Praise Our Ford: Symbol of Consumerism in Brave New World

If you’re a fan of Brave New World or the history of mass produced automobiles, this is the article for you!

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Left: Portrait of Henry Ford. Right: Brave New World Cover.

Henry Ford, born on July 30th, 1863, is best known for putting the world on wheels. In 1908, Ford unveiled and sold the first Model T. Thanks to the use of the moving assembly line, Ford was able to mass produce the Model T and sell it at prices affordable to the middle-class working man. By the early 1920s, the Model T made up half of the registered vehicles in the world. Ford is often credited with the invention of the assembly line, but he was far from the first person to use this technique. However, his use of conveyor belts greatly improved the process of the assembly line, and his overall impact on bolstering American industry is abundantly clear.

Ford, the Model T, and the assembly line are all aspects of the Ford legacy that are prominent in Brave New World. Written by Aldous Huxley in 1932, shortly after the Model T had boomed in production and use, Ford’s business served as an obvious and widely known symbol of industry and consumerism. Although Ford’s techniques are often revered as one of America’s greatest industrial successes, changing people’s daily lives forever, Huxley reflects on the dangers of a rapidly producing industrial world, as well as the dangers of worshipping such progress.

Religion as a Tool for Control

Belief systems are often created and used to make sense of the world around us. Early creation myths use gods and other supernatural beings to explain any number of natural occurrences, from the sun rising to the contemplation of what happens when we die. When the world feels like it rests on uncertain terms, it can be mentally overwhelming and inhibit one’s ability to maintain peace of mind and get on with their daily life.

Belief in a higher power brings a sense of certainty and importance to a person’s life, and religions or cult followings are often ways in which people can satiate psychological needs and fears. I don’t intend to assert that any religious system is or isn’t real as a result of this conclusion, but the point still stands in outlining the appeal of being devoted to such beliefs.

Man praying to the sky during sunset.

If you read a lot of dystopian novels or studied up on a lot of dictatorial governments, you’ll come to find that religions or cults of personality are often used as a way to control people. In 1984, all Party members fervently pledge allegiance and love to Big Brother. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the rulers of Gilead make claims to some warped version of Christianity in order to justify their actions. In Brave New World, they switch out the Lord for the Ford. Instead of making the sign of the cross, they make the sign of the T. So, what’s the significance of Huxley’s choice to center his fictional world’s beliefs around Ford and his innovations?

The Society of Brave New World

The entire premise of the society in Brave New World seems to be maintaining stability and happiness. In order to achieve this, people are not born the way that we know it. As far as the novel states, most of the world’s inhabitants are created in hatcheries. The process by which they are created is eerily similar to the image of the assembly line.

Scientists use what they call the Bokanovsky process in order to divide a single fertilized egg into up to ninety-six identical human beings. Childbirth and parenthood are seen as sexually devious and taboo. Sex and marriage are no longer sanctimonious, as a popular hypnotic slogan in the novel is “everyone belongs to everyone else.”

Brave New World Aldous Huxley

In order to ensure that everyone is happy, at least by the definition of those in power, each person is conditioned, from the moment they are a cell in a test tube, to fit into their assigned social caste. Lower caste cells are treated with alcohol and other things in order to inhibit mental and physical growth and development. Rather than being birthed by two parents and raised in homes, people are raised in the hatcheries and conditioned using hypnopedia, or “sleep learning.” For the most part, this conditioning is highly effective, but if any person begins to have a conflicted subconscious, they can simply plug their feelings with a few doses of Soma, which is a drug used by everyone to keep them from feeling down.

The Dangers of the Hubris of Man

Thanks to Ford’s Model T, the automobile became widely accessible to the masses, taking away some of the barriers of socioeconomic status. In general, industrial movements as a whole have allowed humankind to produce at levels and quantities that it never has before. Though not immediately apparent, such a way of life was bound to change the way that we view our possessions.

A Ford Model T being driven down a mountain road.

Just over a decade after the unveiling of the Model T, Ford had produced upwards of 15,000,000 cars, which made up a large percentage of the world’s automobiles. While that doesn’t necessarily mean they were haphazardly cared for and easily disposed of; it stands to reason that this shift to mass production and increased availability of products would change the way that people valued their things.

Much like the Model T, human beings are quite easily and efficiently mass-produced in labs in Brave New World. As such, the relationship that its inhabitants have with life and death is similar to that adopted by people and their possessions in consumerist-geared societies. Once you eliminate the need for childbirth by a woman, you eliminate the need for marriage and sex as a way to promote population growth and stability. Once you can produce ninety-six identical people from one cell, you lose appreciation for the creation of life itself, as well as the importance of the individual. In Brave New World, the average citizen would likely be more hurt by stubbing their toe than they would over the death of a close friend or colleague.

How Does the Distortion of God Symbolize the Corruption of Humanity?

Some of the major tenets of Christianity are about equality in the eyes of God, loving your neighbor, viewing marriage as a sacred bond, having free will, generally regarding your fellow man as valuable, and avoiding being materialistic, as this will inevitably further you from God. In the Christian religion, savior is possible only through faith in God. Of course, there are a lot of major points I’m not hitting on, but I think you can get a sense of what I’m getting at.

brave new world mini series cover

Regardless of your religious beliefs, shifting the general ideology of society from love, empathy, and charity to one of consumerism and instant gratification raises plenty of alarm bells. That is exactly what I believe Huxley intends to do with his use of Ford as an idol to worship. Christians, attributing the creation of humanity to God, worship him and his word. Citizens of Brave New World‘s London, attributing their creation to the assembly line in the hatchery, worship Ford and the innovations of science and consumerism.

John the Savage: A Champion of Free Will

John the Savage, a man born to a London woman who had been impregnated and abandoned in the more “primitive” Americas, is introduced to London society and their ways for the first time during the novel. Having been raised in an entirely different society and taught how to view the world primarily through Shakespeare’s plays, he is horrified and disgusted by the society he discovers in London. He then realizes that there is no universal key to happiness. He realizes that the answer to discontent is not world peace at the expense of individuality and that having free will is more important than stability and instant gratification.

He had of Me
All he could have; I made him just and right,
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall

-John Milton, Paradise Lost (1674)
Kristoffer Tabori as John the Savage

Mustapha Mond, one of the World Controllers in the novel, discusses these ideas of John’s ancient beliefs versus the reality of their contemporary society. Mond empathizes with John’s point of view, but explains that he ultimately decided that stability and happiness (as if it has an objective definition) was more valuable than choice. As Mond continues to reveal all the ways in which society and nature have been altered to mitigate the suffering of man, John realizes how the lack of hardship changes the overall character of humanity. In my favorite exchange from the novel, John asserts that exposure to suffering is worth the freedom to choose how you live.

‘I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want real freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.’

‘In fact,’ said Mustapha Mond, ‘you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.’

‘All right then,’ said the Savage defiantly, ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy.’

‘Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what might happen tomorrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind.’ There was a long silence.

‘I claim them all,’ said the Savage at last.

-Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

Ford as a Symbol of Consumerism: What Does it Mean?

In a nutshell, the jarring nature of Ford as an idol and consumerism as a sort of religion serves to show the dangers of prioritizing industrial and technological progress over maintaining a sense of humanity. By forgoing any sense of individual importance in the name of progress, citizens of this Brave New World become thoughtless cogs in a happiness-pump machine. They live highly inconsequential lives, and thus very internally empty ones. While no bugs, no illnesses, no aging, and no calamity of any kind sounds great in theory, the underlying misery of the inhabitants, on top of the fact that they have no choice over how they lead their lives, has me convinced of John’s beliefs.

black and white portrait photo of henry ford

The novel is set over six hundred years after the creation and mass production of the Model T, but after about only a century later, we seem to be falling into some of the dangers of unchecked industrial progress. We live in an age of instant gratification and thoughtless consumerism, where you can’t escape the advertisements, where the products we make promote us to make more products to no end, and media and manufacturing exist in a seemingly endless positive feedback loop. Huxley’s representation was meant to serve as a warning, but it seems we might have seriously missed the point.

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t drive a Ford, but I appreciate the convenience and freedom of the automobile as much as the next guy. I don’t intend to assert that we should forgo all technological processes in search of some ancient mortal wisdom, either. I simply think that we should be mindful of the reasons for and impacts of our advancements and that Brave New World does a great job of driving home that point.

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