‘The relationship between John and Lenina is the relationship of two worlds colliding which can never coalesce.’ To what extent do you agree with this view of the relationship?
As Margaret Atwood adds from Aldous Huxley, a description of the utopia in ‘Brave New World’ is simply “a world in which everything is available, but nothing has any meaning”. Such is the relationship between John the Savage and Lenina Crowne in ‘Brave New World’; Huxley hints at the possibility of a connection despite sexual repression and conflicting views on a male-female relationship which result from their different backgrounds. John, being unique as he was birthed by his mother, is raised away from the world in New Mexico far from where Lenina lives, under the indigenous religions of the savage reservation. However, as Huxley elucidates, John’s first confrontation with Lenina and his obligation to please her and “Pookong and Jesus” suggests Huxley is using this tribal lexis as humour to convey the incompatibility of their relationship and the oddities of John’s background. Lenina is a well-conditioned Beta, “wonderfully pneumatic”, conditioned to immediately gratify sexual desire. However, John is uninformed by this sexual permissiveness, only interested in traditional values like chivalry, virtue and heroic action influenced by Shakespeare. Therefore it is debatable that the two worlds that are formed can never coalesce as a result of a clash between unconditioned and conditioned behavioural influences, upbringing and human nature.
John the Savage embodies the Savage Savant of the prelapsarian primeval and untainted form of man. Upon first meeting Lenina, John exclaims “They disliked me for my complexion” and “tears stood in the young man’s eyes; he was ashamed and turned away”, thus from thereon Huxley conveys John to be an outsider ostracised from his tribe as a result of his upbringing. However the allusion to Macbeth Act 2 Scene 2 in “the multitudinous seas incarnadine” reflects how Macbeth’s guilt can never be washed away and will poison the world around him. One could argue that this could link to John’s longing to be accepted in his society. It heightens the inevitability that even when John tries to come to terms with the Brave New World social structure, the “incarnadine”, crimson blood image, implies that his “strangled voice” will constantly enshroud him, foreshadowing his inexorable death. Huxley uses exclamatory language and repetitions in Lenina’s reply: “It’s horrible, it’s horrible”, expressing the importance of “everyone work[ing] for everyone else”. This suggests the incompatibility of Lenina and John’s outlooks on life, and the moral responsibility to their respective societies. Lenina is clearly orthodox towards the Brave New World, through her somewhat aphoristic declare “I am free…Everyone’s happy nowadays”, epitomising the hypnopaedic platitude of her society and the perpetual presence of the Soma drug. Therefore it can be seen that John and Lenina’s relationship represents two worlds that can never coalesce because the absence of free will in order to relieve hardship and suffering in Lenina’s world cannot be compromised for John the Savage.
In contrast, it can argued their relationship cannot coalesce because of their disparate views on love and sex due to their conditioning. John the Savage’s idealised and romanticised form of love stems from him being exposed to Shakespeare, and Huxley’s depiction of him and Lenina mirrors that of Romeo and Juliet. John’s “unworthiest hand” implies how he defines himself as the sinner and Lenina as an idealised Madonna figure who will redeem him, similar to Romeo’s adulation “O that I were a glove upon that hand!”. Huxley’s image of John “rubbed his cheek against his own powdered arm” suggests John’s adolescent fascination and inexperience of sexuality which Lenina is far removed from. After Lenina and John go to the feelies, the use of free indirect discourse in “he hardly even looked at her” implies Lenina’s incomprehension towards John’s lack of display of physical lust. In his collection of essays, ‘The Perennial Satirist’, Peter Edgerley Firchow argues: “Lenina’s conditioning prevents her from being able to distinguish love from lust”. I agree to some extent, however, Lenina comes across as though she is dimly, and sometimes comically aware that she is feeling something that she has not felt before and for which she has no name. When she says “But cleanliness is next to fordliness”, it suggests an incredulous tone but with a tint of self-awareness Lenina has in how she feels about John, which Huxley exposes to satirise the Victorian religiose morality of John. John knows the difference between love and lust and therefore is tormented by the tension between them in the same way that evokes Othello. John’s rage when he shouts “Whore! Imprudent strumpet!” in reaction to Lenina wanting to have sex with him indicates his revulsion towards sexuality, and therefore his sexual disconnection from Lenina.
Blake Hobby points out that “John the Savage…embodies the alienation caused by ‘Freudian’ complexes”. In Chapter Nine, the playful and childish onomatopoeic “Zip, and then zip; zip and then zip” when he is watching Lenina in bed, illustrates John’s petulance towards sex. The fairy-tale lexis used when he is “enchanted” suggests his sexual passivity and repression. On one hand, the Freudian idea that psychological conflicts are caused by sexual repression concurs with John’s inner conflict through his decision not to act upon these impulses reflected through free indirect discourse: “Detestable thought!”. However, I think that John is not totally alienated sexually from Lenina. The fact that his “heart beat wildly” suggests John is actively trying to overcome the possibility perhaps of a sexual impulse, however Huxley’s image of “a fly buzzed round her” is somewhat bathetic. Furthermore, it is ironic that Lenina was in fact after all that time on a “soma-holiday”, and therefore mentally oblivious to John’s affections. Indeed it can be said that there are similarities with the themes present in ‘Hamlet’ where John’s connection between his desire, his restraint from touch and his individuated identity is most “like an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing”. Thus, Huxley’s presentation of two worlds: John’s ‘sleeping beauty’ perception of Lenina against Lenina’s hypnopaedic state indeed conveys the discordance in the relationship between John and Lenina.
Another reason why it can be argued the relationship between John and Lenina can never coalesce is because of the clash between unconditioned and conditioned behaviour or whether or not they are conditioned at all. In spite of the immobile society that Brave New World creates as a result of the elimination of aspects that promote instability and unhappiness, John the Savage declares “But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness, I want sin”. The use of anaphoric repetition here suggests that John could be conditioned by the passion and romanticised ideals of Shakespeare, and the language is reminiscent of something hypnotic, as if he has been conditioned to want to be different from the outsider, but paradoxically wants to be accepted by the Brave New World. Therefore, it is questionable whether John compromises his beliefs and ideology which ultimately is the reason for Lenina’s failure to understand his. As the refrain of sightseers at the end of the novel reiterate, “We-want-the whip!”, it is clear that as a result of seeing his mother, Linda, being beaten by the wives for her promiscuity, John arguably is conditioned to associate love with violence.
Further, Bradley W. Buchanan states that “John is far from a true humanist”. Indeed, Buchanan’s view is valid in the sense that John’s inherent self-flagellation and desire to be punished and suffer is incongruous to Lenina’s devotion to the perpetual happiness caused by Soma. Given the Brave New World, John can be considered far from a true humanist considerably as a result of his Victorian religiose morality. However, I think he is more of a humanist than any other character can ever be, especially Lenina, as John symbolises the hope that human fallibility still exists thus conditioning is impossible. Therefore, it is questionable whether the reason why John and Lenina’s relationship can never coalesce is because they are both conditioned; John could ultimately be the true humanist and unconditioned against the eugenic, mechanised world Lenina inhabits.
In conclusion, the relationship between John and Lenina is the relationship that can never coalesce because of their vastly disparate fundamental beliefs and natures. In arguably a biblical allusion to John 19:30, John’s declare that “It is finished” encapsulates his messianic nature and puritanical desire for suffering and unrequited love indicating there are parts of John that can never be fulfilled or redeemed by the Brave New World where human frailty doesn’t exist. When Huxley visited America, he described it “marvellous, but a little too much of a good thing”. Therefore one can draw out the influence his shock towards the mass consumerist society had on the novel. Lenina epitomises the mass produced human; her orthodoxy to Soma and immediate sexual gratification makes her embody something marvellous, but in excess, which contrasts with John’s fallibility and unfufillment in Lenina’s world, indicating the inability for their relationship to ever coalesce.