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Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
  One Last Look at Imaginary Worlds
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~~ Character Analysis: Brave New World ~~

PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT

The Director

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.

He's officious, a functionary, completely sold on the philosophy of the Brave New World. However he seems to be prone to bad judgment…
· He gives the boys a history lesson which they find fascinating, so that Mustapha Mond has to step in and reinforce their conditioning (terrify them, scare them) against being interested in history.
· He leaves Linda on the Reservation and never returns for her, which is very brutish, very uncaring; John calls him a most "unnatural" man later in the book.
· He misjudges Bernard Marx, seeing him as a threat when really he's the kind of bad apple that makes everyone else shine, a socially "effective" scapegoat. It's cruel but very believable how everyone props themselves up at Bernard's expense.

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 Crowne

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.

Lenina seems to enjoy living in the Brave New World, but there are cracks developing in her psyche, cracks she has to fill with soma, which she is heavily dependent upon. She reveals her dangerous independent streak early (p. 40)…and we learn that she's unconventional in several significant ways: her relationship with Henry Foster, a bean counter, has been unconventionally "monogamous," her friend Fanny feels the need to warn her. Then, she reveals that she's attracted to Bernard, who has a horrible reputation for being "odd." Strangely enough, that doesn't matter to her; she's attracted to him anyway. Then, when she meets John, she feels very strongly about him; she even falls in love with him, which is extremely unconventional. What is it about Lenina that enables her to feel what others have stopped feeling? She's an individual…

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:

  • She "hates" the Reservation, saying simplistic, childlike things such as "I don't like it. I don't like it at all." Her reactions are infantile. When she has to face the realities of Reservation life without the aid of soma, it's a real trial for her. (p. 108-112)
  • When she first meets John, she instantly "likes" him-but her whole attraction to him is based on his appearance. She "smiles" at him. (p. 117)
  • John is also struck with love at first sight, struck especially by Lenina's beauty. But for John Lenina's beauty is not something for him to "consume," rather it's emblematic, a sign of value-and he invests in her a fantasy of "pure vestal modesty." This is not the real Lenina, as we know, but it's John's fantasy of her. Though he's very attracted to her, he doesn't view her as "meat." She inspires in him, by turns, the kind of deep, "courtly" love such as Dante has for Beatrice, and the deep romantic love such as Romeo has for Juliet. He wants to "earn" her love, prove himself worthy. This is all way beyond Lenina's comprehension, because she has been conditioned to relate to men purely through sex. "What's love got to do with it?" (p. 144)
  • When Lenina discusses her predicament with her confidante, Fanny Crowne, we learn the depth of her emotion for John. She can't suppress her attraction to him. When they finally "date" she is at a loss for why John disapproves of the "feelies" and can't understand why he "rejects" her when all the signs are that he's attracted to her. The communication gap that has opened like the Grand Canyon between her kind of love and his seems insurmountable. (p. 166-171).
  • When Lenina decides to confront John once and for all (she takes "action" on Fanny's advice-which is a little ironic, since her mode of action is so constrained, so limited by her conditioning), John loses all respect for her; his vestal virgin is really a whore! The "impudent strumpet" is sent spinning from the heights of heaven down to the second circle of Dante's Inferno with a crash. John's love spins on a dime and turns to disgust, to hatred. Her attempts to get a plain answer from John completely backfire as they misunderstand one another in tragic, inevitable ways. (Chapter 13, p. 186 ff.)
  • John's terror at Lenina's sexuality may seem overwrought, but it's sad, too. They really like one another and can't communicate at all. Lenina's handy clichés mean nothing to John, and she has no other way to communicate with him. When he violently pushes her away, that is the utter end of his affections for her, and his violence erupts again at the end of the novel. (p. 194-196)
  • That Lenina is given the penultimate scene of the novel indicates just how significant her character is to the story as a whole. Huxley proves himself a prophet of our "Reality TV" age in the scenario he creates between Lenina and John in front of the reporters and the cameras that come to spy on John in his misery. Look closely at Lenina's behavior at the end. First we see her "uncertain, imploring, abject" smile-which is sad. It seems she's been bullied into this, because she knows already how violent he can be and how much he hates her. We don't hear what she's saying to John, and this is purposely ambiguous. What do you imagine her saying? Is she afraid of him, coaxing him, cajoling him? Why does she press her hands to her side? What are her tears for? What, in our own eyes, do they signify about her? What do we understand about Lenina in this last scene? When she speaks again, and finally holds out her arms, what is she trying to say? Is she asking forgiveness, or is she still trying to seduce him? Is she trying to calm him? How do you interpret her actions? John's actions aren't that ambiguous-he beats her mercilessly, and the crowd loves it. It's what they came for, because "pain is a fascinating horror" in this world without real pain. The crowd turns the whole scene into an orgy and would keep coming back for more but John commits suicide, which puts an end to it. (p. 257)
  • Our last look at Lenina (remember, our first look was of a girl who was "uncommonly pretty") is at a "plump incarnation of turpitude writhing in the heather at his feet" and John is shouting "Kill it, kill it, kill it." Lenina, or what was Lenina, seems to be no more.

Bernard Marx

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.

We first meet Bernard in chapter three. Our first impression of him is through Lenina; we learn that he has a "reputation" for being "anti-social" and that he's basically an outcast who's tolerated because he's good at his job (socially useful). In what ways is Bernard "anti-social"? What is his goal? The only reason Bernard is anti-social is that society has rejected him as a substandard specimen. He's too short. His voice lacks authority. He's insecure. People gossip mercilessly about him, and he knows it. Because he's rejected, he prefers to spend time alone-which causes even more gossip. But his aloneness has led him to develop a taste for the beauty of nature, his only real companion. He wants to share this discovery with someone, with Lenina especially. He wants to overcome his isolation somehow, but we see how impossible that is when he and Lenina are together. The only person who understands Bernard is Helmholtz Watson.

We hear Bernard in his own voice for the first time in chapter three (p. 45); he's disgusted because Lenina is just "meat"-to herself and to everyone else. This infuriates him, but his rage is impotent. He is one and "they" are many. He's always been, and always will be, outnumbered. This makes him even more enraged; he has violent fantasies in which he'd like to pummel people to a pulp, which is pretty hostile, pretty antisocial. It's also what John does in the book's closing scenes. Is there a significant connection there?

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?

  • Men like Henry Foster "bait" Bernard (p. 53). Why? Doesn't it strike you as really adolescent or "infantile"? The "adults" in the Brave New World often act like little kids, an observation that John insists upon later in the story.
  • The Director confides in Bernard, but then immediately threatens him, embarrassed at having confided in the "outcast."
  • Later, when Bernard has become a celebrity because of John, his guests are horrible to him simply because John fails to appear one evening. They have no trouble treating him in the absolute meanest way possible.

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

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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