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The Reversal of Modernity: Huxley as Satirist of Progress

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One of the most enduring beliefs in human culture is the belief in progress. Therefore, as human ability in all areas advanced during the Enlightenment, people believed that progress in science, politics, and human nature would move humanity into a better world of tomorrow. However, events in the twentieth century challenged these beliefs. As the world suffered through two world wars in two decades, the ideals of progress had been reversed. So-called rational progressive governments exhibited human progress in the power of science and capitalistic greed, as technology turned on its makers and used to murder millions. Conversely, other parts of society exhibited human progress as pacification and love; a self-actualized world in the absence of greed. Ultimately, a species that thought itself enlightened allowed terrible crimes against humanity the world over. Out of this reversal came two opposing novels which challenge the belief of progress. In Brave New World and Island, written by Aldous Huxley, both novels are reactions to, and a satirical commentary on modern progress and the world it creates. The reversal of modern progress are observed in society’s abundance or lack of happiness, its reliance on consumption and loosening sexual taboos.

A potent mechanism of progress is the economy. Brave New World’s dystopia reveals a society deeply reliant on industrial capitalism. Huxley uses society’s reliance on consumption and profitability as a blow towards the so-called wonders of modern capitalism. In this era of modernity, society finds God not in religion but in science and industrialization. For example, this is first observed in the almost religious reverence for Henry Ford. In the beginning of the novel, the date of a historical event is mentioned in reference to the production date of “Our Ford’s” first car, the Model T, and all present “made a sign of the T on [their] stomach” in response” (Huxley 20). Henry Ford is perhaps the founding father of modern capitalism, having invented the assembly line and mass production. The World State’s slavish devotion to this father of capitalism satirizes through exaggeration the modern idea that mass produced capitalism is the only viable economic system. Thus, in a false sense of religion, society turns to materialistic desire, driven by consumerism. As a result, another aspect of the modern economy that Brave New World targets is its reliance on consumption. For instance, during a discussion of the conditioning children undergo in the World State, it is mentioned that children were conditioned to love nature. However, this was stopped owing to the fact that “a love of nature keeps no factories busy” (Huxley 18). Instead, the people are conditioned to “love all country sports” but to “hate the country” (Huxley 18). Thus, people travel to play the sports, but never stay, ensuring that they, “consume manufactured articles as well as transport” (Huxley 18). The greed of World State imposed on its citizens exacerbates the dystopian society Huxley illustrates within Brave New World. The great lengths taken to ensure that people consume the necessary amounts of goods reveals the foundations of the modern economic system as built on pure and simple consumption, without which the system would collapse.

Huxley returns to the question of ideal human progress in Island. Whereas Brave New World has illustrated a society that has given in to the trappings of consumption and capitalism, Island has forgone this for the sake of an “oasis of happiness and freedom” (Huxley 13). The island of Pala is free of greed, observed in its co-operative financial system, limited procreation and practical approach to resources means that Pala has survived while the rest of the world has succumbed to the perils of excess, as Dr. Robert McPhail, descendent of the Scottish doctor on whose philosophy Pala is based, explains: Our equations are rather different. Electricity minus heavy industry plus birth control equals democracy and plenty. Electricity plus heavy industry minus birth control equals misery, totalitarianism and war. Thus. in the creation of a utopian society full, Huxley reveals the stark differences in the society of island and in modern society. (Talk about how Island is “free” of greed,, how does this impact the characters). The reversal of this idea is represented in Murugan and Joe Aldehyde. Both characters view societal progress as national influence and economic power. Conversely, Will Farnaby represents a medium of these two contrasting ideals of society’s progress. Initially, Will is as a representation of modern society, a product of secularism and rationalization in his greed for materialistic capitalism.

Sex is a vital part of Brave New World. As a fundamental component to the human experience, sex and love are wielded as tools to control society. Sex in Brave New World’s dystopian World State is enjoyed for pleasure and as a distraction. However, sexuality’s counterpart, love, is nearly non-existent. For example, Linda, a World State citizen who was lost away from civilization for many years, returns to London and meets her former lover, the Director of Hatcheries. When she proclaims that the Director “made me have a baby” (Huxley 131), they are both met with derision, exacerbated when the Director’s son, John, also appears. While sexuality is open and freely accepted, the connections between people that sexuality creates are mocked and shunned from society. In Brave New World, this is done for political reasons, to break down connections between people to maintain conformity. However, this attitude towards sex is also a statement on loosening sexual attitudes in a modern progressive society. The World State warns of the risk of losing the emotional connections of sex entirely in a bid to loosen taboos of an earlier age. These concerns are vocalized by Bernard Marx, a World State citizen who does not buy in to his fellow citizens’ attitudes. Two men are discussing a woman; Lenina Crowne. However, they sexually mistreat her as a new kind of meal, something to be sampled out of curiosity. One of the men suggests to the other that he should “have her”, that is, have sex with her. The other replies: “I certainly will. At the first opportunity” (Huxley 37). Bernard overhears this conversation and is outraged: “Treating her as though she were a bit of meat . . . have her here, have her there” (Huxley 39). Bernard’s contrasting views on sexuality bring Huxley’s satire of changing sexual attitudes into greater focus. Bernard represents the “old” ways, treating sex as sacred, while the other men of the World State contrasts this ideology. In Bernard’s conflict with the other men, he emulates the past’s conflict with the new attitudes toward sex, where sex is just a simple pleasure, to be enjoyed or discarded when desired.

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Huxley realizes a humane vision of sexuality in Island in stark contrast to Brave New World. Whereas Brave New World approaches sex as devoid of emotion and love, sexuality in Pala neither trivialized or regulated, instead celebrated with an spiritual reverence. Education towards the “yoga of love” (Huxley 104) begins at a young age, where the populace is encouraged to view sex as expressive. Artificial insemination is used to eliminate hereditary disease and improve the race; therefore, “enrich[ing] the family with an entirely new physique and temperament”. Thus, CONTRACEPTION to further enable expressive sex. Like Bernard in Brave New World, Murugan represents the “old” belief towards sex in his criticism towards Pala’s loosening sexual taboos: “No progress, only sex, sex and sex and of course that beastly dope they're all given' (Huxley 164). (talk about homosexual relationship). The loosening of sexual taboos in Island satirizes both the domestication of human passion and “abstinence only” education of the 1960s. Huxley’s pragmatic ideal of sexuality offers an “enlightened” vision of modern society, where sex is a spirital act rather than a blind act of passion or used only for procreation.

One of the most dominant themes of Brave New World is the abundance of happiness and absence of unhappiness. From the conversation between one of the World Controllers, Mustapha Mond, and John the Savage, it is clear that the purpose of life in the eyes of the World State is the maintenance of universal happiness for social stability. To ensure conformity, the government controls society by manipulating the emotional bonds rooted in interpersonal relationships, such as in families. For example, according to the World State, a family unit is viewed as: ' [A] rabbit hole, hot with frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group!” (Huxley 30). Conversely, the World State enforces sexuality over love. The World State’s reasoning is a reflection of their belief that strong emotions under the pressure of social relationships is the main cause of unhappiness. Thus, implementing this idea abolishes natural instincts such as family, monogamy, and romance. As a result, Huxley abolishes these types of relationships in Brave New World. Moreover, he treats family relationships as taboo: “Our Freud had been the first to reveal the appalling dangers of family life. Mother, monogamy, romance […] The urge has but a single outlet. Their world didn’t allow them to take things easily, didn’t allow them to be sane, virtuous, happy. What with mothers and lovers, [...] they were forced to feel strongly. And feeling strongly, how could they be stable?” (Huxley 33-34). Furthermore, natural emotional responses are suppressed by a drug called soma. Soma is utilized by the World State to repress and control its citizens: “It can be taken at no physiological or mental cost” (Huxley 28). Thus, when Lenina’s lover, Marx, suggests to her that he would like to spend more time with her alone, she uneasily answers, “Why don’t you take Soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly” (Huxley 79). Thus, Brave New World’s conformity satirizes modern society’s trade of emotional responses for universal happiness. If true happiness is valuing joy in the face of hardship and struggle, how can it exist in a society so advanced it renders hardship and struggles obsolete? Thus, Huxley encourages the reader to value the right to experience unhappiness, as preserving through sad times is what allows humanity to progress towards a self-actualized world.

The manipulation of happiness in Island allows civilization to create its own version of a perfect utopia. Whereas Brave New World suppresses human nature; thus, creating an imbalance on civilizations’s respective populations, the island of Pala celebrates humanity in its purest form. Huxley nurtures the positive development of human potential by solving the problems that plague Western society. Furthermore, although Pala shares much of the programmed indoctoriation of Brave New World such as birth control, educational conditioning and a ban on the nuclear family, these restrictions are more reasonably applied/ (talk about how pala’s society is beautiful and perfect possible through the enlightenment of Eastern spirituality contrasting BNW religious reverence to Ford and they use drugs and shit as enlightenment not control).

Modernity has enabled so much for humanity. Poverty has been eased, quality of life improved, and people connected, faster and better than ever before. But, as Huxley illustrates in dystopian and utopian societies, modernity is no panacea. Thus, Huxley presents the danger in Western society’s never-ending march towards a “perfect” future. Brave New World and Island satirizes the deleterious effects of modern industrial capitalism, with its focus on consumption and profit threatening to consume the very people who participate in it. Moreover, they observe the loosening of sexual taboos, a trend that risks overcompensating and removing the meaning of sex and love along with the taboos around it. Lastly, Huxley comments on society’s capability to completely repress happiness and eradicate instinctive human nature. It is often said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. These novels prove that we must also remember our future as well, lest our search for progress overcome us.

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The Reversal of Modernity: Huxley as Satirist of Progress. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 9, 2023, from
“The Reversal of Modernity: Huxley as Satirist of Progress.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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