From his place on the opposite side of the changing-room aisle, Bernard Marx overheard what they were saying and turned pale.
This passage is Bernard’s first appearance. He is listening to Henry Foster and the Assistant Predestinator talk about having sex with Lenina. On the one hand, Bernard feels disgusted by the World State’s attitude to promiscuity. On the other he is jealous of Foster’s relationship with Lenina. Bernard is caught between two conflicting desires: to reject the society of the World State and to be embraced by it.
“I want to know what passion is,” she heard him saying. “I want to feel something strongly.”
Bernard is dissatisfied with the society of the World State because he wants to feel strong emotions. This makes him different from John and Helmholtz, who want to find truth and beauty. Bernard is not seeking something bigger than himself. He seeks intense experiences because they make him feel good and important.
Even the thought of persecution left him undismayed, was rather tonic than depressing. He felt strong enough to meet and overcome affliction, strong enough to face even Iceland. And this confidence was the greater for his not for a moment really believing that he would be called upon to face anything at all.
When the Director threatens to have Bernard sent to Iceland, Bernard feels “elated.” His criticism of the World State has put him in a position where he can experience a strong feeling, and he finds the feeling “tonic.” However, the narrator suggests that Bernard might not enjoy this strong emotion if he believed he was really going to be punished. Bernard lacks the courage to face the unpleasant side of intense feeling.
Success went fizzily to Bernard’s head, and in the process completely reconciled him (as any good intoxicant should do) to a world which, up till then, he had found very unsatisfactory. Insofar as it recognized him as important, the order of things was good. But, reconciled by his success he yet refused to forgo the privilege of criticizing this order. For the act of criticizing heightened his sense of importance, made him feel larger.
Bringing John back from the Savage Reservation turns Bernard into a social success. He begins to enjoy living in the World State while continuing to criticize it. What Helmholtz and others see as hypocrisy is the result of Bernard’s central character trait. He seeks intense feelings because they make him feel important. Being famous and criticizing his society both make him feel important, so he does both. Just as Helmholtz is too talented to feel at home in the World State, Bernard is too self-involved.
He was ashamed of his jealousy and alternately made efforts of will and took soma to keep himself from feeling it. But the efforts were not very successful; and between the soma-holidays there were, of necessity, intervals. The odious sentiment kept on returning.
When Helmholtz and John become better friends with each other than they are with Bernard, Bernard feels jealous. Ironically, his response shows exactly why he is unable to get along with them as well as they get along with each other. Helmholtz and John bond over their interest in intense feeling, but Bernard tries to suppress the feeling of intense jealousy with soma. Unlike his friends, Bernard doesn’t have the courage to embrace unpleasant passions as well as pleasant ones.