"Two thousand pharmacologists and bio-chemists were subsidized in A.F. 178."
"He does look glum," said the Assistant Predestinator, pointing at Bernard Marx.
"Six years later it was being produced commercially. The perfect drug."
"Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant."
"Glum, Marx, glum." The clap on the shoulder made him start, look up. It was that brute Henry Foster. "What you need is a gramme of soma."
"All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects."
"Ford, I should like to kill him!" But all he did was to say, "No, thank you," and fend off the proffered tube of tablets.
"Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology."
"Take it," insisted Henry Foster, "take it."
"Stability was practically assured." (3.218-26)
Look at the structuring here—Huxley interweaves Mustapha's description of soma with Bernard's refusal to take it. The ideology of the system is contrasted with the reality of its effects.
"There was a thing called Heaven; but all the same they used to drink enormous quantities of alcohol."
"There was a thing called the soul and a thing called immortality."
"But they used to take morphia and cocaine." (3.210-4)
Mustapha seems to suggest that some failing on the part of religion to comfort people led to the abuse of drugs and alcohol—but the same is true of conditioning and conformity in his own society.
"And do remember that a gramme is better than a damn." They went out, laughing. (3.232)
This hypnopaedic saying suggests what John will later confirm: soma replaces all real human emotion.
Chapter 4: Part 1
Benito stared after him. "What can be the matter with the fellow?" he wondered, and, shaking his head, decided that the story about the alcohol having been put into the poor chap's blood-surrogate must be true. "Touched his brain, I suppose."
He put away the soma bottle, and taking out a packet of sex-hormone chewing-gum, stuffed a plug into his cheek and walked slowly away towards the hangars, ruminating. (4.1.27-8)
Check out this contrast; Benito surmises that Bernard's deficiencies are the result of alcohol, but at the same time he freely indulges in his own drugs (soma and sex-hormone chewing-gum).
Chapter 5: Part 1
Five-stepping with the other four hundred round and round Westminster Abbey, Lenina and Henry were yet dancing in another world—the warm, the richly coloured, the infinitely friendly world of soma-holiday. How kind, how good-looking, how delightfully amusing every one was! "Bottle of mine, it's you I've always wanted…" But Lenina and Henry had what they wanted… They were inside, here and now-safely inside with the fine weather, the perennially blue sky. And when, exhausted, the Sixteen had laid by their saxophones and the Synthetic Music apparatus was producing the very latest in slow Malthusian Blues, they might have been twin embryos gently rocking together on the waves of a bottled ocean of blood-surrogate.
Swallowing half an hour before closing time, that second dose of soma had raised a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds. Bottled, they crossed the street; bottled, they took the lift up to Henry's room on the twenty-eighth floor. (5.1.19-22)
Soma is really just another form of restriction and imprisonment in Brave New World.
Chapter 5: Part 2
Again twelve stanzas. By this time the soma had begun to work. Eyes shone, cheeks were flushed, the inner light of universal benevolence broke out on every face in happy, friendly smiles. Even Bernard felt himself a little melted (5.2.17)
Bernard feels himself "a little melted" from the soma, but he still remains remarkably lucid during his Solidarity Service. Why is this? Does it mean that soma's effects are at least partly imagined?
Chapter 6: Part 1
Half an hour later they were back in his rooms. Bernard swallowed four tablets of soma at a gulp, turned on the radio and television and began to undress. (6.1.43)
We only see Bernard take soma when he wants to fit in with the rest of society. He needs to cloud his mind to pretend he's like everyone else. In a way, this is the beginning of the end for the admirable, rebellious Bernard we all know and love in the first half of the novel.
Chapter 6: Part 3
"You don't say so," said Lenina politely, not knowing in the least what the Warden had said, but taking her cue from his dramatic pause. When the Warden started booming, she had inconspicuously swallowed half a gramme of soma, with the result that she could now sit, serenely not listening, thinking of nothing at all, but with her large blue eyes fixed on the Warden's face in an expression of rapt attention. (6.3.19)
Incessant and unquestioning soma use seems to be a quality common to the female characters in Brave New World. For this and other reasons, there are a fair number of scholars who label the work misogynistic.
Lenina shook her head. "Was and will make me ill," she quoted, "I take a gramme and only am."
In the end she persuaded him to swallow four tablets of soma. Five minutes later roots and fruits were abolished; the flower of the present rosily blossomed. A message from the porter announced that, at the Warden's orders, a Reservation Guard had come round with a plane and was waiting on the roof of the hotel. They went up at once. An octoroon in Gamma-green uniform saluted and proceeded to recite the morning's programme. (6.3.38-9)
With the news of his deportation, Bernard is given the chance he always wanted—to feel threatened, to feel angry, to feel something. It is one of the great tragedies of his character that he chooses to block this moment out with soma.
What I had to suffer—and not a gramme of soma to be had. Only a drink of mescal every now and then, when Popé used to bring it. Popé is a boy I used to know. But it makes you feel so bad afterwards, the mescal does, and you're sick with the peyotl; besides it always made that awful feeling of being ashamed much worse the next day. And I was so ashamed. (7.56)
This is reminiscent of Mustapha's later claim that soma is "Christianity without the tears." It comforts, it eases, but it doesn't cost anything the way other substances do.
Lenina felt herself entitled, after this day of queerness and horror, to a complete and absolute holiday. As soon as they got back to the rest-house, she swallowed six half-gramme tablets of soma, lay down on her bed, and within ten minutes had embarked for lunar eternity. It would be eighteen hours at the least before she was in time again. (9.1)
If soma helps Lenina deal with her current problem, what does she expect to do when she comes back from "lunar eternity"?
"The Savage," wrote Bernard, "refuses to take soma, and seems much distressed because of the woman Linda, his m–––, remains permanently on holiday. (11.43)
John has replaced Bernard as the novel's protagonist; Huxley makes this clear through certain concrete examples, like this one. Bernard used to refuse soma, but now John does.
Drying her eyes, Lenina walked across the roof to the lift. On her way down to the twenty-seventh floor she pulled out her soma bottle. One gramme, she decided, would not be enough; hers had been more than a one-gramme affliction. But if she took two grammes, she ran the risk of not waking up in time to-morrow morning. She compromised and, into her cupped left palm, shook out three half-gramme tablets. (11.116)
On the issue of suffering, Lenina is the opposite of John. She takes soma to avoid suffering, while John purposefully seeks out suffering as a fundamental part of the human experience.
And Linda, for her part, had no desire to see them. The return to civilization was for her the return to soma, was the possibility of lying in bed and taking holiday after holiday, without ever having to come back to a headache or a fit of vomiting, without ever being made to feel as you always felt after peyotl, as though you'd done something so shamefully anti-social that you could never hold up your head again. Soma played none of these unpleasant tricks. The holiday it gave was perfect and, if the morning after was disagreeable, it was so, not intrinsically, but only by comparison with the joys of the holiday. The remedy was to make the holiday continuous. Greedily she clamoured for ever larger, ever more frequent doses. Dr. Shaw at first demurred; then let her have what she wanted. She took as much as twenty grammes a day.
"Which will finish her off in a month or two," the doctor confided to Bernard. "One day the respiratory centre will be paralyzed. No more breathing. Finished. And a good thing too. If we could rejuvenate, of course it would be different. But we can't." (11.1-2)
Linda represents the worst abuse of soma as she has a constant and unending need to escape reality.
"But aren't you shortening her life by giving her so much?"
"In one sense, yes," Dr. Shaw admitted. "But in another we're actually lengthening it." The young man stared, uncomprehending. "Soma may make you lose a few years in time," the doctor went on. "But think of the enormous, immeasurable durations it can give you out of time. Every soma-holiday is a bit of what our ancestors used to call eternity." (11.4-5)
Dr. Shaw's argument here is an interesting one, but it relies on the claim that time is relative. For Linda, her life feels lengthened, but for those who love her (like John), it is still shortened. Which is a more accurate measure—time as experienced on soma, or time as it passes in reality?
In the end John was forced to give in. Linda got her soma. Thenceforward she remained in her little room on the thirty-seventh floor of Bernard's apartment house, in bed, with the radio and television always on, and the patchouli tap just dripping, and the soma tablets within reach of her hand—there she remained; and yet wasn't there at all, was all the time away, infinitely far away, on holiday; on holiday in some other world, where the music of the radio was a labyrinth of sonorous colours, a sliding, palpitating labyrinth, that led (by what beautifully inevitable windings) to a bright centre of absolute conviction; where the dancing images of the television box were the performers in some indescribably delicious all-singing feely; where the dripping patchouli was more than scent—was the sun, was a million saxophones, was Popé making love, only much more so, incomparably more, and without end. (11.12)
How different is Linda's soma-world from the controlled society she's leaving? Is she better off being high all the time?
John the Savage
"What's in those" (remembering The Merchant of Venice) "those caskets?" the Savage enquired when Bernard had rejoined him.
"The day's soma ration," Bernard answered rather indistinctly; for he was masticating a piece of Benito Hoover's chewing-gum. "They get it after their work's over. Four half-gramme tablets. Six on Saturdays." (11.75-6)
We see the same thing here; the gum that Bernard is chewing made its first appearance in Chapter 3, when Benito was offering it to a disgruntled (and very different) Bernard.
The golden T lay shining on Lenina's bosom. Sportively, the Arch-Community-Songster caught hold of it, sportively he pulled, pulled. "I think," said Lenina suddenly, breaking a long silence, "I'd better take a couple of grammes of soma."
Bernard, by this time, was fast asleep and smiling at the private paradise of his dreams. Smiling, smiling. But inexorably, every thirty seconds, the minute hand of the electric clock above his bed jumped forward with an almost imperceptible click. Click, click, click, click… And it was morning. Bernard was back among the miseries of space and time. It was in the lowest spirits that he taxied across to his work at the Conditioning Centre. The intoxication of success had evaporated; he was soberly his old self; and by contrast with the temporary balloon of these last weeks, the old self seemed unprecedentedly heavier than the surrounding atmosphere. (12.42-3)
Now we can compare Lenina's interaction with the Arch-Community-Songster to Bernard's interaction with Lenina back in Chapter 6; she had to take soma to bring herself to have sex with the Songster, just as Bernard earlier had to do the same to have sex with her. Seeing Bernard off in a soma dream in the next paragraph shows us how both characters have changed over the course of the novel.
Punctured, utterly deflated, he dropped into a chair and, covering his face with his hands, began to weep. A few minutes later, however, he thought better of it and took four tablets of soma.
Upstairs in his room the Savage was reading Romeo and Juliet. (12.36-7)
Now Bernard explicitly joins the same camp, hiding from suffering by using drugs.
"Sweet!" said Lenina and, laying her hands on his shoulders, pressed herself against him. "Put your arms round me," she commanded. "Hug me till you drug me, honey." She too had poetry at her command, knew words that sang and were spells and beat drums. "Kiss me"; she closed her eyes, she let her voice sink to a sleepy murmur, "Kiss me till I'm in a coma. Hug me, honey, snuggly…" (13.81)
Lenina's song compares love to soma; of course, "love" refers primarily to sex, but still—what do these two have in common in this novel? It seems that both distract the citizens from reality and prevent them from ever contemplating too seriously the nature of their very controlled lives. But that's just one interpretation… what do you think?
Linda looked on, vaguely and uncomprehendingly smiling. Her pale, bloated face wore an expression of imbecile happiness. Every now and then her eyelids closed, and for a few seconds she seemed to be dozing. Then with a little start she would wake up again—wake up to the aquarium antics of the Tennis Champions, to the Super-Vox-Wurlitzeriana rendering of "Hug me till you drug me, honey," to the warm draught of verbena that came blowing through the ventilator above her head—would wake to these things, or rather to a dream of which these things, transformed and embellished by the soma in her blood, were the marvelous constituents, and smile once more her broken and discoloured smile of infantile contentment. (14.12)
It's no coincidence that Huxley uses the word "infantile" here to describe Linda. We've seen before that giving in to sexual impulses renders adults little more than babies, but now we see that soma indulgences are effectively the same thing.
John the Savage
"Free, free!" the Savage shouted, and with one hand continued to throw the soma into the area while, with the other, he punched the indistinguishable faces of his assailants. "Free!" And suddenly there was Helmholtz at his side—"Good old Helmholtz!"—also punching—"Men at last!"—and in the interval also throwing the poison out by handfuls through the open window. "Yes, men! men!" and there was no more poison left. He picked up the cash-box and showed them its black emptiness. "You're free!"
Howling, the Deltas charged with a redoubled fury. (15.41-2)
John is the only character to relate the notion of imprisonment to that of soma. Of course, as Mustapha will later point out, trying to explain this to any conditioned individual is impossible.
The Deltas muttered, jostled one another a little, and then were still. The threat had been effective. Deprivation of soma—appalling thought! (15.12)
The lower classes seem to have more dependence on soma than the upper classes; use is more of a scheduled regimen than a social activity.
"And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is." (17.47)
The need for soma in the new world is a testament to the Controllers' failure. People aren't really happy—they're medicated to be that way.
"Benighted fool!" shouted the man from The Fordian Science Monitor, "why don't you take soma?"
"Evil's an unreality if you take a couple of grammes."
"Pain's a delusion." (18.54-8)
This is exactly what John seeks to disprove by his self-mutilation. Not only is pain very, very real, but it's necessary for all men to be truly alive.