“Why wouldn’t they let me be the sacrifice? I’d have gone round ten times—twelve, fifteen. Palowhtiwa only got as far as seven. They could have had twice as much blood from me. The multitudinous seas incarnadine.” He flung out his arms in a lavish gesture; then, despairingly, let them fall again.
John’s first appearance reveals his most important character trait: he wants to suffer, because he believes suffering is valuable. His desire to physically sacrifice himself also foreshadows the ending of the novel, when he will torture and finally kill himself. John has spent many years reading Shakespeare, so his speech is littered with quotes from Shakespeare’s plays: “The multitudinous seas incarnadine” is from Macbeth.
Lots of men came to see Linda. The boys began to point their fingers at him. In the strange other words they said that Linda was bad […] He threw stones at them. They threw back; a sharp stone cut his cheek. The blood wouldn’t stop; he was covered with blood.
As John tells Bernard the story of his life on the Reservation, we learn that John has suffered. The emotions which have caused his suffering are exactly the emotions which Mustapha Mond says have been abolished in the World State: “Mother, monogamy, romance.” In the Savage Reservation, John’s mother Linda is an outcast because she does not respect monogamy, but John loves Linda and wants to protect her because she is his mother. The result is violence and pain. John’s actions nearly always result in violence and pain.
He was not worthy…not. Their eyes for a moment met. What treasures hers promised! A queen’s ransom of temperament. Hastily he looked away, disengaged his imprisoned arm. He was obscurely terrified lest she should cease to be something he could feel himself unworthy of.
Because he was brought up outside of the World State’s culture and grew up reading Shakespeare, John has ideas about romance that are out of step with those of the World State characters. John believes that in order to desire Lenina, he needs to idealize her, thinking of her as something worthy of admiration and worship—someone he can feel “unworthy of” but who would elevate him by her love. In actuality, Lenina is perfectly willing to have sex with him and doesn’t see any reason to resist or make things difficult. If John acknowledged the truth about how casual Lenina’s attitudes toward sex are, his whole fantasy about her would collapse and he wouldn’t be able to desire her anymore.
Faint almost to imperceptibility, but appalling, she suddenly heard the grinding of his teeth. “What is it?” she almost screamed.
And as though awakened by her cry he caught her by the shoulders and shook her. “Whore!” he shouted. “Whore! Impudent strumpet!”
Lenina tries to seduce John, but he is committed to the idea of monogamy which he has learned on the Savage Reservation and from Shakespeare’s plays. He cannot bear to have sex without a meaningful romantic commitment. As always, John’s passion causes him to become violent. Brave New World asks whether it’s better to feel intense passion, even if it means suffering, than to live a life of easy pleasure with no great highs or lows.
He squeezed her limp hand almost with violence, as though he would force her to come back from this dream of ignoble pleasures, from these base and hateful memories—back into the present, back into reality; the appalling present, the awful reality—but sublime, but significant, but desperately important precisely because of the imminence of that which made them so fearful.
John’s mother, Linda, is dying. She has taken so much soma that she doesn’t recognize John or know what is happening. John is so committed to the idea that suffering is valuable that he believes his mother should be fully conscious as she dies. He sees the experience of death as “sublime,” “significant” and “desperately important.” The World State’s attitude to death is what finally pushes John to rebel.
“[...] Don’t you even understand what manhood and freedom are?” Rage was making him fluent; the words came easily, in a rush. “Don’t you?” he repeated, but got no answer to his question. “Very well, then,” he went on grimly. “I’ll teach you. I’ll make you be free whether you want to or not.”
John tries to convince a group of Deltas to resist taking soma. He sees their dependence on soma as a kind of slavery. However, the Deltas cannot understand his point of view. To the citizens of the World State, many of the things John believes in are not just mysterious but actually incomprehensible. His declaration that “I’ll make you be free” is ironic: you can’t force someone to be free.
The Savage hesitated. He would have liked to say something about solitude, about night, about the mesa lying pale under the moon, about the precipice, the plunge into shadowy darkness, about death; but there were no words. Not even in Shakespeare.
Mustapha Mond, the Controller, asks John whether he knows about God. This passage describes John’s attempt to respond. His quest for meaning leads ultimately to an absence: darkness, death, something for which there are no words. The Controller also sees God “as an absence; as though he weren’t there at all.” Brave New World suggests that John and Mond’s debate about meaning and happiness can never be settled for good. At its heart is something unsayable.
“Did you eat something that didn’t agree with you?” asked Bernard.
The Savage nodded. “I ate civilization.”
“It poisoned me; I was defiled. And then,” he added, in a lower tone, “I ate my own wickedness.”
John rejects the Controller’s arguments for “civilization,” the society of the World State, but he decides it is not enough to reject them mentally. He rejects them physically as well, by making himself vomit. This gesture sets him on the path of physical self-torture which will result in his suicide.
He had decided to live there because the view was so beautiful, because, from his vantage point, he seemed to be looking out on to the incarnation of a divine being. But who was he to be pampered with the daily and hourly sight of loveliness?
John wants to suffer, but he chooses to live in an old lighthouse overlooking the countryside. He cannot make himself give up his view, even though it gives him pleasure. In the end, John is unable to resist the lure of pleasure. John’s failure to find meaning through suffering suggests that his viewpoint is as limited and flawed as the pleasure-seeking philosophy of the World State.
Stupefied by soma, and exhausted by a long-drawn frenzy of sensuality, the Savage lay sleeping in the heather. The sun was already high when he awoke. He lay for a moment, blinking in owlish incomprehension at the light; then suddenly remembered—everything.
“Oh, my God, my God!” he covered his eyes with his hand.
John cannot resist the lure of pleasure. His attempt to live a life of suffering turns into an orgy. Brave New World shows that a life without pleasure is as limited and unsustainable as a life without suffering. John cannot live with this truth, however. In the aftermath of the orgy he commits suicide.