Famous Sayings: #82 — ‘Brave New World’

October 7, 2017

O brave new world, with such people in it!

brave new world, Aldous Huxley, William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Columbus Day, Native Americans Day, Indigenous Peoples Day
Aldous Huxley was an English writer who wrote the dystopian novel Brave New World (published in 1932). Photo by thierry ehrmann via Flickr. (Some Rights Reserved.)

Can you guess why I decided to go with the phrase “Brand New World” this week? As usual, I have a theme. But let’s just jump into the origin.

The Origin of the Phrase ‘Brave New World’

The phrase “brave new world” comes from Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel of the same name. There are other references to Shakespeare in Brave New World, but the title is the most important one.

The book was named after a phrase from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Act V, Scene I), spoken by a character named Miranda. In the play, Miranda utters the following lines near the end of the story:

MIRANDA: Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world,
That has such people in it!

PROSPERO: ‘Tis new to thee.

There are sexual undertones in Miranda’s lines, for she had never seen a man other than her father. The two lived on an island with two spirits all her life and near the end of the play a ship full of men reaches that island. One of the first men Miranda spots is named Ferdinand and the young woman cannot contain her excitement.

The words “brave new world” are also spoken numerous times by John the Savage, a character from Huxley’s novel. John, who grew up on the Savage Reservation, is shocked after he leaves the only home he has ever known and walks into a futuristic London. He is largely anti-sex in the book and he constantly “beats himself up when he thinks sexual thoughts,” although he is infatuated with another character named Lenina (Shmoop).

More About Brave New World

Brave New World was written in between World War I and World War II. During this time period, the Russian Revolution was beginning and there were social changes under way in Great Britain. People were beginning to question “long-held social and moral assumptions.” At the same time, the country was moving “toward more equality among the classes and between the sexes.

As a result of the latter concerns, people questioned how attitudes toward sexual intercourse would be changed. This was addressed in Brave New World. In the story, Lenina is a young woman who was chastised for not being promiscuous.

Additionally, during Huxley’s time, there were advances in technology, and cars, telephones, and radios were being mass produced. The technology was being made available to more people. While many people welcomed these changes, there was also the worry that the technology would change the people using it and push them towards a monotonous way of life.

Brave New World was a form of utopian fiction that addressed these other themes, as well. Huxley called his story a “negative utopia.” We now call “Huxley’s dark view of the future” and any work like it a dystopian work of fiction.

Huxley was inspired to write Brave New World after reading H.G. Wells’ Men Like Gods. Huxley wanted to make fun of the optimism in that utopian story. Brave New World in turn inspired George Orwell to write Animal Farm (1946) and 1984 (1949). Huxley’s work may have also inspired Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973).

Huxley’s work differs from other utopian novels in its structure. Brave New World is a three-part novel that introduces its main character, John the Savage, in its second part. The novel also juxtaposes a futuristic London with the Savage Reservation. Normally, utopian stories call the reader to compare their world with the fictional worlds. Huxley’s story calls the reader to first examine a future London then to experience the main character’s awe and innocence once he steps into that futuristic setting (“About”).

About The Tempest

As I mentioned above, the novel Brave New World was named after a phrase found in Act V, Scene I of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. In that play, Prospero, the Duke of Milan, lives on an island with his daughter, Miranda. Prospero once left his kingdom in the care of his brother, Antonio, in order to focus on his wizardry. However, Antonio took control of that kingdom and then placed Prospero and his young daughter on a boat. The two landed on that island.

At the beginning of the play, Prospero conjured a storm to bring his usurpers to the island. Since Miranda had only known her father, she later marvels at the sight of the other men. However, she is naïve and largely unaware of their treacherous nature.

The Meaning of the Phrase

When someone says something is a “brave new world,” there are talking about an unfamiliar situation. It is new territory for someone and often intimidating (YourDictionary). This could be a good or bad thing, depending on the situation.

The phrase also has a deeper meaning when you consider how the word “brave” was originally used here. From Huxley.net:

The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word “brave” as used in Shakespeare’s time meant not only bold, but also showy or finely dressed, something that dazzled the senses and was often used as a word of approval or praise.  Often when the phrase “brave new world” is used today, it is meant to imply positive if challenging change.  As Huxley uses it in the title of his book, the phrase “brave new world” also highlights the naive enthusiasm we can have for technological wizardry and the world of perceived control that it brings.

I’ve always sensed a positive connotation when I heard the phrase. And often, it is used to describe technological advances, which are not only bold, but they dazzle the senses.

From One ‘Brave New World’ to Another …

I decided to look at this phrase today since Monday, Oct. 12 is Columbus Day in the United States (and the Americas at one time were known as the New World). Some states recognize the day by closing certain businesses and schools. Post offices may or may not be closed on the day depending on the state.

In some countries and states, October 12 is celebrated under a different name. Hawaii recognizes October 12 as Discoverers’ Day, but it is not a state holiday. In some Latino communities in the USA and in parts of Latin America, Oct. 12 is recognized as Día del la Raza (Day of the Race).

Other states have refused to celebrate Columbus Day. Instead, they recognize Native Americans’ Day or Indigenous People’s Day.

About Columbus Day

Columbus Day began as a day to celebrate Italian-American heritage. It was first held in San Francisco in 1869. Colorado was the first state to recognize Columbus Day. It was first celebrated across the United States in 1937, and it has been celebrated on the second Monday of October since 1971.

Columbus Day is still a source of pride for the Italian-American pride. The most notable celebrations for this holiday occur in San Francisco and New York City.

However, Columbus Day is controversial for a few reasons:

First, while Christopher Columbus may have set sail on his journey to the Americas on October 12, 1492, he never reached North America.

Second, Columbus himself was behind many atrocities during his voyages to the Americas. During his second voyage to the Caribbean and the Americas, he and his men enslaved the natives and forced them to look for gold (“Christopher Columbus”). And while his voyages may have opened up trade routes for the Europeans, it came to the detriment of native civilizations in the Americas. That leads me to the third reason.

European settlement in the Americas led to the demise of civilizations and the loss of many of their histories.

About Native American’s Day

Native American’s Day is celebrated fully in the state of South Dakota. In 1989, the state’s legislature unanimously passed legislation to recognize 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation” in order to honor Native Americans. Additionally, Native Americans’ Day (also known as Native American Day) supplanted Columbus Day in the state.

On Wednesday, September 7, 2017, Ithaca’s Common Council voted unanimously to recognize October 12 as Indigenous People’s Day. Ithaca also passed two amendments: the first said that the land previously owned by indigenous peoples was still their land and the second rejected the doctrine of discovery.

What the doctrine of discovery was:

Set forth in 1493 by Pope Alexander VI, the doctrine of discovery claimed that land not inhabited by Christians was available for discovery, claiming and exploitation by Christian rulers. Esposito and Soto thought the revocation of this doctrine was important as to be historically accurate and raise awareness about it and its consequences.

The move by Ithaca’s Common Council came after Cornell’s Student Assembly and Faculty Senate had made a similar vote (Subramaniam).

The city will revise its ordinance to recognize these changes, which will take place immediately.

Indigenous People’s Day

Berkeley, California has celebrated Indigenous People’s Day since 1992, in place of Columbus Day. Six years later, a state ordinance in California called for Indigenous People’s Day to be recognized on the fourth Friday in September.

Indigenous People’s Day is also partially celebrated in the states of Minnesota and Washington.

Correction: George Owell is the author of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighter-Four, not H.G. Wells.

Works Cited

“About Brave New World.” CliffsNotes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Web. Retrieved 6 Oct 2017. <https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/b/brave-new-world/about-brave-new-world>.

Biography.com Editors. “Christopher Columbus.” Biography.com. A&E Television Networks. Last Updated 1 Aug 2017. Web. Retrieved 7 Oct 2017. <https://www.biography.com/people/christopher-columbus-9254209>.

“brave new world.” YourDictionary. LovetoKnow. Corp, n.d. Web. Retrieved 6 October 2017. <http://www.yourdictionary.com/brave-new-world>.

“Columbus Day in the United States.” Time and Date. Time and Date AS, n.d. Web. Retrieved 6 Oct 2017. <https://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/columbus-day>.

“Shakespeare.” MIRANDA: a hypertext of Huxley’s Brave New World. Web. Retrieved 6 Oct 2017. <https://www.huxley.net/miranda/shakespeare.html>.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Brave New World: What’s Up With the Title?” Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 6 Oct. 2017. <https://www.shmoop.com/brave-new-world/title.html>.

Subramaniam, Anu. “City Passes Resolution to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” The Cornell Daily Sun. Web. Retrieved 6 Oct 2017. Web. <http://cornellsun.com/2017/09/07/city-passes-resolution-to-recognize-indigenous-peoples-day/>.


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