President John F. Kennedy once said, “There are costs and risks to a program of action, but they are far less than the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” By this, JFK was alluding to the idea that the long-term ramifications of inaction are far greater than the short-term consequences of action. Just by just sitting on the sidelines, one conforms to the standards and rules established by others who dictate them, and that by doing something about it, one may be jeopardizing everything they think is important, but the risks wouldn’t be as high as they would be if one just remains indifferent to what’s going on around them and just plays ‘follow the leader’ their entire lives. This quote fits well into Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, a dystopian society with the illusion of freedom, well-crafted social stratification, and career-conditioning being the bedrock of the World State. The people are oblivious to their own subjugation, with only a few characters somewhat aware that something is going on, though not sure what.
In the novel, the character that represents the extreme of inaction is Bernard Marx, the short-statured member of the upper-caste, Alpha-Plus, a sleep-learning specialist, and vaguely aware of the problems in the BNW. Bernard prefers to standby the status quo rather than be the one who changes it, and is apprehensive about pledging his allegiance to a single ideology, in the hopes that he could pretend to be both pro and anti-BNW. His indecision, at which he feels shame and guilt for, is exampled on p. 214, “…Ashamed, stepped forward again; then again thought better of it, and was standing in the agony of humiliated indecision—thinking that they might be killed if he didn’t help them…” Bernard’s inaction has him straddling the lines of being a part of the BNW, or being against the very idea of this. Ultimately, he’s in tears when he finds out he’s been exiled to an island because of his nonconformist attitude.
Then there’s John [the Savage], the illegitimate son of Linda and the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning [DHC], Thomas “Tomakin”, who was born and bred on a Savage Reservation [in New Mexico] and brought to the civilized World State after being discovered by Bernard on his latest venture outside the BNW. Though good-natured, John often resorts to emotional outbursts, oblivious to any other way of self-expression. This occurs on p. 133, “He ran across the room and stabbed—oh, the blood!—stabbed again, as Popé’s heaved out of his sleep, lifted his hand to stab once more, but found his wrist caught…” Towards the end of the story, John becomes a pop-culture celebrity, marketing his self-flagellation as a cheap commodity for the media, and when he consumed soma and takes part in an orgy, he realizes that he has lost all sense of his identity and hangs himself in shame afterwards.
Both characters are juxtaposed in the narrative as Bernard becomes John’s legal guardian following his mother’s permanent ‘soma holiday’, and uses John as a means to get positive reviews and attention from his colleagues and the recognition he never had. This occurs on p. 156, “And as it was only through Bernard, his accredited guardian, that John could be seen, Bernard found himself, for the first time in his life, treated not merely normally, but as a person of outstanding importance.” After John refuses to be a part of Bernard’s climb up the social ladder, Bernard loses the respect and admiration of his colleagues and his status plummets as a result. This happens on p. 172, “But everybody’s there, waiting for you…” This juxtaposition helps compare and contrast each character’s worldview in relation to the BNW.
In Brave New World, Bernard Marx and John [the Savage] represent polar opposites of inaction and action, respectively. Bernard is comfortable with keeping things as it is without forfeiting his right to critique the system, while John wholeheartedly decides to liberate the people, whether they want freedom or not, and dispose of the artificiality that comprises the BNW [the environment, child-rearing etc.] and jumps on every emotion he feels, whether its love hatred, or rage, unsure of how to express these emotions in any other way. While Bernard only wants to fit in, John seeks to completely go against the BNW and all it exemplifies. In the conflict between Nature and nurture, John stands firmly on the side of Nature, while Bernard is at a loss at where he stands.