Meeting with John and Bernard, Helmholtz reads an anti-social poem he has composed. This reading inspires John to read Shakespeare aloud. Helmholtz’s initial delight at the poetic language turns to laughter and ridicule when Shakespeare’s ideas about love and sex clash with Helmholtz’s own social conditioning.
John’s preference for Shakespeare over the feelies leads to an explicit discussion of the power of words to create and express emotion — and to upset the social equilibrium. The chapter also dramatizes John’s rejection of Bernard for the more philosophical Helmholtz.
In defying Bernard’s demands for him to appear at a very important social gathering, John uses two techniques of resistance — retreat and the Zuni language — both expressing his indifference to and independence from the powerful people of the London world. Faced with demand to behave as a conventional celebrity to ensure Bernard’s continued social success, John returns to his Malpais identity, speaking Zuni and seeking comfort in the poetry of Shakespeare. Bernard’s helplessness and John’s angry disillusion will grow in the coming chapters — creating the climax and bringing about the events of the conclusion.
The main idea of the chapter comes into focus, however, with Helmholtz’s surprising composition of a real poem, as opposed to the slogans and catchy phrases he usually creates as a writer of hypnopaedia and feely scenarios. The theme of the poem — solitude — reveals dangerous anti-social leanings (promptly reported to the authorities) and opens the possibility of a poetic response from John — a reading from Shakespeare.
Helmholtz’s delight and fascination hint that the “emotional engineer” may be able to respond to and even compose the real poetry he feels compelled to try. Huxley holds the exciting possibility before the reader — then suddenly whisks it away with Helmholtz’s loud guffaw at the verses from Romeo and Juliet.
Helmholtz’s ability to enjoy Shakespeare goes only so far. After that point, Helmholtz’s conditioning takes over, preventing him from sharing the imaginative vision offered by the poetry. The failure to connect with real poetry — and with John — brings the chapter to a sad conclusion: the image of a potentially free, potentially poetic individual suddenly reined in by the conditioned narrowness of mind and heart.
Note here Mustapha Mond’s regretful censorship of a work he finds interesting, but socially dangerous. Mond’s mixed feelings about the responsibility of his authority are revealed further in Chapters 16 and 17.
Note, too, Lenina’s growing melancholy as John continues to avoid her. Unfamiliar with real emotion, Lenina can only compare her authentic unhappiness with the chemically induced feelings of a Violent Passion Surrogate. Unconsciously, Lenina’s natural emotions lead her into the behavior associated with romantic love in the present world, as when she gazes at the moon.
Huxley also draws a dramatic contrast between John’s restraint and the Arch-Community Songster’s guiltless enthusiasm for sex with Lenina. Unlike John, the Arch-Community Songster pulls vigorously at Lenina’s zipper, ironically topped with the Fordian T, symbol of all that is holy and conventional in the dystopia.
Lambeth Palace the official residence in London of the Archbishop of Canterbury since 1197. Here, the home of the Arch-Community-Songster of Canterbury.
St. Helena a small island in the South Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa. It was Napoleon’s prison after his defeat by the British. Here, one of the many islands where Mustapha Mond sends people who challenge the World State.