Sigmund Freud, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and John’s Autobiography: Chapters 8–13

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Date: 1990
Publisher: Gale
Series: Twayne's Masterwork Studies
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 3,278 words

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13: Sigmund Freud, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and John’s Autobiography: Chapters 8–13

What is the reader to make of the Savage’s thematic role in Brave New World? If Huxley is satirizing Wells’s Men Like Gods, it would be reasonable to expect the bureaucratic technocracy of Mond’s World State to be contrasted with a free, more unstructured realm of natural impulse. And to some extent this is the case. When John introduces himself to Bernard and Lenina his appearance immediately raises two of the dystopia’s generic conventions noted in part 1. These are the oppositions of family and state, and nature and human culture. He instantly raises the basic distinction between civilization or “the Other Place” (136) and the pueblo of Malpais. He informs the visitors of his natural birth, and that he was abandoned by his father, whom he calls an “unnatural man” (138). But John, despite his childhood education among the Indians, is hardly a serenely natural man himself. His parents are both World State citizens, and from his earliest years he has been subject to World State values through the clumsy attempts of his mother, Linda, to educate him. Nevertheless, some critics have endeavored to view John as a version of Rousseau’s natural man.

In his Social Contract (1762) and The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755), the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau theorized Page 117  |  Top of Articlethat humanity once existed in a prepolitical state of nature. Within such a hypothetical setting men and women were naturally good. Such a primitive individual or noble savage was corrupted by society, in particular, by the institutions of marriage and private property that were responsible for inequality, rivalry, and war. As noted earlier, Huxley believed that in “modern civilized societies the man, in Rousseau’s words, is sacrificed to the citizen—the whole instinctive, emotional, physiological being is sacrificed to the specialized intellectual part of every man which permits” society to exist.137 While he sympathized with such a conception of the natural individual repressed and distorted by modern social institutions and technology, he nevertheless rejected this concept as a Utopian fiction. In Proper Studies he observed that “there are few people . . . who take the theories of Rousseau very seriously” and those who did were indulging in “a vague sentimental belief” in the virtues of some fictional “state of nature.”138

The Savage, then, is not a study in Rousseau’s noble savagery, not simply because the concept itself seemed to Huxley a sentimental delusion, but because John is hardly provided with the proper credentials. Both Malpais and the World State are dystopias, the latter a Wellsian nightmare, the former a primitivist fantasy. If Mustapha Mond’s lecture on psychology, history, sexuality, and human development is the key interpretive text for the opening chapters of Brave New World, John’s autobiography is the pivotal document for understanding the community of Malpais.

John’s autobiographical narrative deliberately echoes the Director of Hatcheries’ lecture on embryonic development and childhood training in the introductory chapters. The Director starts his lecture by saying “I shall begin at the beginning” (3). In chapter 8 Bernard instructs John to tell his story “from the beginning. As far back as you can remember” (145). John’s story is a narrative of origins focusing on the development of self over a temporal span that again foregrounds the motifs of time and memory. His story is one of endless frustration, of the “crevice” or gap in time between desire and desire’s satisfaction that Mustapha Mond fears as the source of personal emotion and thus Page 118  |  Top of Articleof individual identity. In this context, it is a story about the acquisition of selfhood. It is also an emotionally charged narrative about personal and social rejection told to Bernard Marx, who himself feels rejected and marginalized. Finally, it is a story that would not be permitted in the World State because of its stress on ideologically prohibited subjects like motherhood and personal experience.

John’s autobiography falls into twelve parts, beginning with the appearance of Popé, an adult male who locks him out of his mother’s bedroom, and ending with John’s exclusion from the Indian manhood ceremony, where he is pulled from the ranks of the other young men. In brief, it begins and ends with John’s exclusion, first from the nuclear family and finally from the social community. In Mond’s words, it is a record of the “suffocating intimacies” and “insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group” (42). Worst of all, it is a personal history of what Mond hates, instability. John’s personal experiences revolve around his mother, sexual shame, sadistic whippings, and the isolation of the perennial outsider. The disturbing effect of the intrusion of the male father figure, who separates him from his mother, is reinforced by his mother’s promiscuity. Linda, a tourist accidentally abandoned in the Reservation, behaves in accordance with World State morality, but her sexual freedom is not acceptable in Malpais, where she is regarded as little better than a prostitute. The women of Malpais exclude her and finally punish her by whipping her. They also whip John, who is beaten by his mother as well. His story is a complex interweaving of shame and punishment centering on his confused response to his mother’s promiscuity, a combination of sadistic punishment and masochistic guilt that will lead to his neurotic overidealization of women.

John’s problems are compounded by Linda’s attempts to educate him in the ways and values of World State civilization. She teaches him to read and then gives him her manual on embryo conditioning, an incomprehensible text that only increases his frustration. Ostracized by the other boys of Malpais, who sing insulting songs about his mother, John’s only solace is a worn copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare discovered by Popé in an old chest. Page 119  |  Top of ArticleJohn’s favorite play is Hamlet, which provides him with the language he needs to express his hatred of his rival for his mother’s love. Indeed, Huxley suggests that his reading of Shakespeare’s tragedy and his identification with the hero, Hamlet, leads directly to John’s attack on Popé. This section of his story morbidly concentrates on the woman as prostitute and love as nothing more than gross sensuality. Hamlet’s unrelenting preoccupation with corruption, incest, and prostitution is mirrored in John’s obsession with his mother’s behavior. The reader at this point might remember Bernard Marx’s absorption with Lenina Crowne’s “pneumatic” sexuality, especially his belief that she saw herself as just “so much meat” (63). John’s increasing frustration, especially his twisted sense of women as unreliable, prone to sensuality and betrayal, is further consolidated by the loss of Kiakimé. The two ceremonies that conclude his autobiographical narrative are the climactic instances of all of John’s anxieties and frustrations. In the first, the young Indian woman whom he loves, Kiakimé, is given to another man. In the second, John is prohibited from taking part in the manhood ritual because of his whiteness and his status as “the son of the she-dog.” The result is complete isolation and despair: “He was all alone.” Stoned by the other boys, he leaves the pueblo and wanders in the desert. Conscious only of his pain, he acts out the sufferings of “Jesus on the cross” and discovers “Time and Death and God” (162-63).

The Savage’s story is hardly a celebration of an innocent primitive community in a paradisiacal state of nature. Malpais is Mustapha Mond’s nightmare, a landscape run riot with all the impulses and forces that the World State, in order to exist, must repress and banish. To that extent it is a mirror image of Mond’s controlled and sanitized technocracy. But in mirroring Mond’s fears, Malpais does not automatically become a good or positive alternative to the World State. Mond repeatedly voices his opposition to individualism and personal identity. The World State exists to obliterate the temporal gap between desire and fulfillment. By making frustration and the emotions and feelings that accompany it impossible, Mond has removed the basis of self-awareness in suffering, temporal experience, and deferred desire. Page 120  |  Top of ArticleIn Malpais the Savage experiences nothing but pain and frustration, a process that leads to his discovery of time, death, and God. But his intensifying sense of personal identity that accompanies this enlargement of consciousness is crippled by a host of neurotic obsessions in relation to women, sexuality, punishment, and especially his mother. Early in Brave New World Mustapha Mond invokes Freud and instructs his students on “the appalling dangers of family life.” The focal point for his attack on “family, monogamy, romance” is the mother, the symbol and actual cause “of every perversion from sadism to chastity” (44). John is shaped by Huxley in such a way as to make him the symbolic embodiment of Mustapha Mond’s most irrational fears. John’s thematic role, then, is not that of the virtuous, innocent, and prepolitical noble savage uncontaminated by the corruptions of social institutions. Rather, as the son of World State parents and partially educated in its values, he is also the partial product of those institutions and thus complicates Huxley’s Brave New World in a number of conflicting ways. To fully grasp his role it is necessary to examine briefly his experiences in the World State, including his confrontation with Mustapha Mond himself.

Bernard returns to the World State accompanied by John and his mother. His plan is to bring back John and Linda as a scientific experiment, but his real motive is to expose and discredit the Director of Hatcheries, John’s father. In a society permitting only laboratory pregnancies, to have naturally fathered a son is the ultimate disgrace. Bernard succeeds in his plot, and, as the patron of John, he becomes a social success as well, using the Savage as a means of attracting important guests to his parties and women to his bed. In chapters 9–11 Bernard is gradually displaced by the Savage as the novel’s principal protagonist. In these chapters Bernard is revealed as an inherently shallow man whose chief goals are social acceptance and sexual pleasure. He cannot escape his behaviorist conditioning and, though he recognizes in John’s autobiographical narrative a case of comparable loneliness and isolation, he cannot comprehend its larger significance.

As John takes over Bernard’s role, he replaces him as the friend of Helmholtz Watson and the lover of Lenina Crowne. Bernard is still Page 121  |  Top of Articlecapable of criticizing World State culture, but his “carping unortho-doxy” (187) is relatively shallow when compared with John’s increasingly horrified response to Mond’s Utopian society. John’s tour of utopia occupies most of chapters 10-15. It is accompanied by the running commentary of Bernard’s “scientific” report on John’s reactions. His submersion in the systematically intensified sense experience of World State entertainment, like scent organ music and the feelies, only exacerbates his moral revulsion and culminates in his attempt to inspire a political rebellion at the Park Lane Hospital. Huxley, however, has carefully structured the book’s conclusion around three pivotal encounters. In his autobiographical narrative, John tells of his wandering into the desert, where as a consequence of his spiritual and psychological despair, he discovered “Time and Death and God.” His experiences in the World State will turn on these three interrelated subjects. Linda, his mother, will die. Mustapha Mond will discuss God and the soul with him, and his relationship with Lenina will involve a choice between the present time of immediate sensual satisfaction and more timeless values.

Before the climactic confrontation with Mustapha Mond, John is caught up, first, in his mother’s death and then in Lenina’s growing attraction to him. John, however, has difficulty separating the two women in his mind, obsessed as he is with a dualistic perception of women as saintly virgins and promiscuous whores. His inability to reconcile these conflicting responses lies at the heart of his sadomasochistic behavior in the novel’s concluding chapters. In the case of Linda, she simply returns to the World State to die in a condition of drug-induced bliss. Her death is a form of hedonistic suicide. Drowning herself in soma, she loses her last “few years in time” as the drug ravages her body. Her “soma-holiday” is referred to as a form of “eternity” (184), but as she dies she returns to the temporal world, to the past and her memories of Popé. John, standing at the bedside, attempts to communicate with his dying mother, only to find himself confronted with Linda’s memories of Popé. Furious with jealousy, he tries to “force her to come back from this dream of ignoble pleasures, from these base and hateful memories—back into the present, back Page 122  |  Top of Articleinto reality: the appalling present, the awful reality” (244). The single dominating fact of John’s childhood was his mother’s promiscuity and her being branded by the community of Malpais as a whore. The second major factor was John’s rivalry with Popé for his mother’s affections. Now, as Linda slowly dies, she does not recognize her son, and as John bends over and kisses her, she whispers “Popé,” a word that strikes him in the face like “a pailful of ordure” (245). Horrified by the implications of this, he begins to shake her “because Popé was there in the bed” (245). She dies shortly after this scene and John believes that his violent actions were the cause of her death. Surrounded by a swarm of male twins brought to the hospital to be death-conditioned, John can only produce the one articulate word “God!” (248).

In Linda’s death scene Huxley has brought to a climax two distinct themes that are at odds with each other and that complicate the resolution of Brave New World .First, the death itself, associated with soma, troops of genetically engineered twins, and Super-Wurlitzer music, is intended to emphasize the lengths to which the World State will go to mask or suppress the reality of fundamental human experiences. Huxley was fascinated by funerary practices, especially the desire to gloss over the reality of death by surrounding it with sentimental trappings. (His novel After Many a Summer Dies the Swan contains his most devastating attack on modern mortuary science.) Linda’s death is robbed of all meaning by a society dedicated to the repression of all significant knowledge of time, temporal processes, birth, history, biography, and death itself. But Huxley has undermined the clear satirical thrust of the death scene. Instead of simply contrasting the mindless corruption of World State values with the dignity of John, who insists on mourning his mother and confronting death, Huxley transforms the death into a reenactment of sexual rivalry. Popé intervenes to yet again separate John from his mother. Instead of confronting death, John is faced with the old rival whom he once attempted to murder. In a frenzy of jealous rage and misery John attacks Linda and, after her death, takes responsibility for it. It is an ugly scene that Page 123  |  Top of Articlereestablishes in the mind of the reader John’s painful past and his neurotic obsession with his mother’s promiscuity. In short, the World State’s approach to the reality of death may be mindless and dishonest, but what has John to offer in its stead? He refuses the corrupt consolations of soma and conditioning, but his act of moral courage loses much of its force when the death scene becomes a reenactment of past emotional and sexual rivalry. John, it turns out, is as psychologically conditioned as Bernard Marx, not by means of behaviorist technique but as a result of repeated experiences of shame and rejection during his childhood. The focal point of such a prolonged education in humiliation and denial is Linda’s role as mother and whore.

Huxley clarifies and accentuates this crucial aspect of John’s past in the erotic episode with Lenina immediately prior to Linda’s death scene. Lenina, going to John’s apartment intending to seduce him, is not merely fended off but verbally assaulted by a man who sees women as simultaneously virginally pure and sensually corrupt. John idealizes Lenina, regarding her as a character out of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet or The Tempest. As a Juliet or a Miranda she exists as a happy, sentimental ideal of purity that vividly contrasts with the sordid reality of his mother. In John’s eyes she is something to be “worthy of” (226), not ashamed of, and as such she functions as a compensatory ideal intended to redress the damage wrought by his mother. But when Lenina, not content to be worshipped, takes matters into her own hands and tries to seduce him, he draws back “in terror” as if she were “some intruding and dangerous animal.” The scene that follows is both physically and mentally violent as John, overwhelmed by an “insane, inexplicable fury” (231), shouts epithets at her, especially the word “whore.” Lenina has become Linda, the “impudent strumpet,” and John reacts by pushing her to the ground and threatening to kill her. After driving her from the room, he repeats Lear’s diatribe directed against the lust of women. Shakespeare’s King Lear was mad and betrayed, so he thought, by all of his daughters. In drawing upon Lear’s deranged attack on women as “Centaurs” (233), half-human and half-animal, Huxley has accentuated the Savage’s neurotic Page 124  |  Top of Articleobsession with prostitution and sensuality, a theme that pervades his autobiographical narrative and darkens his perception of Lenina, who now, for the first time, begins to look attractively normal. She is not, of course, and her vacuous sensuality is as unbalanced as John’s neurotic asceticism.

In Proper Studies Huxley observed of the “powerful religion, or rather psuedo-religion, of sexual purity” that it tended to function as an inadequate and unhealthy substitute for more valid religious expression. He disliked puritanism and regarded extreme asceticism as morally dishonest and often as screening some form of repressed sexual desire. The puritan was, he argued, a fanatic: “Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic is a man who consciously overcompensates a secret doubt. The fanatics of puritanism are generally found to be overcom-pensating a secret prurience.”139 Huxley was fascinated by this character type; his most detailed exploration of the neurotic puritan occurs in Point Counter Point (Maurice Spandrell), his last novel prior to Brave New World. The Savage is such a fanatic, cherishing a distorted ideal of female purity that masks an obsession with sexual “prurience” and the woman as prostitute. His reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear merely reinforces his revulsion for his mother’s manifestly public eroticism. His heated brain, encumbered by the language of Hamlet and Lear, swings between the opposing extremes of fanatical idealism and vengeful violence. His preoccupation with what he takes to be his mother’s betrayal and her uncontrollable sexuality morbidly insinuates itself into his attitude toward Lenina and, ultimately, toward everything he encounters in the World State. If Bernard Marx is denied a family, John appears to have had too much. If Bernard has no meaningful past, John is weighed down by the burden of his deeply troubled history. If Bernard’s language is banal and simplistic, John’s confused mingling of Shakespearean poetic diction and normal speech is grotesquely abstruse. Both characters are the perverted products of opposing extremes, the Wellsian futurist utopia and the “retrospective utopia” of the primitive past. Each, in fact, is a dystopia, a bad place, as the name Malpais suggests. John’s criticism of Mond’s World State and his attempt to spark a political revolution Page 125  |  Top of Articleat the Park Lane Hospital are emotionally valid responses to Mond’s technocracy, but they are primarily emotional—like so much of the Savage’s behavior. It is not until chapters 16 and 17 that Huxley’s novel attempts to clarify, if not resolve, the opposing sets of values dramatized in the characters of Mustapha Mond and the Savage.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1703600025