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Un mot pour un autre

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Jean Tardieu

Summary

The chapter begins with Lenina thinking about how odd Bernard is because of his strange desire for privacy and his tendency to question what she sees as basic social truths. She considers not going on holiday with him to the Savage Reservation, but is drawn to the unique opportunity of visiting New Mexico. The chapter flashes back to a description of their first date, during which Bernard rejects several of her suggestions for group activities in favor of taking her for a walk around the Lake District. She cannot understand why he wants to be alone to talk, as she considers sex the only activity that people can do in private. Eventually, Lenina persuades him to attend a women’s wrestling championship in Amsterdam, but he has no fun at all and refuses to take soma. On the way home, Bernard hovers the helicopter over the Channel and explains that taking time to appreciate the wildness of nature makes him feel more like an individual. Lenina is horrified at the sight of all that rushing water and begins crying. Bernard tries to connect with Lenina about the idea of being free from conditioning, but she is distraught by everything he is saying. She is perplexed as to why he refuses to take soma when it would obviously help him to be happier and free from all these horrible thoughts. Finally, Bernard gives up on trying to talk, and takes a dose of soma so that he can go to bed with her. The next day, he tells her that he regrets having sex with her on their first date, and confesses that he had thought it might be possible to act like adults and wait. In answer, Lenina repeats a number of mottos and conditioned phrases, making it clear that she cannot relate to what he is saying. In spite of Bernard’s oddness, she decides that she still likes him enough to go on vacation to the Reservation.

In the second part of the chapter, Bernard goes to the Director to get his visit to the Reservation approved. At first, Bernard expects to meet with resistance from the Director, but he signs the permit without complaint. Then, oddly, the Director shares with Bernard a personal story, describing how he himself had visited the Reservation some years before with a woman. She had gotten separated from him somehow and they were never able to find her. The Director had been forced to leave without her and assumes that she is dead. The incident clearly had a strong emotional impact on the Director, but when Bernard attempts to express sympathy, the Director suddenly lashes out in anger. His anger is really directed at himself for exposing too much emotion, but he projects it onto Bernard and suddenly threatens to have Bernard sent to Iceland for his antisocial behaviors. Bernard feels pleased with himself at getting this reaction, since he considers himself a rebel. Telling the story proudly to Helmholtz later, he embellishes it to make himself appear even more defiant and independent. The perceptive Helmholtz, however, sees through Bernard’s boasting and does not respond with the admiration Bernard had been hoping for. He silently looks at the floor, and both men feel embarrassed.

The third part of the chapter opens with Bernard and Lenina in Santa Fe, where they meet with the Warden of the Savage Reservation. During the Warden’s long-winded explanation of realities of life on the Reservation, Bernard suddenly remembers that he has left the cologne tap running in his apartment. He calls Helmholtz to ask that he turn the tap off for him, and Helmholtz sympathetically delivers the news that the Director really does intend to have Bernard deported to Iceland upon his return from the Reservation. Now that the threat has become a reality, Bernard loses all semblance of pride in his rebellion and collapses in tears. Lenina convinces him to take some soma, and he feels much better as they head to the Reservation. They are taken by helicopter to the rest-house in Malpais.

Analysis

Bernard’s character is further explored in this chapter. Lenina’s perspective of him as “odd” and “queer” is supported by his romantic desire to walk and talk rather than engage in group social activities. He refuses to take soma because he wants to experience his own feelings on their date, but he also reveals some of the pettiness of his character by being unfriendly to Lenina. In his desire to appreciate nature, he demonstrates the individualistic and artistic leanings of his personality, but ultimately he does conform to social expectations by going to bed with Lenina on the first date.

Bernard longs to feel strongly, to connect with Lenina and with his own individualism; yet again and again, he displays a self-pitying cowardice which prevents him from being truly revolutionary. After his meeting with the D.H.C., he feels proudly put-upon, and brags to Helmholtz about being threatened by the Director. However, he doesn’t tell the story truly even to his friend, and Helmholtz’s superior intellect and sensitivities allow him to see through Bernard’s deception. When, in the final section of the chapter Bernard discovers that the Director plans to make good on his threat, Bernard’s courage crumbles and he weeps like a child. He once again conforms to the conventions of his society by allowing Lenina to talk him into a large dose of soma and simply trying to escape from his troubles. More and more, Bernard shows himself to be weak of spirit and not truly deserving of admiration.

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