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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.