Aldous Huxley: Ape and Essence
1. Summary of the plot
The novel "Ape and Essence" deals with a group of scientists from New Zealand who go to North America and try to explore what is left after a Third World War in the year 2108.
The story begins with a prologue, in which Bob Briggs, who works in the movies accidently finds a script. The rest of the book consists of this script, therefore it is comparable to a screenplay:
After a nuclear war, far reaching parts of the world are in a radioactive state. The most important member of the group mentioned above is the botanist Dr. Alfred Poole. Because he separates from the other scientists to do research on some plants he is kidnapped by three men who bring him to their Chief.
While Poole and the Chief are discussing the reader learns about the society of 2108: because of the gamma rays, all creatures suffer from mutations. As another problem, they have no industry, and, even worse, they have nothing to produce clothes with so they have to dig out buried people to use their clothing. They worship and fear the devil because god allowed the destruction of the earth.
Although, as a botanist, he does not know anything about machines, Poole is willing to help. He starts to work in a laboratory and soon he falls in love with Loola.
He often talks to the Arch-Vicar, the head of the church, who tells him how their society works: the church controls life in terms of work and love; mating is only allowed once a year. The Arch-Vicar also gives Poole a summary of mankind's development and the reasons for their bad situation.
At the end of the story, Poole and Loola try to escape to the community of the so-called "Hots" the North where they hope to live in freedom.
2. The meanings of the terms "ape" and "essence"
The "ape" mentioned in the title of the book is a symbol for the development of mankind. After the Third World War, the way of life is quite undeveloped, mainly because there are no industry, no factories and nothing they can produce for example clothes with. Because humanity itself is responsible for this situation, it is actually not much more developed than an ape is.
The term "essence" means the underlying, fundamental nature of man: he tries to develop, he keeps trying to improve his way of life and in the end, he commits the destruction of the earth by playing "fantastic tricks" such as polluting the environment or using the atom bomb. Although he is aware of the consequences of his acting, he is not really willing to stop the abuse of the earth.
The relation between "ape" and "essence" can be found in the book, when the narrator, who can be identified with Aldous Huxley himself, compares the mankind and "his glassy essence" with that of an "angry ape".
3. The development of Alfred Poole
At the beginning of the story, Dr. Alfred Poole is characterized as a 38 year-old, unmarried, well-educated scientist who has had many problems with human contacts, as if he lived behind a "glass plate" as it is said in the book. As another fact, he always finds refuge in his lecture-room "when personal contacts threaten to become too difficult". Among other reasons, the main cause for this situation is the way his mother has always treated him, for example by educating him in a conservative way. He feels that "it would be a sacrilege to ask a virtuous young gentlewoman to share his bed". Although his colleague, Dr. Ethel Hook is willing to have a relationship with him, he does not notice her intentions, but is more interested in the mutated plants.
After he had been caught by the bearded men, he soon gets to know Loola. In each other, Loola and Poole find someone to trust in. Loola tells Poole about her fear of being punished for having a mutated baby.
Loola is the reason for many new experiences in Poole's life: she is the first woman who causes him to redden, she is the first woman he kisses and she is also the first woman who he falls in love with by "tearing away [...] his mother's influence and all his inhibitions, all the conventions".
But later the development goes even further: it takes only "about four seconds of moral conflict" until he looses his fidelity to Loola.
Apart from love-related topics, Alfred Poole does not change his opinion: he still believes in god and not in the devil and in addition to that, he can't understand what the Arch-Vicar tells him about the history and development of mankind. Because he is unwilling to suit to the society, he tries to escape together with Loola.