Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis
Chapter 13 Summary
When this chapter opens, Henry Foster is asking Lenina who she's going out with that night and if she's feeling ill (they've eliminated most infectious diseases in this world, but not all). In point of fact, Lenina isn't sick at all, but she's upset about her relationship with John, which has not yet turned sexual, despite her best efforts to seduce him. Fanny balks when Lenina tells her about it. She suggests that Lenina see other men, but Lenina has, and it hasn't stopped her from wanting to see John—and only John.
When Lenina shows up at John's apartment, he's surprised, having expected Helmholtz. He tells her that he wants to make a show of his love for her, to prove to her that he's worthy of her, so that they can get married. Lenina doesn't understand all this (never having considered the prospect of a monogamous marriage) and consequently grows upset, asking John whether he likes her or not. When he tells her he loves her, she strips naked, thinking that they can at last have sex. But John catches her wrists and screams that she's a whore. She's so frightened that she has to lock herself in the bathroom to protect herself from his sudden rage.
After a while, Lenina attempts to talk to him, interrupting his furious recitations of Shakespeare phrases. He graciously returns her clothes and belt, pushing them through a ventilator shaft over the door when she refuses to unlock it. Then he receives a call from someone who tells him that his mother is in grave condition. He leaves, and Lenina pokes her head out.
Chapter 13 Analysis
King Lear by William Shakespeare. In his rage, John quotes the following passage from King Lear:
"The fitchew, nor the soiled horse, goes to 't
With a more riotous appetite.
Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above:
But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends';
There's hell, there's darkness, there's the sulphurous pit,
Burning, scalding, stench, consumption; fie, fie, fie! pah,
Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, to sweeten
my imagination..." (IV.vi.136-146)
This passage, like the quote from Othello, is about the supposedly feckless and corruptible nature of women. It's meant to suggest that Lenina's lust is animalistic and that she doesn't satisfy John's requirements for appropriate female behavior.
Othello by William Shakespeare. John quotes the line "Impudent strumpet!" (V.ii.83) when Lenina undresses. He thinks that she's a whore who has been pretending to be chaste and that she has finally shown her true colors here. Remember that he likened the main character of Three Weeks in a Helicopter, the feely they went to see on their first date, to Othello, the Moor. His allusion to the play here aligns Lenina with the character Desdemona, Othello's falsely accused wife, whom he murders out of jealousy after his "friend" Iago convinces him that she has been unfaithful. In this, Huxley appears to be telling the reader that Lenina is innocent and that John has been driven to madness. He also quotes the lines:
"O thou weed,
Who art so lovely fair and smell'st so sweet
That the sense aches at thee…" (IV.ii.74-76)
"Was this fair paper, this most goodly book,
Made to write “whore” upon?" (IV.ii.79-80)
"Heaven stops the nose at it" (IV.ii.85)
He strings these lines together, omitting words, either because he forgot them or because he wants to hurry through the lines and get to the point: that he thinks Lenina is treacherous.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare. When John tries to tell Lenina that he wants to get married, he quotes the following lines:
If thou dost break her virgin knot before
All sanctimonious ceremonies may
With full and holy rite (IV.i.15-17)
He's unaware that she isn't a virgin anymore and that they won't be able to have the pure and holy wedding ceremony he imagines. When he finally understands that Lenina has had sex and, to his great horror, wants to have sex with him, he quotes the following lines:
"...the murkiest den,
The most opportune place, the strong’st suggestion,
Our worser genius can shall never melt
Mine honor into lust…" (IV.i.85-89)
Through his readings of Shakespeare, he has come to associate chastity with virtue, and he's put off by the thought of having sex before marriage. Given the often bawdy nature of Shakespeare's plays and John's often juvenile understanding of love, it's very possible that he has associated sex with evil and that, even if he were to marry Lenina, his response to her lust for him might not be positive.
Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare. When explaining why marriage is important to him, John quotes the following lines:
Outliving beauty's outward, with a mind
That doth renew swifter than blood decays!
Though the exact meaning of these lines has been debated by scholars, they likely suggest that a person's beauty can fade, but that their commitment to another "outliv[es]" that beauty, allowing a person to be monogamous and true, even as they age. John is unaware that beauty doesn't fade in this brave new world and that a marriage to Lenina would be impossible.
Lenina's attempted seduction of John parallels her seduction of Bernard, in which she proves to be impatient and insensitive to Bernard's desire to take things slow and get to know each other first. This impatience doesn't cause any real problems with Bernard, but incites John to violence.
The Skin of a Mountain Lion. In Malpais, this skin represents a man's worthiness as a spouse and is given as a gift to a woman whom the warrior wishes to marry. John tells Lenina that he would skin a mountain lion for her, but that, alas, there are no mountain lions in London, and even if there were, they'd probably just be killed from a helicopter instead of on the ground, presumably with simple tools and no doubt at considerable risk. John's willingness to skin the lion is evidence of his love, which, as it turns out, is conditional, and thus not very strong.
Sex. This is the second time Lenina has tried to seduce a man, making her intentions very clear. Both Bernard and John find these attempts too forward, but where Bernard gives in, John lashes out at Lenina, frightened by the very fact of her lust. It's possible that Huxley is making a comment on the double-standard that demonizes female desire and glorifies male desire, reinforcing a gender divide where women are supposed to chaste and men are encouraged to sleep around. This is an outdated ideal that proves harmful to Lenina, who suffers John's abuse because of it.
Violence. John's volatile and unrestrained emotions have led to disturbing behavior in the past, such as his violation of Lenina's privacy on the Reservation, and his violent tendencies go unchecked in this chapter, when he grabs Lenina and strikes her, calling her a "whore." This outburst is sudden and strongly indicates that John has no control over his emotions. He's merely reenacting what he has read in Shakespeare, not realizing that Othello's actions aren't meant to be glorified and that there is no real reason to suspect Desdemona or Lenina of wrongdoing.