Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The word pneumatic is used with remarkable frequency to describe two things: Lenina’s body and chairs. Pneumatic is an adjective that usually means that something has air pockets or works by means of compressed air. In the case of the chairs (in the feely theater and in Mond’s office), it probably means that the chairs’ cushions are inflated with air. In Lenina’s case, the word is used by both Henry Foster and Benito Hoover to describe what she’s like to have sex with. She herself remarks that her lovers usually find her “pneumatic,” patting her legs as she does so. In reference to Lenina it means well-rounded, balloon-like, or bouncy, in reference to her flesh, and in particular her bosom. Huxley is not the only writer to use the word pneumatic in this sense, although it is an unusual usage. The use of this odd word to describe the physical characteristics of both a woman and a piece of furniture underscores the novel’s theme that human sexuality has been degraded to the level of a commodity.
Throughout Brave New World, the citizens of the World State substitute the name of Henry Ford, the early twentieth-century industrialist and founder of the Ford Motor Company, wherever people in our own world would say Lord” (i.e., Christ). This demonstrates that even at the level of casual conversation and habit, religion has been replaced by reverence for technology—specifically the efficient, mechanized factory production of goods that Henry Ford pioneered.
The motif of alienation provides a counterpoint to the motif of total conformity that pervades the World State. Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, and John are alienated from the World State, each for his own reasons. Bernard is alienated because he is a misfit, too small and powerless for the position he has been conditioned to enjoy. Helmholtz is alienated for the opposite reason: he is too intelligent even to play the role of an Alpha Plus. John is alienated on multiple levels and at multiple sites: not only does the Indian community reject him, but he is both unwilling and unable to become part of the World State. The motif of alienation is one of the driving forces of the narrative: it provides the main characters with their primary motivations.
Brave New World abounds with references to sex. At the heart of the World State’s control of its population is its rigid control over sexual mores and reproductive rights. Reproductive rights are controlled through an authoritarian system that sterilizes about two-thirds of women, requires the rest to use contraceptives, and surgically removes ovaries when it needs to produce new humans. The act of sex is controlled by a system of social rewards for promiscuity and lack of commitment. John, an outsider, is tortured by his desire for Lenina and her inability to return his love as such. The conflict between John’s desire for love and Lenina’s desire for sex illustrates the profound difference in values between the World State and the humanity represented by Shakespeare’s works.
Shakespeare provides the language through which John understands the world. Through John’s use of Shakespeare, the novel makes contact with the rich themes explored in plays like The Tempest. It also creates a stark contrast between the utilitarian simplicity and inane babble of the World State’s propaganda and the nuanced, elegant verse of a time “before Ford.” Shakespeare’s plays provide many examples of precisely the kind of human relations—passionate, intense, and often tragic—that the World State is committed to eliminating.
More main ideas from Brave New World