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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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CHAPTER THREE

This chapter switches back and forth from place to place and from one set of characters to another in order to give you your first view of sex, love, and the nonexistent family in the brave new world.

In the first scene, the Director and some almost embarrassed students show you that sex is a game that children are encouraged to play. Later scenes make plain that for adults, sex is a wholesome source of happiness, rather like going to a health club. Nobody lives with or is married to one person at a time. in fact, there is no marriage. Everybody is expected to be promiscuous-to keep switching sexual partners without any important reason for distinguishing one partner from another.

Huxley expected his readers to be surprised or at least to giggle at the idea of promiscuity as a virtue. Some of them surely thought promiscuity meant happiness, as Huxley's characters do, but they had grown up with the idea that it was wicked. Today, many teachers and clergymen claim that high school and college students are promiscuous, but Time magazine says that Americans in general are becoming less so. "Promiscuous" is a word that can make you feel a connection between the real world and Brave New World, and help you decide if you would like the novel's world better than the one you live in.

In the first scene, the Director is upstaged by one of the ten men who run the world, the Resident Controller for Western Europe, Mustapha Mond. (Alfred Mond was a British chemist, economist, and cabinet minister; for Huxley's original readers the name probably had the same kind of ring that "Rashid Rockefeller" would for Americans.) He tells the students, "History is bunk." This is an anti-intellectual quotation from Henry Ford, who believed that a person who wasted time studying history would never create anything as revolutionary as an assembly line. But the Resident Controllers tell people that "history is bunk" for another reason: people who know history can compare the present with the past. They know the world can change, and that knowledge is a threat to stability. (George Orwell went a step further in 1984 and had the rulers of his state constantly rewrite history because they knew that if they controlled people's memories of the past, it would be easier to control the present.) This quote shows Huxley to list the glories of history, from the Bible to Beethoven, in a single paragraph, thus showing what his new world has whisked away like dust.


Also whisked away is the family. The Controllers description of traditional families links fathers with misery, mothers with perversion, brothers and sisters with madness and suicide.

Mond says this is the wisdom of Our Freud, as Our Ford chose "for some inscrutable reason... to call himself whenever he spoke of psychological matters." This is another of the intellectual and serious jokes that Huxley loves to make. Sigmund Freud revolutionized psychology and invented psychoanalysis, but people misuse his name and twist his ideas to fit their dogmas, just as they do Christ's.

Mond compares love to a pipe full of water that jets forth dangerously if you make just one hole in it. This is a metaphor for individual motherhood and monogamy, which he believes produces people who are mad (meaning "insane," not "angry"), wicked, and miserable. The water only makes safe, "piddling little fountains" if you put many holes in the pipe-a metaphor for the safety of growing up in a group and for being promiscuous.

After the Controller repeats the Director's lessons about the need for stability and population control, he adds something new-the elimination of emotions, particularly painful emotions. When he asks the students if they've ever experienced a painful feeling, one says it was "horrible" when a girl made him wait nearly four weeks before going to bed with him. Do you think that's real pain? Or is it part of Huxley's satire?

NOTE:

Even as satire, this idea is very important in Huxley's book: the idea that people can live happily without emotional pain, and that the way to achieve this happiness is to eliminate as many emotions as possible, because even happy feelings carry the possibility of pain with them. Huxley's Utopia is built on this idea. Do you think it's true that human beings can live this way? Would it make you happy in the long run? Make a note of your answer so you can see if you change your mind after you finish the book.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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