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A Clockwork Orange Essay, Research Paper


Burgess has been heralded as one of the greatest literary geniuses of the

twentieth century. Although Burgess has over thirty works of published

literature, his most famous is A Clockwork Orange. Burgess’s novel is a

futuristic look at a Totalitarian government. The main character, Alex, is an

"ultra-violent" thief who has no problem using force against innocent

citizens to get what he wants. The beginning of the story takes us through a

night in the life of Alex and his Droogs, and details their adventures that

occupy their time throughout the night. At fifteen years old, Alex is set up by

his Droogs-Pete, Dim, and Georgie-and is convicted of murder and sent to jail.

At the Staja or state penitentiary, Alex becomes inmate number 6655321 and

spends two years of a sentence of fourteen years there. Alex is then chosen by

the government to undergo an experimental new "Ludovico’s Technique."

In exchange for his freedom, Alex would partake in this experiment that was to

cure him of all the evil inside of him and all that was bad. Alex is given

injections and made to watch films of rape, violence, and war and the mixture

of these images and the drugs cause him to associate feelings of panic and

nausea with violence. He is released after two weeks of the treatment and after

a few encounters with past victims finds himself at the home of a radical writer

who is strongly opposed to the new treatment the government has subjected him

to. Ironically, this writer was also a victim of Alex’s but does not recognize

him. This writer believes that this method robs the recipient of freedom of

choice and moral decision, therefore depriving him of being a human at all.

These themes are played out and developed throughout the entire novel. Alex

eventually tries to commit suicide and the State is forced to admit that the

therapy was a mistake and they cure him again. The last chapter of the novel

which was omitted from the American version and from Stanley Kubrick’s film

shows Alex’s realization that he is growing up and out of his ultra-violent

ways on his own. He realizes that he wants a wife and son of his own and that

he must move up and on in the world.Anthony

Burgess was born John Anthony Burgess Wilson on February 25, 1917 in

Manchester, England. He spoke eight languages, not including English. Burgess

was a composer of music since the age of sixteen years. He taught himself how

to read music and how to play the piano. The inspiration for A Clockwork Orange

came while during World War II, when his wife was assaulted while he fought.

She died about a month after the incident from internal bleeding, along with their

unborn child, who was killed during the assault. He compensated by releasing

his anger into A Clockwork Orange, in which a scene takes place that mirrors

the traumatic incident. Anthony Burgess died at seventy-six, November 25, 1993

of cancer (Cohen). The

novel’s main theme deals with free choice and spiritual freedom. Anthony

Burgess expresses his view that no matter how "good" one’s actions

are, unless one has free moral choice, he is spiritually damned (Malafry). The

novel revolves around one criminally minded teen, Alex, whose world consists of

rape, murder, and ruthless violence. Alex is eventually set up 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; and Alex that 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 (Kris). Alex is tormented by his new state of oppression. He is

incapable of making any choice; and he must always do that which 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. He

becomes 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 "fixes"

Alex. He once again has freedom of choice. Burgess believes that totalitarian

governments take away one’s individual choice and therefore suffocates his or

her soul (Hausey). The state in A Clockwork Orange is a general parallel to any

overly oppressive or totalitarian government. 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 feels that no matter how awful

Alex’s actions become, he should be allowed to choose them (Malafry). 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 do, he is merely a programmed pawn of the state (Hausey).

He becomes sub-human, and he is merely a robotic existence. But when one has a

choice, he is an individual. When one who is free, chooses good, it is out of

moral conscience and good intent. He chooses to do good. The good done through

free choice 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. His convictions on free choice and oppression are clearly stated and

hidden in the dark satire of the violent novel. Burgess’s feeling is that there

is potentially more good in a man who deliberately chooses evil, than in one

that is forced to be good. Burgess repeatedly reveals his powerful beliefs that

even the most violent crimes are trivial when compared to the heinous crime of

oppression. He considers it to be a destructive wrong against one’s spiritual

existence. His war is against moral oppression and the government causing it.

His weapon, a powerful one, is his incredible satiric writing ability. Outside

the sphere of violence, critics had praised Anthony Burgess’s use of Nadsat

more than any other element of A Clockwork Orange. A Clockwork Orange abandons

normal language and is written in ‘Nadsat’ (which means teenager). It is a

slang that is spoken by the teenagers at the time. Burgess uses approximately

two-hundred and fifty ‘nadsat’ words-most of which have Russian roots-to convey

his story. This gives the reader a sense of intimacy with Alex and his ‘droogs’

due to the fact that the adults in the novel can’t understand what they are

govoreeting (saying) (Cohen). There is also a disruption of the flow of

narrative aside from this private language. Alex ‘Our Humble Narrator’ tells

the story in a remembering type sequence, but often interjects with thoughts or

questions posed directly at the reader. Aside from the strange language that is

found on the pages of this novel, one of the most obvious features is Burgess’s

ability to shock (Malafry). There are many different scenes that are quite

disturbing and violent. The reader tends to follow the actions of Alex and his

droogs and it is easy to get caught up in all this violent action and lose

sight of the real meaning of Burgess’s novel. Alex and his droogs embody all

animal instincts and the tale that has been set before the reader has little

respect for realism (Cohen). We are presented with a world in which the

teenagers rule the nights, keeping all real people in their houses. A world

where there are milk bars in which fifteen year olds can be served with milk

that are made with drugs. This is a world in which Burgess can exaggerate the

future problems of society and reflect upon the absurdity of them. Another

characteristic of this novel is the blurring of normal understanding, or the

frustration of accepted expectations (Kris). Alex takes every chance to scoff

at books, education, and learning. There is also the lack of guilt in Alex for

all of his violent acts. Alex steals and kills for no other reason than for his

own personal pleasure. He states that he does not steal for the want of money,

but for the pleasure it brings him. Though all of these things are definitely

different from what the reader may expect, the fact that Alex is the

"hero" is probably the most bizarre (Cohen). The reader has relived

each of these horrific incidents with him yet at the end of the novel the

author solicits our sympathy for him since he has become a victim of the

system. Alex obviously is in strong conflict with the norm. He is a depiction

of the ‘bad element’ of society that England was dealing with at the time that

Burgess wrote this novel (Malafry). Alex is the personification of all that society

would like to ignore or eliminate (Hausey). Aside from pitting Alex against

‘normal’ society, Burgess uses his story to magnify their decline. He uses this

surreal method of therapy (which was actually being discussed at the time) to

show the dangers of this type of ‘human experiment’. Alex loses his identity

first in prison when he becomes 6655321, and then the therapy ultimately takes

away his ability to choose to do wrong. It can be argued that the leftist

writer in the novel is actually Anthony Burgess himself. Burgess was greatly

opposed to this sort of ‘treatment,’ and though his own experience mirrored

that of the writer in the book (Burgess’s wife was raped and died due to an

intruder in their home when Burgess was away in WWII) and he was a victim of a

person such as Alex, he still opposed to what he believes to be unethical. Alex

does not treat his friends as equals and is only satisfied with complete

control and a dictator-like position, at one point even referring to one of his

droogs as ‘Dim the soviet.’ This idea is often tested in physical

confrontation. This is one of the recurrent themes of the novel. Another

recurring theme is the repetitive use of certain lines and phrases to

illustrate the repetitiveness of Alex’s life, and the vicious circle that

society has placed him in (Cohen). This serves to bind the whole of the novel

together, even to the final chapter where ‘Our Humble narrator’ is finally

ready to break the repetition of violence and crime.Burgess’s

definition of moral freedom as the ability to perform both good and evil is

presented by implication in his discussion of A Clockwork Orange. In his

introduction, he states that if one "can only perform good or only perform

evil, then he is a clockwork orange, meaning that he has the appearance of an

organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be

wound up by God of the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the

Almighty State" (Kris). Burgess goes on to say, "it is inhuman to be

totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice.

Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may

operate." This hypothetical type of clockwork orange nowhere appears in

the novel because Alex is neither totally good nor totally evil, but a mixture

of both. This remains true even after Alex’s conditioning by the government. It

is true that the government tries to make Alex totally good through

conditioning; however, since it is a coerced goodness, against Alex’s will, total

goodness is not achieved. There are no morally perfect humans since original

sin infects everybody and willful sin is still possible. Human governments

cannot make individuals morally perfect, or as Dr. Brodsky states, "a true

Christian," so they should not even try (Malafry). It is the mutual

responsibility of God and the individual to reach moral perfection; the one

giving moral freedom and removing original sin and the other rightly exercising

the freedom to include acceptance of God’s forgiveness for willful sin

(Hausey). "That’s what it’s going to be then, brothers, as I come to the

like end of this tale," and Alex grows up and becomes morally responsible.

He is no longer a human clockwork orange.?

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