Brave New World Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

Aldous Huxley

Chapter 16 Summary and Analysis

Chapter 16 Summary

After being arrested for their outburst, Bernard, Helmholtz, and John are all taken to the office of Mustapha Mond. When John complains about the background music that's always playing in the air, Mustapha Mond quotes a line from the The Tempest, sparking a conversation about the past, beauty, art, Shakespeare, and social stability. The State has sacrificed high art in favor of peace, and that's why the "art" produced in this world is terrible, like the feely John and Lenina saw on their date. Mustapha Mond admits that the happiness this lowbrow art produced is mundane, but insists that it's better than the rarer, much brighter happiness that people used to have to fight for in the old world.

John then questions why they need to go through the cloning process, which he finds particularly disturbing. Mustapha Mond explains that this is a way to control the population and separate the social classes. For example, Alphas mustn't be forced to do Delta work, because they'd be driven mad by the repetitive nature of the grunt work. At the same time, Epsilons can't do a Beta's work, because they aren't intelligent enough to do so. John wonders why they can't just make a society completely composed of Alphas, but Mustapha Mond again shakes his head. They tried that once before. They left an entire community of Alphas in Cyprus, giving some of them Alpha work and some lower class work, and this led to social unrest and civil war. Similarly, they once reduced a typical worker's hours from seven and a half to four, but people didn't know what to do with that extra free time. They got restless. And the State doesn't like it when people are restless.

Mustapha Mond then reveals that art isn't the only threat to stability. There's also science, which has been all but halted in order to prevent progress and change. Mustapha Mond knows because he was once a very good physicist and realized that this whole world was bunk. When the State decided that he'd been asking too many questions, he was given a choice: be exiled like Bernard will be or stay and take a position of power. He chose to stay. He doesn't extend the same offer to Bernard and Helmholtz. In the end, Bernard gets sent to Iceland, and Helmholtz gets sent to the Falkland Islands, where he thinks the terrible climate will help him write.

Chapter 16 Analysis

Allusions

The Tempest by William Shakespeare. When John complains about the music constantly playing in the background everywhere he goes, Mustapha Mond quotes these lines:

"Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices…" (III.ii.139-140)

He's able to read Shakespeare, he says, because he makes the laws and therefore can break them. He may also be likening John to Caliban, the brutish antagonist of the play who has been forced into servitude by Prospero, the magician who came to live on Caliban's island years before. This underscores the idea that, in the eyes of the State, John is the enemy, not the other way around.

Symbols

Books. In previous chapters, books were established as symbols of both education and intelligence, with infants being conditioned to hate books in order to stunt their intellectual curiosity and emotional intelligence. The copy of My Life and Work, By Our Ford further cements the idea that books are tools that the State uses to control the world population. However, it's clear that Mustapha Mond has not only read but has access to Shakespeare's works, suggesting that books are also symbols of deviance or rebellion.

Themes

Art. Huxley makes it clear in this chapter that the "art" created in this brave new world is necessarily inferior the art created by their ancestors. His theory about this is presented by Mustapha Mond, who says that great art comes from suffering, and suffering comes from social strife, but there's no strife in this world, so there isn't anything for artists to use as inspiration. They live in a flat, simple world, and their emotional lives are consequently flat and simple. If the masses were to be shown Othello, Mustapha Mond says, they wouldn't understand it, because it requires that people have a complex understanding of emotional turmoil, and these people simply don't.

Beauty. Like art, beauty in this brave new world has become even more superficial than it was before. A single viewing of a feely was enough for John to conclude that the beauty in this world is utterly meaningless. People like Lenina have been conditioned to value clothes, youth, and fitness, and because of the uniformity of this kind of beauty, it ceases to be unique and interesting. One could make the argument that there is no real beauty in this world.

Happiness. John argues that anyone who doesn't understand the concept of suffering can't truly understand or even appreciate happiness when it comes. Mustapha Mond admits that, yes, the happiness in this world is imperfect, fueled by drugs and falsehoods, but counters John's arguments by saying that, since the masses don't know any better, they think they're truly "happy." If they're satisfied, then why do the semantics matter? This is an important question that has been posed by philosophers and discussed in scholarly circles. John and Mustapha Mond debate the issue, but in the end this will do nothing to change the world order.

The Past. Mustapha Mond maintains the position that he first expressed in Chapter 3, when he related how their ancestors were able to systematically destroy the past through war and oppression. The past is old, he says, and they're supposed to abhor anything old. At the same time, the greatness of the past's art and beauty isn't in question. The State mostly takes issue with the social strife that often inspired and was inspired by that art and beauty. One could argue that the founders of the regime overreacted and used philosophically unsound rhetoric to destroy the past.

Science. Perhaps the most surprising part of Mustapha Mond's speech is the part about science, which has up until now been lauded as a great human achievement and a tool to maintain social order. Here, that greatness is definitively undermined by the revelation that the State doesn't allow there to be any real scientific progress. Mustapha Mond discovered this the hard way and was stymied in his research by World Controllers who refused to pursue interesting avenues of physics. Science, the great stabilizing force in this world, is also a catalyst for change, and the State must prevent this at all costs.

Stability. Mustapha Mond and the other World Controllers value stability above all else. Since this is not a natural state for humanity, they've engineered a world where war doesn't exist. This might appear altruistic at first, but more likely it was an attempt on the part of the founders to consolidate their own power, maintaining a tiered social order while eliminating the threat of an uprising from the lower classes. This is an incredibly self-serving goal that shouldn't be valorized in any way.