Although Bernard Marx is the primary character in Brave New World up until his visit with Lenina to the Reservation, after that point he fades into the background and John becomes the central protagonist. John first enters the story as he expresses an interest in participating in the Indian religious ritual from which Bernard and Lenina recoil. John’s desire first marks him as an outsider among the Indians, since he is not allowed to participate in their ritual. It also demonstrates the huge cultural divide between him and World State society, since Bernard and Lenina see the tribal ritual as disgusting. John becomes the central character of the novel because, rejected both by the “savage” Indian culture and the “civilized” World State culture, he is the ultimate outsider.
As an outsider, John takes his values from a more than 900-year-old author, William Shakespeare. John’s extensive knowledge of Shakespeare’s works serves him in several important ways: it enables him to verbalize his own complex emotions and reactions, it provides him with a framework from which to criticize World State values, and it provides him with language that allows him to hold his own against the formidable rhetorical skill of Mustapha Mond during their confrontation. (On the other hand, John’s insistence on viewing the world through Shakespearean eyes sometimes blinds him to the reality of other characters, notably Lenina, who, in his mind, is alternately a heroine and a “strumpet,” neither of which label is quite appropriate to her.) Shakespeare embodies all of the human and humanitarian values that have been abandoned in the World State. John’s rejection of the shallow happiness of the World State, his inability to reconcile his love and lust for Lenina, and even his eventual suicide all reflect themes from Shakespeare. He is himself a Shakespearean character in a world where any poetry that does not sell a product is prohibited.
John’s naïve optimism about the World State, expressed in the words from The Tempest that constitute the novel’s title, is crushed when he comes into direct contact with the State. The phrase “brave new world” takes on an increasingly bitter, ironic, and pessimistic tone as he becomes more knowledgeable about the State. John’s participation in the final orgy and his suicide at the end of the novel can be seen as the result of an insanity created by the fundamental conflict between his values and the reality of the world around him.
Up until his visit to the Reservation and the introduction of John, Bernard Marx is the central figure of the novel. Bernard’s first appearance in the novel is highly ironic. Just as the Director finishes his explanation of how the World State has successfully eliminated lovesickness, and everything that goes along with frustrated desire, Huxley gives us our first glimpse into a character’s private thoughts, and that character is lovesick, jealous, and fiercely angry at his sexual rivals. Thus, while Bernard is not exactly heroic (and he becomes even less so as the novel progresses), he is still interesting to the reader because he is human. He wants things that he can’t have.
The major movement in Bernard’s character is his rise in popularity after the trip to the Reservation and his discovery of John, followed by his disastrous fall. Before and during his trip to the Reservation, Bernard is lonely, insecure, and isolated. When he returns with John, he uses his newfound popularity to participate in all of the aspects of World State society that he had previously criticized, such as promiscuous sex. This about-face proves Bernard to be a critic whose deepest desire is to become what he criticizes. When John refuses to become a tool in Bernard’s attempt to remain popular, Bernard’s success collapses instantaneously. By continuing to criticize the World State while reveling in its “pleasant vices,” Bernard reveals himself to be a hypocrite. John and Helmholtz are sympathetic to him because they agree that the World State needs criticizing and because they recognize that Bernard is trapped in a body to which his conditioning has not suited him, but they have no respect for him. Lenina’s relationship to Bernard is different: she sees him merely as a strange, interesting fellow with whom she can take a break from her relationship with Henry Foster. She is happy to use him for her own social gain, but she doesn’t have the emotional investment in him that she does in John.
Helmholtz Watson is not as fully developed as some of the other characters, acting instead as a foil for Bernard and John. For Bernard, Helmholtz is everything Bernard wishes he could be: strong, intelligent, and attractive. As such a figure of strength, Helmholtz is very comfortable in his caste. Unlike Bernard, he is well liked and respected. Though he and Bernard share a dislike of the World State, Helmholtz condemns it for radically different reasons. Bernard dislikes the State because he is too weak to fit the social position he has been assigned; Helmholtz because he is too strong. Helmholtz can see and feel how the shallow culture in which he lives is stifling him.
Helmholtz is also a foil for John, but in a different way. Helmholtz and John are very similar in spirit; both love poetry, and both are intelligent and critical of the World State. But there is an enormous cultural gap between them. Even when Helmholtz sees the genius in Shakespeare’s poetry, he cannot help but laugh at the mention of mothers, fathers, and marriage—concepts that are vulgar and ridiculous in the World State. The conversations between Helmholtz and John illustrate that even the most reflective and intelligent World State member is defined by the culture in which he has been raised.
Mustapha Mond is the most powerful and intelligent proponent of the World State. Early in the novel, it is his voice that explains the history of the World State and the philosophy upon which it is based. Later in the novel it is his debate with John that lays out the fundamental difference in values between World State society and the kind of society represented in Shakespeare’s plays.
Mustapha Mond is a paradoxical figure. He reads Shakespeare and the Bible and he used to be an independent-minded scientist, but he also censors new ideas and controls a totalitarian state. For Mond, humankind’s ultimate goals are stability and happiness, as opposed to emotions, human relations, and individual expression. By combining a firm commitment to the values of the World State with a nuanced understanding of its history and function, Mustapha Mond presents a formidable opponent for John, Bernard, and Helmholtz.
Replacing the concept of a belief-based, non-verifiable being with Ford, a man who existed, eliminates all the wonder and mystery related to traditional religions.
Also eliminating all other belief systems with a single, inarguable "godhead" rids the World State citizens of anxiety and conflicts based on religious beliefs and orthodoxies.
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