Brave New World

by: Aldous Huxley

What Does the Ending Mean?

At the end of Brave New World, a crowd gathers to watch John ritually whip himself. When Lenina arrives, John whips her as well. The spectators begin an orgy, in which John takes part. The next day, overcome with guilt and shame, he kills himself. Brave New World’s main theme is the incompatibility of happiness and truth. Throughout the novel, John has argued that it’s better to seek truth, even if it involves suffering, than to accept an easy life of pleasure and happiness. However, when Mustapha Mond grants him the freedom to seek truth through self-sacrifice and suffering, John succumbs to the temptation of pleasure by taking part in an orgy. This ending might suggest that the happiness encouraged by the World State’s Controllers is a more powerful force than the truth John seeks. The ending may also suggest that there is no truth for John to find. However, John may fail in his search for truth because the Controllers have made it impossible to avoid the temptation of happiness in the World State. In that case, the novel’s ending would suggest that seeking truth has to be a social goal. Truth can’t be found by isolated individuals.

Another view of the novel’s ending is that John fails in his quest for truth simply because he isn’t going about his search in the right way. Huxley wrote a foreword to the 1946 edition of Brave New World in which he describes the ending like this: “[John] is made to retreat from sanity; his native Penitente-ism reasserts its authority and he ends in maniacal self-torture and despairing suicide.” In other words, when John is defeated by the society of the World State, the only alternative he knows is the self-punishing religion of the Native Reservation (“Penitente-ism”). This religion is just as destructive to the quest for truth as the pleasure-seeking ideology of the World State. This interpretation of the ending suggests that neither traditional ways of seeking meaning, like religion and art, nor the future predicted in Brave New World serve humanity well, and humans must find a third path towards the truth.