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Anthony Burgess’s View That A Lack Of Free Choice Is Spiritually Condemning As Evident In A Clockwork Orange Essay, Research Paper
In all of my reading, I have come to the conclusion that Anthony Burgess is one of the greatest literary genius s of the twentieth century. His masterpiece, A Clockwork Orange, is unrivaled in obvious depth, insight, and innovation. The novel is a work of such quality, such perfection, that it seems to be genuinely written by a literary demigod.
The novel’s main theme deals with free choice and spiritual freedom. More specifically, “[The ethical promise that 'A man who cannot choose ceases to be man'] can be taken as both the explicit and implicit themes of the novel” (Morgan 104). Anthony Burgess expresses 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, whose world 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 rehabilitating program that uses electro-shock therapy, new medicines, and exposure to violent film. The program breaks all that Alex holds dear and builds him up with a new artificial conscience. This part of the novel “presents the reader with a new, reformed Alex, an Alex without free will or freedom of choice, an Alex who has become a victim”
Burgess considers this lack of freedom to be 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 of making any choice; he must always do what is good. Alex is then taken under the wing of a writer who is fighting the oppressive government. The writer greatly publicizes the oppressive rehabilitation the state put Alex through. But Alex is still tormented by his lack of choice, so tormented, that he even attempts suicide. While Alex is in the hospital following his suicide attempt, 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. “The ’spiritual death’ can also be seen in the wider context of a political or philosophical sterility which afflicts whole countries given over to the totalitarian view of life”. Burgess believes that totalitarian governments take away one’s
individual choice and therefore suffocate his soul. The state in A Clockwork Orange is a general parallel to any overly oppressive or totalitarian government.
Alex is a representative of the common man. “Burgess’ attack on behaviorists and on totalitarian states is obvious”. By showing what torment Alex went through when rehabilitated by the state, Burgess shows his strong sentiment against governments taking away the choice of individuals, and therefore condemning the individual’s spirit. Burgess’s strong convictions on the subject of individual moral freedom seems odd and even backwards to some. But it is incredibly right when one grasps its full meaning. “Burgess replies…No matter how awful Alex’s actions become, he should be allowed to choose them”.
To be forced to do good is truly wrong. If one is forced to do right, and he does what 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 robotic existence. Butwhen one has choice, he is an individual. When one who is free, chooses good, it is out of a moral conscience and good intent. He chooses to do good. The good done through free choice isinfinitely better than the forced good of one who is oppressed into morality. Burgess, through his use of satire, rebukes the suppression of freedom (Morgan 104).
Anthony Burgess is extremely clear in his message in A Clockwork Orange. His convictions on free choice and oppression are clearly stated and hidden in the dark satire of the violent tale. “Obviously Burgess’s feeling is that there is potentially more good in a man who deliberately chooses evil, than in one who is forced to be good”
This masterpiece grows stronger and deeper in meaning every time one reads it. Burgess repeatedly reveals his powerful beliefs that it is even the most violent crimes are trivial when compared to the heinous crime of oppression. Burgess not only considers moral oppression to be a wrong against one’s civil rights, but he also considers it to be a destructive wrong against one’s spiritual existence. This book delivers this message so powerfully, so overwhelmingly, that it leaves the reader in a state of awe and profound musing for some time after the book is read. This book demands, and commands, one’s full attention and thought. Burgess seems to be inspired on a somewhat holy mission. His war is against moral oppression and the governments causing it. His weapon, a powerful one, is his incredible satiric writing ability.
The Topic of Free Will versus Predestination
Burgess, a happily lapsed Catholic, frequently raised the oppositions of free will and predestination in various of his novels (outside A Clockwork Orange, see especially The Wanting Seed and Earthly Powers), describing his own faith as alternating between residues of Pelagianism and Augustinianism.
Theology 101: Pelagianism (named after the British heretic Morgan, known generally as Pelagius, the Latin equivalent of his name) denies that God has predestined, or pre-ordained, or planned, our lives. A consequence of this is that salvation is effectively within human power (as God hasn’t set it down for each of us, it’s within our control), which eventually leads to a denial of original sin. Refutation of this eventually came from Augustine, who (a) fiercely upheld the doctrine of original sin, and (b) defended the orthodox doctrine of predestination from the implicit paradox with free choice of salvation (i.e., while God has created us, and effectively writes the whole story of each of our lives, the ultimate choice between accepting or rejecting his salvation is ours) with a claim that yes, our nature is laid down when he creates us, but he effectively looks the other way (a “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing” scenario) when it comes to that ultimate decision, so that the decision of salvation (though not the absolute power over it that Pelagius described) is ours. Or, at least, that’s how Burgess saw it.
In the history of the church the classic controversy concerning the nature of the Fall and its effects is that waged by Augustine at the beginning of the 5th century against the advocates of the Pelagian heresy. The latter taught that Adam’s sin affected only himself and not the human race as a whole, that every individual is born free from sin and capable in his own power of living a sinless life, and that there had even been persons who had succeeded in doing so. The controversy and its implications may be studied with profit in Augustine’s anti-Pelagian writings. Pelagianism, with its affirmation of the total ability of man, came to the fore again in the Socinianism of the 16th and 17th centuries, and continues under the guise of modern humanistic religion.
A halfway position is taken by the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches that what man lost through the Fall was a supernatural gift of original righteousness that did not belong properly to his being as man but was something extra added by God (donum superadditum), with the consequence that the Fall left man in his natural state as created (in puris naturalibus): he has suffered a negative rather than a positive evil; deprivation rather than depravation. This teaching opens the door for the affirmation of the ability and indeed necessity of unregenerate man to contribute towards the achievement of his salvation (semi-Pelagianism, synergism), which is characteristic of the Roman Catholic theology of man and grace. For a Roman Catholic view, see H.J. Richards, ‘The Creation and the Fall’, in Scripture 8, 1956, pp. 109-115. From P.E. Hughes, ‘The Fall’, in J.D. Douglas (editor), The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Inter-Varsity Press, England. 1980. Repentance is the chief point of interest in the prophetic writings… The prophets are often accused of a doctrine of repentance which lays stress on human will-power, as did the Pelagian heresy. But the prophets regarded repentance as inward (Joel 2:13). Ezekiel, who demanded that the individual should make himself a new heart (18:31), also recognized that a new heart can only be a gift of God’s grace (36:26). With this agrees the ‘new covenant’ passage in Je. 31:31-34. From J.H. Stringer, ‘Grace, Favour’, ibid.
The anti-Pelagian position that Burgess considered against Pelagianism was probably far closer to original Augustinism than the R.C. position referred to above; I’ll eventually dig something more
apropos up. Some of Burgess’s musings on the subject relevant to A Clockwork Orange: Chaplain The question is whether such a technique can make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.
Chaplain It may not be nice to be good, 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? You are passing now to a region where you will be beyond the power of prayer. A terrible, terrible thing to consider. And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good. So I shall like to think. So, God help us all, 6655321, I shall like to think.
The film adaptation to Stanley Kubrick s – A Clockwork Orange
While working as a photojournalist for Life magazine, Kubrick made an inconspicuous entrance into film making with Fear and Desire (1953) and Killer’s Kiss (1955). After his crime thriller The Killing (1956), critics began to take notice of his taut, brilliant style and bleakly cynical outlook. Paths of Glory (1957) solidified his reputation as a filmmaker interested in depicting the individual at the mercy of a hostile world. In Spartacus (1960), Kubrick met the challenge of bringing a costume spectacle to the screen. Lolita (1962), based on the novel by Vladimir Nabokov, received mixed reviews. But Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), was enthusiastically hailed for its black-comedy vision of atomic-age apocalypse. His 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971), both made in England, where Kubrick has worked since 1961, engendered intense critical controversy, but the former has now become widely accepted as a landmark in modern cinema. His later films are Barry Lyndon (1975), a visually arresting adaptation of a minor Thackeray novel; The Shining (1980), a domestic horror tale; and Full Metal Jacket (1987), about the Vietnam War.
An interview with Michel Ciment concerning the film:
Michel: On a political level the end of the film shows an alliance between the hoodlum and the authorities.
Stanley: The government eventually resorts to the employment of the cruelest and most violent members of the society to control everyone else — not an altogether new or untried idea. In this sense, Alex’s last line, ‘I was cured all right,’ might be seen in the same light as Dr. Strangelove’s exit line, ‘Mein Fuehrer, I can walk.’ The final images of Alex as the spoon-fed child of a corrupt, totalitarian society, and Strangelove’s rebirth after his miraculous recovery from a crippling disease, seem to work well both dramatically and as expressions of an idea.
Michel: What amuses me is that many reviewers speak of this society as a communist one, whereas there is no reason to think it is.
Stanley: The Minister, played by Anthony Sharp, is clearly a figure of the Right. The writer, Patrick Magee, is a lunatic of the Left. ‘The common people must be led, driven, pushed!’ he pants into the telephone. ‘They will sell their liberty for an easier life!’
Michel: But these could be the very words of a fascist.
Stanley: Yes, of course. They differ only in their dogma. Their means and ends are hardly distinguishable.
Michel: You deal with the violence in a way that appears to distance it.
Stanley: If this occurs it may be because the story both in the novel and the film is told by Alex, and everything that happens is seen through his eyes. Since he has his own rather special way of seeing what he does, this may have some effect in distancing the violence. Some people have asserted that this made the violence attractive. I think this view is totally incorrect.
Coale, Samuel, Anthony Burgess (1981); Mathews, Richard, The Clockwork
Universe of Anthony Burgess (1978).
Kagan, Norman, The Cinema of Stanley Kubrick (1989);
Nelson, Thomas Allan, Kubrick: Inside A Film Artist’s Maze (1982);
Phillips, Gene, Stanley Kubrick: A Film Odyssey (1975);
Walker, Alexander, Stanley Kubrick Directs, rev. ed. (1972).
English to Russian Dictionary (1996).
Works Cited :
A Clockwork Orange (1963); Burgess, Anthony
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