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Home Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005) Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004) ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Spring 2005)
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2004)
ENG Q20: Basic Writing (Fall 2004)
~~ Character Analysis: Brave New World ~~
The D.H.C., or the Director of the Hatchery and Conditioning Center, is a minor character in the work, but an important one, because it's through him we get our first glimpse of the Brave New World. He explains it superficially but later Mustapha Mond will explain it more substantially, providing a philosophical defense. The Director is our first guide, however.
a functionary, completely sold on the philosophy of the Brave New World. However
he seems to be prone to bad judgment
The Director's role in the story seems to be to serve as a kind of "tour guide"-we learn about the Brave New World through his approving eyes and perspective. His smugness is what you most remember about him-his unquestioning approval of everything he's describing, no matter how heartless it really is (the baby torture on p. 20, for example).
Lenina is an "ordinary" Beta worker at the Director's Hatchery, along with Bernard, who works in another department. Her job is to vaccinate the bottles as they pass by on the conveyor belt.
On one level Lenina
may strike readers as conventional and vapid; she's the object of every male's
desires, apparently-a perfect female "specimen." In this light, she
seems to have a lot in common with the image of women who appear in advertisement
after advertisement in our own culture, the objectified "beautiful woman"
that Madison Avenue never tires of posing next to everything from perfume to
toothpaste. Our first introduction to her is that she's "uncommonly pretty,"
which is saying something, because to be "uncommonly" anything in
the Brave New World is to go against the grain, to be "individual."
But ultimately Huxley develops Lenina to rise above her stereotype, beyond the
objectified, dehumanized "meat" that men crave. By the end of the
novel her fate seems more tragic than Bernard's, on a par with John's suicide.
Ultimately, Lenina is sadly unable to transcend her conditioning long enough
to meaningfully relate to John, or he to her. Though they have clearly fallen
in love with one another, "love" means something so totally different
to each of them that they can't connect.
But she's also very conventional-she likes the Brave New World, likes the soma, the vibro-vacume massage, the Obstacle Golf, and the rest; she enjoys the dancing and the dinners and the feelies and she doesn't feel the need to question anything at all; this is what makes her completely unable to relate to Bernard, who doesn't matter very much, or John, who matters quite a lot.
Some of Lenina's significant scenes:
Bernard Marx is
the Brave New World's favorite outcast. He doesn't "fit in" because
of his "smallness" (which manifests itself in more ways than one).
He's isolated by his status as an outcast, and his alienation leads him to be
a critic of the Brave New World rather than a proponent of it. His discontent
is hostile and bitter, but secretly he wishes he could fit in and be "happy."
Bernard's surname recalls Karl Marx, the author of Capital, a monumental critique
of capitalist society. But unlike Karl Marx, Bernard's critique of society stems
from his frustrated desire to "fit in" and not from any systematic
or philosophical problem he has with it. We may sympathize with Bernard early
on, but gradually we realize how cowardly he is, how hypocritical and even cruel.
I think it's through the character of Bernard that we learn just how mean-spirited these "happy" people of the Brave New World really are, how thin the veneer of happiness and contentment really is, how necessary it is for them to have a "scapegoat." So many people in the book are really hateful towards him. Can you think of examples?
Considering all of this willful mean-spiritedness: is it to maintain "stability" that this kind of meanness in an otherwise "happy" society is encouraged and accepted? It seems that the people ostracize Bernard for being different in order to protect their precious status quo. Does it seem a little hypocritical that this kind of social hostility should be acceptable?
Bernard "hates" everyone, but it's really only because he's jealous (p. 47). He feels the pain of being ostracized acutely. He's an outsider who desperately wants in. That makes him pretty pathetic, which is why his friend Helmholtz Watson has so much compassion for him. But it seems that Helmholtz can only have this kind of compassion because he himself is so different.
Lenina also treats Bernard differently, also because she herself is so different. (p. 58) We can see she's not like the others who bait him and gossip meanly about him; she laughs at him, but her laughter is innocent and playful rather than malicious. Even though Bernard really likes Lenina and she is attracted to him, they can't communicate meaningfully, which becomes obvious when we see them try to date and when they travel to the Reservation together. Lenina is not a suitable "companion" for Bernard; although she's mildly attracted to him, she doesn't relate to his unconventional ideas or behaviors.
Bernard's misery is developed on pp. 63ff. He's "self-conscious," self-aware, but his self-awareness produces a vicious cycle of humiliation, fear, alienation, and envy. Once again, Huxley is consummately prophetic, because, if you think about it, this is the very way advertising makes us feel before it sells us the soma-I mean, the product.
Helmholtz Watson, another minor character, is an interesting foil for Bernard; his character is Bernard's exact opposite. Whereas Bernard is impotent, paralyzed, and cowardly, Helmholtz is a popular man of action, almost heroic in his bravery. Bernard is miserable because he doesn't fit in; he's alienated, envious, unhappy. But Helmholtz is happy feeling like an outsider, comfortable with his alienation, experimenting with it, even. He's increasingly aware of his uniqueness, his individual powers, and his self-awareness thrills rather than torments him. Helmholtz is in the position of rejecting the very kind of popularity that Bernard craves. Whereas Bernard is small-minded, even petty, Helmholtz is magnanimous, big-hearted. The two men are friends because they have their misfit status in common, and can confide in one another, but also because they are both searching for beauty-Bernard in nature, in solitude, and Helmholtz in art-and they're both searching for identity.
Mustapha Mond is the most powerful character in Huxley's utopian satire, and he's the Brave New World's only freethinking individual besides John, who's an outsider. Besides being one of only ten "world controllers," an extremely elite alpha group, Mond is the Brave New World's most intelligent spokesman. Early in the novel, he is the one who steps in to undo the damage the Director is unwittingly doing with his "hi[story" lesson. Later in the novel he debates the formidable Helmholtz Watson and counters John's passionate defense of the individual with a dispassionate case for "stability" and "happiness" which are the underpinnings of the World State.
Mustapha Mond is a complex character. He's read Shakespeare and the Bible; as a young man he was a brilliant, independent-minded scientist. His indictment of the human condition is total; he's freely chosen which side he prefers to be on-the side of the totalitarian Brave New World. For Mond, the best of all possible worlds for humanity are stability and happiness, not freedom and individual expression. Mond's absolute commitment to the values of the World State is not without its nuanced understanding of history, philosophy, religion, and art; he rejects all of these, and finds his support for his position in philosophers like Cardinal Newman. Many readers may find themselves persuaded by some of his arguments.
I'll pursue a more detailed analysis of the debate between Mustapha Mond and John the Savage elsewhere, in "Brave New World: A Philosophical Argument."
John (the Savage)
[to be completed soon]
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