In an attempt to flex my critical muscles (or rather, to build them), I am going to attempt a literary approach. More specifically, I am going to attempt a structuralism approach to Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Structuralism is a very analytical and, arguably, an emotionless critical approach, one which was built on scientific assumptions of objectivity and ultimate truth. The method’s hallmark goal is to identify and examine how a text conveys meaning, not why or with what. Structuralists take apart a literary system, breaking down its signs and codes, in order to see how relationships exist within a work’s meaning. One of the best ways to accomplish a structuralism approach to Brave New World is through binary oppositions.
Roland Barthes, one of the prominent structuralists of the 20th century, developed the concept of binary opposition through linguistics. While the specifics are not necessary to divulge, Barthes developed the concept after studying differences in phonemes, where similarly uttered sounds differed in being voiced or unvoiced (Bressler 101). What Barthes drew from this, however, and what is most relevant to literary criticism, is that meaning develops through difference. Meaning in text can be derived by interpreting the codes, the binary oppositions that compose the system. This process can be accomplished, then, through using the structure of language itself (Bressler 102).
When applying this to Brave New World, one can see definite meaning through binary opposition. These binary oppositions may be envisioned as fractions, with a numerator being a more valued entity than the lesser denominator (Bressler 105). The placement of certain discovered oppositions as either numerators or denominators is ultimately determined by the values of the reader. With Huxley’s novel, there are definitely several binary oppositions which may be gleaned from the text: unfaithfulness/loyalty, distraction/contemplation, science/nature, community/self, and government/religion. The valued and unvalued halves of these binary oppositions are up to the reader. Yet their existence as codes within the text, and the ways in which they transfer meaning, are of great importance to structuralist thought.
Unfaithfulness and loyalty may be seen in the future society’s emphasis of freedom in sex, and the few individuals who find this emphasis appalling. Lenina very much characterizes the drive for multiple sexual partners, while either Bernard Marx or the Savage may represent the opposition. Distraction and contemplation are presented through soma. Soma, for the majority of Huxley’s Brave New World, is a break and vacation from life’s strains. Yet, when juxtaposed with the thoughtfulness of Bernard, the Savage, or Helmholtz, soma takes on a decidedly hedonistic and careless means of handling existence. The usage of soma becomes a matter of personal, consensual surrender of the faculties and character. This binary opposition may be strengthened when examining the conflict Helmholtz and the Savage incite at the hospital during a soma rationing.
Science and nature is a binary opposition which may be seen primarily through the Brave New World’s reliance on lab-grown humans, and the social taboo of motherhood. Everyone throughout Huxley’s society is a perfectly engineered specimen, genetically outfitted for their role in life. Motherhood and pregnancy are subjects of great embarrassment to the populace, a fact which becomes highlighted when the Savage enters the Brave New World with his mother, Linda. Community and self are a binary opposition presented through the very social and moral codes of Huxley’s future society. The common individual espouses how “everyone belongs to everyone else”, while individuals like Bernard Marx and the Savage go against the grain. This binary opposition is very much connected to those of unfaithfulness/loyalty and distraction/contemplation. There is a personal desire for solace, reflection, and privacy which is considered harmful and problematic in the Brave New World, a fact conveyed through the numerous mottos and hypnopaedic verses of the society.
Government and religion may be seen as another binary opposition. The usage of Ford as a sacred icon within the Brave New World very much discards the churches and faiths of old. Ford is used as a societal icon, a role model for the public, the father of the Brave New World’s progressive society. Religion, in its most pure and conventional sense, is dead within Huxley’s society. It has been replaced by meaningless bodily pleasure and twisted historical achievements, all for the purpose of furthering the name, power, and prestige of the world government.
Such binary oppositions exist within Huxley’s work. After discovering and tracking these oppositions throughout the text, definite meaning has been be gathered (at least, meaning as far as structuralism is willing to define it). The portrayal of both sides within the oppositions appear, with relative lucidity, to demonstrate the morally, ethically, and socially corruptive nature of the Brave New World. Conversely, the individuals who stand in defiance of Huxley’s society demonstrate more wholesome, admirable, and inspiring values. Thus, through structuralist approach, meaning has been conveyed, with codes and signs of resistance to spoiled and corrosive societies, as well as defense of the individual and thought.