What is the purpose of John's citing lines from Romeo and Juliet in chapter 9 of Brave New World?

John's citing lines from Romeo and Juliet in chapter nine shows how little he understands the sexual values of Lenina or the World State. Lovesick, he thinks of Lenina as pure and modest, while her culture has conditioned her to be sexually promiscuous. The Romeo and Juliet quote is played for comic and ironic effect to emphasize the disconnect between John and Lenina. It is supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny to regard Lenina as an emblem of purity.

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John quotes from act 3, scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet , in which Romeo has been banished from Verona and is complaining to Friar Laurence that even animals—even flies—will be allowed to touch Juliet, while he will not because he will be so far away. Romeo says of the...

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John quotes from act 3, scene 3 of Romeo and Juliet, in which Romeo has been banished from Verona and is complaining to Friar Laurence that even animals—even flies—will be allowed to touch Juliet, while he will not because he will be so far away. Romeo says of the flies that they

On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand, may seize
And steal immortal blessing from her lips,
Who, even in pure and vestal modesty,
Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin.

This quote springs to his mind when John gazes down on Lenina as a fly buzzes around her. He has crept into her rooms while Bernard is away in Santa Fe, and while Lenina is off on a soma-induced drug trip.

John uses these lines because Shakespeare is what he knows and loves, and a Shakespearean cultural context structures his thinking. The lines foreshadow the cultural dissonance between John and the World State, as well as the disconnects that will destroy any chance of John and Lenina having a successfully relationship.

But, primarily, Huxley is using the lines at this point to comic effect. Like Romeo, John is completely lovesick, but unlike Romeo, has chosen a shallow love object unworthy of his adoration. If John had the least inkling of the way Lenina has been raised, such as to give herself sexually to every alpha man she comes in contact with, he would never see her in terms of "pure and vestal modesty" or imagine flies blushing and thinking of their kisses of her as "sin." She has no idea of "sin" and certainly would think it the height of social and mental unbalance to expect to be "pure" or modest.

Huxley uses a favorite device of Shakespeare in this scene: dramatic irony. We know the values of the World State and how completely different they are in terms of sexual practices from John's traditional worldview. John, despite his own mother's behavior, does not really have an inkling of the mores in the World State and casts Lenina in a laughably wrong light when he thinks of her as chaste and pure.

The Shakespearean context provides a further irony. Romeo is mourning being banished, and John expects to soon be separated in a like way from Lenina, as he knows she and Bernard will soon leave the Savage Reservation. What he doesn't know—and we do—is that Bernard is in Santa Fe arranging for he and Linda to come back to the World State with them.

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John uses the works of Shakespeare as a way of making sense of a world that, on the surface, doesn't appear to make much sense. The Bard's great dramas provide him with a handy reference point for understanding the world around him, giving him a moral compass that helps him navigate society's numerous strange conventions.

Romeo and Juliet is particularly helpful in this regard. According to the prevailing convention, it's not just acceptable but almost expected for John to sleep with Lenina. But John, deeply impressed as he is by Shakespeare's tragic tale of star-cross'd lovers, has his sights set on something higher than mere physical pleasure. (And besides, he lacks the experience). Therefore, he won't touch Lenina. He has effectively banished himself from her presence as a sexual partner in much the same way that Romeo was forcibly separated from Juliet, exiled as punishment for killing Tybalt.

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John has no formal education, having learned what he has from his mother, who taught him to read from an old volume of the works of Shakespeare. Therefore, he perceives people and things through the literary lens of Shakespeare's depictions.

In Chapter 9 when John responds to Lenina's invitation to visit her at the rest-house on the reservation, he is disappointed to find Bernard gone. Finally, after waiting for thirty minutes, it occurs to John to peer through the windows. Seeing a green suitcase with the initials L.C. painted on it, John impulsively—like Romeo—breaks the window's glass and enters the room. After looking through her things, he sees her lying on the bed. Gazing with adoration, John's lips whisper lines from Romeo and Juliet, triggered by the sight of a fly. His quote is from Romeo's reflection that a fly can touch Juliet, but he cannot because he is banished—

On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand, may seize
And steal immortal blessing from her lips,
Who, even in pure and vestal modesty,
Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin. (3.3.35-38)

Having no real experience, either vicarious or personal, with anyone who looks like Lenina, all John knows to express his feelings are verses from Shakespeare. Like Romeo, he is stunned by the beauty of the woman before him and completely infatuated with her; therefore, it is appropriate that he express himself with lines from Romeo and Juliet. In addition, that John expresses himself so poetically with sixteenth century verse indicates his naïveté, not to mention his anachronistic character in contrast to the inhabitants of the New World.

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Several reasons explain why John quotes Romeo and Juliet in Chapter 9. First, the allusion intimates that he and Lenina are doomed, just as Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers. His readings on the Reservation have educated him well, but in the World State, this education will be deemed worthless, even laughable. It is his knowledge of Shakespeare and other things that will make him an outcast in the World State. People are taught only what they need to know to do their jobs. There is no place for the classics like John quotes.

Even Romeo and Juliet seized the opportunity to spend a night together. In this chapter, John has the chance, but still fails to act. He marvels at Lenina's beauty, but chastises himself for the very thought of undressing her. The scene is ironic because Lenina is in no way virginal, although John still cannot overrule his conscious.

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