Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
Chapter 8 Summary
Bernard asks John to explain his life. Most of the chapter consists of a flashback in which John is a small child and Linda begins dating (and, it seems, being taken advantage of and abused) by an alcoholic and violent Native American named Popé, whom John detests. In one harrowing scene, Linda is whipped by three Native American women who think she's stealing their men. It's made clear that Linda became something of a prostitute on the Reservation and that she was helpless to defend herself against the abuses of men and women alike. Meanwhile, she slowly taught John to read using a manual from work and a large copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Unsurprisingly, he preferred the latter.
When John grows older, the elders on the Reservation begin to take an interest in him, and one of them teaches him how to sculpt water pots out of clay. He witnesses a marriage, which Linda has little regard for, but which seems to move John. Later, when he attempts to attend a ceremony for the young men in the village, he's driven out, pelted by rocks. Once, John tells Bernard, he had a dream of being crucified like Jesus and paying for his sins. Bernard then asks if John would like to come back to London with them, and John jumps at the chance.
Chapter 8 Analysis
Hamlet by William Shakespeare. While relating his personal history to Bernard, John quotes two famous passages from Hamlet, a tragedy about a young man who fakes madness in order to seek revenge on his uncle, who killed his brother, Hamlet's father. These passages are:
Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty … (III.iv.92-95)
When he is drunk asleep, or in his rage
Or in the incestuous pleasure of his bed … (III.iii.90-91)
In both passages, Hamlet is referring to the incestuous acts committed by his uncle King Claudius, who married his sister-in-law, Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude. (In Hamlet's time, sisters-in-law were considered, simply, sisters, which makes it incestuous for Claudius to marry Gertrude.) The allusion to these lines is meant to underscore John's hatred of Popé and his disgust with sex.
John uses a simile when he describes Popé's long hair draped over Linda "like a black snake."
Alcohol. In previous chapters, we've seen how the rumor that alcohol had been introduced into Bernard's embryo at a crucial stage of development contributed to his social isolation. Here, alcohol in the form of mescal is consumed by Linda and Native Americans in excessive quantities that Lenina finds unpleasant. Thus, we see that alcohol in its various forms is a symbol of one's social status.
Blood. Traditionally, blood is a symbol of violence, death, passion, or even guilt, as when someone has blood on their hands. Here, blood becomes a symbol of purification, both in Jesus's crucifixion and in the ritual whipping that the boy suffers. When this blood is shed, his community is able to reap the rewards, having satisfied the gods and spirits.
Snakes. During the ritual in this chapter, an old man pulls dozens of snakes out of a chest, throwing them pointedly on the ground. In Pueblo mythology, snakes are symbols of fertility, and the old man is using them here to incite the rain gods to come and help their crop (in other words, to incite their maize to be fertile). Later, John describes Popé's hair as a "black snake" draped across Linda—an image that underscores their fertility and sexual relationship while also playing on the traditional symbolism of the snake as a treacherous enemy.
Literacy. Hand in hand with the theme of education and the symbolism of books is the theme of literacy, a skill which has been discouraged in the brave new world for the purpose of dampening a person's intellectual curiosity and stymieing their imagination. Unlike the infants in Conditioning Centres, John isn't tortured into a hatred of books, and these become his primary solace as a boy. When he reads Shakespeare, he experiences a joy and understanding that Bernard and the other characters in the novel are incapable of, for the most part. Despite growing up on the Reservation, John has in many ways received a better education that his "civilized" counterparts.
Isolation. Much like Bernard and Helmholtz, who are isolated for their physical attributes and their mental attributes, respectively, John has been ostracized by most of the Native American community on the Reservation, left out of an important ritual young men go through when they reach maturity. He and his mother are the victims of physical abuse and malicious gossip, and John turns to the works of Shakespeare for solace. His excitement at the prospect of traveling to the "Other Place" (what Linda calls civilization in general and London specifically) indicates that he's lonely and would enjoy meeting like-minded people. He will, of course, be disappointed with London.
Sexuality. Both Linda and John are disgusted by the kind of sex had on the Reservation. In London, sex is mandated by the government, requires that one use contraceptives, and presumably takes place only when all parties give consent. In contrast, sex on the Reservation often happens by force, is fueled by alcohol, and takes no precautions against pregnancy or venereal disease. Linda finds it shameful, and John looks on it with a contempt fueled by his reading of Shakespeare.
Violence. Though there are some examples of torture in the conditioning process, there has otherwise been very little violence in the novel, which focuses on a civilization that claims to have eliminated all social strife and its resultant violence. On the Reservation, however, there's no such stability, and the Native American men have no problem taking advantage of Linda, whom they think of as an outsider and, thus, a target.