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

John opens this chapter by making himself throw up-a crude but brilliant metaphor for his claim to the right to be unhappy, and for his need to purify himself after "eating" civilization and what he sees as his own wickedness.

He tells Bernard and Helmholtz that he, too, asked to be sent to an island, and that the Controller refused because he wanted "to go on with the experiment." The Controller apparently didn't realize that John was capable of refusing to go on with it.

Instead, the Savage sets himself up as a hermit in an abandoned air-lighthouse once used to show helicopters their proper air route. He is discovered by accident while whipping himself in a penitential rite. Reporters soon descend on him and make a news story out of everything, even the kick he delivers to one reporter's coccyx. (Huxley wrote in a world and time when a civilized writer didn't put certain phrases in print.)

One of the things John punishes himself for is his sexual desire for Lenina. Huxley shows you that even an idealist can feel lust; John is learning the truth that the Controller recognized in the previous chapter, that passion is part of the definition of humanity.

A mob of tourists descends, much worse than the reporters. Worst of all, one of them is Lenina. Like fans at a boxing match or hockey game, they become crazed with fear and fascination when John starts to whip Lenina as well as himself. He chants "Kill it, kill it" (meaning "kill fleshy desire"), as Lenina writhes at his feet. An orgy of beating possesses the mob and becomes an orgy-porgy. When John wakes up the next morning, he hates himself with new intensity. Huxley never says that he actually has sex with Lenina or that he kills her, but it's not important; the thought that he might have done either one is enough to make John want to kill himself. When a new crowd arrives that evening, they find he has.


Why do you think John chooses death? Did he have to choose between death and the stable, mindless happiness of the brave new world? In the Foreword, Huxley says he gave John only two alternatives: what he saw as an insane life for the Savage in Utopia, and what he called the lunacy of a primitive life in an Indian village, "more human in some respects, but in others hardly less queer or abnormal." At the end of the novel, John could not tolerate either alternative and found a third choice: suicide.

In the 1946 Foreword, Huxley said he could see a third choice that would have made suicide unnecessary, a choice he hadn't seen when he first wrote the book-a compromise in which science would serve man, economics would be decentralized, and politics cooperative rather than coercive. Much later he wrote Island, a novel about a good Utopia, in which he developed some of those ideas.

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Barron's Booknotes-Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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