Brave New World
by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World Chapter 16 Summary
- The three men are brought into the Controller's study and told to wait for his fordship.
- Helmholtz, amazingly, seems to be in good spirits. He tries joking around with Bernard, but Bernard is having none of it. Bernard goes to pout in the corner.
- John, on the other hand, wanders around the office examining Mustapha's various relics. He finds a book by Our Ford—My Life and Work—but he judges it to be rather dull.
- Finally, Mustapha enters. He shakes hands with all three men and then addresses John: "So you don't much like civilization."
- John admits this is true, which terrifies Bernard (only because he's afraid of it reflecting on poorly on him as John's friend).
- When John says he at least likes the nice trinkets, like Synthetic Music Boxes, Mustapha responds by… quoting Shakespeare! In this case, a line from The Tempest about "a thousand twangling instruments."
- John is in awe; Mustapha admits that Shakespeare is banned and that few here have read his works. But, since he gets to make the rules, he gets to break them. Seriously— the man who controls the world is operating on playground logic.
- At John's questioning, Mustapha explains that things that are old (like Shakespeare) are prohibited, especially when they're beautiful (like Shakespeare) because then they might be enticing.
- John thinks this world is stupid. And all the new things are stupid, especially the feelies. They're the most stupid of all. Actually, he uses more Othello quotes to say this, so it's a little more eloquent.
- John would rather the citizens watch Othello, come to think of it, but Mustapha reminds him that they wouldn't understand it anyway.
- Well, John responds, why not something new? Something with the passion and intensity of Shakespeare, but about subject matter that these people could understand.
- Helmholtz chimes in —that's exactly what he has been wanting to write.
- But Mustapha is adamant that this just isn't possible. If writing were passionate, the people wouldn't understand it. They don't understand anger, sadness, tragedy—they're just "blissfully ignorant." Just look at the reaction to John's little rebellion of the day: chucking soma out of the window in the name of liberty. The Deltas didn't even understand that. How are they ever going to understand Othello?
- Mustapha admits that, sure, Othello is better than the feelies, but "high art" is the "price you have to pay for stability" and for "happiness." So they have the feelies instead.
- John thinks the feelies are, in the words of Macbeth, "told by an idiot." Helmholtz agrees, even though he writes that sort of dribble.
- The Controller agrees that happiness is a poor substitute for passion. "Happiness is never grand," he says.
- John then moves on to the subject of Bokanovsky twins, which disgust him. Mustapha just counters that they're useful.
- John wants to know why they don't make everyone an Alpha-Double-Plus. Mustapha explains that there is a lot of mindless work to be done (like factory button-pushing), and if Alphas had to do it they would go mad and rebel. Of course, Alphas are conditioned in their own way—they're still metaphorically stuck inside a bottle, it's just that their bottle is bigger, their degree of freedom higher.
- Mustapha then launches into a story in order to explain himself further. In A.F. 473 (161 years earlier), the World Controllers cleared the island of Cyprus and then populated it with twenty-two thousand Alphas. They were given all the necessary equipment but then left largely to their own devices to run the island.
- The result? Chaos. The Alpha in low-grade jobs were unhappy, wanted better lives, and seemed to be forever on strike. Six years into the experiment, there was a civil war, killing all but three thousand people. The survivors asked the World Controllers to take over again.
- He continues with a rather chilling (pun intended!) metaphor: the ideal population is like an iceberg, with one-ninth above the water, the other eight-ninths below.
- John is shocked. Could the people below the water line possibly be happy?
- Yes, Mustapha says, much more happy than you. They don't find their jobs menial, they find them comforting. In fact, the Controllers have to create extra work to keep them happy: they once tried a four-hour work day in Ireland, and it was a disaster (everyone just sat around and took more soma).
- So while they have the technology to minimize work, they don't use it. Leisure is cruelty to the lower castes.
- He continues: even science is a possible enemy. Every new discovery is potentially subversive.
- John has heard this word (science) mentioned before, but he doesn't really know what it means.
- Helmholtz does—or at least he thinks he does. "Science is everything" is one of the hypnopaedic phrases from the conditioning process.
- The Controller laughs. None of them, he says, knows what real science is. In fact, he himself used to be a physicist. A good one, actually, so good that he once came up with a new discovery (he doesn't say what) that was important enough to land him in trouble. In fact, he was almost sent to an island for it, which, by the way, is what's going to happen to everyone else in the room.
- At hearing this, Bernard freaks out. "You can't send me to an island!" he says, followed by what is essentially an "It's all their fault!" indictment of his two friends.
- He then starts crying and blubbering at Mustapha's feet until Mustapha orders three police to take him away and give him soma until he stops whining.
- Once Bernard is out of the way, Mustapha can get to the good stuff. He declares that, actually, being sent to an island is an incredible gift. On an island, one meets the best people: those who are "not satisfied with orthodoxy" and are conscious of their individuality. In a way, Mustapha even envies Helmholtz.
- The only reason he isn't on an island is that he was given a choice between the island or the job of World Controller. He gave up a scientific career for this, and he sometimes regrets it. "Happiness is a hard master," he says. And while science is a good way to gain control, it's also dangerous and must be curbed.
- Back in the day of Our Ford, he continues, everyone thought science was the cat's meow: "Knowledge was the highest good, truth the supreme value; all the rest was secondary and subordinate."
- The transition from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness started with mass production, he explains. But the big shift didn't happen until the Nine Years' War. With the advent of anthrax bombs, they started really trying to control science. And people didn't care that beauty and truth were being sacrificed.
- But there is always a price to pay for happiness. Mustapha claims Helmholtz is paying for it because he's too interested in beauty. And Mustapha himself is paying for it because he is too interested in truth.
- It's a good thing, he adds, that there are so many islands in the world. Otherwise they'd just have to kill all the unorthodox people. (Eeek!)
- He asks Helmholtz where he wants to go—somewhere tropical?
- Helmholtz says no, he wants a "thoroughly bad climate." After all, he thinks he could write better if the climate were thoroughly bad, with "lots of wind and storms."
- They settle on the Falkland islands (off the coast of Southern Argentina, only 600 miles from Antarctica), and Helmholtz, satisfied, goes off to check on Bernard.
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