A Clockwork Orange Essay
A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess can be regarded as an author in league with the likes of George Orwell or William Golding for they saw the world a bit differently. Their assiduous attempts to raise the curtain from bleak future, which they have gleaned from their todays, usually manifests in literary works. Like Orwell, who uses the backdrop of a dystopian world to portray the coming of a new age in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Golding; who transmogrify children’s innocence into pure feral instincts in Lord of the flies, Burgess has based his magnum opus in a world where the only private property a person has, is his identity.
In a typical Orwellian fashion, Burgess portrays the derelict British society from the not so distant future through the perspective of the fifteen year old boy Alex, who happens to be the protagonist of the novel. Alex’s Britain is shown as a totalitarian state where unflinching loyalty and ad nauseam obedience is the mandatory for every citizen.
Alex is shown as a product of that inhumanly oppressed society who tries to placate himself of being deprived of their own free will by engaging in acts so sheer and mindless violence. The world Burgess has painted around Alex is a world where everyone lives in a state of absolute fear and every hour is the harbinger of pandemonium. As Mr. Alexander puts it :
“The common people will let it go. Oh yes, they’ll sell liberty for a quieter life” (Burgess197).Alex is a multidimensional character. As a leader of a gang, his affinity with violence and brutality makes the reader cringe with horror as he is seen proclaiming:
“then out comes the blood, my brothers, real beautiful” (Burgess 36).
While his love for classical music makes him a paragon of contradictions as he chants “Oh bliss! Bliss and heaven!” (Burgess 66) as he listens to Ludwig Van’s Ninth Symphony.
Imbibed with the spirit of violence, Alex has been shown throughout the first part of the book as an “ultra violent” gang leader who despite of his tender age of fifteen is indulged unparallel belligerence. His parents are afraid to question him. His commanding demeanor pesters his cronies Georgie and Dim and he loves classical music. Pertained to all these attributes is his uncanny and inhuman lust for violence which even the heaviest shower of conscience cannot slake. The element of vehemency is so predominant throughout the first part of the book that Alex’s character often looks so grotesquely twisted that one cant do nothing but hate him. The crimes he commit without showing the least bit of remorse, the beating, the raping, the looting and squalor renders his character as person with zero empathy. Yet Burgess has done this all in a very erudite fashion. The Korova Milkbar with its drug laced dairy drinks is a derisive to Burgess’s contemporary society where he believes is devoid of adults. The bar also shows the declining moral standards under a totalitarian regime. But the bar also serves as Alex’s redoubt form where he insinuates his “droogs” to do his biddings. Alex is shown as a person of extraordinary leading capabilities. He demands deference and quells the rebellion that breakout in his gang over the matter of leadership. Alex is a survivor in the truest and purest of sense. He knows that in a society like that, one must have to stay afloat even if the cost is making a raft out of the bodies of your comrades. It is something that he knows and admits by saying:
“Violence makes violence” . . . “if all you bastards are on the side of the Good then I’m glad I belong to the other shop.” (Burgess 98)
and this statement of his pretty much justifies that fact that his ferociousness is not innate. It is but a tough lesson he has learned that compels him to do the beating or be at the receiving end. He learns that he can either languish inside his room or he can own the streets at night, free and fearless. His violent tendencies are apropos to his visceral needs that demands liberation and freedom in an already claustrophobic and suffocating society. All he does and all he wants is freedom from the unseen chains and violence seems to be his only vent.
Yet his vicious traits are nothing but a driving force for him as his penchant for classical music helps him to stay in touch with his inner and real self. He uses classical music as a tourniquet when too much violence makes his heart bleed but he, of course refuse to bow down before his conscience and go all soft and ordinary. The fact that he relishes classical music albeit extremely contradictory to his demeanor is a testament that a war wages inside him and classical music seems to be the only thing that can mollify his internal turmoil. His random acts of violence can be attributed to the impulsiveness comes with his age.
His interest in church and Bible while he is in prison is another example of him trying fend his conscience off by taking pleasure in discovering the acts of violence and atrocities depicted Bible. This extenuation helps him justify his acts and takes pride in being control of himself rather than being a mindless puppet. How mortified he gets when he hears the words coming from the chaplain of the prison that:
“They have turned you into something other than a human being. You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable only of good.” ( “A Clockwork Orange” cited in Tanguay)
As the Ludovico technique takes his free will and control away from him, he feels vulnerable and ordinary. Most of all it takes away from him the joys of classical music, his only sanctuary. Now bleak and open to all elements, he wades his way into a corrupt society, a society of ordinary and imprisoned people that he abhorred. This not only intensifies his loneliness but also he will to go on. Unable to find solace in music, he even hurls himself out the window when F. Alexander try to drive him crazy by making him listen to the classical music so he can mount foray against the fascist government. The biggest devastation for Alex is his inability to do what he wants.
For Burgess, being good or evil is a personal choice. Because one’s righteousness can be an act of sheer evil for the other and it is a war that has been waged since the dawn of civilization. And these are the questions Burgess raise in A Clockwork Orange:
“Do people grow into free will from a state of automatism, and, if so, how and when? And if violence is only a passing phase, why should the youth of one age be much more violent than the youth of another? How do we achieve goodness, both on an individual and social level, without resort to the crude behaviorism of the Ludovico Method or any other form of cruelty? Can we bypass consciousness and reflection in our struggle to behave well?”(Dalrympal)
Despite these burning questions, A Clockwork Orange is the story of Alex’s war with himself and the system. In a world where to think for your own self is considered an offense and every breathe is rationed, Alex lives by his own rules, his own sense of morality, even his own language in a blatant act of defiance.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. W.W. Norton & Co. , November 1986.
Dalrympal, Theodore” A Prophetic and Violent Masterpiece” City Journal. May 14, 2009 <http://www.city-journal.org/>
Tanguay, Edward “A Clockwork Orange Review” May 14, 2009 <http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~tanguay/book56.htm/>