Mechanical Utopia

In Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World, he creates a utopian society that achieves happiness at the expense of humanity. Though thoroughly repugnant to the reader, the world Huxley creates seems almost plausible because he fashions it out of societal problems he saw in his lifetime, many of which we still encounter today. Objects and machines replace real emotions, and the result is a streamlined existence that neglects a true sense of humanity. By comparing man’s life in the “brave new world” to the machines that surround them, Huxley creates an assembly-line lifestyle in which consumerism and hedonism are paramount, and individuality falls to the wayside. The World State is a society in which economics take precedence over emotion. Almost from birth, the society conditions children to consume, and mechanization quickly becomes part of this consumption. When lecturing the children, the Director says, “imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption. Nowadays, the Controllers won’t approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games” (20). Here, he shows the disdain the society has for anything which does not require machines or other complicated apparatuses, only because simplicity would decrease consumption. Obstacle Golf and Reimann Surface Tennis represent a criticism of a world in which more is always better, and people invest in machines simply for the sake of machines. The crematorium represents a similar criticism of society’s tendency to value economy over morals. When Lenina asks about the balconies on the crematorium smoke stacks, Henry brags about how they extract 98% of the phosphate from each corpse, thus making even death profitable. In Huxley’s world, machines become not only the means of maintaining society, but also a sort of metaphor for society itself. When the Controller speaks of the importance of stability, Huxley uses a mechanical metaphor for the society, saying, “the machine turns, turns and must keep on turning – forever. It is death if it stands still” (28). He goes on to describe the need for stable persons to tend the wheels of society, thus introducing the idea of a symbiotic relationship between machinery and humans. The humans depend on the machines, but the machines depend on the humans. This system gives machines an almost deity-like importance, and likens humans themselves to mechanisms that serve. If people in the World State worship anything, they worship Henry Ford, not God. Ford, as the inventor of assembly-line production, has great significance in a world where nothing is valued more than efficiency. Huxley uses mechanical imagery to show how the state has dehumanized its population in order to produce an ideal, stable workforce. The very first thing the reader sees in the book is a factory that produces people. In this factory, embryos proceed down a conveyor belt much as a car proceeds down an assembly line. Huxley shows the mechanical nature of the “decanting process” when he describes the action in the bottling room: “whizz and then, click! the lift-hatches flew open; the bottle-liner had only to reach out a hand, take the flap, insert, smooth-down, and before the lined bottle had had time to travel out of reach along the endless band, whizz, click! another flap” (5). The World State conceives of humans as interchangeable parts, and the en masse production of identical humans makes this conception a reality. The Director makes this idea of complete interchangeability clear in his speech descrying unorthodoxy: “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” (99). So ingrained in each person is the importance of machinery that they use mechanical references in their everyday speech. Henry Foster does this when he describes Lenina as, “wonderfully pneumatic,” likening her to some mechanized device (29). Huxley again compares life in the World State to a machine when he refers to the “College of Emotional Engineering,” a name which implies that human emotions can be constructed like bridges (44). Even Helmholtz, who is more intelligent and independent of thought than most, finds himself unable to express his thoughts in terms other than mechanical ones. He tells Bernard about his frustration, saying “words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly – they’ll go through anything” (47). Huxley drives home his theme of dehumanization through machinery when John visits the factory. He speaks of the moving parts of the assembly line, and then without breaking his line of thought begins describing machine-like people operating these parts: “the two low work-tables faced one another; between them crawled the conveyor with its load of separate parts; forty-seven blonde heads were confronted by forty-seven brown ones” (107). Though the Savage finds this scene so repugnant he vomits, those around him embrace the mechanization of the human race. In Huxley’s portrayal of the mechanization of the future, we see a soulless and emotionless world. Like interchangeable parts used in cars or guns, one person can be easily substituted for another. Indeed, for some castes, one person is not only replaceable, but unidentifiable from those surrounding him. By using mechanical imagery to portray the future, Huxley criticizes the consumerist and conformist society that we live in, and its emphasis on the economy, not the person.

Leave a Comment