Bernard Marx and Helmholtz Watson are friends because they both feel like outsiders. Bernard is unusually small: “eight centimeters short of the standard Alpha height” and, as a result people make fun of him. Helmholtz is unusually talented: “That which had made Helmholtz so uncomfortably aware of being himself and all alone was too much ability.” In the society of the World State, everyone is supposed to be the same. Bernard and Helmholtz are unusual because they feel like individuals. The two men bond over their shared experience of not being like everybody else.

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John’s mother Linda taught him to read English, but he only had two books to read. One of them wasThe Complete Works of WilliamShakespeare, so he knows it very well. In Shakespeare’s plays, John has found words that help him to describe and understand his experience. For instance, when John feels angry with his mother’s lover Popé, he quotes lines fromHamlet, a play about a man who hates his mother’s new husband. John also quotes Shakespeare because he finds Shakespeare’s writing beautiful and true. One of the reasons he hates the World State is that the “feelies” written by the World State’s “emotional engineers” seem empty and meaningless by comparison.


John’s father is Bernard Marx’s boss, the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning. In Chapter 6, the Director tells Bernard that he once took a woman to the Savage Reservation, and that she went missing. When Bernard visits the Reservation, he discovers that John’s mother Linda is that woman. Because she didn’t have access to contraception in the Reservation, Linda became pregnant with the Director’s child: John. In the World State, having children is considered shameful and disgusting. Bernard takes John and Linda back to the World State in order to humiliate the Director.


John grew up on the Savage Reservation, where traditional monogamy is enforced. InThe Complete Works of William Shakespearehe has read stories likeThe TempestandRomeo and Juliet, in which young men do dangerous or difficult things to prove themselves worthy of marrying the women they love. John wants to “do something” for Lenina. Lenina, on the other hand, grew up in the World State. She believes that it is morally wrong to be monogamous, or to delay pleasure. She wants to have sex with John right away. Lenina thinks it makes no sense to wait before having sex, while John thinks it is disgustingnotto wait. Even though they are attracted to one another, they can’t find common ground about what a relationship ought to be.


Somais a drug that is handed out for free to all the citizens of the World State. In small doses,somamakes people feel good. In large doses, it creates pleasant hallucinations and a sense of timelessness. The citizens of the World State are encouraged to takesomaby “hypnopaedic” sayings like “A gram is better than a damn.” When they experience strong negative emotions, citizens take asoma“holiday” to distract them from the unpleasant feelings. John seessomaas a tool of social control. He says that takingsomamakes the citizens of the World State “slaves.”


In the Alpha and Beta castes, embryos grow inside individual eggs, while in the other three castes, embryos grow by Bokanovsky’s Process, which the Director’s students understand to mean: “One egg, one embryo, one adult—normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide.” Because of this process, people in the Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon castes grow in multiple identical units. The Director calls the process one of the “ajor instruments of social stability” and touts the advantage: “Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!”


People are expected to have sex with multiple partners for the sake of pleasure only. Readers learn how children are trained in this behavior through erotic play. Monogamous romances are discouraged because “every one belongs to every one else.” Fanny Crowne warns her friend Lenina: “ou know how strongly the D.H.C. objects to anything intense or long-drawn. Four months of Henry Foster, without having another man—why, he’d be furious if he knew . . .”


Mustapha, the Controller, is a secret reader: “There were those strange rumours of old forbidden books hidden in a safe in the Controller’s study. Bibles, poetry—Ford knew what.” Bernard is shorter than other members of the Alpha Plus caste, and he has an “unsavoury reputation.” Helmholtz is too intelligent to fit in well. Readers learn “hat which had made Helmholtz so uncomfortably aware of being himself and all alone was too much ability.”


Lenina explains her initial attraction to Bernard: “Bernard’s an Alpha Plus. Besides, he asked me to go to one of the Savage Reservations with him. I’ve always wanted to see a Savage Reservation.” Before long, however, she realizes that he expects too much of her. Bernard wants to be alone with Lenina and have serious conversations. He is looking for a personal friendship but becomes disillusioned when he realizes that Lenina is happy with plenty ofsomaand casual sex. Bernard notes to himself that “he doesn’t mind being meat.”


Both ceremonies are religious in nature and involve hypnotic music with a heavy beat and dancing in a circle. There are only twelve participants in the Solidarity Service ritual. They dance to the tune of a nursery rhyme, and their ritual leads up to an orgy. The Indian ceremony involves a great many dancers and onlookers and is more dramatic and violent. The dancers carry snakes, and the dance leads up to a man being whipped.


When he hears John and Linda’s story, Bernard realizes “who the ‘father’ of this young savage must be.” Bernard invites John and Linda back to London in order to get back at Bernard’s enemy—the D.H.C. Back in London, Bernard saves his own position by revealing the secret of John’s parentage and disgracing the D.H.C. After that, Bernard becomes a minor celebrity as John’s “accredited guardian.” The tactic backfires after John revolts against the World State, dragging Bernard down with him.


In the World State, people are horribly cruel to Linda because she is “loated, sagging, and among those firm youthful bodies, those undistorted faces, a strange and terrifying monster of middle-agedness.” For Linda, “he return to civilization was . . . the return tosoma.” For the rest of her life, Linda stays on a permanentsomaholiday. At first she stays in a little room in Bernard’s apartment house. Then she gets transferred to the Park Lane Hospital for the Dying, where she dies of a drug overdose.


John sits by Linda’s bedside, where she lays sleeping, heavily drugged. At first, John remembers pleasant things about his mother, but when it becomes obvious that Linda is dreaming of Popé, her lover back on the Savage Reservation, John shakes his mother in anger, and she dies. John then turns his rage onsoma, which he understands has caused her death, and throws a large amount of pills out the window. He charges out of the hospital and tries to keep a group of workers from reclaiming their dailysomaration. The workers riot, order is restored withsoma, and John gets arrested.


John asks why books are prohibited, and the Controller (Mustapha) replies, “Particularly when they’re beautiful. Beauty’s attractive, and we don’t want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones.” The Controller explains why even Shakespeare could no longer be written—“you can’t make tragedies without social instability.” The three men then debate the relationship among happiness, liberty, and stability. The Controller defends the need to keep the population ignorant, calling truth a “menace,” and science a “public danger.” John and the Controller also debate the nature and meaning of God.

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After rejecting the values of the World State, John goes off to live as far away from civilization as he can. In solitude, he does penance for his life and his mother’s death by whipping himself with cords. Some people see him, and soon he is surrounded by reporters who ensure he gets mentioned inThe Hourly Radioand in the newspapers. Darwin Bonaparte makes a film about him, and sightseers flock to John by the hundreds to watch him whip himself. The crowds press in on him and, in the end, sweep him up in their Orgy-porgy dance. Unable to deal with the shame and remorse of participating in the orgy, John kills himself.


Brave New World (bsci-ch.org Literature Guide Series)

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