By imagining a world in which individuality is forbidden, Brave New World asks us to consider what individual identity is and why it is valuable. The World State sees individuality as incompatible with happiness and social stability because it interferes with the smooth functioning of the community. The Controllers do everything they can to prevent people developing individual identities. “Bokanovsky’s Process” means that most citizens of the World States are biological duplicates of one another. “Hypnopaedic” slogans and “Solidarity Services” encourage citizens to think of themselves as part of a whole rather than as separate individuals. The Controller explains that people are sent to the islands when they “have got too self-consciously individual to fit into community life.” For Bernard, Helmholtz, and John, rebelling against the World State involves becoming self-conscious individuals. Bernard wants to feel “as though I were more me.” Helmholtz writes his first real poem about the experience of being alone, and when the Controller asks John what he knows about God, John thinks “about solitude.” In the end, John and Helmholtz choose to suffer in order to preserve their individuality. Bernard, however, never chooses individuality. He has been forced to be an individual due to his faulty conditioning. He tries to resist being sent to an island. For Bernard, individuality is a curse.
Initially, the characters in Brave New World share the same ideas about what happiness is: freedom from emotional suffering, sickness, age and political upheaval, together with easy access to everything they desire. However, the characters differ in their understanding of the role personal agency plays in happiness. Bernard believes he wants personal agency, in that he wants to feel “as though I were more me.” Yet when the Controller offers Bernard the chance to live as an individual in Iceland, he begs to be allowed to stay in the World State—he’s not ready to sacrifice personal comfort for autonomy. Helmholtz seeks to express himself through poetry, but his idea that “a lot of wind and storms” are necessary for good poetry suggests that happiness and self-expression are incompatible, and he will only achieve personal agency through suffering. John seeks personal freedom through suffering and self-denial, but his self-imposed deprivations make him miserable. He gives in to the lure of pleasure by taking part in an orgy, then kills himself.