Is it possible to never feel genuine emotion? Would it be terrible to always remain in a hazy, tranquil state? What if you were provided with the means to permanently avoid pain? If so, would the cost of losing your individuality, by popping pills for a temporary high, be really worth it?
In the New World Order, children are no longer born; they are instead grown and harvested by the State. The Director of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre is giving a tour to a class of schoolchildren as to how this is done, such as with Bokanovsky’s Process. As is typical of eugenics, bokanovskification is only performed with the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, not the higher caste Alphas or even Betas (since the Process involves the splitting of already fertilized eggs in vitro so as to maximize the number of viable embryos per female egg).
The motto of the World State is “Community, Identity, Stability;” while not as initially menacing as Orwellian slogans (such as “Freedom is Slavery”), it still connotes a collectivist meaning, especially considering the phrases inculcated into young children during bouts of hypnopedia such as “everybody belongs to everybody else.” Following the biological tampering that takes place in vitro, there is also the social conditioning, where agents of the State work to habituate the children to the environment appropriate to their caste, such as Deltas receiving electric shocks whenever they are near books and flowers during their time in the Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms. When they grow up to become elementary school aged, the children are never left alone for any span of time, and one of the mandatory activities that they must participate in is group sex, which is referred to as “erotic play.” Any desire for freedom and liberty is literally bred out of them, for they can’t miss what they never had.
Instead of ceaseless war between the 1984 superstates of Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia, there is rampant consumerism that soaks up all the excess production. By indulging in every form of titillating pleasure (such as the stimulating feelies or soma tablets), all the Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons really desire is the comfort their vapid entertainments bring them. It is nothing less than enslavement through seduction.
But as collectivistic as the World State is, there will always be those eccentric individuals who slip through the cracks (even though they have been successfully dealt with, over and over again). Enter first Bernard Marx, an Alpha + male who works in the Psychology Bureau within the Centre and is desperately unhappy since he is shorter and more coarse looking than his contemporaries, which makes it very difficult for him to attract women or even retain the respect of his colleagues. In an attempt to actually date Lenina Crowe (instead of just sleeping with her), Bernard decides to take her to the New Mexico Savage Reservation, which is a place where some people managed to live independently of the World State. Upon witnessing a tribal ritual involving the flogging of a young man, another one complains to Bernard and Lenina that he wished it was himself instead who was flogged, since it would show that he was a man; he is introduced as John the Savage.
John takes Bernard and Lenina to meet his mother, Linda, who is a Beta Minus that got separated from her date during their trip to the Reservation over twenty years beforehand. After agreeing to return to London, Bernard manages to avoid being sent to Iceland by bringing John and Linda to meet John’s biological father, who is none other than the Centre Director himself! Following this, Bernard enjoys a feeling of popularity and attractiveness that he has never before felt in his life for the simple reason that he has become John’s handler. During this time, John and Lenina become attracted to each other, but there is no love triangle involving Bernard since reckless promiscuity is encouraged by the World State anyway.
Things begin to unravel for Bernard when one evening John refuses to attend a party to which a bunch of celebrity notables had been invited for the express purpose of meeting John. Disgraced, Bernard rues bringing John to London; very soon thereafter, Lenina, dejected at John for not sleeping with her sooner, arrives at his apartment and attempts to seduce him, which repulses John to such a degree that he rejects her advances pretty violently. Immediately, John gets word that his mother is dying. Rushing to her bedside, John experiences grief as his mother dies, the pain of which is amplified by a group of schoolchildren shamelessly berating him as part of their death conditioning (given that they aren’t supposed to feel sad about the end of anyone’s life).
While still grieving, John rationalizes that Linda’s dependence on soma was the reason her death was hastened, and sees it as an enslaving influence. He rushes to the nearest dispensary and encourages the Deltas to not take any soma at all. Much to his dismay, the Deltas do not want to be free, and the struggle ends with him, Bernard, and Bernard’s best friend Helmholtz being arrested by the police, who take the trio before the Resident Controller for Western Europe (that is, one of the ten World Controllers of the World State), Mustapha Mond. Mond decides that each of the three men needs to be separated from “civilization” because of their respective individualities potentially infecting “Society.”
After sentencing Bernard and Helmholtz, Mond spends extra time with John due to his unique background. As a former scientist who cowed under pressure to conform, Mond chooses to experiment on John by not allowing him to travel with Bernard and Helmholtz to the islands, but instead permits him to live in the rural areas outside London. After living at a deserted lighthouse attempting to purify himself from his sojourn in London, John is slowly hassled over time by ever growing crowds of tourists and reporters. Eventually, the crowd one day overcomes John, and the circling helicopters overhead spray everyone with soma (much like earlier at the dispensary with the Deltas); when John wakes up, he realized he had horribly defiled himself by fucking who knows how many people during the orgy, and then subsequently hangs himself.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a grave warning to those who confuse virtue with pleasure. Part of being a responsible adult is being able to defer gratification; of course, self-determination was forcibly interfered with by the World State even before the children are hatched. I think it is accurate to say that if there was ever a story that demonstrated the evils associated with eugenics and consumerism, this novel would be it.