Study Guide

Brave New World Chapter 18

By Aldous Huxley

Chapter 18

  • Helmholtz and Bernard (who has calmed down) find John in the bathroom, throwing up. John explains that he was sick because he ate civilization and it poisoned him. He then ate his own wickedness, he says, along with some mustard and water.
  • (Um…what? John's "mustard and warm water" is a simple treatment for poisoning. It makes the afflicted individual throw up; John is purging himself the way he saw the Indians do it on the Reservation. This is his way of getting "civilization" and "wickedness" out of his body.)
  • Bernard then apologizes for flipping out earlier, but John, ever-magnanimous, stops him.
  • And then… the three men are happy, perhaps because of their sadness, because sadness "was the symptom of their love for each other."
  • John tells Helmholtz that he asked Mustapha if he could go to the island, too, but Mustapha said that he wasn't allowed to because it was necessary to "go on with the experiment."
  • But John is having none of that, he says. He's going away tomorrow, to someplace where he can "be alone."
  • That someplace turns out to be an abandoned lighthouse "between Puttenham and Elstead," which means nothing to those of us who aren't intimately familiar with London's various locales. Suffice it to say, it's on a hill outside London.
  • Upon arrival, John regrets that the place isn't a little more abandoned and decrepit, but he figures it will make do for his self-purging.
  • The first night he spends on his knees, not so much sleeping as praying to God, to every sort of god, actually, from the Christian God in Hamlet to the gods of the Savage Reservation.
  • (For what it's worth: the text states that John prays to "Jesus and Pookong." We're thinking Pookong = Puukon, a war God in the mythology of Native Americans New Mexico. Here's an illustration of him (when you open the link, he's the image on right side). This is interesting because it looks like Puukon has a twin, but in Brave New World he's paired up with Jesus. This isn't the first time Huxley has mashed together different religious systems, figures, and icons.)
  • John also stretches his arms out "in mock crucifixion" until his whole body aches, the whole time begging, "Forgive me! Make me pure!"
  • The next morning, John is again unhappy with his surroundings; they're not miserable enough. AND he has a view. A view of lovely things. He doesn't think he deserves any of this.
  • Still, he climbs up to the top of the lighthouse tower and looks over at Hog's Back, a geographical formation that resembles, well, you can probably guess what it resembles. It's basically a long ridge. Unfortunately, the lovely scenic view is slightly marred by seven huge skyscrapers, a reminder of the civilized world.
  • So John settles into his new life of seclusion among the beauteous woods, groves, ponds, and flowers. And self-mutilation.
  • Now, on the subject of money: in John's days as a guinea pig for the Controller and Bernard's grand experiment, he was given some cash for personal expenses. Before coming to the lighthouse, he bought all the supplies he thought he needed: blankets, ropes, string, matches, pots and pans, and flour. He also brought along some tasty civilization food, but he decides he won't allow himself to eat such delicacies, even if he's starving.
  • But John does at least plant a garden. He also tries to make himself a bow and arrow for hunting rabbits. He takes great pleasure in the long-term project of carving these sorts of tools for himself.
  • That's great! ...until John realizes that he's happy. Of course, the reason he came here was to be miserable, to think about his dead mother and the horror of the civilized world. He immediately goes inside to purge himself (throw up).
  • It seems that things will go on in this strange, systematic routine of masochistic solitude, except that three Delta-Minuses wander by later that day and see John standing half-naked and whipping himself with a cord of knotted rope and stopping once and a while to throw up.
  • The Delta-Minuses, being not-so-bright, manage to say to each other: "Ford!" and in a bout of creative, independent thinking: "Fordey!"
  • But we're guessing they managed to say a little more than that once they got back to society, because three days later the place is swarming with reporters.
  • John is harmlessly fashioning himself some arrows when a reporter comes up behind him and is all, "Hey! I'm a reporter!"
  • John freaks out. The reporter, doing a really bad job of gauging John's reaction, pulls out a complicated radio contraption, identifies himself as Primo Mellon, and asks John to say a few words.
  • John is all, "Not a chance "; that is, he angrily spouts something in his native tongue, Zuñi (the same words he said to Bernard back in Chapter 12). Then he essentially dropkicks the reporter.
  • It seems the location of the dropkick was the reporter's "coccyx," which refers to the bone at the base of the spinal column. In layman's terms, the guy got his butt kicked.
  • Meanwhile more people have shown up at the lighthouse to harass the Savage. They keep telling him to take soma, since pain is really just a delusion that drugs can dissipate.
  • John responds by advancing menacingly. Everyone decides to keep their safe distances from the crazy man.
  • We soon see that "a safe distance" is achieved by hovering over the lighthouse in various helicopters.
  • John shoots at one of the helicopters and actually punctures the metal.
  • Guys in the helicopter: "Eek!"
  • John compares himself to a heroic figure from a Zuñi legend (see "Allusions" for more) as he continues to work despite the annoying buzzing of helicopter vermin in the sky above.
  • While chilling out one afternoon, John starts thinking about Lenina. A sexy, naked, "take me now!" Lenina. To stop himself from thinking sexual thoughts, John jumps into a thorny bush.
  • While thrashing about in the bush, John tries to turn his thoughts to his mother, and specifically to the way she died in the hospital.
  • When he still can't stop thinking about Lenina, John grabs his knotted chord and begins whipping himself again, yelling the word "Strumpet!" with every flogging.
  • Meantime, in another bush not too far away, a big game photographer named Darwin Bonaparte is stealthily observing, waiting for his chance at a scoop. We're told that this guy videotapes dangerous footage for feelies—like a gorilla wedding.
  • Now that he's been spying for three days, his efforts are finally paying off. Darwin carefully films the whole spectacle, but, sadly, he misses the whole point of John's self-mutilation. He thinks his footage will end up in a great, comic masterpiece that is even better than the classic A Sperm Whale's Love-Life.
  • Sure enough, twelve days later, the new feely The Savage of Surrey is released in theaters everywhere.
  • With the popularity of the movie, John has become rather famous. Oodles and oodles of helicopters descend from above to watch him as he digs in his garden, quotes from Shakespeare about how the gods play with men like toys, mulls over Linda's death, and quotes some more from Shakespeare about death being like sleep.
  • The men and women who pour out of these helicopters have brought cameras and things like peanuts to throw at John, as though he were "an ape." When he yells at them to go away, they all laugh and have a generally good time watching him rage.
  • When he goes for his whip, they all cheer, thinking they're going to get to see him whip himself.
  • John advances on the spectators with his whip, but though they waver, they don't back down. They ask him again to do "the whipping stunt," and begin an incredibly disturbing chant of "We—want—the whip."
  • Just then a helicopter lands.
  • Out steps Lenina, in her cute, super-sexy green shorts, accompanied by Henry Foster. (Note: the text doesn't actually use their names, but we're meant to understand that it is in fact Lenina and Foster. This is confirmed in a bit.)
  • She tries to say something to John, but he can't hear her over the ambient noise that is the bloodthirsty crowd. She starts crying, too, while she shouts to him with "yearning distress" and finally stretches her arms out, walking toward him.
  • John, in response to this demonstration of genuine love and concern, calls her a whore and starts beating her with his whip.
  • The crowd loves it and runs forward toward the center of the action. Lenina, a wise duck, instead opts to run away, back toward Henry and the helicopter.
  • John chases after her, yelling, "The flesh! Kill it!" This is officially the worst second date ever.
  • The crowd begins to imitate John. The text explains it by saying they are fascinated by pain, that they want to be unanimous in their actions, and that their conditioning makes them want to cooperate. So they all start thrashing each other wildly, all the time singing "orgy-porgy" and "beating one another in six-eight time."
  • So… this all continues for a quite a while. We cut to midnight, with the last of the helicopters leaving and John passed out, "stupefied by soma" and "exhausted by [the] frenzy of sexuality."
  • (WHOA there. Does this mean John… took soma? And had sex?? We've told you as much as the text does, but check out John's "Character Analysis" for our dish on the matter.)
  • John wakes up the next morning when the sun is high in the sky. And then "suddenly [he] remembered—everything." "Oh, my God!" he cries, "my God!" and he puts his hand over his eyes.
  • By that night the papers have all recorded the "orgy of atonement" that took place the day before. A swarm of helicopters arrives at the lighthouse, but when the visitors enter looking for "Mr. Savage," there is no response.
  • There is, however, a dangling pair of feet high in the air.
  • And those feet are attached to John's dead, hanging body, turning slowly and mechanically in the air "like two compass needles," clockwise, then counter-clockwise, "South-south-west, south, south-east, east…"

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

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