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Brave New World | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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What does Helmholtz mean when he says he wants to teach his students to "write piercingly," in Chapter 4 of Brave New World?

Helmholtz wants to motivate his students to write from the heart. He believes writing should inspire people to do something constructive with their lives instead of training them to follow. To him the conditioning messages and the articles about the World State's Ford's Day celebration are meaningless. "Can you say something about nothing?" he asks Bernard. Helmholtz appreciates the power of words and wants his students to feel the same. If words could pierce people's minds, they would create openings for divergent viewpoints. The words write piercingly sound like parts of another empty propaganda phrase at first glance. In reality these words provoke thinking. As a propaganda wordsmith, Helmholtz knows words incite people to think, to act, and maybe to rebel against the shallow State-mandated "happiness."

How does genetic engineering and conditioning support the point "You can't miss what you don't know," as discussed in Chapter 5, Part 1 of Brave New World?

Because of genetic engineering and hypnopaedic conditioning, people comprehend only what they have learned. The lower castes' intelligence is so stunted they can't consider any life other than the one they know. They don't have the ability to wonder "What is life like for an Alpha or Beta?" because they can't reason or use logic. Since they are equipped to feel only within the happiness range, they don't register negativity. Henry acknowledges that Alphas and Betas would miss the lives they have because their thinking is broader than the lower castes. To miss something, people have to understand that differences exist. Wondering is a consequence of thinking, so if people can't think they won't wonder.

Why does the State want to keep people "happily ignorant" by blocking the "depressing" night sky with sky signs and soma, as shown In Chapter 5 of Brave New World?

The stars, planets, and universe have always intrigued people to wonder if other life exists. By blocking the sky, especially the night sky with its inviting twinkling stars and fathomless depth, the World State prevents citizens from speculating about it. People are conditioned to accept the Controllers' "fact" that the stars are depressing and that immense depths, like oceans and the universe, are frightening. This just reinforces the population's ignorance and causes fear, a satisfying reaction for World State leaders. Their regime's oppressive success is derived from people's fear of what they don't understand, and the genetic engineering that ensures their inability to do so. The government encourages soma usage to hinder any frightening or worrisome feelings not addressed by chemicals and conditioning.

In Chapter 5, Part 2 of Brave New World, how does mob mentality contribute to the group members' reactions and to the effectiveness of the Solidarity Service?

Mob mentality is a premeditated result of Solidarity Services such as the one Bernard attends in Chapter 5, Part 2. Every aspect of the ceremony is calculated to build up to the frenzied, final crescendo. The music's pulsing rhythm passes between the members' clutched hands. Pounding drums create a second heartbeat, while the hymns they sing add spice to their blood. Both the passing of the strawberry-flavored, soma-laced communion cup and the words "I drink to my annihilation" erase feelings of individuality. A disembodied voice uses the power of suggestion by intoning the words Ford, Listen, and The feet of the Greater Being, until participants jump to their feet shouting, "I hear him, he's coming," or other predictable responses. Percussion recordings raise their emotional heat until the 12 Solidarity disciples cling to one another as they dance and sing the words to "Orgy-Porgy." After the music stops and the voice disappears, they are emotionally drained from the fevered hysteria but bursting with the camaraderie of the communal rite. The feeling of getting swept away is a powerful response brought on by their conditioning to predictable stimulus.

Considering the conversation between Bernard and Lenina in Chapter 6, Part 1 of Brave New World, does conditioning lead to oppression or freedom?

Bernard finds conditioning oppressive and resents the State for trying to destroy his individuality. His cold response to the Solidarity Service reveals his dissatisfaction with the World State's insistence on conformity. He cannot understand why he was given a brain if he is forbidden to use it. Contemplating the rolling expanse of the ocean allows him to enjoy his individuality. This brings him peace. Lenina opposes Bernard's viewpoint. She loves being a Beta and belonging to the World State. Supporting consumerism, playing group games, sleeping with anyone she wants, enjoying friends, and swallowing soma any time she feels a twinge of stress or sadness—all of these actions shape the only life she wants. She accepts shallowness over sophistication and completes her job as expected. To her, conditioning is merely a means to an end, and her end is happiness. In a certain sense, freedom is in the eye and intellectual capacity of the beholder.

By its very nature, does hypnopaedia create prejudice, or is it free from this negative quality as Bernard contends in Chapter 6 of Brave New World?

Any conditioning creates prejudice if it favors specific people, places, things, or ideas. Repetitive conditioning lessons teach that Gamma Green and Delta Khaki are ugly, and that Epsilon black is beastly. Gammas and Deltas are stupid, and Epsilons are almost moronic. The Alphas and Betas believe the degrading comments they are taught about those beneath them in the caste system. Lenina often professes her happiness that she is a Beta. At the same time, she accepts the hypnopaedia lessons that she doesn't have to work as hard as the Alphas who are the best and the brightest people. Alphas believe all of the hype about their caste because they covet admiration for their brains and brawn. This caste bias is a cause of Bernard's surliness. His smaller stature makes him feel less worthy of being an Alpha. He suspects lower caste members agree. Ironically the three lower castes are free from prejudice because their lower intelligence makes them happy to be who they are.

What causes people's irritation at friends' negative traits as, for example, how Helmholtz feels about Bernard's boasting in Chapter 6 of Brave New World and the self-pity he previously displayed?

Helmholtz is embarrassed by Bernard's boasting and self-pity, but he is not ashamed of being his friend. He just wishes Bernard would stand up for himself and show some pride in who he is. Bernard annoys his friend because he cares more about how he looks to others than about what he thinks of himself. Sometimes people are annoyed by a friend's defensive retorts, rudeness, or sullen attitude for the same reasons as Helmholtz is. Other times they are aware that they hold one or more of these same traits and worry this will cause others' irritation. This is not Helmholtz's motivating factor toward Bernard, though. The writer accepts Bernard's positive and negative qualities equally, like a true friend will do.

If people's genetic code alterations and conditioning are calculated to stunt emotions, why does Lenina respond so negatively to various conditions in Chapter 7 of Brave New World?

Emotional development can be stalled but never destroyed unless people are lobotomized and have parts of their brains cut out. The latter is never an option in the World State because lobotomized people are a societal burden and weaken the State's stability. There is no place in the World State society for people who cannot do at least a modicum of work. As long as a fragment of intelligence remains, people will reveal a hint of emotions. Lenina's life has been filled with ease so her negative emotions are dormant. When her senses confront dirty streets, wrinkled old people, Linda's overweight body, and rotten teeth, as well as blood and death during the Corn Dance, she is simply overwhelmed by the ugliness and filth. Her conditioning has never included any defense mechanisms for encountering the dark side of life.

Why do most people in Brave New World prefer a culture in which they are controlled, as Linda does, over one offering freedom of choice?

Since all dilemmas have pros and cons, no one correct choice exists. Linda is not capable of making a decision because she wasn't taught how to evaluate a situation. She has never understood what responsibility, reliability, and respect for the people affected by her actions mean. During her London life, her conditioning helped her be accountable at work and in society. On the Reservation she is expected to make choices that coincide with the Indian culture. This is too difficult for her, so she falls into a bottle of mescal. No matter how totalitarian or free a society is, a government can demand no more than its citizens are willing or capable of giving. For these people accepting decisions made by others instead of being sensible about their independence is much more preferable than suffering the stress of indecision. Also, some people do not trust their ability to make effective determinations. They feel relieved when others take control of a situation and make the choices for them because it is less of a hassle to accept others' selections than to weigh all of the alternatives.

How does Lenina prove to be a product of her conditioning in Chapter 7 of Brave New World when she feels more revulsion toward unattractive elderly women than ancient men?

Lenina's behavior is a product of her conditioning just as her beauty is a result of genetic engineering. Youth and beauty are revered because they boost happiness levels. Age has been abolished so people don't ever have to worry about wrinkled skin and gray hair. The Director calls Lenina "charming" and then pats her affectionately, and she is not bothered. The men discuss the women's beauty and their allure but never their intelligence. Women welcome the plethora of scented showers, massages, creams, and beauty products that ensure their desirability. Lenina is more repulsed by Linda than by the emaciated ancient Indian because in London women are not permitted to become fat, old, and unattractive. Given her acceptance of how the World State objectifies women and her obsession with being alluring to men, Lenina is a firm believer that women's physical beauty contributes more to their societal value than any other quality.

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