The three men enter Mustapha Mond's office. Helmholtz chooses the best chair in the room while Bernard seeks out the worst, hoping that this self-inflicted punishment will make things easier for him. Mustapha arrives and asks the Savage if he likes their civilization. John does not, but he adds that it does have some nice things like the floating music. Mustapha quotes Shakespeare to him: "Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about my ears and sometimes voices." The Savage is thrilled that someone else knows Shakespeare. Mustapha indicates that although he forbids reading things such as Shakespeare, he can break the rules since they are his rules.
When asked why he censors old things like Shakespeare, Mustapha replies that society no longer needs them. People are happy now and would not even understand the old things. When Helmholtz argues that something like Othello is what he has always wanted to write, Mustapha says that he will never write it because tragedy and raw emotions lead to social instability. At the same time, creating works of art is not possible without tragic elements within society. The challenge in their civilization is to write works of art inspired by nothing so that they inspire nothing. Mustapha admits that happiness is never quite as great as tragedy.
They then discuss the Bokanovsky groups. Mustapha points out that an entire society of Alpha Pluses would create social chaos. No one wants to waste time doing the menial chores performed by Epsilons and Deltas. He mentions an old experiment on Cyprus that had attempted a society of Alphas. That society soon disintegrated into a civil war, and in the end, they asked the World Controllers to take over.
Mustapha also argues that he cannot allow science to make progress without strict controls, since science can lead to social instability. When the others protest that science is everything, Mustapha agrees with them. He distinguishes between the science that ensures the social stability and the science that would create social unrest. His world comes from the type of science that helps ensure social stability.
Mustapha then tells Helmholtz and Bernard that he will send them to an island where social misfits go. Usually they are people who have acquired individualistic traits and might destabilize society. Bernard protests and prostrates himself on the floor, and Mustapha has him removed from the room.
Mustapha admits he himself would have gone to an island but received the choice of becoming the next Controller. He explains that his job is to promote the maximum happiness of society but not of his own. Ironically, he must act as an individual in order to decide what is best for the society. Helmholtz chooses to go to the Falkland Islands in order to write. His reasoning for the choice is that bad weather promotes better writing. He then leaves to make sure Bernard is safe.
As the first chapter in the declining action of the novel, Chapter 16 essentially provides a logical defense of totalitarian utilitarianism. It compares the ideals of individuality and those of the new social order, beginning with the concept of old versus new.
Mustapha argues that the old is unnecessary because it contains destabilizing passion and emotions. Stability is the highest virtue because it leads to happiness, and old things like Shakespeare cannot exist since they do not lead to happiness. Mond also insists that the old things cannot be created in the new world because tragedies like Othello or Romeo and Juliet are the products of tension in society. If tension does not exist, neither can tragedy. Instead, all the new feelies and shows must be about nothing, since happiness occurs most easily when one experiences pure sensation rather than emotion.
They then debate about Bokanovsky groups, which are necessary to society because only a caste system can make every person in the society happy. Each group has an intelligence modified and conditioned to make people happy with their jobs, and as Mustapha points out, a society of pure Alphas leads to chaos because everyone fights for the best jobs.
Mond defines art and science as the two primary sacrifices of the old world in order to obtain the ultimate utilitarian goal, that of maximum happiness. Art can only exist when it has no meaning, and whereas science is praised for improving society, it is also restricted because it may destabilize society.
This chapter draws even starker differences between Helmholtz and Bernard. Helmholtz chooses the best chair, Bernard the worst. Helmholtz no longer feels himself subordinate to society or any individual. Bernard on the other hand still bears a strong attachment to his society. He chooses the poor chair in the hope that by showing contrition he will receive a milder punishment, indicating that a certain degree of self-loathing is important to the enforcement of social control.
Religion is the last sacrifice made by the old world to ensure happiness. Mustapha understands religion as something men turn to late in life when they become afraid of death. Religion substitutes for the loss of youth. Mond explains that since society eradicated the fear of death and since science keeps everyone youthful until death, religion is unnecessary. He reads to John passages from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis and from a work by Cardinal John H. Newman in order to demonstrate this previous society dependence on God, which he claims is no longer necessary.
Mond also points out people only believe in God when their conditioning suggests it. The Savage argues instead that solitude would lead people to visualize a god instinctively, but since society has removed solitude, people cannot contemplate the world on their own terms. John complains that society prevents people from discovering truth for themselves.
Mustapha and John then argue over the meaning of life and the pursuit of happiness. John asserts that happiness is a punishment for men because they have overindulged in their pleasant vices. Mustapha argues that, by their society's standards, each man is happy and perfect as he is. The discussion continues, as Mustapha condemns self-denial as bad for the economy and opposed to happiness, chastity as leading to passion, and passion as causing instability. Mustapha understands nobility and heroics as only existing where political instability reigns, which is unnecessary.
The climax of the argument comes when Mustapha says, "in fact, you're claiming the right to be unhappy." The Savage demands the right to poetry, real danger, freedom, goodness, and sin by making the powerful statement, "I claim them all." Mustapha merely shrugs and says, "You're welcome."
This chapter makes clear that Mond considers religion to be the most destabilizing force in society. Mond does not deny the power that religion had in the past world and even claims that he believes in a god. However, he also claims that God has become irrelevant in modern society and now only manifests himself through absence. Huxley presents a strand of existential philosophy that maintains that God's non-existence created a world in which humanity could only find meaning through its own existence. Mond’s society has strictly controlled the parameters of this existence, leaving no room for a god.
John Savage attempts to counter this argument with the example of the Indian civilization from which he came. Religion, Savage argues, comes naturally to man and will never entirely disappear. The religion of the Indians gives great meaning to their lives and provides the ability to endure turmoil and unhappiness.
The climax of the novel's action occurs in chapter fifteen, but the climax of the novel's thought and ideas happens here when Mond tells John Savage that, "In fact, you're claiming the right to be unhappy." In the extremism of the Utopian utilitarianism, the right to be unhappy no longer exists. This is what the Savage realizes when he starts claiming all the ills of humanity. He argues that being unhappy is a natural right that every man should have. Mustapha clearly disagrees with him.
The whole premise of this form of utilitarianism is that people should be happy and live in a stable society. Therefore, one must ban anything that would interfere with happiness. However, in dividing the happy from the unhappy, the meaning of individuality ceases to exist in any meaningful sense, a fact that the Savage cannot accept. He desires to be an individual, which entails the right to unhappiness as well as to happiness.
Huxley names the banishment of art, science, and religion as the three major criteria that must occur to create stability. All of these lead to emotional, physical, or spiritual unrest and would thus threaten society. As a result, one must either eliminate them or use them only when they promote stability and consequently happiness, as in the case of science.
Helmholtz and Bernard go to visit John, who is vomiting in his room. When they ask him what is wrong, he replies, "I ate civilization... It poisoned me." John tells the two men that he visited Mustapha Mond that morning and asked if he could join them on the island. Mustapha refused his request, indicating that he wanted to continue the experiment of reconciling John to civilization.
Seeking solitude, John runs away and finds an abandoned lighthouse, which he makes his home. He spends the first night on his knees in contrition and repentance to his gods so that he will be worthy to enter the lighthouse and inhabit it. John makes a bow and arrows in order to shoot game for food. He also sets up a small garden to provide food for the next year. John starts singing while making the bow, but he recalls his vows to remember Linda and make amends to her soul. Out of anger at his forgetfulness, John starts to beat himself with a knotted cord.
Three Delta Minus landworkers happen to see John beating himself. Amazed by this incredible display, they return to town where they tell everyone about it. Three days later reporters begin to arrive, trying to get an interview. John kicks the first man to approach him so hard that the man cannot sit comfortably afterward. The other reporters get the same treatment and begin to leave him alone. A few hover in helicopters, but when he shoots an arrow through the floor of the nearest one they too back off.
A few days later, while digging in his garden, John starts to think about Lenina. He immediately tries to get her out of his mind by masochistically running into some thorn bushes, but he still remembers the smell of her perfume. He then grabs his whip and begins to lash himself on the back ferociously.
Unluckily, a reporter named Darwin Bonaparte is hiding in the woods and records the entire scene. The movie is made into a feelie and within a day of its release, several hundred helicopters arrive at the lighthouse with spectators. A huge crowd forms and they all start shouting for him to use the whip. While they chant the phrase, "We - want - the whip," a helicopter arrives with Henry Foster and Lenina.
Lenina steps out of the helicopter to talk to John, but he cannot hear her over the roar of the crowd. His confusion turns to rage, and he rushes at her with the whip, beating her repeatedly to kill the flesh. In this state of hysteria, the crowd starts to chant "Orgy-porgy." They dance and sing until John loses himself in the hysteria.
Several hours later, John lies on the heather in a soma-induced sleep after an evening of sensual frenzy. When he wakes up and remembers what occurred, he cries, "Oh, my God, my God!" That night, the spectators that arrive cannot find him. They enter the lighthouse and see feet dangling from the archway. John has committed suicide.
This chapter forms something of an anticlimax after the previous chapter where John cries, "I claim them all," thus demanding the right to anything that would make him unhappy. Chapter 18 deals more with the interplay of solitude and society as well as sensuality and religion. John leaves to recapture everything that civilization no longer has, including religion, love, remembrance, pain, and abstinence.
One can interpret the lighthouse as a reflection of the Garden of Eden, a utopian creation from which God had banished humanity for their sin. John hopes that this secluded space will provide a respite from the dystopia of the modern world. He attempts to repent for his own sins to reenter the Garden but soon finds that even this space is corrupt.
The deluge of people who come to watch John beat himself with the whip marks the last chance John has to rejoin society. Lenina's arrival spurs him into a rage because in his mind she epitomizes everything evil about her world. She is a sensual being who comes between John and his mother, she defiles his abstinence, and she makes him forget religion. Thus, when John sees Lenina, he attacks her.
The ending differs from what the reader would expect. The crowd transforms from demanding pain to demanding sexual gratification through dance and the cry of "Orgy-porgy." Huxley likens the cry to the beat of the Indian music and implies that the power of the crowd eventually overcomes John, who joins in. Though he could not participate at all in the ritual ceremonies of the Indian people, he becomes the central sacrifice of this ceremony. Huxley again blurs the distinctions between the savage society with no technology and the advanced modern society, leaving open the question of which society is superior. Joining the crowd marks the sacrifice of John’s individualism. He goes from being one man standing alone against a mob to becoming a member of that crowd. This sacrifice turns out to be too much for John, and he hangs himself.
Huxley does not reveal why Mustapha decides to keep John as part of an ongoing experiment, even though he willingly sends other misfits within the society like Helmholtz and Bernard to an island. One possibility is that Mustapha views John as a kindred spirit via the Shakespeare that they have both read. He keeps John because he wants to convert John into rejecting Shakespeare and into accepting civilized dogma. However, as the ending shows, accepting society implies giving up John’s individuality, and Mustapha’s experiment fails.