The novel opens in the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre. The year is a.f. 632 (632 years “after Ford”). The Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning is giving a group of students a tour of a factory that produces human beings and conditions them for their predestined roles in the World State. He explains to the boys that human beings no longer produce living offspring. Instead, surgically removed ovaries produce ova that are fertilized in artificial receptacles and incubated in specially designed bottles.
The Hatchery destines each fetus for a particular caste in the World State. The five castes are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon undergo the Bokanovsky Process which involves shocking an egg so that it divides to form up to ninety-six identical embryos, which then develop into ninety-six identical human beings. The Alpha and Beta embryos never undergo this dividing process, which can weaken the embryos. The Director explains that the Bokanovsky Process facilitates social stability because the clones it produces are predestined to perform identical tasks at identical machines. The cloning process is one of the tools the World State uses to implement its guiding motto: “Community, Identity, Stability.”
The Director goes on to describe Podsnap’s Technique which speeds up the ripening process of eggs within a single ovary. With this method, hundreds of related individuals can be produced from the ova and sperm of the same man and woman within two years. The average production rate using Podsnap’s Technique is 11,000 brothers and sisters in 150 batches of identical twins. Called over by the director, Mr. Henry Foster, an employee at the plant, tells the attentive students that the record for this particular factory is over 16,000 siblings.
The Director and Henry Foster continue to explain the processes of the plant to the boys. After fertilization, the embryos travel on a conveyor belt in their bottles for 267 days, the gestation time period for a human fetus. On the last day, they are “decanted,” or born. The entire process is designed to mimic the conditions within a human womb, including shaking every few meters to familiarize the fetuses with movement. Seventy percent of the female fetuses are sterilized; they are known as “freemartins.” The fetuses undergo different treatments depending on their castes. Oxygen deprivation and alcohol treatment ensure the lower intelligence and smaller size of members of the three lower castes. Fetuses destined for work in the tropical climate are heat conditioned as embryos; during childhood, they undergo further conditioning to produce adults that are emotionally and physically suited to hot climates. The artificial process, says the Director, aims to make individuals accept and even like “their inescapable social destiny.”
The Director and Henry Foster then introduce Lenina Crowne to the students. She explains that her job is to immunize the fetuses destined for the tropics with vaccinations for typhoid and sleeping sickness. In front of the boys, Henry reminds Lenina of their date for that afternoon, which the Director finds “charming.” Henry goes on to explain that future rocket-plane engineers are conditioned to live in constant motion, and future chemical workers are conditioned to tolerate toxic chemicals. Henry wants to show the students the conditioning of Alpha Plus Intellectual fetuses, but the Director, looking at his watch, announces that the time is ten to three. He decides there is not enough time to see the Alpha Plus conditioning; he wants to make sure the students get to the Nurseries before the children there have awakened from their naps.
Summary: Chapter 2
The Director leads the group of students to the Nurseries. Posted on a notice board are the phrases, “Infant Nurseries. Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Rooms.” The students observe a Bokanovsky group of eight-month-old babies wearing the Delta caste’s khaki-colored clothes. Some nurses present the babies with books and flowers. As the babies crawl toward the books and the flowers, cooing with pleasure, alarms ring shrilly. Then, the babies suffer a mild electric shock. Afterward, when the nurses offer the flowers and books to the babies, they shrink away and wail with terror.
The Director explains that after 200 repetitions of the same process, the children will have an instinctive hatred of books and flowers. A hatred for books is ingrained in the lower castes to prevent them from wasting the community’s time reading books that might “decondition” them. The motivation for instilling a hatred for flowers is more complicated. The Director explains that Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons were once conditioned to like flowers and nature in general. The idea was to compel them to visit the country often and “consume transport” in the process. But since nature is free, they consumed nothing other than transportation.
In order to increase the consumption of goods, The World State decided to abolish the love of nature while preserving the desire to use transportation. The lower castes are now conditioned to hate the countryside but to love country sports. All country sports in the World State require the use of elaborate apparatus. As a result, the lower castes now pay for both transportation and manufactured goods when they travel to the country for sporting events.
The Director begins to tell a story about a child named Reuben who has Polish-speaking parents. The students blush at the mere mention of the word “parent.” References to sexual reproduction, including words like “mother” and “father,” are now considered pornographic. In the World State, people only use such words in clinical discussions.
The Director continues with his story. One night, Reuben’s parents left the radio on while he slept. The child woke up reciting a broadcast of a George Bernard Shaw speech verbatim. The parents did not understand English, so they thought something was wrong. Their doctor understood English and notified the medical press of the event. Reuben’s overnight learning led to the discovery of sleep teaching, or hypnopaedia. The Director informs the students that the discovery of hypnopaedia came only twenty-three years after the first Ford Model T was sold. He makes the sign of the T on his stomach (as an observant Catholic might make the sign of the cross) and the students follow suit. He explains that researchers of hypnopaedia soon discovered that it was useless for intellectual training. Reuben could repeat the speech word for word, but had no idea what it meant. The place where hypnopaedia can be used, however, is moral training.
The Director leads the tour to a dormitory where some Beta children are sleeping. The Nurse informs them that the Elementary Sex lesson is over and the Elementary Class Consciousness lesson has just begun. A recorded voice whispers to each sleeping child. It states that Alpha children have to work harder than the other classes and it disparages the lower intelligence and inferiority of the lower castes. The voice teaches pride and happiness in the Beta caste: Betas do not have to work as hard as the cleverer Alphas, it explains, but they are still smarter than the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. The Director explains that the lesson will be repeated one hundred and twenty times, three times a week, for thirty months. Hypnopaedia instills the fine distinctions and prejudices for which electric shocks and alarms are too crude. Hypnopaedia, the Director concludes, is “the greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time.”
Summary: Chapter 3
The Director leads the students to the garden, where several hundred naked children are playing. The Director remarks that “in Our Ford’s day,” games involved no more than a ball or two, a few sticks, and maybe a net. Such simple apparatus did nothing to increase consumption. In the current World State, all games, like “Centrifugal Bumble-puppy,” involve complicated machines.
The Director is interrupted by the cries of a little boy sitting in the bushes. It soon becomes clear that the little boy, for some reason, is uncomfortable with the erotic play in which the children are encouraged to participate. After the boy is whisked off to see the psychologist, the Director astounds the students by explaining that sexual play during childhood and adolescence used to be considered abnormal and immoral. When he begins to explain the deleterious effects of sexual repression, a man interrupts him. The Director reverently introduces the man as “his fordship” Mustapha Mond. At the complex, four thousand electric clocks simultaneously strike four, marking the shift change. Henry Foster and Lenina each head up to the changing rooms in preparation for their date. While heading to the rooms, Henry snubs Bernard Marx who is said to have an unsavory reputation.
The narrative suddenly begins to shift back and forth between three different scenes, splicing in Mustapha Mond’s speech to the boys with scenes of Henry’s conversation in the male changing room and Lenina’s conversation in the female training room. This SparkNote will describe Mond’s speech first, and then the two changing room conversations.
The students are overwhelmed by meeting Mond, the Resident Controller for Western Europe, and one of only ten World Controllers. Mond quotes Ford, saying, “History is bunk” (an actual quote from the real-life Henry Ford) in order to explain why the students have not learned any of the history that the Director explains to them. The Director glances at him nervously. He has heard rumors that Mond keeps forbidden books, such as Bibles and poetry collections, locked in a safe. Mond, aware of the Director’s unease, condescendingly reassures him that he does not plan to corrupt the students.
Mond begins to describe life in the time before the World State began its policy of tight control over reproduction, child-rearing, and social relations. He likens the narrow channeling of emotion and desire to water under pressure in a pipe. One hole produces a strong jet. However, many small holes produce calm streams of water. Strong emotion, inspired by family relationships, sexual repression, and delayed satisfaction of desire, goes directly against stability. Without stability, civilization cannot exist. Before the existence of the World State, the instability caused by strong emotions led to disease, war, and social unrest that resulted in millions of deaths and untold suffering and misery.
Mond describes the initial resistance to the World State’s use of hypnopaedia, the caste system, and artificial gestation. But after the Nine Years’ War, which involved horrible chemical and biological warfare, an intense propaganda campaign, including the suppression of all books published before a.f. 150, began to weaken the resistance. Religion, Shakespeare, museums, and families all passed into obscurity. The date of the introduction of the Model T was chosen as the start of the new era, and all crosses had their tops cut off to make them into Ts. Six years of pharmaceutical research yielded soma, the perfect drug. The problem of old age was solved, and people could now retain the mental and physical character of youth throughout life. No one was allowed to sit alone and think. No one was allowed “leisure from pleasure.”
In the changing room at the end of the workday, Bernard overhears Henry talking with the Assistant Predestinator about Lenina. The Predestinator suggests a “feely” (a movie involving senses of touch and smell) that Henry might want to attend. While discussing Lenina admiringly, Henry tells the Assistant that he should “have her” some time. The conversation disgusts Bernard. The Assistant notices his glum expression and he and Henry decide to bait him. Henry offers Bernard some soma, infuriating him. They laugh as Bernard curses them.
The scene shifts to a public bathroom and showering room, where Lenina is chatting with Fanny Crowne. At age nineteen, Fanny is starting to take a temporary Pregnancy Substitute because she feels “out of sorts.” The Pregnancy Substitute mimics the hormonal effects of pregnancy. Fanny expresses surprise that Lenina is still dating Henry exclusively after four months. She advises Lenina to be more promiscuous, as a virtuous member of World State should. Lenina mentions that Bernard Marx, an Alpha Plus hypnopaedia specialist, invited her to the Savage Reservation. Fanny warns that Bernard has a bad reputation for spending time alone and is smaller and less confident than other Alphas. Fanny mentions the rumors that someone might have accidentally injected alcohol into his blood surrogate when he was in the bottle. Lenina decides to accept Bernard’s invitation because she thinks Bernard is sweet and wants to see the Reservation. Fanny admires Lenina’s Malthusian belt, a contraceptive holder that was a gift from Henry.
Summary: Chapter 4
When Lenina tells Bernard in front of a big group of coworkers that she accepts his invitation to see the Savage Reservation, Bernard reacts with embarrassment. His suggestion that they discuss it privately confuses Lenina. She saunters off to meet Henry. Bernard feels terrible because Lenina behaved like a “healthy and virtuous English girl”that is, someone unafraid of discussing her sexual life in public. When the genial Benito Hoover strikes up a conversation, Bernard rushes away. Lenina and Henry fly off on their date in Henry’s helicopter, and look down upon their world in perfect contentment.
Ordering a pair of Delta-Minus attendants to get his helicopter ready for flight, Bernard betrays his insecurity about his size. The lower castes associate larger size with higher status, so he has trouble getting them to follow his orders. Bernard contemplates his feelings of alienation and becomes irritable. He visits his friend, Helmholtz Watson, a lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering. Helmholtz is an extremely intelligent, attractive, and properly sized Alpha Plus who works in propaganda. Some of Helmholtz’s superiors think he is a little too smart for his own good. The narrator agrees with them, noting that “a mental excess had produced in Helmholtz Watson effects very similar to those which, in Bernard Marx, were the result of a physical defect.” The friendship between Bernard and Helmholtz springs from their mutual dissatisfaction with the status quo and their shared inclination to view themselves as individuals. Once together, Bernard boasts that Lenina has accepted his invitation, but Helmholtz shows little interest. Helmholtz is preoccupied with the thought that his writing talent could be better used than simply for writing hypnopaedic phrases. His work leaves him feeling empty and unfulfilled. Bernard becomes nervous, jumping up at one point because he thinks, wrongly, that someone is listening at the door.
Summary: Chapter 5
After a game of Obstacle Golf, Henry and Lenina fly in a helicopter over a crematorium where phosphorous is collected from burning bodies for fertilizer. They drink coffee with soma before heading off to the Westminster Abbey Cabaret. They take another soma dose before they return to Henry’s apartment. Although the repeated doses of soma have made them almost completely oblivious to the world around them, Lenina remembers to use her contraceptives.
Every other Thursday, Bernard has to take part in Solidarity Service at the Fordson Community Singery. The participants sit twelve to a table, alternating men and women. While a rousing hymn plays, the participants pass a cup of strawberry ice cream soma and take a soma tablet with it. They work themselves into a frenzy of exultation and the ceremony ends in a sex orgy that leaves Bernard feeling more isolated than ever.