Summary: Chapter 17
As Helmholtz leaves to check on Bernard, John and Mustapha Mond continue their philosophical argument. Whereas their conversation in Chapter
John protests that if the people of the World State believed in God, they would not be degraded by their pleasant vices. They would have a reason for self-denial and chastity. God, John claims, is the reason for “everything noble and fine and heroic.” Mond says that no one in the World State is degraded; they just live by a different set of values than John does. World State civilization does not require anyone to bear unpleasant things. If, by accident something negative occurs, soma is there to take away the sting. Soma, he says, is “Christianity without tears.”
Christianity without tears—that’s what soma is.
John declares that he wants God, poetry, real danger, freedom, goodness, and sin. Mond tells him that his wishes will lead to unhappiness. John agrees but does not relinquish his wishes.
Summary: Chapter 18
Bernard and Helmholtz say good-bye to John. Bernard apologizes for the scene in Mond’s office. John asks Mond if he can go with them to the islands, but Mond refuses because he wants to continue “the experiment.” Later, John chooses to seclude himself in an abandoned lighthouse in the wilderness. He plants his own garden and performs rituals of self-punishment to purge himself of the contamination of civilization.
One day, some Delta-Minus workers see John whipping himself. The next day, reporters come to interview him. John kicks one reporter and angrily demands they respect his solitude. The newspapers publish the incident and more reporters flock to John’s home. He reacts to them with increasing violence. One day he thinks longingly of Lenina and rushes to whip himself. A man films the scene and releases a sensationally popular feely.
Fans of the feely soon visit John and chant, “We want the whip.” As the crowd chants, Lenina steps out of a helicopter and walks toward him, arms open. John calls her a strumpet and proceeds to whip her, saying, “Oh, the flesh! . . . Kill it, kill it!” Fascinated by the spectacle, the crowd mimes his gestures, dances, and sings the hymn, “Orgy-porgy, Orgy . . .” After midnight, the helicopters leave and John collapses, “stupefied by soma” and the extended “frenzy of sensuality.” When he awakes the next day, he remembers everything with horror. Having read about the “orgy of atonement” in the papers, a swarm of visitors descends on John’s lighthouse, discovering that he has hanged himself.
Analysis: Chapters 17 & 18
Bernard and Helmholtz leave the scene, and the novel, at the beginning of Chapter
The discussion of religion carries the book to its most abstract and metaphysical level, and the reader may have difficulty following the thread of the argument from Chapter
In one sense, this can be seen as yet another criticism of consumerism. But Huxley is actually criticizing something larger than
Seventeenth-century writers and philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes began to conceive of societies as governed by observable laws, such as the law of supply and demand, which could determine the behavior of large numbers of people. The models of society promoted by Hobbes, and later by the political economists, ultimately generated a sufficient understanding of economic and sociological dynamics to permit governments to effectively promote greater stability, as the government does in
The meaning of the novel as a whole lies in Huxley’s critique of modernity, characterized by technocratic government, social sciences dedicated to the control of society, and rampant consumerism, and the remarkable observation voiced by Mond in Chapter
But at the same time that it points to this conclusion, there are signs throughout the novel that this alteration in human nature has not yet taken place, and perhaps could never take place. Just as we are being told that there are no more jealous lovers, we meet Bernard Marx. Beneath the surface of the “free love” practiced among the higher castes lurks the specter of monogamy and violent passion. Lenina has already dated one man exclusively for far too long, and she indulges with an entire feely-going audience in a scandalous fantasy of monogamy practiced in a helicopter. Routinely, the citizens find themselves having to supplement their soma ration with drugs that replicate pregnancy or violent attachment. And there is the continuing problem of the dissidents who have to be exiled.
The last section of the novel consists of John’s departure to the lighthouse to punish himself. His self-flagellation is a desperate attempt to hold onto his own values—truth over happiness among others—in the face of overwhelming pressure from the world around him. Lenina Crowne symbolizes that pressure. John feels a powerful sexual attraction to her, a temptation to give in to the “pleasant vices” that he finds so loathsome and prevalent in World State society. When she arrives along with the chanting crowd, his resolve collapses and, when he wakes the next morning, his realization that he has succumbed to the very thing he was most set against drives him to kill himself.
The language of these chapters continues in the same tone as in the rest of the book: it is a mixture, at times awkward, of didacticism, satire, and farce. The later chapters have a more serious and didactic tone, particularly in the conversation between John and Mustapha, when issues of free will, morality, God, and society come to the fore. In the last chapter, John’s frantic self-flagellation contrasts with the superficiality of the gawking reporters and crowds that come to watch him at the lighthouse. The comparison between the two groups symbolizes the basic difference between John and the society in which he finds himself.