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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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THE STORY

CHAPTER ONE

The novel begins by plunging you into a world you can't quite recognize: it's familiar but there's something wrong, or at least different from what you're used to. For example, it starts like a movie, with a long shot of a building-but a "squat" building "only" thirty-four stories high. The building bears a name unlike any you've heard in real life-"Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre"- and the motto of a World State you know doesn't exist.

The camera's eye then moves through a north window into the cold Fertilizing Room, and focuses on someone you know is a very important person from the way he speaks. He is the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, and he's explaining things to a group of new students who still have only a very limited understanding of what goes on here.

You may find the Director and his Hatchery strange, but you probably know how the students feel as they try to note everything the Director says, even his opening remark, "Begin at the beginning." You know how anxious you can be to make sure you don't miss something a teacher says, something that will be important later on.

In fact, the functions of the Hatchery are hard to understand because Huxley has the Director throw large amounts of "scientific data" at you without giving you time to figure out their meaning. Huxley thereby undermines one of his intentions here-to use the Director as a cartoon character who expounds some of the scientific ideas that the author wants you to think about. He also wants to satirize a world that makes such a know-it-all important and powerful. Sometimes the real world gives such people power, too. You may meet scientists like the Director in college or businesspeople like him at work.

The Director talks about incubators and fertilizing, about surgically removing the ovary from the female and keeping it alive artificially. He talks about bringing together ova (the unfertilized eggs of a female) and male gametes (the cells or spermatozoa containing the father's half of the genetic material needed to make a new being) in a glass container. He talks about a mysterious budding process that turns one egg into 96 embryos. The Director mentions all these things and more before Huxley tells you that the Hatchery hatches human beings.


The Director takes that fact for granted, but Huxley surprises you all the more by letting it sneak up on you. Do you think it's frightening or disgusting to breed human beings like chickens on a farm? In this Utopia, the price is worth paying to control the total population; it breeds as many or as few people as the world controllers decide are needed. Huxley's imaginary world is thus dealing with a real world problem-overpopulation. You've probably read or heard warnings about this, warnings that the world, or the United States, or a developing country like Kenya, has more people than it can feed. China is trying to reward families that have only one child and penalize those that have more, but no country has yet tried to do what Huxley's brave new world does.

The Director talks less about stemming overpopulation than he does about increasing population in the right way. In the real world, it's unusual for a woman to produce more than ten children, and the average American family has two or fewer. In Huxley's world, Bokanovsky's budding process and Podsnap's ripening technique can produce over 15,000 brothers and sisters from a single ovary. You may know this idea from the word "cloning," used in science fiction and to describe look-alike clothing styles. Identical clones will make a stable community, the Director says, one without conflict.

In the world of Bokanovsky and Podsnap, babies are not born. They develop in bottles and are "decanted"- a word that usually refers to pouring wine gently out of its bottle so that the sediment at the bottom is not disturbed.

The Director takes you and the students to the bottling room, where you learn that the clone-embryo grows inside the bottle on a bed of sow's peritoneum (the lining of the abdomen of an adult female pig). In the embryo room, the bottled embryos move slowly on belts that travel over three tiers of racks-a total of 2136 meters (about 1 1/3 miles) during the 267 days before decanting. Huxley makes a point of the distance because each meter represents a point at which the embryo is given specific conditioning for its future life.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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