Study Guide

Brave New World Freedom and Confinement

By Aldous Huxley

Freedom and Confinement

Chapter 3
Mustapha Mond

"Sleep teaching was actually prohibited in England. There was something called liberalism. Parliament, if you know what that was, passed a law against it. The records survive. Speeches about liberty of the subject. Liberty to be inefficient and miserable. Freedom to be a round peg in a square hole." (3.138)

Mustapha describes this liberalist sentiment with ridiculewhy would anyone want to be inefficient and miserable? But this is exactly the freedom John will later claimthe freedom to be unhappy.

Slowly, majestically, with a faint humming of machinery, the Conveyors moved forward, thirty-three centimeters an hour. In the red darkness glinted innumerable rubies. (3.242)

The bottles are another great reminder of the confinement that pervades the novelembryos are literally bottled, but metaphorically the citizens are trapped inside boundaries set by the World Controllers.

Henry Foster

"But, my dear chap, you're welcome, I assure you. You're welcome." Henry Foster patted the Assistant Predestinator on the shoulder. "Every one belongs to every one else, after all."

One hundred repetitions three nights a week for four years, thought Bernard Marx, who was a specialist on hypnopædia. Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth. Idiots! (3.149-50)

The hypnopaedic platitude "Every one belongs to every one else" is a great example of the sort of confinement we see in Brave New World. No one can be free because everyone is subject to the desires and urges of every other person. How can you have freedom when you're considered property? The fact that everyone is both master and slave is one of the horrifying, cyclical traps of this system.

Chapter 4: Part 1

He flung open the gates. The warm glory of afternoon sunlight made him start and blink his eyes. "Oh, roof!" he repeated in a voice of rapture. He was as though suddenly and joyfully awakened from a dark annihilating stupor. "Roof!"

He smiled up with a kind of doggily expectant adoration into the faces of his passengers.

[…]

"Go down," it said, "go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go down. Floor Eighteen. Go down, go…"

The liftman slammed the gates, touched a button and instantly dropped back into the droning twilight of the well, the twilight of his own habitual stupor. (4.1.14-19)

The "Epsilon-Minus-Semi-Moron" working the elevator is a prisoner of his status and his occupation. He has been programmed to feel a sense of freedom when arriving at the roof of the building.

Chapter 5: Part 1

"Even an Epsilon…" Lenina suddenly remembered an occasion when, as a little girl at school, she had woken up in the middle of the night and become aware, for the first time, of the whispering that had haunted all her sleeps. She saw again the beam of moonlight, the row of small white beds; heard once more the soft, soft voice that said (the words were there, unforgotten, unforgettable after so many night-long repetitions): "Every one works for every one else. We can't do without any one. Even Epsilons are useful. We couldn't do without Epsilons. Every one works for every one else. We can't do without any one…" Lenina remembered her first shock of fear and surprise; her speculations through half a wakeful hour; and then, under the influence of those endless repetitions, the gradual soothing of her mind, the soothing, the smoothing, the stealthy creeping of sleep.… (5.1.8)

Even consciousness is no weapon against conditioning.

Five-stepping with the other four hundred round and round Westminster Abbey, Lenina and Henry were yet dancing in another worldthe 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. And yet, bottled as she was, and in spite of that second gramme of soma (5.1.19-22)

Again, the use of the bottle imagery is hardly accidental here. Lenina and Henry are being held prisoner by their conditioning, their impulses, and of course soma.

Chapter 6: Part 1
Bernard Marx

"…what would it be like if I could, if I were freenot enslaved by my conditioning."

"But, Bernard, you're saying the most awful things."

"Don't you wish you were free, Lenina?"

"I don't know what you mean. I am free. Free to have the most wonderful time. Everybody's happy nowadays."

He laughed, "Yes, 'Everybody's happy nowadays.' We begin giving the children that at five. But wouldn't you like to be free to be happy in some other way, Lenina? In your own way, for example; not in everybody else's way."

"I don't know what you mean," she repeated. (6.1.27-32)

Lenina and Bernard can't understand each other here because they have different conceptions of the word "free." For Bernard, freedom is the freedom to be unhappy. Of course, Bernard isn't yet able to express this, so it is left to John to find the words in the second half of the novel. For Lenina, freedom is just another adjective she's been taught to apply to her life as it stands. She is free and happy because she's been told she is free and happy. The language has been corrupted and is as controlled by the State as citizens are.

Chapter 6: Part 2

Bernard felt extremely uncomfortable. A man so conventional, so scrupulously correct as the Directorand to commit so gross a solecism! lt made him want to hide his face, to run out of the room. Not that he himself saw anything intrinsically objectionable in people talking about the remote past; that was one of those hypnopædic prejudices he had (so he imagined) completely got rid of. (6.2.7)

This parenthetical is incredibly important for Bernard's characterand it may go some distance in getting him off the hook for being a total jerk in the second half of the novel. Try as he might, Bernard is still a product of is environment. He can imagine that if he is conscious of the control exerted over him (he is a hypnopaedic expert, after all), he can escape its confines. But, as Lenina's waking-in-the-middle-of-the-night story demonstrates, self-consciousness is not a tool against oppression.

Chapter 12
Helmholtz Watson

"This time I thought I'd give them one I'd just written myself. Pure madness, of course; but I couldn't resist it." He laughed. "I was curious to see what their reactions would be. Besides," he added more gravely, "I wanted to do a bit of propaganda; I was trying to engineer them into feeling as I'd felt when I wrote the rhymes. Ford!" He laughed again. "What an outcry there was! The Principal had me up and threatened to hand me the immediate sack. l'm a marked man." (12.51)

Helmholtz seems rather unperturbed at his predicament. This contrasts with Bernard, who flipped out when he learned he was going to get deported. Helmholtz's freedom, then, is a state of mind.

Chapter 15
John the Savage

"Don't you want to be free and men? Don't you even understand what manhood and freedom are?" Rage was making him fluent; the words came easily, in a rush. "Don't you?" he repeated, but got no answer to his question. "Very well then," he went on grimly. "I'll teach you; I'll make you be free whether you want to or not." And pushing open a window that looked on to the inner court of the Hospital, he began to throw the little pill-boxes of soma tablets in handfuls out into the area. (15.37)

John moves rather quickly from the "ineloquence" of inexperience to the "fluency" of rage. Passion, the text seems to argue, is not only a part of the human experience, but in fact enables the human experiencewith passion, man can be an individual, can have an opinion, and can disagree, fight, and interact in a way that isn't otherwise possible.

"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)

Check out the line, "Men at last!" What John is probably getting at here is the notion of infants as opposed to adults. Without soma, these Deltas can be adultscan be meninstead of bottled babies. This is exactly what Bernard was getting at with Lenina when he told her that they shouldn't have gone to bed "like infants."

Linda had been a slave, Linda had died; others should live in freedom, and the world be made beautiful. A reparation, a duty. And suddenly it was luminously clear to the Savage what he must do; it was as though a shutter had been opened, a curtain drawn back. (15.14)

It takes Linda's death for John to come to this radical conclusion about the state of imprisonment in Brave New World. His epiphany actually sounds a lot like the lines from Maine de Biran that Mustapha later reads: "…as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light." The connection works thematically as well as on the level of the individual word or image (think about "luminously" and "light," or "a curtain drawn back" and "emerges as from behind a cloud").

Chapter 16

Only an Epsilon can be expected to make Epsilon sacrifices, for the good reason that for him they aren't sacrifices; they're the line of least resistance. His conditioning has laid down rails along which he's got to run. He can't help himself; he's foredoomed. Even after decanting, he's still inside a bottlean invisible bottle of infantile and embryonic fixations. Each one of us, of course," the Controller meditatively continued, "goes through life inside a bottle. But if we happen to be Alphas, our bottles are, relatively speaking, enormous. We should suffer acutely if we were confined in a narrower space." (16.43)

OK, we get the whole bottled thing. In fact, we were getting there before Huxley decided to turn his novel into a philosophical treatise between the start of Chapter 16 and the end of Chapter 17. But who's judging (beside the hundreds of scholars who condemn the novel for this reason)? Anyway, Mustapha makes the point that all existence is confined—from Epsilon-Minus Semi-Morons to Alpha-Double-Plus Intellectuals. It follows, then, that Mustapha is in a bottle, too—a big one with a nice view, perhaps, but a bottle nonetheless.

John the Savage

"But why is it prohibited?" asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else.

The Controller shrugged his shoulders. "Because it's old; that's the chief reason. […] Particularly when they're beautiful. Beauty's attractive, and we don't want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones." (16.14-7)

Mustapha essentially imprisons the citizens of the World State by removing their ability to choose. If they can't see any alternative to the present (think of the hypnopaedic saying "was and will make me ill"it's all about living in the moment), they can't wish for anything different. This is why the past is dangerous; it offers alternatives.

Mustapha Mond

"Almost nobody. I'm one of the very few. It's prohibited, you see. But as I make the laws here, I can also break them. With impunity, Mr. Marx," he added, turning to Bernard. "Which I'm afraid you can't do." (16.12)

In his view, Mustapha has ultimate freedom in this Worldhe can break whatever rules he wants. But is Mustapha really free? How can he be when, according to him, he "serves happiness," a "difficult master"?

Chapter 17
John the Savage

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

"Not to mention the right to grow old and ugly and impotent; the right to have syphilis and cancer; the right to have too little to eat; the right to be lousy; the right to live in constant apprehension of what may happen to-morrow; the right to catch typhoid; the right to be tortured by unspeakable pains of every kind." There was a long silence.

"I claim them all," said the Savage at last. (17.62-6)

John finally puts the proper name on the freedom that he, Helmholtz, and (at one point) Bernard all claimed: the freedom to suffer.

Chapter 18
John the Savage

The Savage shook his head. "He wouldn't let me […]. He said he wanted to go on with the experiment. But I'm damned," the Savage added, with sudden fury, "I'm damned if I'll go on being experimented with. Not for all the Controllers in the world. l shall go away to-morrow too." (18.25-7)

John is free from Mustapha's control because he chooses to be. He reminds us that, in fact, any citizen in the World State could leave at any time. (Although, if they've been conditioned not to want to leave, we have to ask if freedom is preemptively made impossible.)