Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | MonkeyNotes
Setting plays a particularly important role in Brave New World. Huxley's novel is a novel of Utopia, and a science-fiction novel. In both kinds of books the portrayal of individual characters tends to take a back seat to the portrayal of the society they live in. In some ways, the brave new world itself becomes the book's main character.
The story opens in London some 600 years in the future-632 A. F. (After Ford) in the calendar of the era. Centuries before, civilization as we know it was destroyed in the Nine Years' War. Out of the ruins grew the World State, an all-powerful government headed by ten World Controllers. Faith in Christ has been replaced by Faith in Ford, a mythologized version of Henry Ford, the auto pioneer who developed the mass production methods that have reached their zenith in the World State. Almost all traces of the past have been erased, for, as Henry Ford said, "History is bunk." Changing names show the changed society. Charing Cross, the London railroad station, is now Charing T Rocket Station: the cross has been supplanted by the T, from Henry Ford's Model T. Big Ben is now Big Henry. Westminster Abbey, one of England's most hallowed shrines, is now merely the site of a nightclub, the Westminster Abbey Cabaret.
The people of this world, born from test tubes and divided into five castes, are docile and happy, kept occupied by elaborate games like obstacle golf, entertainments like the "feelies," and sexual promiscuity. Disease is nonexistent, old age and death made as pleasant as possible so they can be ignored.
Some parts of the earth, however, are allowed to remain as they were before the World State came to power. With Bernard and Lenina, you visit one of these Savage Reservations, the New Mexican home of the Zuni Indians. It is a world away from civilized London: the Zunis are impoverished, dirty, ravaged by disease and old age, and still cling to their ancient religion.
The settings in Brave New World, then, seem to offer only the choice between civilized servitude and primitive ignorance and squalor. Are these the only choices available? One other is mentioned, the islands of exile-Iceland and the Falkland Islands-where malcontents like Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson are sent. But Huxley does not discuss these places in enough detail to let us know whether or not they provide any kind of alternative to the grim life he has presented in the rest of the book.