Brave New World By Aldous Huxley Summary and Analysis Chapter 18

Summary

As Bernard, now calm and resigned, prepares to leave with Helmholtz for the Falklands, John makes plans to retreat to a place of his own, far from the society he has rejected.


In a lighthouse outside London, John undergoes purification for "eating civilization." Fasting, whipping himself, and vomiting, John strives to exorcise the guilt he feels for Linda's death and his horror of sexual contact with Lenina.

Reporters, film crews, and then crowds intrude on his privacy. When Lenina herself approaches him, lovesick and heartbroken, John attacks her with a whip. A riot breaks out and turns into a sexual orgy.

John awakens the next day, groggy from soma, and realizes what has happened. Filled with despair and self-loathing, he kills himself.

Analysis

The concluding chapter of the novel brings John the Savage into direct physical conflict with the brave new world he has decided to leave. The sudden violence, shocking as it is, has been prepared for ever since the visit to Malpais and, in some ways, echoes the flagellation ritual Lenina and Bernard witness on the Savage Reservation.

Left on his own, John reveals the true form of his religious feeling — self-destructive rituals of purification by vomiting and whipping himself. Tortured by the memory of his mother's death, he will not let himself enjoy even the simplest pleasures of his austere life — making a bow, for instance.

The intensity of his self-punishment, the lack of a positive focus for his spiritual feelings, make clear that John's life is not influenced by the hermits of Christianity but by the demons of his own guilt. If the dystopia is the horrifying spectacle of a life with nothing but self-serving comfort, John's lighthouse retreat emerges as the equally horrifying vision of a life with nothing but self-induced pain. As different as they are, both worlds represent emptiness and purposelessness.

In contrast, note Bernard's sudden maturity as he prepares to leave for the Falklands with his fellow-exile, Helmholtz. Their genuine regard for one another and the relative freedom of the island community they are joining give promise of a life much more humane than the one they leave behind.

Outside society, yet still assaulted by the media, just as the suitor of the Maiden of Matsaki is tormented by stinging insects, John suffers a harsher punishment than his friends. In his guilt and isolation, any sexual memories of Lenina immediately incite him to whipping — a penance that draws leering crowds to view him as they would an animal in the zoo.

As a result, John's refuge becomes his cage — his habits of purification a mere trick for the tourists. Free from the trappings of the civilization he hates, John is nevertheless still imprisoned within himself, in his uncontrollable feelings of longing and repulsion. In striving to live a truly human life, John becomes, in the eyes of the crowd, less than human.

Note that John's sexual feelings are still linked to violence, the result of his unintentional conditioning in Malpais. Guilt over his sexual longing for Lenina arouses deep anger that habitually erupts in the ritual flagellation. The original meaning of the whipping — to turn the mind away from thoughts of sexual pleasure — is lost in rage and lust as he imagines whipping Lenina, a disturbing images that looks forward to the end of the chapter.

The "orgy of atonement" represents the sudden, explosive combination of the two worlds of the novel. Overcome by religious and sexual frenzy — a parallel Huxley has already drawn in the Solidarity Service of Chapter 5 — John's furious attack on Lenina becomes, in the crowd's conditioned response, "orgy-porgy." Without willing it, John merges into the brave new world he has been trying to escape, yielding to the sexual desire he has so long fought against.

John's suicide represents self-loathing, his disgust at becoming sexually indiscriminate, in the way Linda and Lenina were conditioned to behave. His death puts an end to the possibility of living independently outside the dystopia — except on the socially sanctioned island outposts — or changing it from within.

As he explains in his Foreword to Brave New World, Huxley later regretted his decision not to give John a third choice — a middle way between the Savage Reservation and the world of London. Brave New World Revisited goes some way in imagining that middle way for the readers of the novel. In this original ending, however, hope for a humane society is lost with the death of its eloquent — if flawed — defender.

Glossary

turpitude baseness, vileness, depravity. Here used to refer to John's feelings about Lenina.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Bernard and Helmholtz are banished to




Quiz