Bernard suddenly finds himself popular because all upper-caste London wants to see John the Savage. Bernard boasts to Helmholtz about his sexual conquests and lectures Mustapha Mond in a report — offending both of them.
John, meanwhile, experiences a growing disillusionment with this “Brave New World” (as he quotes Shakespeare). He vomits during a tour of a Fordian factory and discovers on his visit to Eton that the library there contains no Shakespeare. He also goes on a date with Lenina to a feely — which he compares unfavorably to Othello.
At the end of the date, John disappoints Lenina, dropping her off at her apartment without staying for sex. He feels unworthy of her, while she is confused and frustrated.
In this chapter, Huxley features John’s discovery of the activities that come closest to imagination and poetry in the world of Fordian London — taking soma and going to the feelies.
Huxley has introduced the effects of soma very early in the novel, and so the reader is not surprised to find Linda on a more or less perpetual soma holiday now that the drug is available to her once more. Soma, however, is new to John, and his worry about the drug shortening his mother’s life gives Huxley the opportunity to expand on soma once again. In explaining what he regards as soma’s benefits, Dr. Shaw uses the word “eternity” — a concept John recognizes from Shakespeare’s poetry. The moment represents a rare connection for the displaced character.
The chapter also offers a detailed description of the feelies, the popular entertainment that combines the senses of smell and touch in a movie format. Bernard, the reader recalls, disdained the feelies as beneath his intellectual dignity. Huxley’s presentation of John’s experience, however, makes clear the strengths and weaknesses of the form, which Mustapha Mond describes in Chapter 16 as “practically nothing but pure sensation.”
As the chapter reveals, the feelies exist simply to soothe and titillate the senses, while leaving the mind (or, rather, one’s conditioning) untouched. The story is pornographic, but conservative, containing nothing at all to introduce doubts into a viewer’s sense of social order.
The reader should note the racially charged assumptions underlying Huxley’s satire of the feelies, the plot revolving around a black man’s abduction and rape of a white woman. Again, the satire tells the reader as much about Huxley’s present world as it does the futuristic, fictional world. The technology is different, but the prejudice remains. Note also John’s later comparison of the feely he sees with Othello, whose tragic hero, John recalls, is also a black man.
The erotic power of the feelies shocks John deeply, because his own unintentional conditioning and poetic education mark off sex as a dangerous, filthy territory. In contrast, Lenina responds enthusiastically to the stimulation and is hurt and confused by John’s refusal to end their evening together with sex. The experience drives John back to Shakespeare — the world he understands — and further isolates him from the civilized people of London.
Compared with John — now called “the Savage” — Bernard appears shallow in his supposed individuality and his protests. Reaping the social rewards of his association with a celebrity, Bernard pushes for power and attention. At last popular with women because of his connection to John, Bernard forgets his earlier objections to recreational sex and throws himself into promiscuity with real enthusiasm. He flaunts his unconventional views in public for the mere sensation of risk-taking and even dares to lecture Mustapha Mond in his reports on John. The disapproving comments of his superiors forewarn of Bernard’s ultimate fall from social grace.
Bernard’s heady experience of power and popularity contrasts sharply with John’s growing disillusionment. Note especially John’s repetition of the “brave new world” quotation, now deeply ironic, as he views a factory filled with Bokanovsky groups and vomits in disgust.
Ariel a character from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Shakespeare describes him as a “airy spirit,” with magical powers.
prognathous having jaws that project beyond the upper face.
Penitentes members of a penitential religious sect who whip themselves to express remorse for sin and in hope of forgiveness. Here, the spiritual men of John’s Malpais home.
Etonians students of Eton College, the most prestigious of British preparatory schools.
vitrified changed into glass by heat.
Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury Huxley’s term describing the dystopia’s equivalent for the Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the Church of England.
Capriccio a musical composition in various forms, usually lively and whimsical in spirit. Here, the term is used in describing the scent organ.
arpeggios the playing of notes of a chord in quick succession instead of simultaneously. Here, again, the musical term is used to describe the scent organ.