Skip over navigation

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Chapter 16

Chapters 13–15

Chapters 17–18

Summary: Chapter 16

The police leave Bernard, Helmholtz, and John in Mond’s office. Mond arrives and says to John, “So you don’t much like civilization, Mr. Savage.” John concedes, but admits that he does like some things, such as the constant sound of music. Mond responds with a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about my ears and sometimes voices.” John is pleasantly surprised to find that Mond has read Shakespeare.

Mond points out that Shakespeare is a forbidden text. In response to John’s questioning, he explains that such literature is banned for a number of reasons. In the first place, beautiful things, such as great literature, tend to last. People continue to like them even when they become quite old. A society based on consumerism, such as the World State, needs citizens who want new things. Newness is thus more important than intrinsic value, and high art must be suppressed to make room for the new. In the second place, the citizens of the World State would not be able to understand Shakespeare, because the stories he writes are based on experiences and passions that do not exist in the World State. Grand struggles and overpowering emotions have been sacrificed in favor of social stability. They have been replaced by what Mond calls “happiness,” by which he means the infantile gratification of appetites.

John is inclined to think that this brand of happiness creates monstrous and repulsive human beings. He challenges the Director, asking whether the citizens couldn’t at least all be created as Alphas. Mond replies that the World State has to have citizens who will be happy performing the functions that they have been assigned, and since Alphas are only happy doing Alpha (i.e., intellectual) work, the vast majority of the population actually has to be degraded and made stupid so that they will be happy with their place in life. He points to an experiment in which an entire island was populated with Alphas, and wholesale civil war quickly ensued, because none of the citizens were ever happy with the distribution of tasks.

Although the World State is a technotopia, meaning that it is made possible by technologies vastly more advanced than our own, Mond explains that even technology has to be kept under rigorous controls for the happy and stable society to be possible. Past a certain point, even labor-saving technologies have had to be suppressed to maintain a balance between labor and leisure. Keeping citizens happy requires keeping them at work for a certain amount of time.

Science has also had to be suppressed to create the happy and stable society. This is particularly ironic because World State citizens are taught to revere science as one of their most fundamental values. However, none of them—not even Alphas such as Helmholtz and Bernard—actually possess any scientific training, so they really don’t even know what science is. Mond doesn’t explain what it is, although he alludes to his own career as a young scientist who got himself into trouble by challenging conventional wisdom. One can infer that by “science,” Mond means the search for knowledge by means of the experimental method. Science cannot exist in the World State because the search for “truth” conflicts with happiness. This is very suggestive, because it implies that the entire society is somehow built upon lies, but he is tantalizingly unclear about what truths and what lies he is talking about.

Mond tells Helmholtz and Bernard that they will be exiled. Bernard begins to beg and plead for Mond to change his sentence. Three men drag him away to sedate him with soma. Mond says that Bernard does not know that exile is actually a reward. The islands are full of the most interesting people in the world, individuals who did not fit in the World State community. Mond tells Helmholtz that he almost envies him. Helmholtz asks why, if he is so envious, he did not choose exile when he was offered the choice. Mond explains that he prefers the work he does in managing the happiness of others.

Mond believes that the islands are a good thing to have around since dissidents like Helmholtz and Bernard would probably have to be killed if they could not be exiled. He asks Helmholtz if he would like to go to a tropical island. Helmholtz says that he would prefer an island with a bad climate since it might help him write. He accepts Mond’s suggestion that he go to the Falkland Islands.

Analysis: Chapter 16

The conversation between Mond and John is the intellectual heart of Brave New World. It is here that the issues implied by the rest of the novel are made explicit, and discussed in an abstract form.

The rationale that Mond provides for suppressing John’s beloved Shakespeare gives us a crucial key to understanding the rest of their conversation. The mere fact that Shakespeare is old means that he doesn’t contribute to consumer behavior. (Huxley, of course, ignores the fact that people purchase new editions of Shakespeare, Shakespeare college courses, SparkNotes, etc.) While this reason seems superficial in comparison with Mond’s more developed arguments, it draws our attention to the fact that consumerism is central to the world of Brave New World. Like other dystopias, this novel doesn’t simply show us a world that is different from our own, it shows us a world that is a mirror of ours, with the worst features of our world drawn out and exaggerated. One of the central facets of Huxley’s novel is directed against the ever-increasing value it places on consumerism.

By showing a world that suppresses institutions and experiences that are sacred in our own world in order to make way for the development of consumer values, Huxley demonstrates a conflict of values that exists in our own society. The “value” that drives the consumer is simply the gratification of appetites. In Brave New World, this one value has been developed to the point that people are “adults during worktime,” but infants in their leisure time and in their relationships. So Huxley’s first criticism of consumerism is that it is infantile—adults should be capable of other things.

If consumption is the “happiness” that Mond refers to in his description of the World State, the other value that his society is predicated on is “stability.” In Mond’s account, happiness and stability depend upon one another. The stability Mond is talking about is economic stability, the uninterrupted cycle of production and consumption. But emotional, psychological, and social stability are also important, because they all contribute to the first kind of stability.

Mond’s argument about the things that must be sacrificed to create a “stable and happy” society may be read, ironically, as an argument that our values are incompatible with consumer behavior and economic stability. The values that Mond sacrifices may be summarized as follows:

Feelings, passions, commitments, and relationships. Citizens of the World State have no fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, or lovers, because such relationships produce emotional (and therefore social) instability, strife, and unhappiness. While it is easy to think of ways that relationships make people unhappy, it may be difficult for the reader to understand why Mond thinks these relationships fundamentally create instability, when common sense and tradition dictate exactly the opposite, that the family is one of the stabilizing institutions of our society. One answer may be found in Chapter 3, in Mond’s lecture to the students. Here he argues that the most dangerous part of passionate commitments to other individuals is the strength of the feeling involved. Moreover, he maintains that all feelings and passions arise from arrested impulses, such as the longing one experiences when one can’t immediately have the lover that one wants. This is probably the basis for his idea that the consumer’s need for immediate gratification is at odds with long-term human commitments.

Equality. Mond is quite forthright about the fact that social stability depends upon inequality. Most of society is going to have to perform uninteresting tasks most of the time. This feature of World State society is by no means peculiar to the World State. In fact, it is probably true of every society that has ever existed. It might even be possible to argue that our own society has as much inequality as the World State, and that Mond is just more honest about it, refusing to pay lip service to the ideal that all humans are created equal. However, the complete abandonment of the ideal of equality leads to horrifying results. The majority of human embryos in the World State are altered so that their potential for excellence or growth is stunted. When the comparison is made between the novel’s world and our own, we are left with troubling questions rather than distinct conclusions. Given that economic and social stability depends upon an unequal distribution of labor, does this create destructive contradictions with our democratic ideal that individuals are equal? (This theme is clearly indebted to the writing of Karl Marx, whose ideas are part of the intellectual background of this novel. It is no accident, for instance, that the dissident Bernard’s last name is Marx.)

Truth. Mond says that science has to be suppressed because a society that is predicated on the search for happiness cannot also be committed to truth. He may mean that science, and the search for truth more generally, has an irresistible tendency to overthrow old, established ways of looking at things. Authority and conventional wisdom both contribute to the stability of society, and in the search for truth both of these are liable to come under interrogation.

Art. Art is not a consumer product, and great art draws its subject matter from feelings, passions, commitments, and relationships, which are discussed above.

One final category of experiences that are sacrificed in the world state might simply be labeled “problems.” Huxley might argue that we value problems (old age, death, doubt, even suffering), because we value the responses that they produce in human beings. These Mond dismisses as the “overcompensation for misery.”

One criticism that the reader might be inclined to level at Mond’s entire line of argumentation is that it is self-serving. Mond is at the very top of the ruling class and enjoys exemption from the laws that he makes. One could easily dismiss everything he says on the basis that his real interest is the stability of his own position, and not the stability and happiness of his society as a whole. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to simply dismiss his argument out of hand, because it does possess considerable power and subtlety, challenging the reader to dispute it on its own terms.

Are you ready for the test?
Quick Quiz   →

More Help

Previous Next
Our Ford

by AP-ness, July 29, 2012

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.

5 Comments

95 out of 130 people found this helpful

Follow Us