Study Guide

Bernard Marx in Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

Bernard Marx

(Click the character infographic to download.)

Bernard, Bernard…what happened to you? We liked you so much when this whole thing started. You were rebellious, smart, human, and wanted more from Lenina than sex.

In fact, Bernard's character is interesting because of the remarkable and complete change he pulls, from a likeable hero to a detestable ninny. Look at his character in the first few chapters of the novel. On his first date with Lenina, which we hear about in Chapter 6, Bernard refuses soma on the grounds that he'd "rather be [him]self. [Him]self and nasty. Not somebody else, however jolly." Solid. He's also the one to make the grand connection that easy sex is infantile behavior. "It might be possible to be an adult all the time," he ventures (a thought for which he is severely punished). It's lines like these that put us, the reader, fully on Bernard's side. He's basically championing our thoughts and opinions within this fictional world.

But Bernard's glory moment comes when he's called out for being unorthodox by the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning: "Bernard left the room with a swagger, exulting, as he banged the door behind him, in the thought that he stood alone, embattled against the order of things, elated by the intoxicating consciousness of his individual significance and importance." Talk about a Rocky moment.

But following this very same paragraph of admirable integrity is the beginning of Bernard's transition. Rather than take personal pride in his individual victory, Bernard has to brag about it to Helmholtz. His extravagant embellishments induce some eye-rolls on the part of the reader ("I simply told him to go to the Bottomless Past and marched out of the room"), and we get the sense that Bernard's victory wasn't so much about personal integrity as it was public bragging rights.

And it's really only downhill from there. Jump to Chapter 6: Part 3, when Bernard is absolutely flipping out about the cologne tap he left running back in the hotel room. He obsesses over it during the Warden's entire speech. At first, this scene seems random. As readers, we're a little perplexed. But instead of trying to analyze the Deep Hidden Meaning behind a running tap of cologne, just think about how this makes you feel about Bernard. While the Warden is imparting information about a completely foreign culture—information that Bernard of all people should be fascinated byBernard is obsessing over a superficial concern. When we hear his thoughts, Bernard starts to sound whiny and trivial. This scene is where our emotional loyalty starts to shift away from Bernard.

Of course, when Bernard decides to uproot John and his mother, exposing them to scrutiny solely for his own selfish blackmail purposes, we can confidently say that we no longer like this guy.

But before we get too judgmental, we have to admit that the deck is stacked against Bernard to start. He's been conditioned like every one else, so his freedom of thought is severely limited. Check out the scene in Chapter 6 where the Director starts talking about the past. Bernard recalls the sleep-teaching that warns against this, and the narrative tells us that "that was one of those hypnopædic prejudices he had (so he imagined) completely got rid of." The parenthetical bit is the key here. On top of that, he somehow got the short end of the stick when it comes to physicality: he's stunted. In a world where appearances are an indication of caste, Bernard's identity is brought into question, along with his authority.

So it doesn't take long for us to realize that Bernard is really more interested in excelling socially than in defining his individuality. When his connection to the Savage functions as his ticket to popularity, Bernard doesn't hesitate to leave behind his grand ambitions of unorthodoxy and rebellion.