Daniel Kelley, Judith Westley, Nina Adel, Graham Harkness
Arts and Humanities, Literature, Higher Education, Composition and Rhetoric, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Homework/Assignment, Lecture Notes, Lesson
High School, Community College / Lower Division
  • Composition 2
  • Dystopian Society
  • English
  • Essay
  • Essay Assignment
  • Novel
  • Novels
  • Tennessee Open Education
  • composition-2
  • essay
  • humanities
  • novels
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    The Novel Unit - Brave New World

    The Novel Unit - Brave New World


    This resource provides lecture notes and writing assignments for the study of a novel - in this case, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. These notes and assignments, however, can be adapted and applied to practically any novel. 

    Unless otherwise noted, this resource is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.

    Lecture: Overview of the Novel

    Overview of the Novel as a Genre

    As a literary form, the novel has many qualities in common with the short story. Both genres present fictional narratives about made-up characters. Writers of both genres employ the same literary devices and techniques. Like the short story, the novel features a narrator, a unique point of view, a setting, and so forth. Freytag’s Pyramid can also be used to describe plot development in a novel.

    A key distinction between the novel and the short story is an obvious one – length. The brevity of the short story encourages writers to focus on a simpler sequence of events and fewer characters. In fact, you have may have noticed that several short stories assigned for this class highlight the development of a single main character, such as Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado” or Nick Adams in “Big, Two-Hearted River.”

    Because a novel is longer, the writer tells more complicated stories, incorporating many different characters and subplots that converge at the novel’s end. This tendency to interweave many different strands has prompted some writers to compare the novel to a symphony. E.M. Forster uses the symphony as an analogy for the novel in his book Aspects of the Novel.  In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner observes:

    A novel is like a symphony in that its closing movement echoes and resounds with all that has gone before. . . . Toward the close of a novel. . . . unexpected connections begin to surface; hidden causes become plain; life becomes, however briefly and unstably, organized; the universe reveals itself, if only for the moment, as inexorably moral; the outcome of the various characters' actions is at last manifest; and we see the responsibility of free will. (182)

    The different characters in a novel are like the different instruments in an orchestra. Subplots are like different melodies played by the instruments. Just as different melodies repeat and build upon one another to reach a musical crescendo in a symphony, different themes and story lines build upon one another to surprise and delight the reader of a novel. 

    The novel encompasses numerous sub-genres that tell different types of stories. Most of you have probably heard of books labeled as a “romance novel” or a “crime novel.” Brave New World, the novel assigned for this class, is classified as a “dystopian novel. “ The lecture following this one provides an overview of the dystopian novel.

    Work Cited

    Gardner, John. The Art of Fiction, Kindle ed. Vintage Books, 1991.

    Lecture: Dystopian Fiction

    Someone Might Be Watching -- An Introduction to Dystopian Fiction

    Walking through carnivals, we love to laugh at the versions of ourselves that appear in the fun house mirror. We delight in taking selfies with filters that artificially bulge out our noses or shrink our mouths. But sometimes these distortions take on a deeper meaning and force us to notice things about ourselves. You don’t notice that your nose is a little large until you take a picture with that filter and compare. The version of yourself in the mirror shows you things about yourself.

    Dystopias are usually constructed through this type of magnification. But the subject matter goes far deeper than noses and lips. Authors take troubling aspects of their own society and imagine a world where they are taken to the extreme. The 21st century tendency to over-document through the use of technology becomes a compulsion2 acted out through a literal recording of our memories. An invasive state becomes one that criminalizes thoughts. A love of reality television and a saturation of violence becomes a society where teens are forced to fight to the death for entertainment. Because of how they are constructed, dystopias are often seen as a desperate warning sign. The truth is, dystopian fiction presents a fun house mirror of our collective selves. It forces the audience to stare, transfixed, at the small flaws which, in the mirror, have become pronounced enough to produce a monster.

    History of Dystopias

    The term dystopia stems from another word: utopia. The English word utopia comes from the Greek “ou-” (οὐ) meaning “not” and “topos” (τόπος) meaning “place.” It translates literally to “no place”, or nowhere. Thomas More coined the term in 1516 when he published a book that described a perfect fictional island society. He titled the book Utopia to emphasize that he was describing a made-up place that he considered perfect. The perfection that More, and other philosophers who wrote about utopias, imagined was never intended to be real. Philosophers from More to Plato understood that the perfection they wrote about did not exist in reality, it was “no place.”

    If you think of dystopian literature as holding up a fun house mirror to society, you can also think of utopian literature as retouching a photo of society. The overly perfected image is less concerned with reality than with showing us an unobtainable perfection.

    But, by the 1900s, for the first time in human history, perfection like that seemed possible for society. Technological advances had spurred on the industrial revolution. Philosophers and politicians saw this automation and, for the first time, a vision of a world without difficult, toiling, physical labor seemed not only possible, but likely. Economic theories envisioned a world without staggering class inequality or crippling poverty. At the turn of the century, the predominant view was that humanity constantly progressed. History was seen as one long forward march that would lead, inevitably, to perfection. However, throughout the 1900s, no matter how much humanity progressed, perfection was never achieved. The promises of technology and sociopolitical theory only resulted in war, poverty, famine, and chaos.

    As the century progressed, authors began to question the idea that societies should be attempting perfection at all by writing dystopian fiction. Dystopia stems from two Greek words that translate to ‘bad place.’ It describes a fictional setting that the author finds horrifying. But, unlike other genres, dystopias prod the audience into examining contemporary political and social structures. Dystopian authors argued that the pursuit of perfection will inevitably lead not to ‘no place’ but to a ‘bad place’, because of flaws within the system. And they made it their business to use fiction to hold up fun house mirrors to magnify those flaws and force discussion about them.

    Common Themes and Stylistic Choices

    Since two of the most famous dystopian novels,1984 and Brave New World, first gripped the world, their themes have been successfully reproduced in other wildly successful dystopias, like The Handmaid's Tale and The Hunger Games. The success of TV shows like Black Mirror and video games like BioShock reflect our continued fascination with the worst paths our society could take. Both famous and lesser known dystopian works of art have common themes and stylistic choices.

    George Orwell’s 1984 is arguably the best-known dystopian novel. It was written in 1949 as a description of what the year 1984 could look like if totalitarianism were allowed to continue. Orwell describes a province of Oceania (formerly known as Great Britain) as an industrialized wasteland, dirty and rigidly controlled by apolitical regime known as the Party. He magnifies disturbing trends he saw in his own time, like surveillance, government control, and industrialization to show how negative they were. Despite the promise that people in his own time saw, Orwell pointed out the flaws these ideas had. 1984, and other dystopias that examine surveillance, magnify how people act differently when someone is watching. As technology allows for the constant possibility that someone might always be watching you — whether it’s the government, your friends, or your family — and that you might act differently in response to this. If it is possible to be under surveillance at any time, people act as if they are always under surveillance. Dystopias often magnify this idea to show how surveillance erodes freedom.

    Another common theme in dystopian fiction revolves around the downside of human intervention in health and genetics. Throughout the entirety of history, humans have suffered from illness and poor health. Sometimes this occurs in huge bursts, such as the Spanish Influenza in 1918, which killed more people than WWI. More often it is a simple result of aging. However, scientists now believe that the first person who will live to 150 has already been born and that the eradication of diseases like cancer and influenza are within our reach. In addition, genetic research offers the possibility of eliminating killers like heart disease and chronic diseases like asthma. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and the 1997 movie Gattaca explore the possibilities of this type of progress. Both examine themes around what happens to humanity when too many natural obstacles are removed, or when genetic engineering can eliminate flaws. Brave New World, and other dystopias that examine health and genetics, magnify what happens when humans don’t face natural problems and when differences in genetics are treated as differences in destiny.

    Dystopian literature also often chooses to magnify the perils of misinformation. Characters in dystopias are often told incorrect information about history by their governments or their society. For example, most of the characters in The Hunger Games have an incorrect understanding of what life in the other Districts is like. Characters in dystopias are often given incorrect information and isolated from anyone they could confirm or discuss the information with. People in our world are also often given poor information and are too isolated to investigate the information. Dystopian literature highlights why this is a problem. Because of the information they are given, characters in dystopias act differently. They can be convinced to hate people they have things in common with or to be happy with the meager life they have because they are convinced it is far better than what existed in the past. In dystopian literature, misinformation helps to keep inefficient and unfair systems in place because characters are convinced that they are efficient and fair.

    A final theme in dystopian literature is lack of individuality. One of the most striking images from The Handmaid’s Tale is the dress code. Women are forced to wear outfits that correspond to their social status, and no one is given any choice. In some dystopias, the lack of choice is enforced by the government. In others, it is enforced by friends and social codes or enforced through a corporation, like in the 2008 movie Wall-E. Authors of dystopias who imagine a world without individuality are concerned with the idea that the wisdom of the crowd can stifle the wisdom of the individual. Authors often choose to magnify this trait by emphasizing lack of choice in simple items, like clothing, food, or toothpaste. This showcases lack of choice and individuality in larger areas, like family structure or careers.

    Dystopias tend to have common themes and styles because they reflect the society that we live in. Surveillance is frequently a theme in dystopian literature because we are continually worried about it. The dark side of too much health and genetics research is a common theme because technology furthers the possibilities of genetics and health research every day. Misinformation, totalitarianism, and lack of individuality are all problems that exist in the world that authors are writing in. Dystopias are the dark side of our dreams. There are common themes and stylistic choices because all of the distorted mirrors that authors are holding up are trying to show us the same things. They are trying to give us the same warnings — what the world might look like if we take our quest for perfection too far.

    This lecture adapts the following source:

    "Someone Might Be Watching -- An Introduction to Dystopian Fiction" by Shelby Ostergaard, copyrighted by and used under CC BY NC SA 2.0. Our adaptation removes embedded definitions of words in the lecture.

    Discussion Board Assignment: Literary Elements in a Novel

    At various points throughout the unit on the novel Brave New World, give short reading quizzes to make sure that students keep up with the content. Three short quizzes are provided below.

    Brave New World Quiz 1 – Chapters 1-6

    1. Why are some embryos deprived of oxygen?
    2. Why does Bernard Marx have a bad reputation within the community?
    3. Briefly explain hypnopaedia or "sleep teaching." How is it done? What are some of the lessons?
    4. Why are Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson close friends?
    5. Why does it bother Fanny that Lenina has been seeing Henry Foster for four months?
    6. What does "A.F." stand for?
    7. How do most people travel in the Community?
      1. car
      2. horse
      3. train
      4. helicopter 
    8. Which of the following activities are considered unacceptable within the Community?
      1. studying history
      2. thinking
      3. reading
      4. getting married
      5. none of the above
      6. all of the above

    Brave New World Quiz 2 – Chapters 7-11

    1. What is the Reservation? 
    2. Who are Linda and John? How did they end up on the Reservation? 
    3. Who is John's favorite author? 
      1. William Shakespeare
      2. JRR Tolkien
      3. Aldous Huxley
      4. Helmholtz Watson
    4. Why does the DHC plan to banish Bernard? Why doesn't he?
    5. What do John and Bernard have in common?
    6. How do citizens of the Community view Bernard after he returns from the Reservation with John and Linda? What effect does it have on Bernard?

    Brave New World Quiz 3 – Chapters 12-18

    1. How does Lenina change after meeting John?
    2. How does John respond to Lenina's attempt to seduce him? Why?
    3. When John disrupts the soma distribution, who joins him?
      1. Helmholtz Watson
      2. Bernard Marx
      3. Bernard and Helmholtz
      4. Lenina Crowne 
    4. Where does John choose to live in exile? 
      1. an abandoned church
      2. a lighthouse
      3. a tent in the desert
      4. an igloo

    Literary Elements within a Novel - Discussion Post

    For this post, you will revisit the literary terms we learned about in the unit on short fiction. This time, you will write a post on the elements of fiction within a novel. Read back over the list of literary terms; make sure you consult the LitTerms PodCast posts from your classmates as well. Then, select one element of fiction you believe the author uses consistently throughout the novel. Choose a literary term that is the different than the one you used for your podcast assignment. In an original post, discuss at least three instances of this fictional element. Use three (3) or more direct quotations to support what you say. After you have uploaded your original post, reply to at least two of your classmates' posts.

    Required Reading/Watching: 

    Brave New World

    List of Literary Terms

    LitTerms Podcast posts


    This assignment is intended to deepen your understanding of our previous lessons on literary terminology. You will have an opportunity to apply your understanding of literary terms in a different context.

    Learning Outcome(s) Addressed: 

    • Analyze and interpret a novel from various critical perspectives
    • Identify and explain different literary theories and terms related to fictional
    • Document the use of a novel in MLA style


    This assignment will focus on these skills:

    • Reading comprehension
    • Critical Thinking
    • Analytical Writing


    By completing this assignment, you will learn how to transfer your previous knowledge of literary terms to a different context. The ability to transfer knowledge from one learning context to a different one is an important skill for all college classes.


    To complete this assignment you should:

    1. Read and annotate the novel
    2. Review the lessons on literary terminology
    3. Select a term and find three examples in the novel
    4. Write your post and upload it to the discussion topic directly in the dialog box; your post should be about 250 words long.
    5. Respond to the posts of two classmates. Each response should be about 150 words.

    Short Writing Assignment: Connections in the Novel

    Connections in the Novel 

    In the lecture "Overview of the Novel," we learned that some writers compare the novel to a symphony because it combines many different parts to create a single, unified artistic work. The writer John Gardner has observed that the way authors combine the different parts leads to the emergence of "unexpected connections" as the novel draws to a close. For this short writing assignment, write about an "unexpected connection" that you noticed in the novel. What is the connection? When did you first notice it? Why is this connection important to the story? You can discuss a connection related to any aspect of the novel; unexpected links can occur between between events, between characters, between settings, between literary devices such as imagery, and so on. Support your observations with at least two direct quotations from the novel.

    Required Reading/Watching: 

    Brave New World

    Lecture: Overview of the Novel


    This assignment allows you to practice applying a specific concept from a specific piece of literary criticism to the novel. The ability to work with literary criticism is an important skill that enhances your critical and analytical thinking.

    Learning Outcome(s) Addressed: 

    • Analyze and interpret a novel from various critical perspectives
    • Document the use of a novel in M.L.A. style


    When completing this assignment, you will use these skills:

    • Reading comprehension
    • Critical thinking
    • Analytical thinking


    By completing this assignment, you will deepen your understanding of the novel and gain valuable insights into the ways you were surprised by it. Tracing out surprising or unexpected connections is good practice for building reasoning and analytical skills you will use throughout your college career.


    To complete this assignment you should:

    1. Read the lecture "Overview of the Novel"
    2. Read the novel
    3. Identify an unexpected connection in the novel
    4. Find examples of the connection that you can quote
    5. Write one to two paragraphs (about 250 words) explaining the connection
    6. Format your assignment using M.L.A. style

    Assignment: Cross-Genre Analysis Essay

    Writing About Literature Across Genres

    For this essay, you should select one of two topics – identity or community – and explore its significance within three literary works from different genres. One of your selected works must be the novel (Brave New World). The other two works you select must be from different genres (see Note below). Possible combinations include: drama+short story+novel, drama+folk/fairy tale+novel, or short story+folk/fairy tale+novel.

    Your goal is to show how authors across genres have dealt with the complex issues of identity or community. These vital elements of the human experience have provided ample material for artists through the ages.

    Note: You may use a work you have already written about, but you must generate new material for this paper.

    Think about the short stories, folk and fairy tales, dramas, and the novel we have read this semester and write an analysis of the role that identity or community plays within the stories. Please keep in mind that identity and community are very broad terms and, as such, are too vague for an essay of 1,000 words. You will need to narrow your focus to some particular aspect or problem related to your broader topic. Below are some questions to help you narrow your focus. You can use these questions during the pre-writing phase of the writing process as you work on your paper

    Keep in mind the characters, settings, and events of the stories as you consider the items below. How does identity (or community) play a role in the conflict, the plot, or the characters’ interactions with one another?   

    This assignment has two separate phases, both of which are completed for a grade. During the first phase, you compose a rough draft for your paper and submit it to the Peer Review Workshop discussion topic, where you will give and receive feedback from your peers. During the second phase, you revise your draft and submit it for a grade in the appropriate assignments folder.

    The rough draft should be a true attempt at the essay. Therefore, the instructions for the essay are presented first on this page. After you have read and understood these instructions, read the instructions for the Peer Review process, which are presented on the page following this one.

    Pre-writing Questions About Identity:

    • What shapes one’s identity? (think of environment, family, faith, peers, culture, education, occupation, interests, generation, etc.)
    • What is identity?
    • What is the greatest influencer of identity?
    • How “fixed” is identity? How “fluid” is identity? In what ways can one’s identity change or evolve over time? Does it change or evolve?
    • How important is it to understand one’s identity?
    • How detrimental can it be to not understand one’s identity?
    • What social pressures influence/affect identity?
    • How does social media affect or influence identity?

    Pre-writing Questions about Community

    • What makes a healthy community? What factors make a community unhealthy?
    • How many communities does a person typically belong to? (think of work, school, social, familial, virtual, etc.)
    • How important is it to belong to a community? (focus on a particular type of community)
    • How detrimental can it be to not be a part of a community?
    • What influences does a community have on a person?
    • To what extent are we products of our community/communities?


    You will use at least three primary sources from the literature we have read, which means you will absolutely have to use direct quotations from the text to support your body paragraphs. This paper requires two (2) secondary sources; to locate secondary sources, please use the literary databases accessible through the library homepage. Study guide websites  (Sparknotes, ClassicNotes, Shmoop, et al.) CANNOT be used as sources. Document all sources accordingly. Attach a works cited page that includes primary sources and any secondary sources you used.


    Use standard MLA formatting (12 pt, Times New Roman/Calibri, double spaced with one inch margins). Write in complete sentences and construct well-structured paragraphs complete with transitional words and phrases.  Lengthwise, you should end up with a 1000 word essay plus a works cited page.

    Follow MLA guidelines for in-text citations and Works Cited entries. 

    Required Reading/Watching: 

    All course material assigned to date


    This assignment is intended to sharpen your analytical and critical thinking skills because you will examine how the one concept is treated by different authors in different contexts. 

    Learning Outcome(s) Addressed: 

    • Produce a longer critical essay that applies secondary research and literary criticism to argue for an original interpretation of a novel
    • Document the use of a novel in M.L.A. style
    • Use textual evidence to support the thesis statement


    In this assignment, you will use these skills:

    • Reading comprehension
    • Researching
    • Analytical thinking
    • Critical thinking
    • Writing
    • M.L.A. style documentation


    The research and writing process for this assignment will help prepare you for more complex writing assignments in other courses.


    To complete this assignment you should:

    1. Select ONE topic -- Either Identify or Community. Do not write about both. Pick one.
    2. Select the texts you will work with --the novel, plus two others from different genres Possible combinations include: drama+short story+novel, drama+folk/fairy tale+novel, or short story+folk/fairy tale+novel.
    3. Select two secondary sources from the college's library database.
    4. Annotate all of the primary and secondary texts you plan to use.
    5. Write out answers to the pre-writing questions for your topic
    6. Compose a draft of your essay
    7. Upload the draft to the Peer Review Workshop
    8. Give and receive feedback
    9. Review your essay using the feedback you have received
    10. Submit your revised essay for a grade

    Attribution and License

    "Cross-Genre Analysis (Essay)" by Daniel Kelley is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA.