John’s earliest memories involve his mother’s relationships with Indian men — especially Pope, who also introduces Linda to the powerful hallucinogenic drug mescal (which she finds similar to soma). John also remembers how the Indian women beat Linda, because she felt no sexual restraints with their men.
As John grows, Linda teaches him to read. Pope finds an old volume of Shakespeare, and the young boy studies it. In fact, John’s reading in Shakespeare inspires him to try to kill Pope, who is in bed with Linda. As an adolescent, John is not allowed to undergo the initiation ritual into adult Indian society like the other boys. Instead, John goes out alone into the wilderness where he contrives his own physical trials to enter adulthood. His self-torture gives him a vision of “Time and Death and God.”
As John finishes his story, he and Bernard realize that they share the same feelings of being “terribly alone.” Suddenly inspired, Bernard invites John — and Linda, too — to return with him to London. In response, John quotes Shakespeare: “O brave new world . . . .”
In this chapter, Huxley explores the character of John, the child born unexpectedly in the Savage Reservation. A genetic Fordian raised in Malpais, John represents the potential combination of civilization and tradition, but his life has been lonely and heartbreaking. John is the true individual Bernard sometimes longs to be, and, as Huxley makes clear here, being truly individual means living in pain. Because of his European appearance and his mother’s sexual activity, John suffers rejection and humiliation at the hands of the elders of Malpais as well as his peers. Banned from initiation into manhood, John has nowhere to turn for help in his growth. An old volume of Shakespeare’s plays becomes his guide to life. In the world of poetry and imagination, John’s spirit expands, gaining a unique although eccentric strength and vitality.
Implicitly, Huxley compares the memorable, poetic phrases of Shakespeare’s poetry with hypnopaedia’s catchy lines. John absorbs Shakespeare’s poetry in a dream-like state, not entirely understanding the words but receiving the message through repetition, just as the young sleepers of the dystopia accept hypnopaedic wisdom. In both cases, the words form perception, shape behavior, and even inspire direct action. Reading and meditating on Hamlet’s rage at his mother’s sexual relations, for example, impels John to express his passion in a violent attack on Pope — a failed attempt that nonetheless marks the beginning of John’s independent, adult life.
The chapter includes the first appearance of the quotation from The Tempest that gives Huxley’s novel its title: “O brave new world / That has such people in it.” The difference between John’s awe of the wonderful “Other Place” and the reader’s own knowledge of the dystopia produces powerful dramatic irony at a crucial point. The irony of the phrase not only hints at the disappointment that awaits John but draws the novel together for the reader as well, giving a coherent focus to Huxley’s satire. In later chapters, John himself will repeat this phrase, as a means of expressing his changing reactions to the world of London — the reality behind the fairy-tale “Other Place” his mother once described to him.
Note especially in this chapter John’s own experience of conditioning, different in kind but not in essence from the conditioning of infants and children in London. John associates the reality of sex, for instance, with the absence of his mother, fear, humiliation, and intense physical pain. This conditioning (accidental, but powerful) occurs early in his life, first when Pope pushes him out of the bedroom, then when the women violently whip Linda and him, and finally when the boys mock him for his mother’s sexual freedom. As a result, John displays a strong, persistent aversion to sex, despite his longing for Lenina. Again, Huxley makes the point that all people — civilized or uncivilized — are vulnerable to powerful suggestion.