Ecocriticism on Human Genetic Engineering in Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World"

Term Paper, 2016

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Defining Ecocriticism

3 Advantages and disadvantages of human genetic engineering with the example of Huxley’s Brave New World

4 Consequences of human genetic engineering

5 Why should we not play God?

6 Works Cited List

1 Introduction

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) is one of the best known dystopian stories of the twentieth century. World State is a globalised future society in Huxley’s novel, which uses technology to sustain the entire control over every trait of human life. The narrative deals with the intervention in human nature by growing humans in a laboratory instead of being born. The development of character traits through personal experiences are replaced by genetic alterations, and extensive conditioning of human’s minds. Under the control of technology, society becomes a consumer driven. Caused by the consumption, Huxley describes a society without feelings of happiness, love or sadness. The engineering marvel enables a preformed “stable” class society through in vitro fertilisation, and a controlled demanding “production” of humans.

Over the recent years Brave New World has been studied from political, technological or psychological perspectives.The Freudian Oedipus complex, general family relations, and the elimination of parenthood through technology are themes Huxley deals with in his novel. Furthermore, it has been considered from a feminist’s point of view. This can be seen through Huxley’s description of the abolition of motherhood, and women’s reduction to sex objects, as women are seen as “bit[s] of meat” (Huxley 70). Additionally, the influence of capitalism on the novel has been studied; including the consequences of exploitation and caste systems.

Dignity is mankind’s unique value, which gives humans the power of self-transcendence. Thisempowers them to be different to thenatural nonhuman species (cf. Heyd 71).Science and engineering establish new ways and opportunities to accomplish the desire to improve humanity. By means of medical and genetic engineering man could be more intelligent, talented, beautiful, and crucially live a healthier and longer life without any particular effort.While this vision generatesenthusiasm on the one hand, it triggers anxiety and scepticism on the other hand. Is gene alteration of human nature generally permissible and desirable? Will not authenticity and autonomy go astray when engineering makes us what we are? Are the social impacts sustainable or do we increase social and global inequality?A philosophical debate was raised about these and other questions in the recent years. The English term “Enhancement” gained acceptance as the collective term for diverse physiological, psychological, cognitive and emotional improvement of mankind. However, I will focus on the advantages, disadvantages and consequences of genetic alteration on humans from an ecocritical point of view. As ecocriticism is multifaceted I decided to take a closer look on the interaction between humans or more precisely, the exploitation of humans by humans. Therefore, I will apply an eco-Marxist approach to the novel which represents an anthropocentric ideology (cf. Benton, 28).The paper consists of three sections. Initially, I will explain the term ecocriticism. Secondly, I shall examine the advantages and the disadvantages of human genetic engineering with the example of Brave New World. Finally, the consequences of human genetic engineering are explored. Eventually, the question Why should we not play God? is clarified by an evaluation of the found out consequences.

2 Defining Ecocriticism

Ecocriticism originally emerged as a discourse in the humanities, and more specifically in literary studies. Its popularity was triggered by the risen awareness on pollution, over population, human destruction of the natural world and other environmental issues that were made explicit in politics and the press. The Ecocriticism Reader (1996) an essay collection by Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm is one of the first major works on ecocriticism. Emerging from literary studies Glotfelty defines ecocriticism as “an earth-centered approach to [it]” (18) focusing on the relation between literature and the environment, or literature and nature(cf. ibid.). To focus on the way nature is presented in a text ecocritics ask questions like “What role does the physical setting play in the plot of this novel? […] How do our metaphors of the land influence the way we treat it? […] In addition to race, class, and gender, should place become a new critical category?”(ibid19).Furthermore, ecocritics consider the question how is human culture constructed by the physical environment and nature. According to Glotfelty an interconnection between nature and culture exists which “negotiates between the human and the nonhuman” (19). Although humans belong to nature they are still excluded and seen as nature’s counterpart as “nature […] is defined in contrast to culture and humanity, with nature taking the inferior seat in this dualism” (Murray 74). This dualism among culture and nature can only exist because nature is socially construed by humans. Morton claims that nature itself is far from “natural” (Morton 14) and that nature “is an arbitrary rhetorical construct, empty of independent, genuine existence behind or beyond the texts we create about it.” (ibid 22). Thus, as we have the idea of nature, we have construed it already. By drawing a line between mankind and nature we contradict ‘us’ to the environment although we are surrounded by and embedded in it. The ability to be ecocritical means losing the idea of nature as it is “the one thing that maintains an aesthetic distance between us and them, us and it, us and ‘over there’” (ibid 204).The consisting dichotomy needs to be put down otherwise “ecocriticism cannot be self-scrutinizing, only adversarial” (Howarth 69). Hence, nature and culture are mutually dependent, and must rather be seen as entities than contrasts.

Since ecocriticism is not exclusive to literary studies it can also be applied in other disciplines such as sociology, history, philosophy and film studies. Therefore, a variety of different ideologies exist within ecocriticism for example, deep ecology, social ecology and eco-Marxism. Deep ecologists take the view that the world should be considered as biocentric. The Norwegian philosopher and deep ecologist Arne Naess argues that humans are only part of the ‘web of life’ and not at the top of the hierarchy – meaning mankind equals nature (cf. Benton 133).In their opinion “the environment is not a resource for humans but has its own intrinsic value and worth”. (ibid 134) In contrast to this approach social ecology andeco-Marxism, display an anthropocentric world view. One of the major representatives of social ecology is Murray Bookchin. Eco-Marxism refers to the philosopher Karl Marx and his theory of the fight of the class society. The supporter and representatives of these two ecological approaches are convinced that environmental problems are not caused by anthropocentric attitudes alone; instead they are rather a result of exploitation of humans by humans. (cf. Garrad 27f.) Social ecologists and eco-Marxists represent the opinion of the existence of the “first nature” and the “second nature” of humanity. The former is defined by a prioress that gave birth to man, for example God. The latter isperceived asa nature which belongs to a society that is constructed by menwhereby,norms and values are embedded (cf. ibid 29). The difference between the two ideologies is that social ecologists believe in an anti-hierarchical political system in which society is decentralised (cf. Garrad 29), whereas “eco-Marxists identify [the] class conflict as the key political issue” (ibid 30)Thus, eco-Marxistsclaim that exploitation of humans is caused by humans through an existing class system in which the rich become even richer. Their solution to the problem is to even out wealth to prevent a rebellion of the proletariat (cf.ibid29.). This illustrates that ecocriticism does not only deal with the topic how nature and culture are linked, but also considers the interconnection between humans. Regarding this, Mark Schlenz argues we should transform ecocriticism by bringing it back into dynamic interconnection with worlds we all live in--inescapably social and material worlds in which issues of race, class, and gender inevitably intersect in complex and multi-faceted ways with issues of natural resource exploitation and conservation (Schlenz12)

To solve ecological problems Schlenz, like eco-Marxists, suggeststo useecocriticism rather in an anthropocentric than biocentric way. Although ecocriticism is often criticised for being undisciplined, it can be applied to various studies, its holistic view differentiates ecocriticism from individual critical approaches. Ecocriticism tries to establish an interconnection between the different disciplines in order to solve ecological problems (cf. Dean 6).

3 Advantages and disadvantages of humangenetic engineering with the example of Huxley’s Brave New World

Genetic engineering in general is a scientific method to manipulate an organism’s genome by using biotechnology. Nowadays, primarily nourishing with genetically modified food is not an unrealistic vision for our future. As the human population of the earth increases, at some point we will not be able to feed everyone with naturally grown food. Therefore, artificially produced nutrition is something we have to deal with. Theoretically, this gene modification couldbe applied to humans too. Intervening into mankind’s natural selection is actually already part of the day-to-day business. This includes the preimplantation diagnostics, amniocentesis and ultrasonography. The former is the artificial way of fertilisation for couples who are not able to have a baby in the natural way. The amniocentesis examination gives information about a chromosomal defect that causes Trisomy 21, and the latter prevents the parents to have a child that may hasabnormaldevelopments like deformations of the body. Thus, having an abortion after the twelfth week of pregnancy is legal in Germany,when the child has one of theafore-mentioned abnormalities. Abortion is an unnatural man-made selection of the ‘fittest’ to reduce diseases, and “[increase] longevity” (Morgan127). Moreover, the intellectual people do not have as many children, for their career is in the foreground. Therefore, people are older when they have their first child and hence,have less time left to give birth to two or more children. As a result Huxley defended the eugenic policies of encouraging higher birthrates among the ‘intellectual classes’ and sterilizing the lower-class ‘unfit’, which he believed would improve the inherited mental abilities of future generations and lead to responsible citizenship (Woiak, 106).

Aldous Huxley was convinced that manipulating genetic material to “produce” humans with best qualities such as high intelligence is a good idea to prevent society from stultification (cf. ibid). This fear caused his supportive attitude towards eugenic policies which he later changed. Still, manipulation of genetic material to “produce”humans with best qualities such as high intellect, musical talents, beauty, and anathletic predisposition is certainly not unrealistic.

The rulers of World State are convinced that babies out of a bottle enable the development of a healthy and happy society. (cf. Huxley 22, 37) The in vitro fertilisation allows the exertion of influence into the creation of babies and hence, of society. Genetic manipulation offers a large spectrum of benefits. In Brave New World one of these benefits is the in vitro immunisation against infections and incurable diseases which prevent the whole society from more or less any illness (cf. ibid 38). By eliminating more or less all diseases life is improved. Personal satisfaction is provided through a healthier and more efficient lifestyle. Although peoplegrow old, they are still as fit and mobile as before. “Pain, suffering, and unhappiness are virtually unknown because basic needs are provided for all, and ‘soma’ tablets are readily available should anyone feel anxious or sad” (Morgan 130). As physical health is guaranteed through genetic change, Huxley uses a kind of drug, called soma, as a solution for any psychological problems. This drug puts the people in a happy mood, and dispels any worries

In Brave New World people are conditioned to fulfil their purposes in life – to manufacture consumer items to satisfy the thirst for amusement (cf. Huxley 44f.). Alphas “produce” humans according to demand, which means that the foetuses are genetically designed and predisposed for the work they have to do in society. Future chemical workers are designed to be tolerant of lead, caustic soda, tar and chlorine (cf. Huxley 38; cf. Garrad 28). Therefore, all the toxic substances have no effect on these humans’ health, which means the people do not suffer from the hazardous work they do.

To ensure the factories are busy the love of nature is abolished in the creation process of lower castes (cf. Huxley 44). Humans belonging to the castes lower than the Alphas, namely Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons, are programmed to hate flowers and books, so they will never have the ability to develop the sense for fine arts or fauna and flora.At the same time they are “condition[ed] to love all country sports” for which mass-produced articles and transport is needed (ibid 45). They are lowest and hence, least intelligent in the caste system of Huxley’s World State.In contrast to Epsilons, Alphas are the most intelligent and beautiful humans in society, who rule the world. In the novel society is explained with the Iceberg-Model[1] in which the Alphas are located above, and the rest of society is found underwater. Mustapha Mond, the controller of World State, explains John the Savage that people placed below the water line are [h]appier than above” (ibid 268). Due to the low intelligenceof the lower caste people they can live without a bad conscience, because they cannot comprehend the effects that their work in the factories has on nature.

“Every one [sic] works for every one [sic] else. […] Even Epsilons are useful” (ibid 100). Creating a caste system in a society is a benefit for the brighter people since the less intelligent people can do the work intelligent people are overqualified for.People, who work in factories on an assembly line, do not have to be necessarily intelligent or bear much responsibility. They live asimple life, and are probably happier than people who have to think about the consequences of their actions and behaviour (ibid268).As everyone is needed in the class system the lower castes do not feel exploited by the Alphas, so it is noproblem for the people to have a lower social rank.

Strong emotions are suppressed by society through mental conditioning and genetic alteration. It can be beneficial not to suffer from any encumbering emotions like hatred, envy, grief or lovesickness but, there is always a reverse side to the coin. Hardly feeling anything means that it is not possible to have positive emotions too. Things that can make you happy like falling in love, getting praised for doing a good job or fulfilling a long desired wishloses its value. As people are born without desires, and are only alive to work on their assigned job the feelings mentioned above do not exist in Brave New World.Additionally, the existing promiscuity does not allow people to fall in love or to have a monogamous relationship. The happy feeling is also produced artificially through soma. In case of feeling kind of sad or unhappy it is possible to go on a soma holiday for a few days. Furthermore, family is unimportant for it is non-existent in Brave New World. The past experience shows that fertilising babies in vitro does not necessarily mean that mother and father do not exist – nevertheless, Huxley’s novel cuts out mother- and fatherhood. Hence, the foundation for an emotional bond, set in a family, is not created. As the people have neither the bond to a family nor a monogamous relationship to a person, nobody can develop a close relationship. As a result, dying does not affect anyone’s mood as nobody really cares.

Creating “Designer Children” (Sandel 45) implies not only the manipulation of nature but, means also a loss of naturalness and identity. Intervening into nature means a decrease in human diversity. The uniqueness of each of us vanishes in a way. The fertilised eggs from humans of lower classes are subdued to “Bokanovsky’s Process” (Huxley 24). This process makes the eggs divide multiply “anything from eight to ninety-six embryos—a prodigious improvement, you will agree, on nature” (ibid 25). In addition, the rulers of World State prepare the humans of the lower castes for their jobs by generating discomfort for coldness. They instill “a horror of cold” (ibid 37) to make them hate coldness and enjoy working in hot environments. Another method applied to future rocket plane engineers is to “associate topsy-turvydom with well-being” (ibid 38). Moreover, they train future chemical workers in “the toleration of lead, caustic soda, tar, chlorine” and keep bottles of the future rocket plane engineers spinning to “improve their sense of balance” (ibid 38). The problem is not that they get immunised against the bad circumstances work involves, but rather that they cannot decide by themselves whether they prefer coldto heat.

Intervening in the process of natural selection is a question of moral and money. The alteration of genetic material creates new opportunities to improve human’s living. However, the advantage of a genetic modification could probably only be afforded by the rich (cf. Attanasio,1293). The more features parents want to have for their child, the more it costs. Therefore, the possibility to alter genetic material causes a caste system that is divided into genetically modified and unmodified people. An imbalance of society and dissatisfaction with natural imperfection of the unaltered, natural humans’ develops. A fair opportunity to work one’s way up ismissing as the unmodified people have a different starting point. The genetically modified humans nearly have an uncatchable edge compared to the natural ones. The genetically unmodified, natural humans “will continually witness and compare themselves unfavourably to the superior abilities […]. That those abilities and accomplishments ultimately derive from wealth – rather than effort or hereditary luck – may rankle and embitter” (ibid 1338f). In Huxley’s novel the situation of not being able to freely choose the way a person wants to go become real. The rulers of World State “grow” “socialized human beings” (Huxley, 34), this social predestination of human beings provokes inequality in society, and a further loss of identity.Humans of a lower social rank are treated like products in a factory, not like humans. Moreover, to “produce” an Epsilon, “an Epsilon environment” (ibid 35) is needed. This is achieved by reducing the oxygen supply to the foetus to keep it “below par” (ibid). For the use of this technique the humans of the lower classes are deformed and unintelligent. “The first organ affected was the brain. After thatthe skeleton. At seventy per cent of normal oxygen you got dwarves.


[1] The Iceberg-Model describes a phenomenon where only the tip of the iceberg can be seen, whereas the rest of the iceberg, the bigger part, remains unseen as it is deep down in the water. This can be transferred to the situation in Brave New World where only the Alphas are attributed to have an important role, whereas the lower castes remain invisible.

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Ecocriticism on Human Genetic Engineering in Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World"
University of Koblenz-Landau  (Anglistik)
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ecocriticism, human, genetic, engineering, aldous, huxley’s, brave, world
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Michelle Klein (Author), 2016, Ecocriticism on Human Genetic Engineering in Aldous Huxley’s "Brave New World", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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