(Psycho) Analysis of Brave New World

Danika Chrunik
Blog Presentation

(*note sorry everyone, the page numbers are off for the quotes since I am using an old copy of the book)

Adlous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World, builds upon the ideas that were dominant and fresh in the early part of the twentieth century. One such idea was Psychoanalysis, propagated by Dr. Sigmund Freud. Though a psychoanalytical interpretation can be applied to any novel after the fact, I believe Huxley used elements of the approach in the creation of his characters and plot. In this novel Huxley presents a dystopic society in which various scientific and psychological techniques are used to control people from their conception to their death.

Freud divided the personality into the id, ego and super-ego. The id is home to animal urges, such as hunger or sexual desire. In babies the first facet of personality to develop is the id, they demand their impulses to be satisfied immediately. The ego develops next. It is an attempt to deal with impulses but in a way that is “socially acceptable”. In Brave New World, society does not place restrictions on the gratification of sexual desire. Children are even taught to engage in “erotic play”. The super-ego is the internalized moral values of society and the child’s parents. Since parents do not exist in the Brave New World society all values are acquired through hypnopaedia (sleep teaching) and classical conditioning.

Bernard notes that, although people can perform their jobs like adults, they are more like “[i]nfants where feeling and desire are concerned”. (102) In our society, Freud would say a person who behaves in this way has a fixation; their psychological functioning has been stunted. However, in Bernard’s society this would constitute as normal functioning. The “New World” government conditions people to have extremely powerful super-egos that actually encourage, rather than inhibit, instant gratification of id impulses. As a result the ego is diminished and people do not have to cope with conflicting emotions. This seems to create stability in society, or at least passivity. The Director understands that this type of psychological conditioning in the individual is essential to the functioning of society as a whole. “Alphas are so conditioned that they do not have to be infantile their emotional behaviour… It is their duty to be infantile, even against their inclination.” (106)

Since the general population of the Brave New world do not have families, they cannot reach psychological maturity. Controller Mond subscribes to the view that families cause “madness and suicide”(52) which was introduced by the Ford.
“Our Ford – our Freud, as, for some inscrutable reason, he chose to call himself whenever he spoke of psychological matters – Our Freud had been the first to reveal the appalling dangers of family life.” (52)

On the reservation life continues to unfold much how it does in our society. That leaves the “savages” to be raised and develop much the way we do today, though they are seen to be primitive.

Freud believed that during development, in early childhood, an Oedipus complex is created. Basically the complex causes the child to fall in love with the opposite sex parent and wish to kill the same sex parent. Huxley illustrated what Freud would have called a classic Oedipus complex in the character of John, the savage. John was very possessive of his mother, “[h]e hated Popé. He hated them all – all the men who came to see Linda.” (131) Though Popé was not John’s father he played a similar role. Durring John’s childhood Popé was Linda’s lover, the role according to Freud that a son wishes to usurp. Popé even brought him “The Complete works of William Shakespeare”, which was integral to John’s intellectual development. Despite that, John described Popé as a “[r]emorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain.” (137) John has an unconscious wish to replace Popé, which drives his unsuccessful attempt at murder.

Though Freud’s concepts have fallen out of fashion and have not been verified by research, they have not completely been disproved. Elements of Freud’s theory were the basis for more current schools of thought. In Huxley’s novel we see Freud’s theories incarnate in many characters, most notably the “savage”. Huxley showed that knowledge, used in the wrong way, can be a dangerous thing. Though we may not use psychoanalysis any more there are other theories abound. We should take Huxley’s novel as a warning, not a prophecy of what is to come, but a caution about what might be.

Possible discussion question: Freud says that the id contains sexual and aggressive tendencies. If people are able to completely succumb to their sexual id impulses, where are the aggressive impulses? In what ways does the society deal with aggression?

Works Cited:

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1932. London: Grafton Books, 1988.

Wade, Carole, Carol Tavris, Deborah Saucier, and Lorin Elias. Psychology. 2nd ed. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada Inc, 2007.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “(Psycho) Analysis of Brave New World

  1. Ellen

    Ellen Shing
    English 214-01
    Oct. 7, 2009

    RESPONSE

    Although Huxley draws heavily from using Freud as a source for his characters I disagree to the fact that the characters express his beliefs.

    It is mentioned that the id, ego, and super-ego plays a large role in the upbringing of the children in the society of Brave New World but there is no actual fact that it is present. When the children are encouraged to take part of “erotic play” which is classified as part of ego, there is no evidence to suggest that the playing between the children is erotic at all, just the fact that a sort of game it played between a boy and a girl. (38)

    As for super-ego where the children are conditioned through hypnopaedia, we can see that it is not 100% effective. This is most evidently seen in the characters Bernard, Helmholtz, and at times Lenina. Since the introduction of Bernard we have seen that he was different from everyone else. Which is especially apparent in the way he goes against the social norm by not playing Electro-magnetic Golf, considering it a waste of time and instead wishes to go on walks to talk with Lenina alone. (88) There is also the fact that he did not wish to go to bed with Lenina after their first date together like “normal people” in the society would of. (92) He wishes to be, “More on my own, not so completely part of something else. Not just a cell in the social body.” (90)

    Helmholtz’s association with Bernard already informs us that they may have like minds or outlooks on the society. But unlike Bernard who wishes to be different, Helmholtz is more concerned with the aspect of wanting the power to change through writing. His writing, his rhymes about “being alone” go against their sleep teachings, therefore turning into a threat against the society. (165)

    Lenina a seemingly perfectly conditioned Beta is not as perfect as we think. She went against one of the sleep teachings which states that everybody belongs to everybody and that no one should have just one partner but multiple. We know of this by her friend, Fanny’s accusation, “Only four months… there’s been nobody else except Henry all that time…” (46)

    The result of conditioning people to have such powerful super-egos may seem to be the ultimate solution for society in the Brave New World but this conditioning that may be the society’s downfall as well. For example, what if Bernard gets it in his head to eliminate Henry Ford due to the past relationship between him and Lenina. This according to his conditioning, however weak it may have been, would be to give into these “urges” and eliminate Henry. Now apply this concept to everyone else in the society where they all give into their impulses of wanting to eliminate someone and we have the start of chaos. The “stability” that the Controllers had so much pride in has now become the very thing that destroys it.

    Due to the Savage’s upbringing and the Indians alienation of him from their activities it has caused him to form a close bond to his mother, Linda that others may mistake for the Oedipus complex. Linda was the only one that he could depend on when they were living in the reserve, which automatically caused a close bond to form between them that others might not understand, as they have not experienced such a thing. And the reason that he sees Popé as a threat may be because he feels threatened over his position as the “man of the house” not because he wishes to be the lover of his mother. The bond between them is present when Linda starts hitting him due to her distress of having turned into a savage but after seeing John’s face, made her realize what she was doing and stop hitting him. (119)

    The supposed usage of Freudian theories or of similar theories have led for the psychoanalytical interpretation on Huxley’s book to vary depending on what viewpoint and stance taken. Huxley has shown in the Brave New World, the reversal of society and the “stability” that comes from it, as a warning against becoming like it in the future.

    Discussion Questions: How is the society to deal with urges that have not been taught by hypnopaedia? What would the society by like running only on urges and instincts? How long will this sort of society last?

  2. Jen Zimmerman

    In the perfectly tidy robotic world that is A Brave New World, it wouldn’t be possible to have urges that were not already preprogrammed as that society has dictated every iota of a person’s life. But let’s just say that people could have unconditioned urges I think they would go crazy as there is no outlet for them. They would not fit into the tidy little box that has been created by A Brave New World. I think the inner turmoil would get to that individual so much so that drastic measure would have to be taken. Much like how the savage ended up killing himself because he didn`t fit into their world.
    A society run completely on urges and instincts would never exist, but for arguments sake let`s say that it did it would impossible for that society to survive long term. If I had an urge to seek revenge on a person who had smited me, I may feel like I want to kill that person, if I did and other`s had that same urge to act out of anger instead of intelligence then there would no people left in such a society. Acting on ALL urges and impulses would be a negative self fulfilling prophecy. People would murder, rape, steal, eat themselves into oblivion, project racism, sexism, and ageism, all with no negative consequence. All of these issue exist today, however there wrath is not nearly as great because most people have the ability to self monitor and follow society norms, values and rules.

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