Why does John see his relationship with Lenina like that of Romeo and Juliet and then later like that of Othello and Desdemona? Ch. 13 Brave New World
For someone like John who has always been an outsider—belonging to the Savage community—he takes much of his knowledge from the age-old writer William Shakespeare—so much so that he tends to analyze his relationship with Lenina like Romeo and Juliet and Othello and Desdemona.
Initially, John foresees Lenina as someone who can be wholly devoted to him—like Juliet to Romeo. However, this does not seem to be the case. Unlike John, Lenina has been brought up in a way where she believes that everyone belongs to everyone, and thus the concept of monogamy and loyalty does not exist for her.
Here's a conversation between Lenina and her friend Fanny from chapter 3 of the book which highlights this fact:
Dr. Wells says that a three months' Pregnancy Substitute now will make all the difference to my health for the next three or four years.
Well, I hope he's right," said Lenina. "But, Fanny, do you really mean to say that for the next three months you're not supposed to…
Here, Lenina is mentioning the act of sex. The very thought of going a few months without sex is troublesome to her. For John, who expects her to be a Juliet, this part of her personality may be unwelcome.
Upon this realization, John has to reanalyze his thoughts on Lenina, and thus he imagines their relationship like that of Othello and Desdemona, where the former thinks of the latter as an "impudent strumpet," which leads to him rejecting her.
Here's a quote from chapter 11 of the book which reveals his thoughts on Lenina upon knowing about her sexual exploits:
"It was base," he said indignantly, "it was ignoble."
Growing up on the Savage Reservation, John found a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. He read it compulsively, until the stories became a part of him. The plays provide a moral compass and grounding that Linda, his mother, can't offer, as an alien to the native culture. Because he suffers as an outsider, the plays also give John companionship and comfort.
By using first Romeo and Juliet and then Othello as his frames for understanding his relationship with Lenina, John reveals how far his values are from those of the World State. By thinking, first, of the two of them as Romeo and Juliet, John assumes they will be totally devoted to each other, and exclusively each other, to the point of being willing to die for one another. The concept of such total, exclusive, self-sacrificing love is completely alien to Lenina, who has been taught that everyone belongs to everyone else and that it is unhealthy to get too emotionally involved in any one person.
When John realizes that Lenina is sexually promiscuous, he again experiences culture clash. He can't understand that this is perfectly acceptable in her culture and is, in fact, encouraged. He sees her sexuality through his own cultural context as immoral and threatening. Therefore, like Othello with Desdemona, he sees and rejects his beloved as a whore.
Because both characters carry with them different cultural assumptions about women, love, and sexuality, they simply cannot understand each other. Huxley plays this for laughs, but he also shows the tragic dimensions of the situation through what happens to John.
John's favorite, and only book, as a child was The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, so it is appropriate that he would use it as a basis for his comparisons. When John first meets Lenina he is entranced by her. He view their differences as the result of their being raised in different places by different people. However, he is still optimistic about their relationship despite the odds stacked against them.
Later, John becomes disillusioned with Lenina and is filled with disgust for her. He calles her the same names that Othello called Desdemona, and though he does not kill her, he is finished with her forever.
And as though awakened by her cry he caught her by the shoulders and shook her. ‘Whore!’ he shouted. ‘Whore! Impudent strumpet!’
The relationship moves, for John, from one of hope and anticipation to one of disillusion and realization just like the tragics couples from Shakespeare.