Affect of Circumstance on an Individual: Huxley’s Brave New World
John, in Brave New World, tries to hold fast to the values that he has developed by himself in the Reservation. These values were formed out of the mix of Christianity and indigenous, quasi-animist spiritual practices of the Native Americans prevalent on the Reservation, the influence of reading the Bible, and the inspiration of reading Shakespeare. He is not allowed to participate fully in the rites and ceremonies of the Reservation, so he fashions his system of thought out of the scripture and the dramas he reads.
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His values are not only out of touch with the Brave New World, but would be profoundly out of touch with our society today, and, for that matter, the values of Huxley’s England or America in 1932.
Does he cling to his values or abandon them? He clings to his values while reaching out for what he finds appealing or interesting in the unfamiliar world outside the Reservation. He falls instantly into infatuation with Lenina. He is intrigued by the notion of a world wider than what he knows. He takes the opportunity, without question or hesitation, to explore the universe beyond his childhood limits.
It must have become apparent to him soon after John arrived in the civilized world, that Bernard had brought him back to shame and discredit his superior. Tomakin, after all, had acted selfishly even by the standards of his society in leaving behind his companion without making a serious attempt to locate her or check back to inquire whether she or her body had turned up. John becomes keenly aware of his status as a tourist attraction and political football, as evidenced by his refusal to attend Bernard’s party.
If he had gone with the flow, succumbed to the unsubtle bribery of being taken everywhere and being shown everything, and had become one with the society around him, it would have been a coup for the Director, but John remains his own man for the most part, throughout. He retains his values and his identity despite great distractions and temptations.
Once arrived in the World Estate, he follows his star from first to last with very little deviation. He embraces his father with respect upon meeting him, as would any well-brought-up offspring in his world. He treats women like Lenina with courtliness and individual attention, rather than casually and indiscriminately using them sexually, He tries to care for and cherish his mother, Linda, even when she is far gone in a drugged stupor. He avoids soma, he prizes solitude, and he eschews and forswears all the amusements of the world, among other choices.
Although he has no obvious ambitions in the World Estate, the death of his mother inspires him to take some action. As Huxley puts it, “It was as though a shutter had been opened.” He sees an opportunity to try to make a difference, and he seizes it. He tries to encourage the hospital workers to avoid soma, at risk to his safety and liberty. The results are entirely negative, and he has not the slightest impact on the workers’ behavior. The incident brings him unwelcome official attention and contributes to the exiling of Bernard and Helmholtz. However, it is entirely consistent with his values and one of the only open, un-self-interested protests against the system that is voiced in the whole book.
This all has far-reaching implications for him, indeed. He eventually sees that he cannot manage to live in this world without violating everything he holds to be important. His vision of beauty, voiced by Shakespeare’s Miranda, is revealed to be crass and shallow and corrupt in its reality. His dream for finding inclusion with those of his mother’s kind is a nightmare instead. He will be included in the Brave New World, but he will no longer be himself.
John finally withdraws to a sort of hermitage to avoid conflicting with the abhorrent values he sees around him. He chooses this style of life despite the barely livable conditions there. Even at this stage of his war against the Brave New World, however, he is still enchanted by the new and innovative and succumbs to the lure of convenience foods in packing for his move. However, he forswears the nutritious convenience foods for the more difficult fare. He pursues independence and self-sufficiency by gardening for himself.
He tries to purge his mind of desires and images he finds incompatible with his values by whipping himself, a technique long used by religious purists. However, even here in attempted isolation, he is pursued by the behaviors he fears and detests. His ladylove, Lenina, follows him and attempts in all innocence to engage him sexually.
The crowd, drawn to his hiding spot, and intrigued by the drama and novelty of his flagellation, work him and themselves into a frenzy of mimicry and excitement, entirely at cross-purposes. Eventually, he awakes to a memory of being led, without conscious volition, into a massive breach of his values in a soma-fueled orgy-porgy. This horrible betrayal of all that he esteems in himself leads him to take his own life.
What is Huxley trying to say in showing us this unfortunate young man struggling to live according to his ideals while in a violently alien environment of opposed values? John seizes control one last time in taking his own life – that is not a cheerful message, but a clear one. Huxley seems to be telling his readers that the kind of moral swamp that the world is headed towards is so bad that death represents a more honorable fate.
The whole book is a warning to all of us to examine closely what our governments and institutions do while we are not paying attention. During the wars and plagues, Huxley points out through the Director; people stopped monitoring the government and allowed the ruling entities to assume the role of moral arbiter. By showing John’s brave, if wrong-headed attempts to stick with what he thought was right and beautiful and good, Huxley points up the hideousness and shallowness that we risk when governments operate unchecked, unwatched, and without principled participation by all.