Study Guide

Brave New World Suffering

By Aldous Huxley


Chapter 1
Henry Foster

Hot tunnels alternated with cool tunnels. Coolness was wedded to discomfort in the form of hard X-rays. By the time they were decanted the embryos had a horror of cold. They were predestined to emigrate to the tropics, to be miner and acetate silk spinners and steel workers. Later on their minds would be made to endorse the judgment of their bodies. "We condition them to thrive on heat," concluded Mr. Foster. "Our colleagues upstairs will teach them to love it."

"And that," put in the Director sententiously, "that is the secret of happiness and virtueliking what you've got to do. All conditioning aims at that: making people like their inescapable social destiny." (1.87-8)

Right off the bat, we have to start questioning the way in which the Director and others define "happiness" in this world. Is being "content" the same as being "happy"? If you have no choice about it, if this emotion is the default, can we still think of it as true "happiness"?

Chapter 3

"And do remember that a gramme is better than a damn." They went out, laughing. (3.232)

This platitude pretty much sums it up: soma is used to avoid anger.

Mustapha Mond

Feeling lurks in that interval of time between desire and its consummation. Shorten that interval, break down all those old unnecessary barriers.

"Fortunate boys!" said the Controller. "No pains have been spared to make your lives emotionally easyto preserve you, so far as that is possible, from having emotions at all." (3.115-6)

The Controller misses a key point herethat the consummation is made better by the waiting.

"Has any of you been compelled to live through a long time-interval between the consciousness of a desire and its fulfillment?"


"I once had to wait nearly four weeks before a girl I wanted would let me have her."

"And you felt a strong emotion in consequence?"


"Horrible; precisely," said the Controller. (3.132-8)

This passage raises the question, what happens to "happiness" when it is challenged, when it is earned?

Chapter 4: Part 2

"That horrible Benito Hoover!" And yet the man had meant well enough. Which only made it, in a way, much worse. Those who meant well behaved in the same way as those who meant badly. Even Lenina was making him suffer. He remembered those weeks of timid indecision, during which he had looked and longed and despaired of ever having the courage to ask her. Dared he face the risk of being humiliated by a contemptuous refusal? But if she were to say yes, what rapture! Well, now she had said it and he was still wretched. (4.2.1)

Bernard's feelings for Lenina inevitably will end in suffering, because his passion is at odds with such a controlled environment. He suffers from feeling unfulfilled if he doesn't ask, he suffers humiliation if she says no, and he suffers from her casual treatment of his advances if she says yes.

Chapter 5: Part 1

Obediently, with all the others, Lenina and Henry left the building. The depressing stars had travelled quite some way across the heavens. But though the separating screen of the sky-signs had now to a great extent dissolved, the two young people still retained their happy ignorance of the night. (5.1.21)

This reminds us of the passage in Chapter 6 in which Bernard tries to make Lenina look at the ocean. Look at the use of "depressing" as an adjective to describe the stars; this is similar to the "haggard" moon and the "rushing emptiness" of the night we see later. Just as Henry and Lenina refuse to acknowledge the weather, so they generally refuse to acknowledge anything larger than themselves. No God, no morality, no justice, and no respect for humanity as a whole or the world at large.

Then, in a resolutely cheerful voice, "Anyhow," he concluded, "there's one thing we can be certain of; whoever he may have been, he was happy when he was alive. Everybody's happy now."

"Yes, everybody's happy now," echoed Lenina. They had heard the words repeated a hundred and fifty times every night for twelve years. (5.1.14-5)

We would go on and on about genuine happiness as related to this sort of false, brainwashed happinessbut is there a real difference?

Chapter 5: Part 2

"Wasn't it wonderful?" said Fifi Bradlaugh. "Wasn't it simply wonderful?" She looked at Bernard with an expression of rapture, but of rapture in which there was no trace of agitation or excitement—for to be excited is still to be unsatisfied. Hers was the calm ecstasy of achieved consummation, the peace, not of mere vacant satiety and nothingness, but of balanced life, of energies at rest and in equilibrium. A rich and living peace. For the Solidarity Service had given as well as taken, drawn off only to replenish. She was full, she was made perfect, she was still more than merely herself. "Didn't you think it was wonderful?" she insisted, looking into Bernard's face with those supernaturally shining eyes. (5.2.33)

Huxley's description of Fifi's emotion is certainly interesting. One might try to write off the "happiness" of the World State as "mere satiety," but this passage makes that impossible. Fifi is more than merely satiated, it tells usin fact, she's in ecstasy.

Chapter 6: Part 2
Mustapha Mond

"Well," he resumed at last, "the next day there was a search. But we couldn't find her. She must have fallen into a gully somewhere; or been eaten by a mountain lion. Ford knows. Anyhow it was horrible. It upset me very much at the time. More than it ought to have done, I dare say. Because, after all, it's the sort of accident that might have happened to any one; and, of course, the social body persists although the component cells may change." But this sleep-taught consolation did not seem to be very effective. Shaking his head, "I actually dream about it sometimes," the Director went on in a low voice. "Dream of being woken up by that peal of thunder and finding her gone; dream of searching and searching for her under the trees." He lapsed into the silence of reminiscence. (6.2.8)

Mustapha's prediction that emotional attachments inevitably cause suffering is very true here: the Director obviously had some sort of attachment to Linda (made evident by his defensive outburst in the next paragraph denying as much), and he suffered immensely at her disappearance.

Chapter 6: Part 3

Often in the past he had wondered what it would be like to be subjected (soma-less and with nothing but his own inward resources to rely on) to some great trial, some pain, some persecution; he had even longed for affliction. As recently as a week ago, in the Director's office, he had imagined himself courageously resisting, stoically accepting suffering without a word. The Director's threats had actually elated him, made him feel larger than life. But that, as he now realized, was because he had not taken the threats quite seriously, he had not believed that, when it came to the point, the D.H.C. would ever do anything. Now that it looked as though the threats were really to be fulfilled, Bernard was appalled. Of that imagined stoicism, that theoretical courage, not a trace was left. (6.3.36)

Well, here Huxley answers our study questions for us.

Lenina Crowne

"Have a gramme," suggested Lenina.

He refused, preferring his anger. (6.3.31-2)

Bernard's reaction is admirablebut it doesn't last long. He very quickly resorts to soma to escape his anger rather than facing it. What is the turning point for him, and why?

Chapter 7
Lenina Crowne

Astonishment made Lenina forget the deprivation of soma. She uncovered her face and, for the first time, looked at the stranger. "Do you mean to say that you wanted to be hit with that whip?"

Still averted from her, the young man made a sign of affirmation. "For the sake of the puebloto make the rain come and the corn grow. And to please Pookong and Jesus. And then to show that I can bear pain without crying out. Yes," and his voice suddenly took on a new resonance, he turned with a proud squaring of the shoulders, a proud, defiant lifting of the chin "to show that I'm a man…" (7.45-6)

John's constant desire to suffer is a product of his upbringing, just as Lenina's aversion to pain of any kind (mental, physical) is a product of hers. In this way, is John just as brainwashed as Lenina?

Naked but for a white cotton breech-cloth, a boy of about eighteen stepped out of the crowd and stood before him, his hands crossed over his chest, his head bowed. The old man made the sign of the cross over him and turned away. Slowly, the boy began to walk round the writhing heap of snakes. He had completed the first circuit and was half-way through the second when, from among the dancers, a tall man wearing the mask of a coyote and holding in his hand a whip of plaited leather, advanced towards him. The boy moved on as though unaware of the other's existence. The coyote-man raised his whip, there was a long moment of expectancy, then a swift movement, the whistle of the lash and its loud flat-sounding impact on the flesh. The boy's body quivered; but he made no sound, he walked on at the same slow, steady pace. The coyote struck again, again; and at every blow at first a gasp, and then a deep groan went up from the crowd. The boy walked. Twice, thrice, four times round he went. The blood was streaming. Five times round, six times round. Suddenly Lenina covered her face shish her hands and began to sob. "Oh, stop them, stop them!" she implored. But the whip fell and fell inexorably. Seven times round. Then all at once the boy staggered and, still without a sound, pitched forward on to his face. (7.35)

The Indians at Malpais take an approach to suffering that seems the polar opposite to that of the World State. For them, suffering is a noble and beneficial self-sacrifice, an opportunity to prove oneself, to cleanse oneself, and to evolve personally.

Chapter 8

"Yes, that's just it." The young man nodded. "If one's different, one's bound to be lonely. They're beastly to one. Do you know, they shut me out of absolutely everything? When the other boys were sent out to spend the night on the mountainsyou know, when you have to dream which your sacred animal isthey wouldn't let me go with the others; they wouldn't tell me any of the secrets. I did it by myself, though," he added. "Didn't eat anything for five days and then went out one night alone into those mountains there." He pointed.

Patronizingly, Bernard smiled. "And did you dream of anything?" he asked. (8.67-8)

Bernard clearly doesn't get it. (We can tell because he answers "patronizingly" and "with a smile.") In the same way that Helmholtz can't understand the emotions behind Romeo and Juliet, Bernard will never understand the value of suffering.

John the Savage

"Once," he went on, "I did something that none of the others did: I stood against a rock in the middle of the day, in summer, with my arms out, like Jesus on the Cross."

"What on earth for?"

"I wanted to know what it was like being crucified. Hanging there in the sun…"

"But why?"

"Why? Well…" He hesitated. "Because I felt I ought to. If Jesus could stand it. And then, if one has done something wrong… Besides, I was unhappy; that was another reason."

"It seems a funny way of curing your unhappiness," said Bernard. But on second thoughts he decided that there was, after all, some sense in it. Better than taking soma… (8.69-74)

John's explanation that "I felt I ought to" lends weight to the theory that his self-mutilation is a product of his upbringing and stands without logic or reason. On the other hand, his added claim that he was trying to cure himself of unhappiness suggests that there's something else going on here: John has thought more deeply about what it means to suffer.

Chapter 11

"Just returned," explained Dr. Gaffney, while Bernard, whispering, made an appointment with the Head Mistress for that very evening, "from the Slough Crematorium. Death conditioning begins at eighteen months. Every tot spends two mornings a week in a Hospital for the Dying. All the best toys are kept there, and they get chocolate cream on death days. They learn to take dying as a matter of course." (11.69)

In eliminating suffering from daily life, the World State has dehumanized its citizeneven to death.

In the taxicopter he hardly even looked at her. Bound by strong vows that had never been pronounced, obedient to laws that had long since ceased to run, he sat averted and in silence. Sometimes, as though a finger had plucked at some taut, almost breaking string, his whole body would shake with a sudden nervous start. (11.109)

Perhaps John insists on maintaining his chastity because doing so is another opportunity to suffer.

John the Savage

A click; the room was darkened; and suddenly, on the screen above the Master's head, there were the Penitentes of Acoma prostrating themselves before Our Lady, and wailing as John had heard them wail, confessing their sins before Jesus on the Cross, before the eagle image of Pookong. The young Etonians fairly shouted with laughter. Still wailing, the Penitentes rose to their feet, stripped off their upper garments and, with knotted whips, began to beat themselves, blow after blow. Redoubled, the laughter drowned even the amplified record of their groans.

"But why do they laugh?" asked the Savage in a pained bewilderment.

"Why?" The Provost turned towards him a still broadly grinning face. "Why? But because it's so extraordinarily funny." (11.54-6)

Because they have been desensitized to human suffering, the citizens of the World State find it funnyeven entertaining. This short passage prepares us for the end of the novel, where we delightfully ask, "Who's laughing NOW?"

Chapter 12
Lenina Crowne

Lenina suddenly felt all the sensations normally experienced at the beginning of a Violent Passion Surrogate treatmenta sense of dreadful emptiness, a breathless apprehension, a nausea. Her heart seemed to stop beating.

"Perhaps it's because he doesn't like me," she said to herself. And at once this possibility became an established certainty: John had refused to come because he didn't like her. He didn't like her… (12.23-4)

It is unclear whether Lenina's suffers here because she can't have John, or because she actually has genuine feelings for him. Your thoughts?

But in spite of this knowledge and these admissions, in spite of the fact that his friend's support and sympathy were now his only comfort, Bernard continued perversely to nourish, along with his quite genuine affection, a secret grievance against the Savage, to mediate a campaign of small revenges to be wreaked upon him. […] As a victim, the Savage possessed, for Bernard, this enormous superiority over the others: that he was accessible. One of the principal functions of a friend is to suffer (in a milder and symbolic form) the punishments that we should like, but are unable, to inflict upon our enemies. (12.48)

This is a particularly odd passage in the text. At first it sounds like foreshadowingwe start waiting for the moment Bernard will exact his revenge on John. But it soon becomes clear that, actually, that's not going to happen. Bernard ends up dropping off the face of the earth and John, who's way keen on inflicting suffering on himself, doesn't really need to suffer on behalf of anybody else.

Chapter 13
Lenina Crowne

"Then why on earth didn't you say so?" she cried, and so intense was her exasperation that she drove her sharp nails into the skin of his wrist. "Instead of drivelling away about knots and vacuum cleaners and lions, and making me miserable for weeks and weeks." (13.66)

This is a key moment in the sex-violence connection in Brave New World. Lenina, in her passion for John, hurts him physicallya lot like the scene at the end of the novel. Check out "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" for more.

Chapter 14
John the Savage

Sitting beside her, the Savage tried hard to recapture his mood of a few minutes before. "A, B, C, vitamin D," he repeated to himself, as though the words were a spell that would restore the dead past to life. But the spell was ineffective. Obstinately the beautiful memories refused to rise; there was only a hateful resurrection of jealousies and uglinesses and miseries. Popé with the blood trickling down from his cut shoulder; and Linda hideously asleep, and the flies buzzing round the spilt mescal on the floor beside the bed; and the boys calling those names as she passed.… Ah, no, no! He shut his eyes, he shook his head in strenuous denial of these memories. "A, B, C, vitamin D…" He tried to think of those times when he sat on her knees and she put her arms about him and sang, over and over again, rocking him, rocking him to sleep. "A, B, C, vitamin D, vitamin D, vitamin D…" (14.33)

By forcing himself to think about his fond memories of Linda, John is actually trying to make himself suffer. He wants to feel sad at her death because it's the only way he knows to give it meaning.

Chapter 16
Helmholtz Watson

Helmholtz rose from his pneumatic chair. "I should like a thoroughly bad climate," he answered. "I believe one would write better if the climate were bad. If there were a lot of wind and storms, for example…" (16.68)

This passage makes it clear that Helmholtz has learned the value of sacrifice, of intentional suffering—and he is willing to pursue his passion anyway. It is also the first step in his claim that he wants to write about some sort of passion that he can understand. Since he can't grapple with love or unfulfilled lust or jealousy, he plans to try to experience physical suffering (in this case, through a bad climate) instead. (FYI, this fits into our "weather is super important" argument in "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory.")

"Right up to the time of the Nine Years' War. That made them change their tune all right. What's the point of truth or beauty or knowledge when the anthrax bombs are popping all around you? That was when science first began to be controlledafter the Nine Years' War. People were ready to have even their appetites controlled then. Anything for a quiet life. We've gone on controlling ever since. It hasn't been very good for truth, of course. But it's been very good for happiness. One can't have something for nothing. Happiness has got to be paid for. You're paying for it, Mr. Watsonpaying because you happen to be too much interested in beauty. I was too much interested in truth; I paid too." (16.65)

Sacrifice is an important test of values in Brave New World. We can be certain, at the end of the day, that Helmholtz is serious about writing because of what he is willing to sacrifice for it. John validates his own principles in his willingness to die for them. Mustapha, on the other hand, defends a different value altogetherthat of happiness. Bernard, it would seem, is willing to sacrifice nothing, and so he remains unsatisfied in the civilized world.

John the Savage

"True," he added, "they might ask for shorter hours. And of course we could give them shorter hours. Technically, it would be perfectly simple to reduce all lower-caste working hours to three or four a day. But would they be any the happier for that? No, they wouldn't. The experiment was tried, more than a century and a half ago. The whole of Ireland was put on to the four-hour day. What was the result? Unrest and a large increase in the consumption of soma; that was all. Those three and a half hours of extra leisure were so far from being a source of happiness, that people felt constrained to take a holiday from them. The Inventions Office is stuffed with plans for labour-saving processes. Thousands of them." Mustapha Mond made a lavish gesture. "And why don't we put them into execution? For the sake of the labourers; it would be sheer cruelty to afflict them with excessive leisure." (16.51)

Suffering in the "civilized" world means something very different from that of John's world (or ours). No wonder the citizens of the World State can see no benefit in forcing oneself to undergo pain.

Chapter 17
John the Savage

"But the tears are necessary. Don't you remember what Othello said? 'If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.' There's a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of Mátaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning's hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn't stand the biting and stinging. But the one that couldhe got the girl."

"Charming! But in civilized countries," said the Controller, "you can have girls without hoeing for them, and there aren't any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago." (17.48-9)

John makes another apt point with his quote from Othello: we suffer not only for the sake of suffering, but also for the rewards that come after. Mustapha misses the point in his reply; he says you can have the reward without suffering. But the idea behind John's philosophy is that sweet isn't as sweet without the bitter.

"What about self-denial, then? If you had a God, you'd have a reason for self-denial."

"But industrial civilization is only possible when there's no self-denial. Self-indulgence up to the very limits imposed by hygiene and economics. Otherwise the wheels stop turning." (17.42-3)

"Self-denial" is the process of forcing suffering on yourselfdenying yourself what you want and need. When John says that God is a reason for self-denial, we can go back to his explanation in Chapter 7, where he says he wants to get hit with the whip "to please Pookong and Jesus." Religion makes suffering necessary because it's built on the notion of an afterlife. Indulgence in this life means suffering later, whereas piety and self-denial means a happy time later. Christianity in particular encourages man to strive to be like Jesus. Since Jesus suffered, man has to as well. (John pretty much says this—see Chapter 8.)

"What you need," the Savage went on, "is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here."

("Twelve and a half million dollars," Henry Foster had protested when the Savage told him that. "Twelve and a half millionthat's what the new Conditioning Centre cost. Not a cent less.") (17.52-3)

Again there is the problem of failed communication. The closest Henry Foster can come to understanding John's notion of cost (sacrifice) is through a sterile, dehumanized commodity (money).

The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them… But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy." (17.50)

John recognizes that he's operating in a very different world than the one in which he was raised. This realization is what ultimately drives him to leave the World State and live in solitude. It is at this moment that he realizes a man like himself cannot function in a world like thisa world without slings or arrows.

Chapter 18

He had almost finished whittling the stave into shape, when he realized with a start that he was singing-singing! […] Guiltily he blushed. After all, it was not to sing and enjoy himself that he had come here. It was to escape further contamination by the filth of civilized life; it was to be purified and made good; it was actively to make amends. He realized to his dismay that, absorbed in the whittling of his bow, he had forgotten what he had sworn to himself he would constantly rememberpoor Linda, and his own murderous unkindness to her, and those loathsome twins, swarming like lice across the mystery of her death, insulting, with their presence, not merely his own grief and repentance, but the very gods themselves. He had sworn to remember, he had sworn unceasingly to make amends. And there was he, sitting happily over his bow-stave, singing, actually singing.…

He went indoors, opened the box of mustard, and put some water to boil on the fire. (18.38-9)

John punishes himself for both mental and physical transgressions. His goals for self-discipline are unbelievably loftywe have to wonder if he wants to fail so that he will be justified in hurting himself.

"Splendid," he said to himself, as the Savage started his astonishing performance. "Splendid!" He kept his telescopic cameras carefully aimedglued to their moving objective; clapped on a higher power to get a close-up of the frantic and distorted face (admirable!); switched over, for half a minute, to slow motion (an exquisitely comical effect, he promised himself); listened in, meanwhile, to the blows, the groans, the wild and raving words that were being recorded on the sound-track at the edge of his film, tried the effect of a little amplification (yes, that was decidedly better); was delighted to hear, in a momentary lull, the shrill singing of a lark; wished the Savage would turn round so that he could get a good close-up of the blood on his backand almost instantly (what astonishing luck!) the accommodating fellow did turn round, and he was able to take a perfect close-up. (18.65)

We know from earlier scenes that the citizens of the World State are desensitized to human suffering, but this takes it to a whole new level. It is fitting that in this chapterthe climax of many threads, themes, and emotions in the novel—the reader's horrified reaction to this mockery of humanity peaks as well.

John the Savage

His first night in the hermitage was, deliberately, a sleepless one. He spent the hours on his knees praying, now to that Heaven from which the guilty Claudius had begged forgiveness, now in Zuñi to Awonawilona, now to Jesus and Pookong, now to his own guardian animal, the eagle. From time to time he stretched out his arms as though he were on the Cross, and held them thus through long minutes of an ache that gradually increased till it became a tremulous and excruciating agony; held them, in voluntary crucifixion, while he repeated, through clenched teeth (the sweat, meanwhile, pouring down his face), "Oh, forgive me! Oh, make me pure! Oh, help me to be good!" again and again, till he was on the point of fainting from the pain. (18.31)

Passages like this one make it clear that John's need to punish himself stems from both his religious sentiments and from his investment in the Shakespeare texts of his childhood. Both extol the virtue of suffering, which helps to explain why John confuses the two in his mind.