"And then he spends most of his time by himself—alone." There was horror in Fanny's voice. (3.128)
What begins as Bernard's defining feature is both a virtue (it makes him an individual) and his downfall (it makes him insecure, which makes him manipulate John, which makes him famous, which makes him petty…).
Chapter 4: Part 2
"Are you?" said Helmholtz, with a total absence of interest. Then after a little pause, "This last week or two," he went on, "I've been cutting all my committees and all my girls. You can't imagine what a hullabaloo they've been making about it at the College. Still, it's been worth it, I think. The effects…" He hesitated. "Well, they're odd, they're very odd."
A physical shortcoming could produce a kind of mental excess. The process, it seemed, was reversible. Mental excess could produce, for its own purposes, the voluntary blindness and deafness of deliberate solitude, the artificial impotence of asceticism. (4.2.22-3)
Helmholtz is just like Bernard, except more attractive and less insecure. The second paragraph makes that pretty clear. The first one is interesting, though—it provides some insight into just how tight a leash the World State has on its citizens.
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. (4.2.15)
We would really like to comment on this… except Huxley doesn't leave much room for interpretation. This is "Direct Characterization," a.k.a. "Blatant Telling (Not Showing)" at its best.
With eyes for the most part downcast and, if ever they lighted on a fellow creature, at once and furtively averted, Bernard hastened across the roof. He was like a man pursued, but pursued by enemies he does not wish to see, lest they should seem more hostile even than he had supposed, and he himself be made to feel guiltier and even more helplessly alone. (4.2.1)
Most of Bernard's isolation is self-imposed. He worries that others don't respect him, which means he carries himself with insecurity, which leads to others disrespecting him.
The mockery made him feel an outsider; and feeling an outsider he behaved like one, which increased the prejudice against him and intensified the contempt and hostility aroused by his physical defects. Which in turn increased his sense of being alien and alone. A chronic fear of being slighted made him avoid his equals, made him stand, where his inferiors were concerned, self-consciously on his dignity. How bitterly he envied men like Henry Foster and Benito Hoover! Men who never had to shout at an Epsilon to get an order obeyed; men who took their position for granted; men who moved through the caste system as a fish through water—so utterly at home as to be unaware either of themselves or of the beneficent and comfortable element in which they had their being. (4.2.3)
Given this information (so subtly and artistically), we can almost predict what's going to happen to Bernard when fame and glory hit later in the novel.
Chapter 5: Part 1
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. (5.1.19)
Solitude really is an anachronism in this world. From Henry and Lenina's date we get a sense of routine—they basically do this every night, just with different partners. So between the workplace and their socializing, individuals can never be alone. They can never think or look inward or examine; they just exist.
Chapter 5: Part 2
"I drink to the imminence of His Coming," he repeated, with a sincere attempt to feel that the coming was imminent; but the eyebrow continued to haunt him, and the Coming, so far as he was concerned, was horribly remote. He drank and handed the cup to Clara Deterding. "It'll be a failure again," he said to himself. "I know it will." But he went on doing his best to beam. (5.2.17)
What is it, exactly, that prevents Bernard from losing himself in Solidarity Service like everyone else? He focuses on details—Morgana's unibrow, for example—instead of letting his mind go. Focused on the tangible, he can't address the abstract, the "remote." Oddly enough, this seems to be the opposite of what differentiates him from the rest of society at other times—he's concerned with larger, abstract ideas while people like Lenina can only think about clothing and soma.
"Yes, I thought it was wonderful," he lied and looked away; the sight of her transfigured face was at once an accusation and an ironical reminder of his own separateness. He was as miserably isolated now as he had been when the service began—more isolated by reason of his unreplenished emptiness, his dead satiety. Separate and unatoned, while the others were being fused into the Greater Being; alone even in Morgana's embrace—much more alone, indeed, more hopelessly himself than he had ever been in his life before. He had emerged from that crimson twilight into the common electric glare with a self-consciousness intensified to the pitch of agony. He was utterly miserable, and perhaps (her shining eyes accused him), perhaps it was his own fault. "Quite wonderful," he repeated; but the only thing he could think of was Morgana's eyebrow. (5.2.34)
Bernard seems to oscillate back and forth between pleasure at his own individuality (and indeed a desire to differentiate himself further) and misery over his unique identity.
Chapter 6: Part 1
"I thought we'd be more… more together here—with nothing but the sea and moon. More together than in that crowd, or even in my rooms. Don't you understand that?" (6.1.35)
Bernard hits on an interesting note here—being alone together brings two people closer than being together in a crowd. Make sense? Well, not to Lenina; she's under the same impression as Foster, namely that there's nothing to do while one is alone.
Pretty harmless, perhaps; but also pretty disquieting. That mania, to start with, for doing things in private. Which meant, in practice, not doing anything at all. For what was there that one could do in private. (Apart, of course, from going to bed: but one couldn't do that all the time.) Yes, what was there? Precious little. (6.1.4)
Henry Foster may be the male character most thoroughly indoctrinated by hypnopaedic platitudes in Brave New World.
He liked Bernard; he was grateful to him for being the only man of his acquaintance with whom he could talk about the subjects he felt to be important. Nevertheless, there were things in Bernard which he hated. This boasting, for example. And the outbursts of an abject self-pity with which it alternated. And his deplorable habit of being bold after the event, and full, in absence, of the most extraordinary presence of mind. He hated these things—just because he liked Bernard. The seconds passed. Helmholtz continued to stare at the floor. And suddenly Bernard blushed and turned away. (6.1.13)
Even Bernard and Helmholtz—united by their individuality—are isolated from each other by their differences. In this sense, Bernard really is utterly alone.
The words awoke a plaintive echo in Bernard's mind. Alone, alone… "So am I," he said, on a gush of confidingness. "Terribly alone."
"Are you?" John looked surprised. "I thought that in the Other Place… I mean, Linda always said that nobody was ever alone there."
Bernard blushed uncomfortably. "You see," he said, mumbling and with averted eyes, "I'm rather different from most people, I suppose. If one happens to be decanted different…"
"Yes, that's just it." The young man nodded. "If one's different, one's bound to be lonely." (8.62-7)
It's fascinating that these men—in completely different worlds, with completely different upbringings, environments, and realities—have discovered the same universal truth.
He held out his right hand in the moonlight. From the cut on his wrist the blood was still oozing. Every few seconds a drop fell, dark, almost colourless in the dead light. Drop, drop, drop. To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow…
He had discovered Time and Death and God.
"Alone, always alone," the young man was saying. (8.61-3)
While Bernard suffers from his isolation, John has learned to use it to his advantage. It is only in times of solitude that he can embrace his individuality and explore his spirituality.
At the full moon, in the Antelope Kiva, secrets would be told, secrets would be done and borne. They would go down, boys, into the kiva and come out again, men. The boys were all afraid and at the same time impatient. And at last it was the day. The sun went down, the moon rose. He went with the others. Men were standing, dark, at the entrance to the kiva; the ladder went down into the red lighted depths. Already the leading boys had begun to climb down. Suddenly, one of the men stepped forward, caught him by the arm, and pulled him out of the ranks. He broke free and dodged back into his place among the others. This time the man struck him, pulled his hair. "Not for you, white-hair!" "Not for the son of the she-dog," said one of the other men. The boys laughed. "Go!" And as he still hovered on the fringes of the group, "Go!" the men shouted again. One of them bent down, took a stone, threw it. "Go, go, go!" There was a shower of stones. Bleeding, he ran away into the darkness. From the red-lit kiva came the noise of singing. The last of the boys had climbed down the ladder. He was all alone. (8.60)
John, too, suffers from Bernard's affliction: isolation. This is what first attracts the men to each other.
"Our library," said Dr. Gaffney, "contains only books of reference. If our young people need distraction, they can get it at the feelies. We don't encourage them to indulge in any solitary amusements." (11.67)
The ban on solitude is Gaffney's reasoning for why children aren't allowed to read Shakespeare. Indeed, John too has come to associate his solitude with literature: he turned to Shakespeare to comfort himself in times of seclusion, but literature in turn set him apart from the other boys (he was the only one who knew how to read).
Looking down through the window in the floor, the Savage could see Lenina's upturned face, pale in the bluish light of the lamps. The mouth was open, she was calling. Her foreshortened figure rushed away from him; the diminishing square of the roof seemed to be falling through the darkness. (11.114)
The new world is such a painful experience for John because it furthers his isolation. Now he is isolated from the one person he had in the Reservation: his mother.
"But what were your rhymes?" Bernard asked.
"They were about being alone."
"Well, I gave them that as an example, and they reported me to the Principal."
"I'm not surprised," said Bernard. "It's flatly against all their sleep-teaching. Remember, they've had at least a quarter of a million warnings against solitude." (12.52-8)
In case you forgot that solitude was outlawed…
"Yesterday's committee, Sticks, but a broken drum, Midnight in the City, Flutes in a vacuum, Shut lips, sleeping faces, Every stopped machine, The dumb and littered places Where crowds have been:… All silences rejoice, Weep (loudly or low), Speak—but with the voice Of whom, I do not know. Absence, say, of Susan's, Absence of Egeria's Arms and respective bosoms, Lips and, ah, posteriors, Slowly form a presence; Whose? and, I ask, of what So absurd an essence, That something, which is not, Nevertheless should populate Empty night more solidly Than that with which we copulate, Why should it seem so squalidly?" (12.56)
It is entirely fitting that Helmholtz's first lines of poetry are about solitude—and that they hint at a divine being ("an essence"). Just as John did on the Reservation, Helmholtz explores his spirituality while he's alone.
John the Savage
"But all the same," insisted the Savage, "it is natural to believe in God when you're alone—quite alone, in the night, thinking about death…"
"But people never are alone now," said Mustapha Mond. "We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it's almost impossible for them ever to have it."
The Savage nodded gloomily. At Malpais he had suffered because they had shut him out from the communal activities of the pueblo, in civilized London he was suffering because he could never escape from those communal activities, never be quietly alone. (17.31-3)
Which does John find worse—the state of constant isolation, or that of forced social interaction?
But it was not alone the distance that had attracted the Savage to his lighthouse; the near was as seductive as the far. The woods, the open stretches of heather and yellow gorse, the clumps of Scotch firs, the shining ponds with their overhanging birch trees, their water lilies, their beds of rushes—these were beautiful and, to an eye accustomed to the aridities of the American desert, astonishing. And then the solitude! Whole days passed during which he never saw a human being. […] Flowers and a landscape were the only attractions here. And so, as there was no good reason for coming, nobody came. During the first days the Savage lived alone and undisturbed. (18.34)
The text makes a big deal out of establishing that John's self-imposed suffering must take place in solitude. This is because his suffering has to do with his spirituality, a desire to be closer to God, to cleanse himself of his human sins. And as we've seen many times earlier in the novel, spirituality can only be nurtured in solitude.