Study Guide

Brave New World Dissatisfaction

By Aldous Huxley


Chapter 3
Lenina Crowne

"And to tell the truth," said Lenina, "I'm beginning to get just a tiny bit bored with nothing but Henry every day." She pulled on her left stocking. "Do you know Bernard Marx?" she asked in a tone whose excessive casualness was evidently forced. (3.121)

For Lenina, monogamy leaves something to be desired. Is this the result of her conditioning or of a natural urge to have different sexual partners?

Henry Foster

"Lenina Crowne?" said Henry Foster, echoing the Assistant Predestinator's question as he zipped up his trousers. "Oh, she's a splendid girl. Wonderfully pneumatic. I'm surprised you haven't had her."

"I can't think how it is I haven't," said the Assistant Predestinator. "I certainly will. At the first opportunity."

From his place on the opposite side of the changing-room aisle, Bernard Marx overheard what they were saying and turned pale. (3.118-20)

Bernard's dissatisfaction with the status quo stems first from emotions: he feels things that others simply don't.

Chapter 4: Part 2
Helmholtz Watson

Helmholtz shook his head. "Not quite. I'm thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I've got something important to say and the power to say it—only I don't know what it is, and I can't make any use of the power. If there was some different way of writing… Or else something else to write about…" He was silent; then, "You see," he went on at last, "I'm pretty good at inventing phrases—you know, the sort of words that suddenly make you jump, almost as though you'd sat on a pin, they seem so new and exciting even though they're about something hypnopædically obvious. But that doesn't seem enough. It's not enough for the phrases to be good; what you make with them ought to be good too."

"But your things are good, Helmholtz."

"Oh, as far as they go." Helmholtz shrugged his shoulders. "But they go such a little way. They aren't important enough, somehow. I feel I could do something much more important. Yes, and more intense, more violent. But what? What is there more important to say? And how can one be violent about the sort of things one's expected to write about? Words can be like X-rays, if you use them properly—they'll go through anything. You read and you're pierced. That's one of the things I try to teach my students—how to write piercingly. But what on earth's the good of being pierced by an article about a Community Sing, or the latest improvement in scent organs? Besides, can you make words really piercing— you know, like the very hardest X-rays—when you're writing about that sort of thing? Can you say something about nothing? That's what it finally boils down to. I try and I try…" (4.2.27-9)

Helmholtz actually has a pretty good handle on the problem. It's not that his abilities are lacking, just that his environment isn't providing the content he needs to produce the kind of art he knows he's capable of. In a way, his bottle is just too small (in terms of Mustapha's extended metaphor in Chapter 18).

Yes, a little too able; they were right. A mental excess had produced in Helmholtz Watson effects very similar to those which, in Bernard Marx, were the result of a physical defect. Too little bone and brawn had isolated Bernard from his fellow men, and the sense of this apartness, being, by all the current standards, a mental excess, became in its turn a cause of wider separation. That which had made Helmholtz so uncomfortably aware of being himself and all alone was too much ability. What the two men shared was the knowledge that they were individuals. But whereas the physically defective Bernard had suffered all his life from the consciousness of being separate, it was only quite recently that, grown aware of his mental excess, Helmholtz Watson had also become aware of his difference from the people who surrounded him. This Escalator-Squash champion, this indefatigable lover (it was said that he had had six hundred and forty different girls in under four years), this admirable committee man and best mixer had realized quite suddenly that sport, women, communal activities were only, so far as he was concerned, second bests. Really, and at the bottom, he was interested in something else. But in what? In what? That was the problem which Bernard had come to discuss with him. (4.2.15)

Bernard and Helmholtz are similar in their isolation from others, but also in their yearning for more. Clearly, these two are related, although which is cause and which is effect is subject to debate.

Speaking very slowly, "Did you ever feel," he asked, "as though you had something inside you that was only waiting for you to give it a chance to come out? Some sort of extra power that you aren't using—you know, like all the water that goes down the falls instead of through the turbines?" He looked at Bernard questioningly. (4.2.25)

For Helmholtz, dissatisfaction stems from cerebral boundaries, not emotional restrictions. This is a major difference between him and Bernard.

Chapter 6: Part 1

"I want to know what passion is," she heard him saying. "I want to feel something strongly." (6.1.60)

Again, we see that Bernard's dissatisfaction is emotional whereas Helmholtz's is cerebral. Still, both men identify a lack of passion as being the central difficulty.

Chapter 8

To fashion, to give form, to feel his fingers gaining in skill and power—this gave him an extraordinary pleasure. "A, B, C, Vitamin D," he sang to himself as he worked. "The fat's in the liver, the cod's in the sea." And Mitsima also sang—a song about killing a bear. They worked all day, and all day he was filled with an intense, absorbing happiness. (8.52)

Notice that John can only really find satisfaction in labor. The same is true in Chapter 18; it is not until he busies himself with fashioning tools that he becomes happy.

Chapter 11

Helmholtz listened to his boastings in a silence so gloomily disapproving that Bernard was offended.

"You're envious," he said.

Helmholtz shook his head. "I'm rather sad, that's all," he answered. (11.20-2)

Why is Helmholtz sad here? Does he realize that Bernard has gone the way of the weak-willed? Or is he merely self-pitying?

The days passed. Success went fizzily to Bernard's head, and in the process completely reconciled him (as any good intoxicant should do) to a world which, up till then, he had found very unsatisfactory. In so far as it recognized him as important, the order of things was good. But, reconciled by his success, he yet refused to forego the privilege of criticizing this order. For the act of criticizing heightened his sense of importance, made him feel larger. (11.24)

It becomes clear that Bernard's dissatisfaction was actually a shallow worry; his desire, at the end of the day, was really just to be accepted. Helmholtz, on the other hand, nurses a grievance that runs much deeper.

Chapter 12
Helmholtz Watson

"I know. But I thought I'd like to see what the effect would be."

"Well, you've seen now."

Helmholtz only laughed. "I feel," he said, after a silence, "as though I were just beginning to have something to write about. As though I were beginning to be able to use that power I feel I've got inside me —that extra, latent power. Something seems to be coming to me." In spite of all his troubles, he seemed, Bernard thought, profoundly happy. (12.59-61)

Once he starts down this road of rebellion, Helmholtz never turns back—unlike Bernard. He is able to laugh off any threats of punishment or consequence (like island deportation) because he realizes the "sacrifice" of leaving the World State isn't actually a sacrifice.

Helmholtz and the Savage took to one another at once. So cordially indeed that Bernard felt a sharp pang of jealousy. In all these weeks he had never come to so close an intimacy with the Savage as Helmholtz immediately achieved. Watching them, listening to their talk, he found himself sometimes resentfully wishing that he had never brought them together. He was ashamed of his jealousy and alternately made efforts of will and took soma to keep himself from feeling it. But the efforts were not very successful; and between the soma-holidays there were, of necessity, intervals. The odious sentiment kept on returning. (12.61)

So, basically, Bernard is always dissatisfied with something. Something petty.

John the Savage

"You're more like what you were at Malpais," he said, when Bernard had told him his plaintive story. "Do you remember when we first talked together? Outside the little house. You're like what you were then."

"Because I'm unhappy again; that's why."

"Well, I'd rather be unhappy than have the sort of false, lying happiness you were having here." (12.45-7)

John is dissatisfied with the same aspects of the World State that bothered Bernard in earlier chapters. In this way, John effectively replaces Bernard as the novel's protagonist.

Chapter 16

"It's lucky," he added, after a pause, "that there are such a lot of islands in the world. I don't know what we should do without them." (16.67)

This is a great line, because it proves that the World State is far from perfect, and that enough people have been dissatisfied with its system to warrant a significant number of deportations. In a way, this is perhaps the most optimistic line in Brave New World—it speaks to the strength of the human spirit.

John the Savage

Yes, that was true. He remembered how Helmholtz had laughed at Romeo and Juliet. "Well then," he said, after a pause, "something new that's like Othello, and that they could understand."

"That's what we've all been wanting to write," said Helmholtz, breaking a long silence. (16.23-4)

John and Helmholtz get along so well because they share the same dissatisfaction with the World State; they both want passion in their lives, the kind of passion they read about in Shakespeare.

Mustapha Mond

"Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand." (16.37)

Mustapha gives words to what is likely the reader's outrage at the World State. How is it that a man as conscious and logical as Mustapha can resign himself to accept forced happiness over everything else? What is he dissatisfied with, and why does he accept this dissatisfaction?