In his dystopian novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley makes use of plot, character, narration, theme and tone to create a futuristic vision of a totalitarian state. All of these elements are evident in the excerpt that describes the creation and upbringing of children under state control, along with references to the ideas of Adolph Hitler and Henry Ford.
The tone of the story is evident from the first sentence, from both the physical setting and the words used to describe it. Descriptions of the Hatchery building itself as a “squat, grey” structure that contains the laboratory where “the light was frozen, dead, a ghost” create an image of a cold and lifeless place that foreshadows the cold and impersonal process that goes on within. The clinical explanation of the modern reproductive process perpetuates the tone as children are portrayed not as individuals but as a product to be manufactured as efficiently as possible. This passionless tone reflects the logical, methodical thinking that led to Ford’s creation of the assembly line and its focus on quantity over quality, and the impersonality with which Hitler rounded up and exterminated those he deemed inferior.
The narration of the story is written from an objective third person perspective, without any insight into the character’s thoughts or emotions as they tour the Hatchery. This lack of personalization supports and reinforces the calculated tone of the story. By presenting this mechanical reproductive process so matter-of-factly, Huxley illustrates how accepted the process is to the characters. Mention of the students’ embarrassment at the mention of parents and natural reproduction further explains this acceptance and illuminates the power of the state to shape the culture. Henry Ford’s model of assembly line production had a similar effect on our culture as cars became more available and affordable; over only a couple of generations, cars have become a necessity. Hitler hoped to utilize this kind of social engineering to promote his racist goals, controlling the media and educational systems to promote his views so that they might be accepted as normal by younger generations. The narration also introduces the godlike status accorded to Henry Ford in this future society, in the designation of the year as AF, presumably meaning “After Ford”, and in pointing out the Director’s gesture of the “sign of the T”.
The characterization of the two main figures in the story, the Director and Mr. Foster, and how they interact with one another and with the minor, unnamed characters is a depiction of how the rigidly stratified and managed society functions. The Director is unquestionably an authority figure, tall in statue and condescending towards the people around him. When a student asks a question about the reasoning behind some aspect of the reproductive process, he phrases his answer in terms that make it clear that the question was foolish, and he goes through the process of showing the students around with a demeanor that suggests he feels he is doing them a great favor. Mr. Foster, in contrast to the Director, is excitable and eager to please. He is obviously enthusiastic about his work, a true believer in the cause that he serves with a great desire to please his superiors. The dynamic between them and the way they disregard the workers around them symbolize the larger class structure that the extensive conditioning creates, and their static nature is a reflection of the stagnant nature of a society under such tight control.
The plot of Brave New World projects Hitler’s stated goals for Nazi Germany to the most extreme conclusion. Utilizing the assembly line model to rear children reduces people to their production potential and strips those designated as inferior of individuality, while the prenatal and infant conditioning guarantees that none of these inferiors will seek to rise above their assigned station. The detached method of breeding and raising children corresponds to programs like the Hitler Youth, which sought to indoctrinate children in Hitler’s beliefs and separate them from their families’ morals and values, and to the use of state controlled schools to influence a nation’s youth. The Director, acting in his professional capacity as representative of the larger plan, leads the students through the Hatchery, teaches the propaganda that supports the system to students already familiar with the justifications, in the same way that teachers and leaders of the Hitler Youth taught the justifications for Hitler’s ambitions.
The themes of the dangers of a totalitarian government and the problems that come from scientific advancement in the absence of respect for nature are evident throughout Brave New World. The portrayal of the government as caring about the happiness and prosperity of the people contrasts with the destructive methods used to limit the capacity of children destined for the lower classes, and the distain for natural reproduction is used to justify the unnatural means the government uses to maintain power over the populace. Depriving children of the guiding effects of parents leaves them susceptible to influences that run contrary to nature, particularly in the early years, and allowing government to exclude parents from the duties of child rearing hands over a power that is easily abused. The unrestricted use of cloning techniques could achieve this separation, which is why Hitler was so interested in the concept. He knew that if Ford’s assembly line model of production could be applied to cloning, a leader with enough power could seize control of future generations and therefore guarantee the ability to remain in power.
Though written more than 70 years ago, the themes and issues found in Brave New World are still relevant today. With the advent of some of the technologies necessary to create Huxley’s vision of a global totalitarian state, it is important for people to be aware of the negative potential of these scientific advances. Although both Adolph Hitler and Henry Ford are figures of the past, the possibility of a modern dictator taking advantage of technology Hitler could only dream of remains.