|Literary Elements in BRAVE NEW WORLD
Brave New World Symbolism, Imagery & Allegory
Sometimes, there’s more to Lit than meets the eye.
Animal imagery is rampant in Brave New World. Just look at the first chapter. There's the repetition of "straight from the horse's mouth," Foster's implicit claim that "any cow" could merely hatch out embryos, the platitude that "Rams wrapped in theremogene beget no lambs." Later, when John goes to the hospital, he sees the Delta children staring at Linda with "the stupid curiosity of animals." The hordes of identical bokanovskified twins seem to him "maggots." It looks like Huxley's message is clear: the new world has so dehumanized its citizens that they now resemble little more than animals. The irony is that "civilization" should seek to elevate man, to make him less primitive, to put some distance between him and the other creatures of the world.
Animalistic traits really come into play when it comes to sex, probably because that's one of the basest, most universal instincts. John even quotes the "goats and monkeys" line from Othello, delivered when the hero imagines his wife copulating with another man the way that animals do. Also, Mustapha's response to John's comment – "Nice tame animals, anyhow," is brilliant (on the part of Huxley, not on the part of Mustapha). While John is disgusted by the bestial nature of the new world's promiscuity, he misses the purpose behind it: animals are tame. Animals can be controlled. In this way, the people of the World State are like pets – not like free people.
But it gets really interesting in Chapter Eighteen, when the crowds come swarming to see John standing around whipping himself for having dirty thoughts. The descending helicopters are described as "locusts" and then "grasshoppers" – fits with what we've seen so far. But it soon becomes clear that, while John (and, the tone seems to suggest, Huxley as well) condemns the civilized folk for being animals, they view him in much the same way. They throw food at John as though he's an animal in the zoo. (Huxley makes this explicit for us with the phrase "as to an ape.") This explains why they take pleasure in his suffering: because they can't see him as a person. To them, he's just animalistic entertainment.
This raises an interesting question for us: of the savages and citizens, who is more human, and who more animalistic? The notion of suffering seems to have a lot to do with this. John tries to prove his humanity by inflicting pain on himself. Clearly, no animal would revere the soul over the body enough to do so. It seems likely, then, that John's suicide is the only definitive way to establish his identity as a human being and not as a creature.
"Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant" – that's what Mustapha says of soma. It's arguably the best tool the government has for controlling its population. It sedates, calms, and most importantly distracts a person from realizing that there's actually something very, very wrong – the citizens of the World State are enslaved. (Just think about the name; soma = "sleep" in Latin.)
John, of course, picks up on this in Chapter Fifteen; that's why he chucks the stuff out of the window in the name of freedom. This Mel-Gibson-in-The Patriot moment is not so effective, and mostly because of the way that soma enslaves its users – happiness. Everyone is trapped by happiness. And those are some tough chains to break.
Another thing to think about here is Mustapha's famous claim that soma is "Christianity without the tears." We get the "without the tears" bit, since a consequence-free high seems to speak for itself, but what does this drug have to do with religion? Well, as we've said, soma is an opiate that allows its users to be controlled. Brave New World seems to argue that Christianity functions in much the same way. It controls through pacification. It offers comfort, but at the expense of individuality. What do you think?
The Electric Fence
An electric fence borders the Savage Reservation and separates the primitive world from the civilized world. The question, of course, is which is which? If you look at it in a certain light – a world of people subservient to their every desire and impulse, with no sense of restraint whatsoever vs. a world of ritualistic self-mutilation. Neither looks particularly civilized (or particularly appealing). Also, did you notice that the electric fence is surrounded by dead animal carcasses? The pilot declares that these creatures "never learn," meaning seeing others die of electrocution doesn't condition the other animals out of leaping at the fence again. Conditioning is one of the dehumanizing processes in the World State, so it's interesting that animals in fact cannot be conditioned.
The Bottle That Will One Day Die of Sleeping Sickness
This is a really small passage in Chapter Thirteen, and it's easy to miss if you're reading quickly. That being said, it's arguably the most skilled, artistic moment in Brave New World, partly because it's so minute. Huxley, for once, wasn't flagrantly obvious. He didn't beat us over the head, he just inserted a little anecdote and let it stand on its own.
Lenina, distraught by her unchecked and unsatisfied desire for John, gets flustered at work and accidentally misses giving one bottle its immunization against sleeping sickness. The story then halts for a minute while the narrative reveals this: "Twenty-two years, eight months, and four days from that moment, a promising young Alpha-Minus administrator at Mwanza-Mwanza was to die of trypanosomiasis – the first case for over half a century."
Beautiful. Look at the specificity on display here: ""Twenty-two years, eight months, and four days." Then Huxley uses "trypanosomiasis" instead of "sleeping sickness." He's really driving home the notion of scientific exactitude. This is the same sort of horrifying precision we saw in Chapter One, when the Director and Henry Foster outlined with a sickening barrage of numbers the way in which humans are created and grown. The difference is that here, the chain of cause and effect isn't effectively controlled by the human hand. After all, humans are fallible, so as exact and as rigid men like Mustapha might think their system is, there are always going to be errors, mistakes, and other minor disasters. So while this passage is horrifying, it's also hopeful, – Lenina, in making this error, has proven herself more human than machine.
But mostly, we're impressed with the fact that Huxley didn't tell us this in the subsequent paragraph, so maybe that's the real achievement here, gorgeous literary artistry aside.
Did you notice that all the clothing in the World State has zippers on it? Because in case you didn't, Huxley helps us out with his repeated "zip," "zip," "zip," often followed by "zip," and even occasionally, "ZIP!" This is as simple as it sounds: zippers = easy access. In this world of instant gratification, buttons would cause people to lose precious seconds of nakedness.
If that wasn't enough, you can probably say something about the sterilization of passions, the technology-infused perversion of sex, and the repetitive, rhythmic, almost musical sound of the zippers. Or not.
In other places of this guide we discuss the connection between sex and violence in Brave New World. All the violence is vaguely sexual, all the sex vaguely violent. (That's our premise, but feel free to argue, complain, and list your general grievances. We want to hear them.) Music comes in because it connects the two – in this novel, both acts have a strangely controlled rhythm to them. Let's start with Bernard's Solidarity Service. The whole sexual fiasco starts with a ritual singing of "Orgy-porgy." (For lyrics, see your book. We don't want to get into that.) As far as we can tell, the orgy actually happens during the singing. Observe: "'Orgy-porgy…' In their blood-coloured and foetal darkness the dancers continued for a while to circulate, to beat and beat out the indefatigable rhythm. 'Orgy-porgy…'"
Then you've got John's almost-sex scene with Lenina, when she throws her naked body at him and he says, "AH, my virgin eyes!" and so forth. Notice what he says? "Impudent strumpet." Or, more accurately, he says, "Impudent strumpet, impudent strumpet, impudent strumpet," and very possibly, "impudent strumpet." Do you hear a rhythm here? Huxley even points it out: "'…impudent strumpet.' The inexorable rhythm beat itself out. 'Impudent…'"
Once you start looking for it, you see "rhythm" everywhere in Brave New World. Look at the drums Lenina hears at the Savage Reservation – followed shortly by the ritualistic, rhythmic whipping of one the Native Americans. Then you've got the "zip, zip, zip" of Lenina's clothes coming off. Because of this, we're prepared for the big moment at the end of the text when everyone dances around, singing Orgy-porgy, having sex, and "beating one another in six-eight time." It's the most violent and the most explicitly sexual moment in all of Brave New World – and it's couched in musical rhythm.
The World State seeks to control everything about its citizens and environment. The weather, of course, presents a bit of difficulty. As far as we can tell, the World Controllers haven't figured out how to make the weather, so instead they try to control the perceived environment, through soma and indoctrination. Observe Lenina and Henry's drug trip: "They were inside, here and now – safely inside with the fine weather, the perennially blue sky. […] The depressing stars had travelled quite some way across the heavens. But though the separating screen of the sky – signs had now to a great extent dissolved, the two young people still retained their happy ignorance of the night." Then there's that calming, controlling song that seems to be forever playing in the background: "Skies are blue inside of you, / The weather's always fine."
Of course, the weather is not always fine, and those that recognize as much are those who are able, even for the briefest of moments, to step outside the distorted reality of the World State and look the real world in the stormy face. We're thinking… Bernard and Helmholtz. Look at Bernard's date with Lenina – he takes her to the edge of the water to look at the weather, which "ha[s] taken a change for the worse; a south-westerly wind ha[s] sprung up, the sky [is] cloudy." Interestingly, it is this dreary image that makes Bernard feel "as though [he] were more [himself], […] not just a cell in a social body."
Of course Lenina just switches on the radio, which quite appropriately is playing the "skies are blue inside of you" ditty.
Helmholtz picks up where Bernard left off as far this weather thing goes. Throughout the novel, he's been wanting to write something with the passion of Othello – it's just that all the passionate topics (love, jealousy, hatred, family, age, death) aren't available to him as subject matter. What is it that he can understand that makes him feel, perhaps, as though he, too, is more than "just a cell in a social body"? What's the only intense, violent thing left in the World State?
Um…peanuts? No, the weather. Look at what Helmholtz says at the end of his conversation with Mustapha: "I should like a thoroughly bad climate […]. I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms, for example…"
The choice of Henry Ford as the deity-like figure in Huxley's dystopia reveals the new world's value system. Henry Ford was famous for the perfection of mass production and the assembly line. In Huxley's world, even humans are mass-produced and grown with the help of, yes, that's right, an assembly line. Efficiency, production, and consumerism are the most important values here; not morality, compassion, or piety (as might be the case with a more traditional deity).
Bottles are introduced in Chapter One as the new way in which humans are created and grown. Right off the bat, this just seems very, very wrong. But far more disturbing than the notion of little zygotes inside bottles is the notion of full-grown humans being similarly trapped. Now we're in the realm of the metaphor. Of course, Huxley being Huxley, we're told directly that this is what he's going for in Brave New World. Look at Mustapha's words in Chapter Sixteen: "Even after decanting, [man is] still inside a bottle – an invisible bottle of infantile and embryonic fixations. Each one of us, of course, […] goes through life inside a bottle."
Let's go back to some earlier mentions of bottles.
Take a look at Lenina and Henry's date: "Bottled, they crossed the street; bottled, they took the lift up to Henry's room on the twenty-eighth floor. And yet, bottled as she was […], Lenina did not forget to take all the contraceptive precautions." OK, great, Lenina and Henry are trapped inside a bottle. But what is it that traps them? Let's look at some more text: "Lenina and Henry had what they wanted […] they might have been twin embryos gently rocking together on the waves of a bottled ocean of blood-surrogate." OK, so when the text talks about them being bottled, what it really means is that they're infantile. Makes sense, right? Pre-infants are grown inside bottles, so infantile imagery should go hand in hand with bottle imagery.
Now look at one more passage, this time the Orgy-porgy scene with Bernard: "And as they sang, the lights began slowly to fade – to fade and at the same time to grow warmer, richer, redder. […] In their blood-coloured and foetal darkness the dancers continued […] in the red twilight."
Wait a minute…red light…does that sound familiar? Indeed, yes. Hop back to Chapter One and listen to Henry Foster: "Embryos are like photograph film […]. They can only stand red light." Exclamation point! If the twelve people at the solidarity service are bathed in red light, it must have something to do with them being embryos, with them being bottled, and with them being infantile – just like Henry and Lenina on their date. So what do these two scenes have in common?
The adults who are bathed in red light and trapped inside metaphorical bottles are made infantile when they have sex. Why? Think about babies. When they want something, they cry. When they're hungry, they eat. They basically have no restraint. They're servants to their impulses. There's no length of time for them between a desire and the consummation of their desire. If this language also sounds familiar, it's because we took it from Mustapha Mond in Chapter Three: "Feeling lurks in that interval of time between desire and its consummation. Shorten that interval, break down all those old unnecessary barriers." Because the adults of the World State have been trained to give into their every desire, especially sexual impulses, they have also been trained to be infantile, to be bottled, to be just like those embryos bathed in the red light. And as proud as we would like to be for coming up with this all on our own, we have to give credit to Bernard, who very famously said to Lenina in Chapter Six: "[We're] infants where feeling and desire are concerned. […] That's why we went to bed together yesterday – like infants – instead of being adults and waiting."
The tragedy lies in the results of such infantile behavior. Mustapha claims that the indulgence of all impulses is freeing – the citizens of the World State are freed from the pain of waiting and wanting. In fact, however, it is this sort of indulgence that imprisons the citizens and bottles them up just like infants. They aren't free to act on impulses, they are instead slaves to their basest desires.
Brave New World Setting
Where It All Goes Down
2540 A.D.; London, England and New Mexico, U.S.
OK, let's start with the time. Huxley establishes in Chapter One that the year is A.F. 632. We are told in Chapter Three that the introduction of the first Ford Model-T was year "zero" for this calendar, and our car-fanatic friends tell us that this monumental event happened in 1908 (A.D.). Then we talked to some other friends who are good with numbers, and they came up with 2540 as the year in which Brave New World takes place. Or, in layman's terms, THE FUTURE.
But Huxley isn't one for layman's terms. He creates an incredibly elaborate and nuanced setting for his novel. He provides details about everything from technology (vibro-vacuum massage, scent organ) to professions (Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, World Controller) to down-time activities (Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy, anyone?), and from the cityscape (the seven skyscrapers twinkling over Guildford) down to individual buildings (The Internal and External Secretions Factory, The Hounslow Feely Studio). Basically everything you see capitalized has something to do with Huxley setting up an atmosphere for his tale.
In essence, the more disturbing the setting and the more complete the picture, the more effective the novel. If Brave New World creeps you out, Huxley did his job well. All this elaborate detail, while sometimes outlandish, makes the idea of a "World State" that much more plausible in our minds. We start to see how a society like this might function, down to the smallest detail. It's also the details that allow Huxley to parody our own world so effectively. Christianity has crosses, they have T's. We say, "Thank God!", they say "Thank Ford." We play mini-golf, they play Obstacle Golf. See where this is going?
Finally, as far as a specific setting goes, there's a clear dichotomy between the Savage Reservation and the civilized world. The two landscapes act as a foil, which we talk about more in "Character Roles" (which is tricky of us, since settings aren't characters).
Brave New World Narrator: Third Person (Omniscient)
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third Person (Omniscient)
In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley is a fan of giving his readers a ton of information. As such, the point of view is incredibly omniscient. That is, we get to know everything about every character – even the subconscious stuff they don't realize themselves. Check this out: "He knew that what he was saying was absurd in its injustice […]. But in spite of this knowledge […] Bernard continued perversely to nourish […] a secret grievance against the Savage." And we get this sort of psychoanalysis for most of the major characters in the text. That's omniscience for you.
One more thing. Take another look at Chapter One. You start off with an objective, detached description of the "squat, grey building of […] thirty-four stories." Easy enough. But before you know it, you're getting the Director's words without any quotations or "he said" tags. Observe:
"Bokanovsky's Process," repeated the Director, and the students underlined the words in their little notebooks.
One egg, one embryo, one adult-normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.
"Essentially," the Director concluded, "bokanovskification consists…"
What's going on with that paragraph in the middle? Why doesn't it have quotes around it? It's easy to think that the narrative voice reveals this information. But in fact, the paragraph is part of the Director's speech, it's just that we're not explicitly told as much.
This is actually a nifty grammatical technique called "Implied Indirect Discourse," though you usually only hear the term when you learn Latin or Greek. The label is less complicated than it sounds. Start with "discourse." Discourse = speech. If you've got a sentence that reads, "Marie said 'hello,'" then "hello" is the discourse. Indirect means no quotations, so your sentence would say, "Marie said hello." "Hello" is now your indirect discourse. IMPLIED indirect discourse is indirect discourse without the little "Marie said" tag. The tag is implied. No quotes = indirect discourse. No quotes and no tags = implied indirect discourse, which is what you have going on in the early chapters of Brave New World.
Brave New World Writing Style
By "taunting" style, we're actually referring to the way that Huxley delays the disclosure of important information. For example, in Bernard's orgy-porgy scene, we don't really know it's an orgy until two thirds of the way through. Even then, we're never explicitly told what's up – we're just given enough info to put two and two together ourselves. The same goes with the orgy scene at the end, where we don't know if John has sex with Lenina or not, but we're left with enough clues to make a reasonable assumption. And look how we find out about John's death. The whole time the visitors are calling his name, we think he's dead, but we're being taunted with the prospect of a cash-in moment when all will be revealed. The revelation itself is also telling. Instead of saying that John is dead, the text just shows us his dead hanging feet (attached presumably to his dead, hanging body).
Precision of language in Brave New World is a beautiful example of form matching function. Huxley describes a society in which scientific exactitude is everything: eighty-eight cubic meters of index cards, 267 days for the bottles to travel along the conveyor belt at 33 centimeters per hour, etc. Similarly, the language of the novel itself is almost as precise. Check this out: "That which had made Helmholtz so uncomfortably aware of being himself and all alone was too much ability. What the two men shared was the knowledge that they were individuals. But whereas the physically defective Bernard had suffered all his life from the consciousness of being separate, it was only quite recently that, grown aware of his mental excess, Helmholtz Watson had also become aware of his difference from the people who surrounded him." Exact enough for you? This language has as much control over displays of emotion, thoughts, and opinions as the World Controllers have over centimeters, days, and grams.
Brave New World as Voyage and Return Plot
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth.
Plot Type: Voyage and Return
Anticipation Stage and 'Fall' into the Other World
John is brought back to the civilized world
In Brave New World we don't really start this Booker plot until more than halfway into the novel; things get tricky when there's a protagonist shift like you have here. (This is also one of the reasons Brave New World is criticized as being a far-from-perfect novel.) But once you get to Chapter Nine-ish, it's a shoo-in for a "Voyage and Return" discussion. John literally goes from one world to another, and in case you missed it, he explicitly says as much. Also, there's the title.
Initial Fascination or Dream Stage
John is awed with the prospect of visiting "the Other place."
The dream stage doesn't last too long. In fact, it really only lasts the duration of the flight or so.
John realizes that the new world isn't so brave and fabulous after all.
John's disillusionment sets in as soon as he sees the dehumanization in the World State. Clearly, this is not the place for him. The "shadow of oppression" which Booker discusses is particularly clear in the case of Linda, who is essentially enslaved by her dependence on soma.
Lenina throws herself at John, and Linda dies.
Lenina revealing herself as a complete "strumpet" really pushes John to the edge. But it's Linda's death, and more importantly, the callous reaction of others to her death, that pushes him over it. John's soma-destroying freak-out is the summation of his Nightmare Stage.
Thrilling Escape and Return…
…Or lack of thrilling escape and return…
John tries to make an escape by secluding himself at the lighthouse, but his self-mutilation there distorts what ought to be a return to normalcy, to his own world. His death may be thrilling, but it isn't exactly an escape and return. Or is it? If John defined the difference between the two worlds as being that of suffering and the absence of suffering, then his death was either the ultimate form of self-punishment, or the ultimate escape from suffering. What do you think?
Three-Act Plot Analysis
For a three-act plot analysis, put on your screenwriter’s hat. Moviemakers know the formula well: at the end of Act One, the main character is drawn in completely to a conflict. During Act Two, she is farthest away from her goals. At the end of Act Three, the story is resolved.
The three acts of Brave New World can be marked roughly by the changes in setting. The first act, therefore, runs from Chapter One up though Part Two of Chapter Six, and it takes place in the civilized world of London.
It follows that Act II covers Bernard and Lenina's time in the Savage Reservation: Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine. It is during Act II that we have our protagonist switch from Bernard to John.
The last act begins right around the time John is puking his guts out in response to the new world. The transition from Act II is his shifting opinion of the nature of society, from admiration to disgust.
Brave New World Allusions & Cultural References
When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
* William Shakespeare is referenced by name (3.192, 8.36, 11.65, 13.63, 16.14, 16.52, 17.3, 17.17)
* William Shakespeare, The Tempest
"Brave New World" (the title)
You can read all about this shout-out in Shmoop's "What's Up with the Title?"
"O wonder! […] How many goodly creatures there are here! How beauteous mankind is! […] O brave new world […]. O brave new world. […] O brave new world that has such people in it!" (8.84-.90, 11.40, 15.4, 15.10)
Aside from the meaning of the quote, which we talk about in our discussion of the title, the repeated occurrences of this line are a great way to trace John's evolving opinion of the World State. When he first speaks the line it is with all the awe and amazement of Miranda's original utterance. John is psyched to check this place out. Of course, the second time, he's violently retching behind the bushes with disgust. The third time he is fully aware of the irony, and "the words [mock] him derisively" as he leaves the hospital after Linda's death. Finally, though, John interprets the quote as "a challenge, a command." It is this line that spurs him to the act of throwing soma boxes out of the window.
"John thought it very nice. 'Still,' he said, 'Ariel could put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes.'" (11.31)
Ariel is one of two "spirits" in The Tempest who act as servants to this powerful guy Prospero (Miranda's father, if you're following along). He basically just goes around performing tasks for his master. Unfortunately, either John or Huxley got his Shakespeare mixed-up, because Ariel is NOT the tricky little spirit who can put a girdle around the earth in forty minutes. In fact, this isn't even the right play. Check out "Shout-Outs" for a discussion of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
"But some kinds of baseness are nobly undergone." (12.47)
John tries to explain to Lenina that he wants to undergo something horrible to prove himself worthy to her. He gets this idea in part from the traditions of the Reservation, but he also gets it from Shakespeare. This particular line comes from Ferdinand, who himself is undergoing "baseness," namely carrying lots of wood, to prove himself worthy of Miranda. Here are the actual words from the play: "There be some sports are painful, and their labour / Delight in them sets off: some kinds of baseness / Are nobly undergone and most poor matters / Point to rich ends."
"'Oh, you so perfect' (she was leaning towards him with parted lips), 'so perfect and so peerless are created' (nearer and nearer) 'of every creature's best.'" (13.41)
John recites to Lenina the same words that Ferdinand (the young hunky man of The Tempest) recites to Miranda. This is some great role-reversal, since until now John has been equated with Miranda (he keeps repeating her line about the "brave new world," and he's the virginal one). In this dialogue, Ferdinand tells Miranda that all the women he's known until now have been seriously flawed. But she – she is just right.
"If thou dost break her virgin knot before all sanctimonious ceremonies may with full and holy rite"(13.63)
These are the lines of Prospero, who tells Ferdinand that he can marry Miranda but that he'd better not go untying her clothes or her virgin knot before they get married. John of course agrees, which is why he cites these lines as the reason for not untying (unzipping?) anything of Lenina's before marriage.
"The murkiest den, the most opportune place, the strongest suggestion \ our worser genius can, shall never melt mine honour into lust. Never, never!" (13.71)
These lines (except for the "Never, never!" which is John's own embellishment) are Ferdinand's response to Prospero's request that his daughter Miranda remain a virgin until her wedding night. He basically says, "OK, sure, even if we end up trapped on an island together, and we're the last people in the universe alive, and it's our duty to populate the earth again, I won't have sex with her until we're hitched." So John is saying roughly the same thing: even if Lenina comes over to his house, declares her love for him, takes off her clothes and plasters her body against his, he won't have sex with her.
"The strongest oaths are straw to the fire i' the blood. Be more abstemious, or else…" (13.77)
This is just more of Prospero insisting that Ferdinand should not get it on with Miranda. This time, he makes the point that when you get all hot-blooded, it's quite difficult to keep your pants on. The solution, with which John wholeheartedly agrees, is to be "more abstemious," which essentially means more restrained and less self-indulgent. John trails off, apparently too horrified to repeat the rest of the line, which goes something like this: "…or else goodnight your vow" ( = or else you will break your vow).
"Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about my ears and sometimes voices." (16.10)
In the play, two characters who are plotting murder halt in their tracks when they hear strange noises in the air. The foxy little spirit encouraging murder (Caliban) tells them not to worry, since the island they're on is always full of weird sounds.
* William Shakespeare, King Lear
King Lear is referenced by name (3.1.41, 17.34)
"The wren goes to't and the small gilded fly does lecher in my sight." […] "The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to't with a more ritous appetite. Down from the waist they are Centaurs, though women all above. But to the girdle do the gods inherit. Beneath is all the fiend's. There's hell, there's darkness, there is the sulphurous pit, burning scalding, stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie, pain, pain! Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination." (13.97)
John delivers these scathing lines while Lenina is in the bathroom naked, having just been turned down for sex. Basically, Lear condemns the vagina as being the hot and sulphurous pit of hell.
"'Do you remember that bit in King Lear?' said the Savage at last. 'The gods are just and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us; the dark and vicious place where thee he got cost him his eyes,' and Edmund answers – you remember, he's wounded, he's dying – 'Thou hast spoken right; 'tis true. The wheel has come full circle; I am here.'" (17.34-5)
In King Lear, a character named Gloucester has his eyes plucked out because he chose to help the aging King instead of Lear's power-hungry daughter and her husband. Gloucester had a bastard (as in, illegitimate) son who turned out to be an evil person: Edmund. Because Edmund was in cahoots with the eye-plucking folks, these lines condemn Gloucester for committing adultery in the first place (i.e., fathering Edmund), and claim that Gloucester is now being punished for his earlier indiscretion. Edmund, the bastard, who is now being punished himself for his poor decisions, agrees with this assessment. John uses this to make the point that, in the new world, man is being punished through participation in what seems to him to be "pleasant vices": easy sex, drugs, and a complete lack of suffering.
"As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport. Thunder again; words that proclaimed themselves true – truer somehow than truth itself. And yet that same Gloucester had called them ever-gentle gods." (18.69)
John takes note of two contradictory statements made by Gloucester about the gods, the first that the gods are careless and play with men like toys, and the second that they are gentle. John himself is dealing with these very questions.
* William Shakespeare, Macbeth
"Do you see that damned spot?" (7.42)
John asks this in reference to the blood on the ground of the hut after the ritualistic whipping at the Savage Reservation. It's a variation of Lady Macbeth's line, "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" in reference to the blood she imagines still stains her hands, remembering the time when she helped her husband murder the King. This is the very first Shakespeare reference we hear from John, so it sets us up for what you see is a long list that follows. Lenina's response to John's quote, "A gramme is better than a damn," is a great juxtaposition of moronic hypnopaedic sayings with the beautiful poetry of Shakespeare.
"The multitudinous seas incarnadine." (7.44)
John is still talking about blood. Big surprise from Mr. Self-flagellation. This line is from the character of Macbeth himself, when he is wracked with guilt/fear after having murdered the King. The full line is, "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red." "Incarnadine" is just a sexy word for "turn red," so Macbeth is basically saying that even the ocean couldn't wash the blood off his hands; rather, the blood on his hands would turn the ocean red, Moses-style. John twists the message around and instead says it proudly: he would have given so much blood in self-sacrifice that it would have made the ocean red.
"To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow." (8.61)
This line comes up when John is talking about the isolation of growing up on the Reservation. Because he was always alone, he had plenty of time to explore his spirituality. (Notice that this quote is followed by the line, "He had discovered Time and Death and God.") The Shakespeare quote itself comes from Macbeth's speech shortly after his wife's death and shortly before his own. In it, Macbeth concludes that life is pretty much meaningless. Time "creeps" "from day to day." Basically, John is using Macbeth's words to express the sort of reflections that occupied his time when he was alone.
"But they're… they're told by an idiot."(16.32)
This refers to another line from that same speech of Macbeth's. The full quote from the Shakespeare is: "It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing. The "it" in question is identified in the previous line as "life." In other words…life is meaningless. This is an interesting phrase in the context that John uses it, which is to describe the feelies. In his mind, the reality created (maybe even simulated) by the World State is in fact meaningless. John imagines his world, on the other hand, or at least the world he seeks to inhabit, as being very different. Shakespeare isn't meaningless, he insists. Shakespeare isn't told by an idiot.
"And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death." (18.69)
This is the third time John refers to Macbeth's big Act V speech. This particular line states that every day which passes brings us that much closer to death. John ponders this uplifting moment when he's digging in his garden and forcing himself to think about Linda's death. In a big way, Linda's death has a lot to do with John's own impending death. Part of the reason it's so difficult to see her die, aside from the fact that she was his mom, is that it really drives home the sense of his own mortality.
* William Shakespeare, Hamlet
"Nay, but to live / In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stew's in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty." (8.39)
Hamlet speaks these lines to his mother, Queen Gertrude. He's basically chastising her for committing incest (sort of) with her dead husband's brother. Hamlet is a great first outlet for John because he reads it while in his Freudian, "I hate that my mother is having sex with all these (other) men" phase. Not that this "phase" ever goes away, come to think of it. Hamlet faces a similar "My mother is a whore!" issue, and many scholars believe this has to do with the classic Oedipus Complex, which we discuss more in John's character analysis. So while these lines are Hamlet's take on his mother's sleeping around, John appropriates them to describe his own feelings about Linda.
"A man can smile and smile and be a villain. Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain." (8.41)
John quotes this line while he's explaining his anger at Popé. These words refer to Hamlet's description of his stepfather and uncle, Claudius, or the guy sleeping with his mom. (They come from two different speeches in the play, but they're getting at pretty much the same idea.) See the connection?
"When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage / Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed." (8.44-5)
In this quote, Hamlet wonders what would be the best way to kill his uncle. Similarly, John ponders the same about Popé. What's interesting here is that John actually gets the idea of murdering Linda's lover from reading Shakespeare. Not only does he use these plays as an outlet for his emotions, but he actually allows them to dictate his actions.
"[A philosopher is] a man who dreams of fewer things than there are in heaven and earth." (17.19)
This is actually more about comic relief than anything weighty. John is referring to Hamlet's line, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy." In this instance, the young men have left their University and come home, so philosophy = the subjects that you might study in school. When Mustapha asks John if he knows what a philosopher is, he replies with this somewhat out of context phrase, using Hamlet's comment as a general definition of all philosophers. It's sort of cute, but it also makes some scholars think that John doesn't really "get" Shakespeare – he just knows it as one might know a hypnopaedic saying.
"Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…" (17.50)
John quotes (roughly) a line from Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech in order to make the point that the World State has just taken an easy way out. They have abolished suffering altogether, so they never need to ponder the calamities of life the way Hamlet does here. But there's a darker undertone in this shout-out because the speech that's quoted essentially debates suicide. Foreshadowing much?
"A good kissing carrion." (18.69)
Ew. (Carrion = decaying animal corpse.) John is remembering Linda's death and the image of her body in the hospital bed. That's when he refers to the following lines from Hamlet: "For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a good kissing carrion." (You will sometimes see this line as "god kissing Carrion" instead.) Now, if your first instinct (after "ew") is "What?!", then that's good. This is from the scene in Hamlet where Hamlet generally acts like a rude crazy person. We're pretty sure the point of John's reference is to conjure the image of a gross, visceral decaying body. Also, by using the word "carrion," Linda gets compared to a dead animal. This is fitting in a perverse way, because she wasn't really embracing her human self while taking off on flights of soma fancy. Also, as we discussed in "Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory," animal imagery is a huge deal in Brave New World.
"Sleep. Perchance to dream. […] For in that sleep of death, what dreams…?" (18.69)
In this passage, John combines a few different quotes from a few different Shakespeare plays (besides Hamlet, you've got a pinch of King Lear, a dash of Macbeth, and a sprinkling of Measure for Measure). All of the quotes have in common the themes of sleep, dreaming, and death. In this particular case, John quotes for the second time from Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech. Check out the actual Hamlet lines, from which John excises bits and pieces: "To sleep: perchance to dream:—ay, there's the rub; / For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, / When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, / Must give us pause." Hamlet compares death to a long sleep and wonders what one dreams of after death. Similarly, John is also concerned with the afterlife. After all, it is his belief in the soul that causes him to inflict so much suffering on his body.
* William Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida
"Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice; / Handlest in thy discourse O! that her hand, / In whose comparison all whites are ink / Writing their own reproach; to whose soft seizure / The cygnet's down is harsh…" (9.1.29)
This comes from a speech of Troilus's in the play, when he talks about how generally fantastic Cressida is. John appropriates the words to describe Lenina.
"Outliving beauty's outward with a mind that doth renew swifter than blood decays." (13.61)
Again, John repeats Troilus's words, but this time to make a case for marriage. When two people really love each other, they can be together for all of life, even old age, because the love in their minds outlives the decay of physical beauty. Of course, this is meaningless in the new world, where there's no such thing as old age anyway.
"The devil Luxury with his fat rump and potato finger" (13.107-9)
"Fry, lechery, fry!" (18.95)
OK, we'll give this to you as quickly as possible: Troilus loves Cressida, Cressida loves Troilus, and everything is great until someone tips Troilus off that, perhaps, Cressida isn't as loyal as he thinks. He goes to spy on her and indeed sees her flirting with another man, promising to see him later that night. Troilus is devastated, and the guy who is spying with him, Thersites, declares that Cressida is a big slut, essentially. He wails on and on about lechery, which is where this line here comes in. John basically feels the same way about Lenina, which is why he throws at her these lines about base lust. While John speaks these lines at two separate occasions, they are delivered together in Troilus and Cressida.
"But value dwells not in particular will. It holds his estimate and dignity as well wherein 'tis precious of itself as in the prizer." (17.38)
Oh, this is tricky. Let's start with the Shakespeare. This line comes from a conversation between Hector and Troilus, as everyone debates what to about this whole Trojan War mess. Hector argues that Helen isn't valuable enough to be worth this trouble. Troilus counters that value is subjective, and that Helen is worth as much as we think she's worth. Hector then counters with the line you see quoted here: value isn't subjective, he says, it's intrinsic. In Brave New World, John uses the same sort of argument after Mustapha says that you can pick any set of values you want by which to judge the World State. John insists this isn't true.
* William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
"On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand, may seize / And steal immortal blessing from her lips, / Who, even in pure and vestal modesty, / Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin." (9.1.31)
These are Romeo's lines, spoken when he had just heard the news of his banishment from Verona. He laments the fact that he has to leave his lovely Juliet to go into exile and waxes poetic about her lovely virginal qualities. She's so modest, he claims here, that her lips blush when they touch each other because they think they're kissing someone, which would be immodest. In Brave New World, John is reminded of these lines when he sees flies buzzing around; that's because this quote is preceded in Romeo and Juliet by Romeo saying something like, "woe is me, I won't get to see Juliet anymore, and even all the flies buzzing around Verona get to spend more time with her than I do." The connection to John's situation is rather ironic, since he's speaking about the sleeping Lenina, who is very non-virginal indeed. Exile is also an interesting connection, since Lenina has essentially (if accidentally) been banished from her home (the World State = Verona) to a more primitive place (the Reservation = Mantua). John will end up exiled in the World State, which reverses these roles.
"Did he dare? Dare to profane with his unworthiest hand that… No, he didn't." (9.1.132)
These lines refer to Romeo's words to Juliet when he first meets her. Just like Romeo, John wonders whether he should kiss the hands of his love, which might disrespect their virginal holiness. Again, ironic, since Lenina is nothing close to virginal.
"Upstairs in his room the Savage was reading Romeo and Juliet." (12.37)
When John refuses to leave his room for Bernard's dinner party with the Arch-Community-Songster, he ends up reading this play. The image is contrasted with that of Lenina leaving for the night with the Songster.
"Oh! she doth teach the torches to burn bright. / It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night, / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear; / Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear…" (12.41)
Romeo speaks these lines when he first sees Juliet, before he knows that she's a Capulet. In Brave New World, John is reading this part of the play while Lenina is getting ready to go to bed with the Songster. While Romeo doesn't know the true identity of Juliet, neither does John grasp that Lenina is inaccessible to him because she comes from a different world.
"The Savage was reading Romeo and Juliet aloud–reading (for all the time he was seeing himself as Romeo and Lenina as Juliet) with an intense and quivering passion." (12.71)
Huxley gives this reference to us directly.
"Is there no pity sitting in the clouds, / That sees into the bottom of my grief? / O sweet my mother, cast me not away: / Delay this marriage for a month, a week; / Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed / In that dim monument where Tybalt lies…" (12.72)
In this quote, Juliet is in a tizzy. Her new secret husband Romeo has just murdered her cousin, Tybalt, and now her parents, who don't know about her secret marriage (hence it being secret in the first place), want her to marry this guy named Paris. She tells her mom that she's still grieving for her cousin, so if they insist that she marry, they'd better have her "consummate" her marriage (i.e., have sex) in Tybalt's sepulcher. As you can imagine, this is pretty intense, so Helmholtz guffawing at it is hurtful to John, especially since John identifies with the characters.
Romeo and Juliet (16.23)
The title of the play is referenced when John remembers how Helmholtz laughed at it.
* William Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra
"Eternity was in our lips and eyes." (11.6, 18.62)
This line belongs to Cleopatra, who hurls it angrily at Antony when he delivers the news that he's leaving Egypt to go back to Rome. She reminds him that they always thought they would have eternity together – eternity lay in each other's lips and eyes. John quotes this line twice, first in reference to soma, which the Doctor claims is a little piece of eternity, and second when he can't stop thinking about Lenina.
* William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream
"John thought it very nice. 'Still,' he said, 'Ariel could put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes.'" (11.31)
John connects the "girdle" line to The Tempest, but it actually belongs to Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream, who is credited with this talent. We know this because Puck says, "I'll put a girdle round about the earth / In forty minutes."
* William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
"'What's in those' (remembering The Merchant of Venice) 'those caskets?' the Savage enquired when Bernard had rejoined him." (11.75)
In The Merchant of Venice, leading lady Portia comes with a price tag: suitors who want to marry her must participate in a game where they pick one of three caskets. Picking the right one means they get the girl, and the wrong choice means the suitor has to be a bachelor forever. It's adorable that John thinks of Shakespeare when he sees the boxes. It's less adorable that what's actually in the box is drugs.
* William Shakespeare, Othello
Othello is referenced by name (11.114, 16.21, 16.23, 16.25, 16.27, 16.28, 17.48)
John first starts reading Othello right after he sees the feely Three Weeks in a Helicopter with Lenina. The black man in the feely is exploited for his race, and the character of Othello is similarly defined by the color of his skin. John identifies with Othello because he, too, grew up in a society of people of a different race; John was the only white guy on the Savage Reservation.
"Impudent strumpet!" (13.84, 18.62-64, 18.92, 13.100-7)
In case you don't speak antiquated English, "impudent strumpet" means "disrespectful whore." John first calls Lenina by this name in the scene when she gets naked. As we discuss in John's character analysis, much of his anger at Lenina is misdirected anger at himself for wanting her so much. This shout-out gets us into the guts of Othello, where the play's hero is about to kill his wife (Desdemona) because he has been convinced by the villainous Iago that she's cheating on him. John accuses Lenina of being a whore in the same language Othello uses. (Of course, Lenina, having been conditioned to sleep around, isn't really at fault here, and neither was Desdemona, who in reality was faithful to her husband.)
"O thou weed, who are so lovely fair and smell'st so sweet that the sense aches at thee. […] Was this most goodly book made to write 'whore' upon? Heaven stops the nose at it." (13.99)
Both of these lines come from the same scene in Othello as the "impudent strumpet" bit we explained above. The first one is Othello telling his wife that she's a weed who appears to be a flower. The second one compares the woman to a "goodly book" (a beautiful book) that has the word "whore" written inside it. Both lines focus on the combination of two traits that Othello thinks he sees in Desdemona: sleaziness and beauty. John is convinced he finds these qualities also in Lenina. It is this combination that so hurts John, since he is simultaneously attracted to and repelled by Lenina.
"Goats and Monkeys" (16.19)
In Othello, the bad guy Iago is the one to convince Othello that his wife is cheating on him. He does so with the help of some animal images that serve as visual aids – namely, goat and monkey sex. Iago paints a picture of the supposedly adulterous Desdemona and her alleged lover to goats and monkeys having sex. When John cites this image, he's actually talking about the gratuitous sex in the feely, but the imagery fits right in with what we've seen so far in Brave New World: people are reduced to animals in part because of their promiscuity.
"If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death." (17.48)
OK, this one doesn't require too much scrutiny. John is always talking about how suffering is a necessary part of the human condition. This quote supports that argument, but for a slightly different reason; it's the old "the sweet ain't as sweet without the bitter" argument. We weather the storms because enduring is worth the calm that comes after.
"All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences." (17.59)
Mustapha says this to John in describing the V.P.S., or Violent Passion Surrogate. There's not much to explain here, Mustapha is just putting it in terms John can understand. As we've already mentioned, Othello murders his wife because he (wrongly) thinks she's cheating on him; this is violent passion to the extreme – lust, jealousy, love, and betrayal.
* William Shakespeare, "The Phoenix and the Turtle"
"Property was thus appall'd, / That the self was not the same; / Single nature's double name / Neither two nor one was call'd / Reason in itself confounded / Saw division grow together…" (12.68)
John reads this poem to Helmholtz as an example of Shakespeare's powerful language. The poem covers the love affair of a phoenix and a turtle dove, two birds who become one and then die. This got us thinking about Lenina and John being birds of a different feather.
* William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
"If I do not usurp myself, I am." (13.17)
This quote from Twelfth Night has a lot to do with false identities and assumed roles. John basically just takes the same line when someone on the phone asks him if he's the savage. It's a cute but not particularly important reference.
* William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens
"For those milk-paps that through the window bars bore at men's eyes." (13.77)
John is quoting a line where Timon accuses a woman with a nice chest of being a vile temptress.
* William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
"Lend me your ears" (15.20)
When John tries to get the attention of all the Deltas, he uses this line, spoken by Brutus to address the Romans after Caesar's death. (The full line is, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.") John imagines himself not just galvanizing the drones to want freedom and humanity, but as taking part in the great oral tradition of public speaking. He even hesitates when he first begins, lamenting that he has no experience in such arts.
* William Shakespeare, The Life and Death of King John
"I Pandulph, of fair Milan, cardinal." (17.17)
When Mustapha asks if John knows what a cardinal is, John responds with this line from The Life and Death of King John. Cardinal Pandulph is one of the characters in the play, so this is why John knows what Mustapha is talking about.
* William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
"Thy best of rest is sleep and that thou oft provok'st; yet grossly fear'st thy death which is no more." (18.69)
This line fits into that great, reference-filled paragraph in Chapter Eighteen when John contemplates sleep, dreams, and death. This particular line from the play, spoken by the character of the Duke, poses this question to Claudio: you often enter sleep willingly, and death is really just sleep, so how can you fear death? That John is so preoccupied with thoughts of death is no surprise given how this final chapter plays out.