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Huxley uses a literary device called a flashback to bring Bernard, and the reader, up to date on John’s background. This device allows Huxley to present a collage of images from John’s childhood that would otherwise fit awkwardly into the overall structure of the narrative. If the narrative had been presented in strict chronological order, John and Linda’s story would have been told first. Coming in the middle of the novel, it has a greater impact because the reader already knows about the vast differences between World State and Reservation culture. Linda’s failure to fit in on the Reservation, and John’s confused upbringing, only make sense within the context that has already been provided.
Linda’s experiences on the Reservation, as described by herself and by John, demonstrate the extent to which the World State citizens are dependent upon “civilization”—that is, on a life that is completely structured by the state. On the Reservation, she is practically helpless: she does not know how to mend clothing, cook, or clean, and the very idea of taking care of a child horrifies her. She turns to mescal as a poor substitute for soma, which until then had been her only method for dealing with unpleasant situations.
John is a cultural hybrid, absorbing both his mother’s culture and that of the Indians on the Reservation. But he is also culturally adrift. The Reservation’s community does not accept him, and Linda’s Other Place is a distant world he only hears about in stories. So he turns to Shakespeare in his isolation and absorbs a third cultural value system.
Shakespeare’s The Tempest provides an important parallel to Brave New World, and the two texts relate to one another on many levels. In the play, Prospero and his daughter Miranda are exiled to an island because Prospero’s brother betrayed him in order to gain political power. The only inhabitant on the Island is a native, Caliban, to whose deceased mother the island had belonged. Prospero usurps control of the island and decides to raise Caliban as a slave because he pities him and intends to civilize him. Shakespeare deftly portrays Caliban as an angry, violent figure, who could easily be interpreted as less than human, ruled by bestial appetites rather than higher instincts. When a ship arrives on the island, two of the stewards introduce Caliban to liquor, and liquor becomes Caliban’s “God.” Yet Shakespeare also manages to imbue Caliban with all the complexities of the colonized individual. Caliban may be angry and violent, but he has been oppressed by Prospero. Caliban becomes enthralled by liquor and sees it as a god, but he has never seen alcohol before, and the effects of becoming drunk must be staggering to him. Prospero purports to help Caliban by “civilizing” him, but Caliban resents Prospero for the theft of his home. Prospero views Caliban’s resentment as unfounded and as evidence of his bestial nature, and this prompts him to treat Caliban even more harshly. Caliban responds with violent action that only increases Prospero’s belief that Caliban is an animal. In The Tempest, Caliban is both “savage” and a “Noble Savage,” he is utterly displaced in every community, just as John is on the Reservation, and will come to be in the World State.
Both The Tempest and Brave New World can be interpreted as allegories of colonization. Prospero decides to raise Caliban and “civilize” him in the same way that European colonials attempted to “civilize” the African, Asian, and Native American cultures with which they came into contact. For British and other European colonizers, civilizing the savages was a process of replacing native cultures and languages with the culture and language of the colonizer. The colonizers effectively separated colonized peoples from their own history and culture, making it more difficult for the latter to rebel against the new implanted culture that had become their own. The entire World State is built on just such a premise, effacing the past and all its cultural legacies. The World State, in a sense, has colonized everyone.