First three chapters of “Brave New World” are dedicated to depiction of general setting rather than to action.
Huxley uses a traditional tool to introduce his brave new world to the reader: the novel begins with a lecture given to students by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning Centre (London). During the excursion we learn lots of things: first, there is a World State; second, the progress of science at the stated time (A.F. 634) is tremendous and creepy at the same time; third, families and traditional relations ceased to exist and now are banned, up to the level of such words as “parents”, “mother” and “father” being a tabooed vocabulary.
Now people are not born in natural way: they are reproduced via extracorporal fertilization and, for some categories, it is followed by cloning called “Bokanofsky’s process”. Human beings are divided into five major castes – Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons, and this separation starts at egg-cell level, when eggs undergo radiation, oxygen starvation and alcohol injections.
Later children undergo hypnopaedia, a form of hypnotic education while they sleep, so all necessary mental arrangements are implanted in them securely and successfully. Less sophisticated and rather brutal techniques are used later. People’s future is known and unchangeable. Thanks to selective hypnopedia and intricate teaching, people are happy with their lives, whatever they are. Maturing of a human being takes only two years, instead of 25-30, diseases are expelled, stability is guaranteed, so all people have now is an implicitly satisfying job, sports and other entertainments, lots of sex among them. Their preferences in entertainment are also carefully engineered.
Later the lecture of the Director is interrupted by entering of “his fordship”, Mustapha Mond, one of ten World Controllers. He gives students a brief description of history as a bunk (according to Our Ford). Traditional ways of life, family and relations are much the same. Strong emotions are definitely discouraged and ancient family was their poisonous source. Now everybody belongs to everybody else. An individual stability warrants social stability.
Contemporary stability had been established after a nine-years-long devastating war, when there was no other option but to accept new teachings and ways of life. Historical and cultural heritages were discarded. The new date system was established, and the beginning of A.F. – Age of Ford – is the year when the first Ford T-Model was introduced.
A significant point of contemporary teaching is the maximum possible absence of any obstacles between desire and its fulfillment. Controller Mond also mentions that people were always taking alcohol and drugs, while believing in heaven and soul, so today there is a perfect one and only drug called soma – euphoric and hallucinogenic.
So now everything is fine and everybody happy, at least in theory.
In practice (and in parallel with this lecture) it does not work perfectly all the time. The reader gets acquainted with Bernard Marx from Psychology Bureau, hypnopaedia expert (Alpha-Plus). He is irritated and would irritate everybody else, apart from soma and respect to Alpha-Plus intellectuals. Bernard thinks that everybody is an idiot repeating phrases from hypnopaedic verses over and over. Although he is an Alpha-Plus, a representative of elite, his looks are not meeting the standards of this category – he is stunted and small, while flawless Alphas are tall and handsome. There are persistent rumors that someone injected excessive alcohol in his bottle before decanting. His first appearance in the novel depicts Bernard listening to rather stupid and mostly pointless conversation of Henry Forster and Assistant Predestinator about “the feelies”. At this, Henry mentions a wonderfully “pneumatic” girl, Lenina Crowne, and recommends the Assistant Predestinator to have her as soon as possible. Bernard, who apparently has a crush over Lenina, turns pale with disgust: they speak about Lenina as if she is a mere piece of meat.
Moreover, Lenina is probably thinking about herself in the same way. Bernard’s colleagues, observing his rage, recommend him to take some soma. When he refuses and bursts out, they just laugh.
In the third line of narration that runs in parallel with previous two, the reader also sees beautiful Lenina Crowne (Beta), one of the Hatchery employees. This simple and sexy creature goes over her daily routine happily and almost unconsciously: wash, change, put on perfume, have a massage, chat with a friend about relations and complications of a girl’s life and never forget to use a special kit of contraceptive drugs: Lenina is not a freemartin, she is a popular and “pneumatic” woman having lots of fun, so she cannot be too careful about it.
Her chatting with Fanny Crowne (they are not related: in the brave new world there are only ten thousand surnames) reveals more details about Bernard, among other things, like “pregnancy substitute” and need to be more promiscuous. Fanny is shocked that Lenina had been with Henry Forster for four months and still is going out with him. Pneumatic beauty admits that she became a little tired of Henry and developed an interest in another man, Bernard Marx, in spite of his poor reputation: he does not play Obstacle Golf and frequently spends time alone, that’s bad! Lenina likes his looks and is determined to spend time with him (mostly in bed, of course). Moreover, he invited her to visit a Savage Reputation together. Throughout their conversation they keep throwing in standard lines from hypnopaedic indoctrination.
In Chapter 4 Lenina embarrasses Bernard in the elevator, openly speaking about their plans. On the roof she also boasts on her upcoming date with Henry. Bernard is openly upset: it took him a long time to ask Lenina about the date, now she talks about it in public, and he wants her to be different from the others. Tired of these thoughts, he takes off in his helicopter and flies to the Bureau of Propaganda to meet his friend Helmholtz Watson.
This man is a perfect example of Alpha-Plus: he is good-looking, tall, smart and talented, lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering, having lots of women (he even refuses some) – and sometimes rebellious, same as Bernard.
He questions the importance of his work and thoughts. His hypnopaedic rhymes are good, there is no doubt about it, but words can pierce anything when you are writing about something. He dreams to write more intense, more important stuff, but he has no idea what this stuff can be about. Bernard’s response is paranoid. He even checks the door for possible listener and goes on with his laments. Helmholtz feel sorry for his friend and despise him at once.
Chapter 5 is dedicated to Lenina’s date with Henry, with further description of the brave new world they live in. The reader learns about absence of burying rituals – corpses are simply burned and phosphorus recovered from ashes is used as manure. Neither Lenina, nor Henry are worried about it a bit.
They eat a dinner and take some soma. After that they attend a show of “Calvin Stopes and His Sixteen Sexophonists” and listen to a simple but passionately performed song called “Little Bottle of Mine” (the bottle in question is a hatchery bottle for embryos). Soma taking and safe sex follow.
The second part of this chapter describes Bernard, who dutifully attends the biweekly “Solidarity Service day” – actually, a kind of holy mess of this culture. London’s famous clock, renamed into “Big Henry”, strikes nine, bellowing “Ford, Ford, Ford”, announcing lots of chants and other fordish things coming. Detailed description of the solidarity service follows: chants about negation of individuality, soma, signs of the T and eerie chin-chin “I drink to my annihilation”. Service ends in singing “Orgy-porgy” and, most probably, by a group sexual encounter left off text for reader to imagine. Bernard is unhappy about it all, especially because his neighbour, Morgana, is rather unattractive and has a unibrow.
In Chapter 6 Lenina is doubtful about vacation with Bernard but other options are worse. After all, Bernard obtained the permission to visit the Savage Reservation in New Mexico thanks to his Alpha-Plus status and profession.
Their first date is somewhat messed up. Their expectations are rather different: Lenina wants some entertainment and sex, while Bernard wants to walk and talk with her. He even refuses soma (again!). He does not want to be a happy somebody, he prefers his gloomy self. After watching wrestling competition, on way home Bernard makes his helicopter hover for some time over vast waters of the ocean. Lenina is horrified by the emptiness of this view. In search of a feeble protection she turns on the radio and a jolly song bursts in. Bernard immediately turns it off and speaks about freedom from social conditioning. Lenina is shocked, so, returning helicopter on its route, Bernard tries to turn everything into an unfortunate joke. Later he takes four soma tablets to have sex with Lenina. Next morning, while she chirps about her pneumaticity, he says that he would like to delay sexual impulse and see what happens next. Lenina is unnerved and Bernard continues to speak about passion and strong feelings. Lenina heartily wishes him to be less odd and spills details to Fanny.
Another problem that requires Bernard’s attention is his permit to visit the Savage Reservation. The Director signs it while revealing that he had visited the Reservation himself some quarter of the century ago, accompanied by a young Beta girl. Then she got somehow lost and he returned to England alone. He claims to have no emotional connection with this long lost female but sound suspiciously sentimental at this. After that he reprimands Bernard for his unusual behavior: Bernard is not acting like he is supposed to, so Director throws seemingly empty threat about sending him to Iceland. Bernard does not show any repentance and leaves, feeling rebellious and strong. He even boasts his fortitude while talking to Helmholtz later that evening but his best friend is not too enthusiastic about it.
At last, Lenina and Bernard fly to New Mexico and stay in a de luxe hotel; there will be no luxuries in the Reservation. Next morning they submit their permission to the Reservation Warden (Alpha-Minus) and listen to his long and useless lecture. At this Bernard remembers that he left the tap with Eau de Cologne running – this can cost him a fortune. This diverts him from everything. Lenina is fine and high on soma, so the set of knowledge is spilled completely in vain. At least, the reader gets it: in Reservation people are born and grow in natural way and life in general resembles the real life of the period of writing (Brave New World was written in 1932). Later Bernard calls Helmholtz, asking him to check the tap, and receives stunning news: the Director is looking for a new employee for Bernard’s replacement. This means Iceland and the end of life Bernard is used to. All his heroism and rebelliousness are drained from Bernard at once and Lenina takes some time to persuade him to take four tablets of soma (one tablet is a usual dose). They fly to the Reservation.
In Chapter 7 Lenina does not like anything at all, starting from the smell of their Indian guide. Everything is smelly, dirty and scary – there are even old people here! In her “normal” world people look young till they are sixty and then they die. A dose of soma would help but Lenina forgot it in the hotel. Finally, she finds some consolation, singing “orgy-porgy” to the rhythm of drums.
A savage ceremony follows. Huxley gives a detailed description of sounds, ritualistic dancing, symbols, snakes and whipping of an eighteen-year boy. Practically it is a mash-up of recognizable elements of Christianity and Paganism of American Indians.
After it, a young man with white skin dressed in Indian clothes approaches them and asks if they are civilized. Bernard is shocked and curious at the same time: savages are not supposed to speak in such a manner and, for sure, they should not know anything about the outer world.
This is where the story of John the Savage starts. His speech is old-fashioned and spiked by citations of Shakespeare. He states that Indians would not let him undergo the whipping ritual, after which he would be more of a man, because he is white and his mother came from the outer world. His tale makes Bernard understand that John is the son of the Director himself and his mother is that Beta girl who got lost twenty five years ago.
They are introduced to this old, stout and dirty woman called Linda. Lenina is disgusted at her condition. Linda rants about her terrible life here (she never assimilated so ended as a heavy drinker and village prostitute).
Nobody, except for readers, notices that John is fascinated by Lenina.
Chapter 8 begins with a long narration of John about his life. Bernard listens closely.
John’s education consists of his mother’s tales about the outer world (she even taught him to read using The Chemical and Bacteriological Conditioning of the Embryo. Practical Instructions for Beta Embryo-Store Workers), local legends, stories about Jesus and Heaven and, much later, of complete works of Shakespeare. All this forms a mess in his head, so his perception of real life is somewhat confused. Once he even tried to stab his mother’s lover, imagining him as Claudius and himself as Hamlet.
After refusal of other villagers to accept him and perform the necessary rituals, he is “alone, always alone”. Bernard almost echoes his words.
John also mentions his proneness to self-torture.
Now Bernard had it enough and quietly develops a plan. He invites John to London. Linda can go too. And no, he is not married to Lenina.
John is absolutely happy and throws a quote from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that gave a name to the novel: “O brave new world that had such people in it!”
In Chapter 9, Bernard starts to implement his plan and convinces Mustapha Mond that bringing John and Linda to London is a matter of scientific interest. The permission of the World Controller is granted. While he is busy with all necessary arrangements, John breaks in the rest house, convinced that Bernard let him down. He sees Lenina in her soma-induces sleep and his fascination with her transforms into obsession.
Chapter 10 takes place in London. Director and Henry Foster discuss Bernard. Director is angered, Henry feebly retorts that Marx is a good specialist. Director is adamant: Bernard has a great social responsibility, so his behavior may corrupt lots of people.
Bernard arrives, listens to public reprimand performed by Director and introduces old fat Linda and John, who immediately calls the Director a father. This causes an uproar from workers. Director retreats in haste.
In Chapter 11 the reader watches the consequences: the Director resigns, nobody needs Linda (except John), so she gulps soma in huge doses and would probably die in a month or two, John becomes a celebrity, Bernard reaps the fruits of his cleverness. His sexual life improves significantly, he has a girl or two every day. Helmholtz observes the situation as sad, so Bernard just stops talking to him. Now an ex-rebel loves the world he lives in.
John’s feelings about things and people he sees in this brave new world can be described by one word: nausea. Sometimes in literal sense. He is disgusted and cannot balance his previous experience and learning with manifestations of complete absence of soul and strong emotions in these people.
Lenina also enjoys increased popularity. Her chat with Fanny reveals that she has a kind of crush over John – same as he has over her, supposedly. Being from completely different worlds, these two are not able to interpret each others behavior. No one believes that they did not have sex but it is true. They visit “feelies” together. Tonight’s show is called Three Weeks in a Helicopter and, by reader’s standards, is a pornography. Viewers feel everything that goes on, so Lenina is pretty hot by the end while John is not. He even tells her that she should not see such scenes. Being a gentleman, he accompanies her to her apartment and heads home, leaving Lenina embarrassed. Later in the night he reads Othello. Lenina is upset and takes some soma.
In Chapter 12 Bernard gets a nasty surprise: John refuses to leave his room and meet all people who wait for him. Therefore a very important dinner-party is ruined. Bernard takes some soma, John reads Romeo and Juliet. Mustapha Mond reads a revolutionary paper on the new theory of biology and suggest that the author should be sent away. Lenina is determined to have sex with the Savage and experiences difficulties in sex with other men. Soma helps. Bernard and John have an argument about John’s ruined expectations and Bernard’s ruined party. Bernard gets upset again and heads to his abandoned friend, Helmholtz.
A perfect Alpha-Plus is glad to help but faces some troubles himself. He is fired because of the poem about being alone that he was careless enough to cite in his lecture. Solitude is against the law – ironically, Bernard who once liked to spend time alone has to remind him about this. Helmholtz answers by a beautiful passage stating that he just started to have something to write about.
No wonder that Helmholtz and John become friends. They share their thoughts and poetry. Bernard is jealous and, predictably, takes some soma. Romeo and Juliet makes Helmholtz laugh, he thinks it is just absurd. John is offended. Helmholtz muses that he should find some other thing to write about.
In Chapter 13 Lenina is totally confused. She refuses Henry’s and everybody else’s invitations, and takes soma just to be capable to perform her work properly. Fanny tries to encourage her and gives an advice to go and “take” John.
Lenina’s sexual attack is a complete failure: John calls her an “impudent strumpet” and even slaps her doll-like face. The ridiculous scene is interrupted by a phone call – somebody’s dying, John rushes out.
Chapter 14 starts at the Park Lane Hospital for the Dying, and the dying person in question is John’s mother, Linda. She does not realize where she is, hardly recognizes John and dies trying to repeat the famous “everyone belongs to everyone else”.
This heartbreaking scene is accompanied by Delta-children on a walking tour.
In Chapter 15 John stumbles into a huge bunch of Deltas – workers are leaving the hospital after their shift and are receiving their daily supply of soma. John throws a whole sermon, calling them maggots and slaves. Than he declares that he would bring them all freedom and starts to throw their soma cartons out of the window.
Bernard realizes that John is lost. Helmholtz gets a call from the hospital and rushes there. They arrive at the same time. Bernard is shocked, Helmholtz is rejoiced, Deltas are upset about losing their soma: a fight starts. Police arrives: Bernard gets a shot of an anesthetic, Deltas are calmed down by special music and Helmholtz and John agree to go with policemen quietly. Bernard awakes from anesthesia right on time to be taken along.
In Chapter 16 three “rebels” face the World Controller, his fordship, Mustapha Mond. Instead of scorning them he shakes their hands and brings John into a dialogue about civilization, happiness and everything else. Moreover, he quotes Shakespeare in process. Their philosophizing and further explanation of the ideological and other basics of the brave new world takes a lot of time and Shakespeare quoting. In course of their conversation Bernard freaks out at the perspective of going to the island, so Mustapha orders three policemen to take him away and give him some soma.
The conversation goes on. Helmholtz lively participates in it, obviously inspired to write something new that these people would understand. The perspective of life on island is even more inspiring, so he chooses to be sent somewhere with a thoroughly bad climate, with lots of winds and storms. Falkland islands would so just fine. Mustapha also notes that it is a good thing that there are so many islands on the Earth, or else they would have to kill all unorthodox people, himself included.
In Chapter 17 a philosophic conversation goes on. At the end of it John claims his right to have God, poetry, inconveniences, freedom and sin, as well as the right to be unhappy.
In Chapter 18 Helmholtz and Bernard find John – he vomits in the bathroom. He says that civilization poisoned him, so he had to purge himself.
Bernard then apologizes for flipping out earlier, but John, ever-magnanimous, stops him.
And then… the three men are happy, perhaps because of their sadness, because sadness "was the symptom of their love for each other."
John tells Helmholtz that he asked Mustapha if he could go to the island, too, but Mustapha said that he wasn't allowed to because it was necessary to "go on with the experiment."
But John is having none of that, he says. He's going away tomorrow, to some place where he can "be alone."
That some place turns out to be an abandoned lighthouse "between Puttenham and Elstead," which means nothing to those of us who aren't intimately familiar with London's various locales. Suffice it to say, it's on a hill outside London.
Upon arrival, John regrets that the place isn't a little more abandoned and decrepit, but he figures it will be fine for his self-purging.
The first night he spends on his knees, not so much sleeping as praying to God, to every sort of god, actually, from the Christian God in Hamlet to the gods of the Savage Reservation.
(For what it's worth: the text states that John prays to "Jesus and Pookong." We're thinking Pookong = Puukon, a war God in the mythology of Native Americans New Mexico). This is interesting because it looks like Puukon has a twin, but in Brave New World he's paired up with Jesus. This isn't the first time Huxley has mashed together different religious systems, figures, and icons.)
John also stretches his arms out "in mock crucifixion" until his whole body aches, the whole time begging, "Forgive me! Make me pure!"
The next morning, John is again unhappy with his surroundings; they're not miserable enough. AND he has a view. A view of lovely things. He doesn't think he deserves any of this.
Still, he climbs up to the top of the lighthouse tower and looks over at Hog's Back, a geographical formation that resembles, well, you can probably guess what it resembles. It's basically a long ridge. Unfortunately, the lovely scenic view is slightly marred by seven huge skyscrapers, a reminder of the civilized world.
So John settles into his new life of seclusion among the beautiful woods, groves, ponds, and flowers. And self-mutilation.
Now, on the subject of money: in John's days as a guinea pig for the Controller and Bernard's grand experiment, he was given some cash for personal expenses. Before coming to the lighthouse, he bought all the supplies he thought he needed: blankets, ropes, strings, matches, pots and pans, and flour. He also brought along some tasty civilization food, but he decides he won't allow himself to eat such delicacies, even if he's starving.
However, John does at least plant a garden. He also tries to make himself a bow and arrow for hunting rabbits. He takes great pleasure in the long-term project of carving these sorts of tools for himself.
That's great! ...until John realizes that he's happy. Of course, the reason he came here was to be miserable, to think about his dead mother and the horror of the civilized world. He immediately goes inside to purge himself (throw up).
It seems that things will go on in this strange, systematic routine of masochistic solitude, except that three Delta-Minuses wander by later that day and see John standing half-naked and whipping himself with a cord of knotted rope and stopping once and a while to throw up.
The Delta-Minuses, being not-so-bright, manage to say to each other: "Ford!" and in a bout of creative, independent thinking: "Fordey!"
But we're guessing they managed to say a little more than that once they got back to society, because three days later the place is swarming with reporters.
John is harmlessly fashioning himself some arrows when a reporter comes up behind him and is all, "Hey! I'm a reporter!"
John freaks out. The reporter, doing a really bad job of gauging John's reaction, pulls out a complicated radio contraption, identifies himself as Primo Mellon, and asks John to say a few words.
John is all, "Not a chance "; that is, he angrily spouts something in his native tongue, Zuñi (the same words he said to Bernard back in Chapter 12). Then he essentially dropkicks the reporter.
It seems the location of the dropkick was the reporter's "coccyx," which refers to the bone at the base of the spinal column. In layman's terms, the guy got his butt kicked.
Meanwhile more people have shown up at the lighthouse to harass the Savage. They keep telling him to take soma, since pain is really just a delusion that drugs can dissipate.
John responds by advancing menacingly. Everyone decides to keep their safe distance from the crazy man.
We soon see that "a safe distance" is achieved by hovering over the lighthouse in various helicopters.
John shoots at one of the helicopters and actually punctures the metal.
Guys in the helicopter: "Eek!"
John compares himself to a heroic figure from a Zuñi legend (see "Allusions" for more) as he continues to work despite the annoying buzzing of helicopter vermin in the sky above.
While chilling out one afternoon, John starts thinking about Lenina. A sexy, naked, "take me now!" Lenina. To stop himself from thinking sexual thoughts, John jumps into a thorny bush.
While thrashing about in the bush, John tries to turn his thoughts to his mother, and specifically to the way she died in the hospital.
When he still can't stop thinking about Lenina, John grabs his knotted chord and begins whipping himself again, yelling the word "Strumpet!" with every flogging.
Meantime, in another bush not too far away, a big game photographer named Darwin Bonaparte is stealthily observing, waiting for his chance at a scoop. We're told that this guy videotapes dangerous footage for feelies—like a gorilla wedding.
Now that he's been spying for three days, his efforts are finally paying off. Darwin carefully films the whole spectacle, but, sadly, he misses the whole point of John's self-mutilation. He thinks his footage will end up in a great, comic masterpiece that is even better than the classic A Sperm Whale's Love-Life.
Sure enough, twelve days later, the new feelie The Savage of Surrey is released in theaters everywhere.
With the popularity of the movie, John has become rather famous. Oodles and oodles of helicopters descend from above to watch him as he digs in his garden, quotes from Shakespeare about how the gods play with men like toys, mulls over Linda's death, and quotes some more from Shakespeare about death being like sleep.
The men and women who pour out of these helicopters have brought cameras and things like peanuts to throw at John, as though he were "an ape." When he yells at them to go away, they all laugh and have a generally good time watching him rage.
When he goes for his whip, they all cheer, thinking they're going to get to see him whip himself.
John advances on the spectators with his whip, but though they waver, they don't back down. They ask him again to do "the whipping stunt," and begin an incredibly disturbing chant of "We—want—the whip."
Just then a helicopter lands.
Out steps Lenina, in her cute, super-sexy green shorts, accompanied by Henry Foster. (Note: the text doesn't actually use their names, but we're meant to understand that it is in fact Lenina and Foster. This is confirmed later.)
She tries to say something to John, but he can't hear her over the ambient noise of the bloodthirsty crowd. She starts crying, too, while she shouts to him with "yearning distress" and finally stretches her arms out, walking toward him.
John, in response to this demonstration of genuine love and concern, calls her a whore and starts beating her with his whip.
The crowd loves it and runs forward toward the center of the action. Lenina, a wise duck, instead opts to run away, back toward Henry and the helicopter.
John chases her, yelling, "The flesh! Kill it!" This is officially the worst second date ever.
The crowd begins imitating John. The text explains it by saying they are fascinated by pain, that they want to be unanimous in their actions, and that their conditioning makes them want to cooperate. So they all start thrashing each other wildly, all the time singing "orgy-porgy" and "beating one another in six-eight time."
So… this all continues for a quite a while. We cut to midnight, with the last of the helicopters leaving and John passing out, "stupefied by soma" and "exhausted by [the] frenzy of sexuality."
(WHOA there. Does this mean John… took soma? And had sex?? We've told you as much as the text does, but check out John's "Character Analysis" for our dish on the matter.)
John wakes up the next morning when the sun is high in the sky. And then "suddenly [he] remembered—everything." "Oh, my God!" he cries, "my God!" and he puts his hand over his eyes.
By that night the papers have all recorded the "orgy of atonement" that took place the day before. A swarm of helicopters arrives at the lighthouse, but when the visitors enter looking for "Mr. Savage," there is no response.
There is, however, a dangling pair of feet high in the air.
And those feet are attached to John's dead, hanging body, turning slowly and mechanically in the air "like two compass needles," clockwise, then counter-clockwise, "South-south-west, south, south-east, east…"