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Brave New World Chapter 17 Summary

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
In this lesson, we'll explore the goings-on of chapter 17 of Brave New World, the dystopian novel by Aldous Huxley. Read the lesson, then test yourself with the quiz!

The Place of Religion

At the beginning of chapter 17 of Brave New World, Helmholtz Watson leaves the office of Mustapha Mond (Resident World Controller of Western Europe) to check on Bernard Marx. In doing so, Helmholtz leaves the World Controller alone with John, the illicit son of the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning.

Alone with Mustapha, John begins to question why World State society is the way it is. The two start to discuss the idea of God. Both characters are oddly familiar with religion--Mustapha from reading the Bible and other texts forbidden in the World State, and John from his religious life on the Savage Reservation. However, while John sees religion as something fundamental to life, Mustapha sees religion in a materialistic way and believes that the World State has made God obsolete.

Brave New World cover
Brave New World cover

Mustapha's Belief in God

While John has his own spiritual beliefs, he is unfamiliar with the Christian idea of God. And so, Mustapha takes this opportunity to teach about Christianity, reading aloud passages from Catholic theologian Cardinal Newman and French philosopher Maine de Biran. The passages suggest that loneliness and old age can lead people to God, and Mustapha explains to John that, since loneliness and old age don't exist in their society, God doesn't have to exist. Then he throws us for a curve--John indignantly asks if Mustapha feels that God exists. Mustapha replies that there likely is a God, but that this entity takes on various forms across time, and in the World State, God is manifested in absence.

John then asks Mustapha if he believes it is natural for people to believe in God, to which Mustapha replies that people will believe what they have been conditioned to believe. And those in the World State have simply been conditioned to believe in something else.

Importance of Self-Indulgence

At this point, the conversation takes a shift. John begins to ask how civilization can expect to function without God. Mustapha replies that, when civilization creates the means to eliminate the need for God, it thrives. They specifically talk about the idea of self-indulgence. Mustapha points out that self-indulgence is absolutely necessary in an industrialized society, as demand for goods keeps the factories at work. In fact, filling the demand for goods takes over many of the former duties of religion. Pointedly, Mustapha calls soma (the pleasure drugs that citizens take to feel content and satisfied) 'Christianity without tears.' This is a particularly ironic statement for John to hear, as the source of so much of his recent sadness has been the soma-fueled death of his mother Linda.

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