(*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?
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.