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.
Huxley’s Brave New World can be seen as a critique of the overenthusiastic embrace of new scientific discoveries. The first chapter reads like a list of stunning scientific achievements: human cloning, rapid maturation, and prenatal conditioning. However, the satirical tone of the chapter makes it clear that this technology-based society is not a utopia, but the exact opposite. Like George Orwell’s 1984, Brave New World depicts a dystopia: a world of anonymous and dehumanized people dominated by a government made overwhelmingly powerful by the use of technology.
The almost religious regard in which the World State holds technology is apparent from the start. The starting date for the calendar is Henry Ford’s introduction of the Model T, an automobile cheaply and efficiently produced by the assembly line system. All dates are preceded by “a.f.,” “After Ford,” just as today’s calendar system begins with the birth of Jesus, a.d. (Anno Domini, meaning “in the year of the lord”). Other satirical hints of a warped religion are scattered throughout the text. The Predestinators, for example, are a farcical secular manifestation of the Calvinist religious belief that God predestines individuals for heaven or hell before birth. The World State’s religious adherence to technology is far from innocent. In fact it becomes one of the pillars of stability for the totalitarian World State. As the Director says, “social stability” is the highest social goal, and through predestination and rigorous conditioning, individuals accept their given roles in society without question. The caste structure is created and maintained using specific tools, and it is technology that allows the most powerful members of the World State’s ruling Alpha caste to solidify and justify the unequal distribution of power and status.
Conditioning individuals genetically, physically, and psychologically for their “inescapable social destinies” stabilizes the caste system by creating servants who love and fully accept their servility. Moreover, conditioning makes them virtually incapable of performing any other function than that to which they are assigned. The satirical tone of the text makes it clear that, though social stability may sound like an admirable goal, it can be used for the wrong reasons toward the wrong ends.
One theme emphasized repeatedly in this first chapter is the similarity between the production of humans in the Hatchery and the production of consumer goods on an assembly line. Everything about human reproduction is technologically managed to maximize efficiency and profit. Following the rule of supply and demand, the Predestinators project how many members of each caste will be needed, and the Hatchery produces human beings according to those figures. One of the keys of mass production is that every part is identical and interchangeable; a steering wheel from one Model T fits neatly onto the steering column of any other Ford. Similarly, in the Hatchery, human beings are standardized by the production of thousands of brothers and sisters in multiple groups of identical twins using the Bokanovsky and Podsnap Processes.
The lower castes are more subject to these forces of anonymity and mechanization. Members of the higher castes are decanted one by one, without any artificial intervention. Thus the higher castes retain at least some level of the individuality and creativity that is denied completely to the lower castes.
Replacing the concept of a belief-based, non-verifiable being with Ford, a man who existed, eliminates all the wonder and mystery related to traditional religions.
Also eliminating all other belief systems with a single, inarguable "godhead" rids the World State citizens of anxiety and conflicts based on religious beliefs and orthodoxies.
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