A classic dystopian, science-fiction novel by English author Aldous Huxley, Brave New World has become a worldwide literary classic and a mainstay in high school English curriculums since its 1932 release.
Its insidious and disturbing story introduces us to the futuristic World State, in which citizens are genetically modified, molded into a strict social hierarchy, brainwashed into loving their own servitude and forced into a doctored happiness that comes in the form of a government-issued drug. Led by a dictatorial “Controller” named Mustapha Mond, the World State is an unsettling, sinister place endowed with warped visions of an ideal society meant to alienate and disgust readers who value truth, love, beauty and freedom.
Brave New World is stuffed with classic quotes and phrases that rear their heads in essays, papers and other literary works. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. On danger, freedom and sin
“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”
John the Savage incites chaos when he throws out the soma, a government-sponsored drug, at a hospital. When he’s brought before the great Controller Mustapha Mond to answer for his crime, John gets sick of Mond’s talks of being comfortable and responds with this great rallying cry for adventure and nonconformity.
2. On the dullness of happiness
“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”
The Controller informs us that while we all chase after happiness and stability, it’s never quite as grand or glamorous as struggle, suffering and instability.
3. On being conditioned to believe
“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”
In this utopia—er, dystopia—people are brainwashed, or hypnopaedia-ed, from the day they’re born (and born from bottles, at that). Mond argues that people only believe things because they’re told to by some outside force, whether that be hypnopaedia or just societal norms.
4. On remorse
“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”
Anyone who’s ever made a mistake, which is all of us, knows that guilt is a terrible feeling. Here, in Huxley’s 1946 forward to the novel, we’re reminded not to roll in the muck and dwell in that guilt, but instead to make amends and move on. You have to do more than just be sorry for your mistakes, but there’s also no point in perpetual remorse.
5. On servitude and revolution
“… Most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.”
This quote reminds us of Dostoevsky as Huxley writes that, in the end, people “will lay their freedom at our feet and say to us, ‘make us your slaves but feed us.’” In this society and in ours, people are comfortable handing over freedom to people in power in exchange for safety and stability. In this exchange, people learn to love their servitude, choosing it over any dreams of revolution.
6. On civilization
“I ate civilization. It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,” he added in a lower tone, “I ate my own wickedness.”
Here, John is struggling to cope with the World State’s lack of humanity and of the traditional values he grew up with. He feels the temptations of his primal urges and the superficial aspects of this society, and reflects on his shame at entering the carefully controlled chaos of this civilization, allowing it to poison and defile him.
7. On totalitarian control
“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”
Huxley once again harkens back to the idea of slaves loving their servitude. Once again, if they trade their freedom for stability and are vulnerable to the “mind manipulation” of their society, people quickly morph into slavery who are held to their servitude not by force, but by a love of their position and the stability it provides.
8. On a little place called Heaven
“There was a thing called Heaven; but all the same they used to drink enormous quantities of alcohol.”
Religion is a central topic in Brave New World and Mond tells us that where religion failed, drugs and alcohol succeeded. While religion did not give people the comfort they needed, drugs and alcohol fill in those gaps in this society. Alcohol, as well as a hefty array of hallucinogens, is used to weed out any bouts of dissatisfaction, creating a superficial, neverending happiness.
9. On industrialization
“A love of nature keeps no factories busy.”
In a society built on technological advance (but not scientific progress because science is dangerous), a love of nature and its beauty isn’t ideal, so Mond decided to abolish the love of nature among the lower classes that toil in factories, doing mindless, mechanical work.
10. On being our own masters
“We are not our own any more than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters.”
Mond (who gets all the good lines) explains that we may think we love our freedom and independence, our ability to do things for ourselves and make our own choices. But really, independence is an unnatural state for humankind and won’t lead us to happiness.
11. On happiness
“Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning, truth and beauty can’t.”
Truth and beauty are dangerous distractions that run the risk of sowing the seeds of unhappiness. Instead, universal, yet artificial happiness keeps society running at full efficiency.
12. On unhappiness
“I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.”
Disgusted by the artificial, mindless happiness he sees in the citizens of the World State, John defiantly utters this classic line.
13. On science
“It isn’t only art that is incompatible with happiness, it’s also science. Science is dangerous, we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled.”
In our society, science and technology go hand-in-hand. But in Brave New World, the two are disconnected as science is scorned as dangerous because it is purely an intellectual pursuit built on curiosity. Yet the World State runs on technology, which is used as a practical means to control its citizens.
14. On truth, beauty and knowledge
“What’s the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when anthrax bombs are popping all around you?”
The dictatorship of Brave New World followed an awful Nine Years’ War, during which people were allowed to pursue truth, beauty and knowledge, but they had no stability or safety as bombs exploded around them. As they recovered from the war, people realized they were willing to trade truth, beauty and knowledge for safety and stability.
15. On having ownership of ourselves
“But every one belongs to every one else.”
A hypnopaedic proverb asserts that the citizens of the World State have no ownership of their own selves or bodies. Sixty-two thousand repetitions of this proverb had made the children of the World State accepting of this doctrine as “axiomatic, self-evident, utterly indisputable.” It feels like we’re ending on a bit of a downer, but so did Brave New World, so it seems fitting.
Christine Fernando is an intern at Paste with an affinity for horror movies, pretentious poetry and trashy reality TV. Don’t try to follow her on Twitter because she doesn’t have one.