatchery: “Buzz, buzz! the hive was humming, busily, joyfully. Blithe was the singing of the young girls over their test-tubes, the Predestinators whistled as they worked, and in the Decanting Room what glorious jokes were cracked above the empty bottles!” This description both dehumanizes the Hatchery workers (they’re more like insects, behaving instinctively, than like variable human beings) and demonstrates the chilling effectiveness of conditioning; the workers aren’t robotic cogs, but joyful, singing, joking people, with at least the outward appearance of personality. This veneer of personality, if anything, makes the World State more unsettling than the environment of a more outwardly coercive dystopia.
In order to maintain a brainwashed, compliant society, the authority figures of the World State ruthlessly punish people who display any sign of nonconformity. Into this environment steps the grim-faced Director, preparing to publicly reprimand Bernard for his unorthodox behaviors: “Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behavior. Murder kills only the individual—and, after all, what is an individual? […] We can make a new one with the greatest ease—as many as we like. Unorthodoxy threatens more than the life of a mere individual; it strikes at Society itself.” The cost of conditioning citizens stands out sharply against the guise of utopia that the leaders of the State try to uphold. When a personality emerges that threatens “orthodoxy,” it must be eliminated. Still, the Director knows that by publicly reprimanding and exiling Bernard, he won’t frighten the Hatchery workers—he will actually reinforce their happy complacency by expelling the disconcerting anomaly.
This method of enforcing conformity is so effective that those who do not fall in line are pushed to the edge of society or, in some cases, eliminated entirely. This ostracization of those who are different is how the Savage becomes a societal curiosity—and casualty—in the end. Society cannot make room for a figure like the Savage or comprehend him, because he refuses to be happy on Society’s terms. In fact, he chooses solitude, emotion, self-denial, and suffering instead of shallow happiness, conformity, and mindless indulgence. So when fleets of helicopters descend on his remote hermitage, their reaction to the Savage is predictable, a logical extension of the World State mindset. They see his self-flagellation as a mere entertainment “stunt,” and when they witness the pain he inflicts on Lenina and himself, they respond as they’ve been conditioned to do, with an “orgy-porgy” Solidarity dance. In other words, the Savage’s suffering must be neutralized by being absorbed into the pleasure-obsessed, conformist mindset the State has so painstakingly created. In the novel, totalitarianism wins, and the only hope offered is that, somewhere, perhaps there are more “anomalies” like Bernard, Helmholtz, or the Savage who might survive.
Dystopia and Totalitarianism ThemeTracker
Dystopia and Totalitarianism Quotes in Brave New World
Community, Identity, Stability.
Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they're so frightfully clever. I'm awfully glad I'm a Beta, because I don't work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I'm so glad I'm a Beta.
“Till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too—all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions... Suggestions from the State.”
“Ford, we are twelve; oh make us one,
Like drops within the Social River;
Oh, make us now together run
As swiftly as thy shining Flivver.
Come, Greater Being, Social Friend,
We long to die, for when we end,
Our larger life has but begun.
Feel how the Greater Being comes!
Rejoice and, in rejoicings, die!
Melt in the music of the drums!
For I am you and you are I.
Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun,
Kiss the girls and make them One.
Boys at One with girls at peace;
Orgy-porgy gives release.”
“The greater a man's talents, the greater his power to lead astray. It is better that one should suffer than that many should be corrupted. Consider the matter dispassionately, Mr. Foster, and you will see that no offence is so heinous as unorthodoxy of behavior. Murder kills only the individual—and, after all, what is an individual?”
"Free, free!" the Savage shouted, and with one hand continued to throw the soma into the area while, with the other, he punched the indistinguishable faces of his assailants. "Free!" And suddenly there was Helmholtz at his side–"Good old Helmholtz!"—also punching—"Men at last!"—and in the interval also throwing the poison out by handfuls through the open window. "Yes, men! men!" and there was no more poison left. He picked up the cash-box and showed them its black emptiness. "You're free!"
Howling, the Deltas charged with a redoubled fury.
“The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get... And if anything should go wrong, there's soma.”
You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art.
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
“There's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is.”
"In fact,” said Mustapha Mond, “you're claiming the right to be unhappy.”
“All right then,” said the Savage defiantly, “I'm claiming the right to be unhappy.”