Brave New World is set in the future of our own world, in the year 2450 A.D. The planet is united politically as the “World State.” The Controllers who govern the World State have maximized human happiness by using advanced technology to shape and control society. People are grown in bottles and brainwashed in their sleep during childhood. As a result, the citizens of the World State are physically and psychologically conditioned to be happy with their place in society and the work they are assigned. Every citizen belongs to a “caste,” ranging from highly intelligent and physically strong Alphas to Epsilon “semi-morons.” Lower-caste people are produced in batches of more than a hundred identical twins, and live their whole lives alongside their duplicates. All citizens have instant access to pleasures of all kinds. They are conditioned and socially encouraged to be sexually promiscuous. “Synthetic music” and “the feelies”—movies with physical sensation as well as pictures and sound— provide immersive sensory experiences. Whenever citizens do experience an unpleasant feeling, they are encouraged to take soma, a drug which provides a “holiday” from negative emotion.
Most of the novel’s events take place in England. Huxley uses familiar English landmarks to help his readers decode the future he has imagined. Charing Cross Station in London has become the “Charing T Tower,” because Christian crosses have been replaced by the “T” of Ford’s Model T car, while train stations have been replaced by towers which launch intercontinental rockets. The novel’s other major location is the “Savage Reservation” in New Mexico. The Savage Reservation is an area where the technologies of the World State have not been introduced. The “savages” still give birth, believe in gods and endure physical pain and emotional suffering. The people and customs of the Savage Reservation are modeled loosely on the traditions of Zuñi Native Americans. The setting of the Reservation allows the novel to contrast all historical societies— from the Neolithic era to Huxley’s own— with the society of the World State.
The setting of the World State is central to Brave New World’s exploration of its themes. Because the World Controllers’ priority is their citizens’ happiness, no one in the World State has the opportunity to learn through suffering, or to experience solitude or loneliness. Art and religion don’t exist in the World State. The highly controlled setting of the World State sets up the novel’s central question: what is the price of happiness, and is it worth paying? By offering us a vision of the future of our own world, Brave New World is able to question and satirize the values of contemporary society. For example, “Bokanovsky’s Process,” which duplicates human beings, satirizes mass production by taking it to its extreme conclusion. By showing that in the World State religion and art are meaningless, Brave New World casts doubt on the value of religion and art in our own era.