The novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that combine profoundly to change society. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Brave New World fifth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
The novel opens in London in AF 632 (AD 2540 in the Gregorian calendar). The society described is illuminated by the activities of two of the novel's central characters, Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx, and the other characters with whom they come into contact. Lenina, a hatchery worker, is socially accepted and contented, but Bernard, a psychologist in the Directorate of Hatcheries and Conditioning, is not. He is shorter in stature than the average of his Alpha caste—a quality shared by the lower castes, which gives him an inferiority complex. His intelligence and his work with hypnopaedia allow him to understand, and disapprove of, the methods by which society is sustained. Courting disaster, he is vocal and arrogant about his differences. Bernard is mocked by other Alphas because of his stature, as well as for his individualistic tendencies, and is threatened with exile to Iceland because of his nonconformity.