Brave New World
Aldous Huxley
Contributed by Sharen Felty
Chapter 16
Summary

The police deposit Helmholtz, Bernard, and John in Mustapha Mond’s office. When Mond arrives, he says to John, “So you don’t much like civilization, Mr. Savage.” John agrees that this is true, but says that there are some things that he does appreciate. One of these is the sound of music he constantly hears. Mond’s reply includes a quote from The Tempest: “Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about my ears and sometimes voices.” John is pleased to discover that Mond is familiar with Shakespeare.

Mond makes it clear that Shakespeare’s works are forbidden in the World State. When responding to John’s questions, he says that this type of literature is forbidden for many different reasons. One reason is that beautiful things, including literature, tend to be enduring. This means that people will continue to appreciate them even when they are old. When a society is based on consumerism, as the World State society is, it needs its citizens to want to consume new things. Newness is an important concept and must be seen as more significant than something’s intrinsic value. Another reason is that World State citizens would be unable to understand Shakespeare. This is because the stories he presents have their basis in passions and experiences that are alien to World State citizens. Strong emotion and struggles have been cast off in order to secure social stability. “Happiness” has replaced them.  By “happiness,” Mond is referring to the infantile instant and unthinking gratification of appetites.

John believes that this kind of happiness is likely to create repulsive, even monstrous human beings. He asks the director whether the World State citizens couldn’t at least all be made Alphas. Mond says that the citizens of the World State need to be happy carrying out the functions of the jobs to which they have been assigned. As Alphas can be happy only doing Alpha work (which is intellectual work), the vast majority of the rest of the population must be degraded and be made less intelligent so that they will be happy with what they have in life. He makes reference to an experiment in which a whole island had only Alphas. A civil war promptly began. This was because none of the island’s citizens were ever satisfied about how tasks were distributed.

Mond explains that while the World State is a technotopia (this means that its existence is dependent on certain highly advanced technologies), technology itself must be kept under strict control in order to keep the society happy and stable. When they are employed beyond a certain point, even technologies that can save on labor need to be suppressed so that the right balance between labor and leisure is maintained. In order for citizens to be happy, they need to be kept working for a specific amount of time.

It is necessary to suppress science in order to make the society happy and stable. This fact is incredibly ironic because World State citizens are made to revere science. This is one of the society’s most fundamental values. Yet no on, not even Alphas such as Bernard and Helmholtz, actually have any real scientific training. They do not even understand what science is. Mond doesn’t give any explanation as to what it is, although he talks about his own time as a young scientist who got into trouble by questioning conventional wisdom. It can be inferred by “science,” Mond is referring to the quest for knowledge through experimental method. Science is unable to exist in the World State. This is because the search for “truth” stands in conflict with happiness. This implies that the whole society is in some way built on lies. He is unclear, though, about the exact truths and lies to which he is referring. Mond informs Bernard and Helmholtz that they are to be exiled. Bernard starts to beg for Mond to change his decision. Three men arrive to drag him away and give him soma as a sedative. Mond declares that Bernard does not understand that exile is really a reward. The islands have many of the most interesting people on the planet. They are individuals who are unable to fit into World State society. Mond informs Helmholtz that he is almost jealous of him. Helmholtz asks why he does not choose to go into exile himself. Mond says that he likes the work he does, managing people’s happiness.

Mond thinks that it is a good thing that the islands are there, as if dissidents such as Bernard and Helmholtz could not be sent to them, they would likely be killed. He asks whether Helmholtz would enjoy going to a tropical island. Helmholtz declares that he would prefer to go to an island with an unpleasant climate as it would encourage him to write. Mond suggests that he is exiled to the Falkland Islands. He accepts this.

Analysis

Mond and John’s conversation is Brave New World’s most intellectually significant passage. It is in this part of the book that the issues that have been implied to be significant in the rest of the novel are rendered more explicit. They are discussed thoroughly in abstract form. The reason that Mond gives for suppressing Shakespeare provides a critically important key to comprehending the rest of their discussion. The fact that Shakespeare’s works are old means that letting people read him will not contribute to consumer behavior. (Huxley, obviously, is ignoring the reality that people can buy new editions of books). While it appears that this rationale is superficial when compared to Mond’s more complex arguments, it highlights the fact that consumerism is a central facet of the world described in Brave New World. In a way similar to other dystopias, Brave New World does not only depict a world that is entirely different than our own. Rather, it shows a world that is in many ways a mirror of the one that we live in. It amplifies the worst features of our current world, drawing out and exaggerating them. One of his novel’s central facets is aimed at our world’s ever-growing focus on consumerism. Through his depiction of a world that suppresses experiences and institutions that our own sees as sacred in order to promote greater focus on consumerism, Huxley shows a value conflict that exists in our own society. Gratification of appetites is the “value” that propels the consumer. In Brave New World, gratification of appetites has been developed to the extent that people behave as “adults during worktime” but are infants in their relationships and leisure time. We see here that Huxley’s most prominent criticism of consumerism is that it is infantile. He feels that adults ought to be capable of better things.  It is clearly consumption that is the “happiness” that Mond talks about in his description of the World State. If this is true, then the other value that the society depends on is “stability.” Mond indicates that happiness and stability are interdependent. The stability that he refers to is economic stability, which he sees as an uninterrupted cycle of production and consumption. However, social stability in the areas of psychological and emotional stability are also vitally important. One reason is that they all contribute to economic stability. The argument that Mond makes about the elements that need to be sacrificed in order to create a society that is “stable and happy’ can be seen, ironically, as a claim that our values cannot be compatible with consumer behavior and economic stability. The values that Mond says need to be sacrificed may be summarized in the following way:

Feelings, relationships, passions, and commitments: World State citizens do not have mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, lovers, or children. This is because these kinds of relationships create emotional (and social) instability, unhappiness, and strife. While we can easily think of ways that relationships can make people unhappy, it may be challenging for readers to comprehend why Mond believes that these relationships intrinsically create instability. After all, tradition and common sense say exactly the opposite is true. It says that the family is a stabilizing force in our society. One answer to this can be found in Chapter 3. It is in the lecture Mond gives to the students. It is here that he argues that the most dangerous aspect of passionate connections is the strong feeling that is involved. Additionally, eh says that all passions and feelings come from arrested impulses, such as the feeling of longing one can experience if they are unable to immediately be with the love they want. This is likely the basis for his argument that the consumer’s desire for immediate gratification stands at odds with long-term human relationships. Equality: Mond is equally clear in his belief that social stability is possible only with inequality. The majority of people in society are going to be required to carry out uninteresting tasks most of the time. This part of World State society is by no means specific to the World state. Indeed, it can probably be said to be true about every society. We could even say that our own society has the same amount of inequality as the World State. It just seems that Mond is more forthright and honest about it, not paying any lip service to the ideal of equality. Yet the entire abandonment of the ideal of equality causes terrible results. Most of the human embryos in the World State are deliberately altered so that they have less of a potential for excellence. When comparing the world of the novel and our own, we are certainly left with worrying questions rather than definite conclusions. As economic and social stability is predicated on an unequal distribution of labor, does this lead to destructive contradictions in our ideal of democracy, that everyone is equal? (Exploration of this theme can certainly be said to be indebted to the work of Karl Marx. His ideas are a component of this novel’s intellectual background. Note that Bernard the dissident’s surname is Marx). Truth: Mond declares that science must be suppressed. This is because a society that is based on the search for happiness cannot have an equal dedication to truth. He may be saying that science and the general search for truth creates a tendency to get rid of old and established ways of seeing and doing things. Conventional wisdom and authority are both essential to society’s stability. When we search for truth, both of these things are at risk of being interrogated. Art: Mond feels that art must be rejected because it is not a consumer product and it is drawn from feelings, passions, and other elements that he feels must also be suppressed.

Another category of experiences that Mond believes must be eliminated can be simply referred to as “problems.” Huxley might say that we should value problems (such as death, old age, doubt, and perhaps even suffering) because we value the ways that they can help human beings to grow. Mond dismisses these things as the “overcompensation for misery.” Readers might criticize Mond and his arguments by pointing out that they are self-serving. As he stands at the top of the ruling class, he is exempted from all the laws that he enacts. We could readily dismiss all the arguments he makes on the basis that his true interest is the strength and stability of his own position rather than that of society as a whole. However, it might be an error to dismiss his arguments immediately, as they do offer a certain amount of stability and power. Perhaps the reader should be challenged to dispute them on their own terms.

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