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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

After determining the fate of Bernard and Helmholtz, the Controller still has to deal with John, the Savage, in the climactic confrontation of the book. John insists the world has paid a high price for happiness by giving up art and science. The Controller adds religion to this list and quotes at length from two 19th-century religious figures in order to conclude that "God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness."

NOTE:

This is one of the fundamental principles of the brave new world, though only the controller knows that. Do you think it's true? Does Huxley think it's true? You should be able to figure out that he doesn't-by listening carefully for the tones of voice in which John and Mond speak, especially in their exchange of ideas about God.

John sees it as natural for people to believe in God when they are most alone. Mond says they have made it almost impossible to be alone. John knows he suffered equally from being shut out of the Indian community and from being unable to escape the civilized community. Do you feel that just by mentioning those two opposites, Huxley suggests a third, a compromise, is possible?

John also sees God as one who manages, punishes, and rewards. Huxley never says he agrees with John, and often he doesn't, but he keeps using the Savage to point up the hollow quality of the Controller's ideas, again using classic Utopian devices.


This is clear when Mond says that Edmund, one of the villains in Shakespeare's King Lear, would not be punished in the new world, only thrust into its "pleasant vices," and John says that that itself would be a punishment for Edmund. It becomes even clearer when the Controller tells John that passion means instability and instability means the end of civilization, that a properly organized society has no need of the noble or heroic. Huxley is telling you here as plainly as he can that this is a bad Utopia.

But the Controller knows that passion is part of the definition of humanity; even in the brave new world people take monthly treatments of Violent Passion Surrogate, which floods their bodies with the same hormone that would flow through them if they felt real fear and rage. The Savage rejects this idea and claims the right to be unhappy, the right to suffer illness, pain, and fear. The Controller tells John he can have them. In one sense, Mond understands why John wants them; in another, he can't really understand that anyone would make that choice. You can read both reactions in the shrug of the shoulders that ends the chapter.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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