In all of my reading, I have come to the conclusion that Anthony Burgess is the greatest literarygenius of the twentieth century. His masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange, is unrivaled in depth,insight, and innovation. The novel is a work of such quality, such perfection, that it seems to bewritten by a literary demigod.
The novel’s main theme deals with free choice and spiritualfreedom. More specifically, “[The ethical promise that ‘A man who cannot choose ceases to beman’] can be taken as both the explicit and implicit themes of the novel”. Anthony Burgessexpresses his view that no matter how “good” one’s actions are, unless one has free moral choice,he is spiritually damned. The novel revolves around one criminally minded teen, Alex, whoseworld consists of rape, murder, and ruthless violence.
Alex is eventually setup by his “droogs”(friends) and is arrested and jailed. After some time in jail, Alex is placed in a new rehabilitatingprogram that uses electro-shock therapy, new medicines, and exposure to violent film. Theprogram breaks all that Alex holds dear and builds him up with a new artificial conscience. Thispart of the novel “presents the reader with a new, reformed Alex, an Alex without free will orfreedom of choice, an Alex who has become a victim”.
Burgess considers this lack of freedom tobe spiritually murderous and terribly wrong. Burgess knows that it is better to choose to be evil,than to be forced to be good. Alex is tormented by his new state of oppression. He is incapable ofmaking any choice; he must always do what is good.
Alex is then taken under the wing of a writerwho is fighting the oppressive government. The writer greatly publicizes the oppressiverehabilitation the state put Alex through. But Alex is still tormented by his lack of choice, sotormented, that he even attempts suicide. While Alex is in the hospital following his suicideattempt, the tragedy of his oppression is highly publicized, in an attempt to stop public criticism,the state “fixed Alex.
” He once again has freedom of choice. Through these series of events,Burgess shows another conviction of his. Burgess believes that totalitarian governments takeaway one’s individual choice and therefore suffocate his soul. The state in A Clockwork Orange isa general parallel to any overly oppressive or totalitarian government.
Alex is a representative ofthe common man. “Burgess’ attack on behaviorists and on totalitarian states is obvious”. Byshowing what torment Alex went through when rehabilitated by the state, Burgess shows hisstrong sentiment against governments taking away the choice of individuals, and thereforecondemning the individual’s spirit. Burgess’s strong convictions on the subject of individual moralfreedom seems odd and even backwards to some.
But it is incredibly right when one grasps its fullmeaning. “Burgess replies…
No matter how awful Alex’s actions become, he should be allowed tochoose them”. To be forced to do good is truly wrong. If one is forced to do right, and he doeswhat is right, it is not out of any ethical or moral conviction. When one does what he is forced to,he is merely a programmed pawn of the state.
He becomes sub-human, he is merely a roboticexistence. But when one has choice, he is an individual. When one who is free, chooses good, it isout of a moral conscience and good intent. He chooses to do good.
The good done through freechoice is infinitely better than the forced good of one who is oppressed into morality. Burgess,through his use of satire, rebukes the suppression of freedom. Anthony Burgess is extremely clearin his message in A Clockwork Orange. His convictions on free choice and oppression are clearlystated and hidden in the dark satire of the violent tale.
“Obviously Burgess’s feeling is that there ispotentially more good in a man who deliberately chooses evil, than in one who is forced to begood” . This masterpiece grows stronger and deeper in meaning every time one reads it. Burgessrepeatedly reveals his powerful beliefs that it is even the most violent crimes are trivial whencompared to the heinous crime of oppression. Burgess not only considers moral oppression to bea wrong against one’s civil rights, but he also considers it to be a destructive wrong against one’sspiritual existence.
This book delivers this message so powerfully, so overwhelmingly, that itleaves the reader in a state of awe and profound musing for some time after the book is read. Thisbook demands, and commands, one’s full attention and thought. Burgess seems to be inspired on asomewhat holy mission. His war is against moral oppression and the governments causing it.
Hisweapon, a powerful one, is his incredible satiric writing ability.