Brave New World By Aldous Huxley Summary and Analysis Chapter 17

Summary

In this chapter, Mond and John discuss the brave new world — especially the absence of God. As their discussion unfolds, John expresses his disgust at the casual ease of living in a society where science and conditioning abolish all frustrations. Mond counters that John is claiming "the right" to be unhappy, and John agrees.


John's formal acceptance of all the horrors of sickness, poverty, and fear — capped by Mond's terse "You're welcome" — ends the chapter.

Analysis

In this chapter, Mond continues his discussion of the practical philosophy of the world he controls. With Bernard and Helmholtz gone, Mond and John concentrate on the issues that distinguish the traditional world — John's Malpais as well as the reader's world — from the dystopia, especially a belief in God.

Mond and John's experiences of religion oddly complement one another. Mond knows about God and religion from the forbidden books he has read — the Bible, the medieval Imitation of Christ, and the relatively modern works of Cardinal Newman and William James. John, in contrast, has actually lived a religious life in Malpais, surrounded by the rituals of worship and purifying himself in fasting and suffering.

Mond's argument against religion in his world is materialistic — the main point being that the culture of comfort has made God obsolete. According to Mond's view, people turn to religion only when age and discomfort impel them to look beyond the physical world. But if age and discomfort are banished, the physical, material world never loses its pleasure. Thus, Mond argues, God is irrelevant in the brave new world. In contrast, John's argument stems from a belief in self-denial and suffering as a means to the good — by which he means virtuous — life. Where Mond sees comfort as the pinnacle of human experience, John sees it as a barrier to growth and spirituality. A life of constant amusement and pleasure, he argues, is "degrading."

In his response, Mond accepts the virtues of Christianity — kindness, patience, long-suffering — as reasonable and even socially valuable, but points out that soma can do as well as years of painful self-denial in producing virtuous behavior. In a memorable phrase, Mond describes soma as "Christianity without tears."

John, of course, rejects this view immediately, because, according to his definition, a worthwhile human life requires suffering and danger, from which will spring nobility and heroism. The discomfort and the pain, John maintains, are an essential part of freedom, beauty, and religion.

This disclosure brings the discussion — and the novel itself — to its climax. Huxley poses a choice between freedom and comfort. John, the Savage, has made his case for freedom, and Mond for the stability and comfort of the brave new world. The two world-views are obviously incompatible in their own minds, although Huxley leaves open an option for the reader to find a middle way.

Now Mond and John face each other squarely, and the choice emerges clearly. Control means comfort at the loss of freedom. But freedom means the possibility of disease, starvation, and misery. Faced with the choice, John chooses freedom, replying to Mond's list of horrors, after a long silence: "I claim them all."

The obvious misery of freedom's possibilities, John's hesitancy, and Mond's indifference — a noncommittal "You're welcome" — combine to dampen this climactic stand by John. The choice of freedom as it is defined by Mond is not a real victory, and John is still not a true hero.

Both Mond and John show themselves incomplete in this chapter, their different world-views shallow and unimaginative. The conclusion to the discussion will drive John into isolation, but Huxley also means to inspire the reader to explore the assumptions of each character and to think beyond the frame of the novel toward the world itself — and the combinations of freedom and control that might enhance rather than limit life.

Glossary

Cardinal Newman (1801-90) John Henry Newman, English theologian and writer.

neurasthenia a former category of mental disorder, including such symptoms as irritability, fatigue, weakness, anxiety, and localized pains without apparent physical cause, thought to result from weakness or exhaustion of the nervous system. Here, Mustapha Mond's description of normal emotional tension.

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