White Noise and the Brave New World Essay
In both Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and White Noise, by Don DeLillo a character tries to change the forces that govern his world, but inevitably fails. This struggle is seen in Helmholtz Watson’s character in Brave New World and Jack Gladney’s character in White Noise. Each character is put in a position where he must decide whether he should remain loyal to his world and its governing powers or be true to himself and the life he wants to lead. Both characters choose to be loyal to themselves, and although they do not achieve their ultimate goals, they do benefit from their struggles.
Brave New World presents a world with one goal, to keep everybody happy so that society can remain economically and socially stable in order for the World State to remain in power. Humans are mass produced and chemically predestined to be part of certain castes, to avoid any argument about who has what place in the pecking order. The World State controls people’s philosophies by feeding them hypnopaedic phrases, which are repeated to them in their sleep hundreds of times a night for years. All relationships are kept short term and public.
This prevents passionate feelings from developing, which could otherwise be channeled to overthrow or at least destabilize society. “And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts” (Huxley, p. 237). For the vast majority of the population, the World State’s goal is achieved. Nearly every member of society is happy, or at least oblivious to any other form of existence, and is thus satisfied. Either way, society remains stable.
However, there are some citizens who believe there is meaning in life beyond the vanity of hypnopaedic messages and soma. Helmholtz Watson is one of these people. Helmholtz Watson teaches at the College of Emotional Engineering and, among other things, writes many hypnopaedic phrases. He is at the top of the World State’s highest caste and all that society has to offer is open to him. Yet, in his first appearance in the novel, he says that he is deliberately holding back from those benefits. He is loyal to his world, though he feels dissatisfied with it.
He tells Bernard Marx, the novel’s central character, that he feels he has “something important to say and the power to say it–only I don’t know what it is” (Huxley, p. 69). He says that when writing hypnopaedic phrases he is writing “something about nothing” (Huxley, p. 70). He is frustrated with his world, but, since he has never known anything else, he has difficulty articulating exactly what it is lacking. After this conversation, Helmholtz slips into the background for a large part of the novel. During this time, Bernard goes to the Indian reservation and comes back with John, “the savage,” and John’s mother, Linda.
When Bernard returns, we learn that Helmholtz has not only begun to discover the important idea he was trying to articulate, but has actually spoken about it in public. He wrote a poem about solitude, a taboo in the World State, and read it to one of his classes to see how his students would react. They exploded and the principal threatened to fire him. Later, John helps Helmholtz further express his thoughts about solitude by introducing him to Shakespeare. Although Helmholtz’s conditioning makes him laugh at Romeo and Juliet, he is able to see the value in it.
He recognizes that “you’ve got to be hurt and upset; otherwise you can’t think of the really good, penetrating, X-rayish phrases. ” However, he does not think the “insane, excruciating things” Shakespeare wrote about could ever happen in the World State. “We need some other kind of madness and violence. But what? What? Where can one find it? ” (Huxley, p. 185) Helmholtz sinks into the background again and later returns after John’s mother has died in the hospital from having too much soma. John is yelling at the Delta workers and trying to make them realize that they are being enslaved by soma.
He wants them to fight for their freedom. When Helmholtz arrives with Bernard, John is throwing the day’s supply of soma out the window and the Deltas are attacking him. Helmholtz has the chance to decide if he will fight for the world symbolized by the savage, where there is more to life than soma and hypnopaedic messages, or stand back and passively support the World State. He jumps in to help John, not caring what consequences might follow. He risks “’his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor’ on an outcome dubious” (Heinlein) in order to defend his values rather than the values the World State had imposed.
After this incident, Mustafa Mond, the Resident World Controller for Western Europe, tells Helmholtz that he will be sent to an island to prevent him from destabilizing society, but that he can choose any island he wants. He tells Mustafa “I believe one would write better if the climate were bad” (Huxley, p. 229), so he is sent to the Falkland Islands. Helmholtz’s true goal, to change his world and the values it runs on, is never achieved. Despite losing his position of influence in society, he can now think freely and do whatever he wants.
However, his innovations will never leave the Islands. For the first time, he will have the oportunity to write about something of significance. In White Noise, the goal is to escape death, or at least the fear of it. Part of the reason Jack chooses to teach Hitler studies is that it takes his mind off his own death, an insignificant event when compared to the Holocaust. It is clear that his job is only a way of improving his social standing, which he feels will make him impervious to death. He cares about Hitler as an icon, not a historical figure, and cannot speak German.
He only learns the language out of fear that he will be exposed as a fraud at an academic conference, which would ruin his social standing and make him vulnerable to death. He wears long black robes, big sunglasses and adds an initial to his name to make him appear even more important. Jack’s wife, Babette, teaches a class in posture to the elderly to help them try to avoid death. She also sleeps with Willie Mink to obtain Dylar, a drug that she hopes will alleviate her own fear of death. Jack says at the beginning of the novel “All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots” (DeLillo, p. 6) Because of this belief, Jack, being the novel’s narrator, avoids giving his story a true plotline until the Airborne Toxic Event comes. Jack tries to hold on to the idea that “these things,” anything dangerous that could potentially cause death, “don’t happen in places like Blacksmith” (DeLillo, p. 112) and especially not to a college professor, but when the Airborne Toxic Event finally comes, he is forced to give up his false sense of security. He begins to realize that death is a governing force of life and cannot be escaped, which increased his fear of it.
Jack is exposed to the Toxic Event and after several tests it is determined that the Nyodene D, the chemical in the Toxic Event, will kill him. Albeit thirty years later, when he would have dies anyway, but he feels he is marked for death. After the Airborne Toxic Event passes, Jack finds out that Babette has been taking pills. After a period of denying it and avoiding the subject, she admits that she is taking an experimental drug called Dylar, meant to alleviate her fear of death. But she tells him even more. She has been sleeping with someone in order to obtain the drug.
After learning the man’s name from Winnie Richards, Jack’s colleague, Jack tracks him down and puts together a plot to kill him. He finds the man, Willie Mink, shoots him twice and then leaves the gun in Mink’s hand to make it look like suicide. But he leaves one bullet in the gun. As Mink is dying, he shoots Jack in the wrist. This is the closest confrontation Jack has with death. The pain from the bullet gives Jack a new sense of humanity. Death gives him a new sense of life. He drives Mink to a hospital and saves him. Mink, who has become a symbol for death, is now healing in a hospital.
After this incident, Jack is able to recognize that death is inescapable and his goal of avoiding it cannot be achieved. However, he sees that it is not quite as horrible and terrifying as he originally thought and his fear of it does not have to occupy every day of his life. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and White Noise, by Don Delillo each portray a character who tries to overthrow a governing force in his life. Helmholtz Watson tries to find a way to topple the ideas supported by the World State and Jack Gladney attempts to escape death.
These goals are clearly unachievable. Death is far beyond our control and the World State is far too powerful for one man to defeat. Despite this, these men do gain from their struggles. Helmholtz gains the privilege to write as much as he wants on whatever subject he chooses, despite the fact that his writings will not have the influence they would have had in London. Jack learns that although death is unavoidable, he can still live his life and appreciate death as “the boundary we need” and as something that gives life “a sense of definition” (DeLillo, p. 217).