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A Clockwork Orange

The narrator, 15-year-old Alex, and his gang – Dim, Pete, and Georgie – run amok in futuristic London. When the foursome isn’t downing drug-laced milk in the Korova Milkbar and speaking in the Slavic-influenced slang of nadsat, they are robbing, beating, and raping socialist London’s citizens. On this particular night, they beat up an old man with science books and a homeless man, get into a fight with a rival gang led by Billybob, and steal a car and take it for a joyride to the country. At a cottage labeled “HOME,” they beat up the author of “A Clockwork Orange” – a manuscript celebrating human free will and denouncing any infringement upon it – and rape his wife. Back at the Korova Milkbar, Alex hits Dim for interrupting a woman singing a piece from an opera – Alex is a great lover of classical music, especially Beethoven, and he always imagines himself engaging in violent and sexual acts while listening to it.

Alex’s parents are ineffectual, and his farcical Post-Corrective Adviser, P.R. Deltoid, cannot fathom why London’s youth has turned to criminality. The next night, Alex gets into a fight with Dim and Georgie to assert his leadership. The gang proposes they rob a rich old woman’s house. After an unsuccessful attempt to get the woman to open the door, Alex sneaks into the house while his friends wait outside. He gets into a fight with the woman and her cats, but the police soon arrive. His friends betray him, temporarily blinding him while they flee, and Alex is arrested. The police brutalize Alex and are elated to have caught him. Alex soon discovers the woman has died, and he is sentenced to 14 years of jail for murder.

Alex, now known as number “6655321,” spends two years in State jail, dealing with brutal wardens, homosexual prisoners, and mindless labor. He relates that Georgie has died. His one supporter in prison is the chaplain, who has taken Alex under his wing since Alex got interested in the Bible – little does he know that Alex entertains violent fantasies when reading the book. Alex asks about a new treatment – Ludovico’s Technique – which frees the prisoner and ensures he remains free. The chaplain is skeptical about the treatment, as it eliminates the subject’s power to choose. A cell scuffle results in Alex’s killing a new prisoner, and the powerful Minister of the Interior asks the prison Governor to use Alex as a guinea pig for the new treatment.

Alex shrugs off the chaplain’s concerns about the treatment and signs up. He is transferred to a new hospital, where he is given a shot after each filling meal. The treatment, under Dr. Brodsky, consists of being forced to watch violent films (his eyelids are propped open) while strapped in a chair. The films are violent, and Alex has a terrible physical reaction to their violent content, feeling sick and begging the doctors to stop. The doctors have a sadistic streak in them, however, and happily continue the treatment. Alex soon finds even the thought of violence, not to mention the demonstration of it in reality, makes him ill. Classical music, used as a soundtrack for some of the films, also makes him sick by association. After two weeks, Alex’s treatment is over and he is trotted out to demonstrate the effects for an audience. Even without the shot, any semblance of violence or sex debilitates him, and he is pronounced cured by the Minister.

Alex, now a free man, is also a celebrity, his case touted by the Government as a major step in turning back rampant crime. He finds London is a less violent place now. He is no longer welcome in his home, as a lodger named Joe has displaced him in his parents’ home. Alex no longer enjoys classical music, either, and contemplates suicide. The old man with the science books and other elderly people beat Alex up in the library, only for the police – now including Dim and Billybob – to take Alex into the country and further brutalize him. They leave him for dead, and he seeks shelter in the “HOME” cottage.

The man there, F. Alexander, knows Alex from the newspapers and takes him in. A liberal, he wants to use Alex to overthrow the totalitarian Government. He mentions that his wife was raped and killed, victimized in much the same way Alex has been. Alex is careful not to let the man know he was the rapist, but his use of nadsat slowly establishes that fact in the F. Alexander’s mind. He and his friends go to work on Alex’s case, and in the meantime put him in an apartment in the city. However, they set it up so Alex must listen to sickness-inducing classical music near an open window. Alex jumps out to commit suicide, realizing the men have betrayed him so his suicide can help their cause against the Government.

Alex survives and is put in a hospital. When he comes to, F. Alexander’s friends tell him he has destroyed the Government’s chances for re-election. He drifts out of consciousness again and when he next comes to, his parents beg him to return to their home; Joe has left after some trouble with the police. Alex is regaining his tolerance for violence, and after a few days he is back to where he started, the effects of Ludovico’s Technique apparently reversed by doctors in his sleep. The Minister of the Interior stages a photo opportunity in which he gets Alex to denounce F. Alexander – who has been put away after learning Alex raped and killed his wife – and befriend the Government.

Alex forms a new gang and, with his cushy new Government-supplied job, seems to be renewing his former life. But he finds that drugs and violence no longer excite him, and he has even developed a taste for romantic, as opposed to violent, classical pieces. When he sees that his old friend Pete has become a middle-class husband, it seals the deal: Alex wants to settle down, marry, and have a son. He believes he has simply outgrown his violent past. It was youth, above all, that made him, and all the sons in the world, act impetuously.

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Home » A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

The Monk:
A Rebellious Offspring of the Age of Reason

Understanding the Gothic novel can be accomplished by obtaining a familiarity of the Augustan point of view, which helps to develop a reference point for comparing and contrasting the origin of Gothic literature. The thinking that was being questioned by the Gothic novel was Augustanism; and without some understanding of Augustan principles and their role in eighteenth-century thought it is difficult to understand the purposes of the Gothic revival, either in terms of history or in terms of the way in which it offered a new conception of the relations between man, nature and a supreme being. David punter describes the political relationship of the Augustan thinker to the literary world, ” It is tempting to see in Augustanism the doctrine of a small cultural elite holding on to power and status under increasing pressure, and that pressure as precisely that exerted by the new reading public on the homogeneity of the old literary establishment (p 31 Punter). This small number of elite would have included, but not limited to, Fielding, Johnson and especially Pope.

However, Fielding and Johnson were slowly stepping outside of the realm of the Augustan limitations. Fielding was undoubtedly Augustan in his beliefs in the stability of social rules and the necessity of a social and psychological compromise, but his mocking attitude towards literary stipulation represents a more moderate Augustan replication. Johnson, on the other hand, was a firm believer in these literary rules and yet it was his Preface to Shakespeare’ which became the first significant breach in these limitations.

Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man’ embodies the cosmological, theological and ethical beliefs of the Augustan age; while at the same time exemplifying submission to the rules of literary form. The Augustan approach was intellectual with formal restraint; while relying on reason and traditionalism to create literary works. These stipulations were very controlled by their boundaries and could not be exaggerated with out being broken. The Augustan critical attitude condemned spontaneity for its chaotic qualities, imagination for its objection to reason and liberalism for its opposition to traditionalism.

Gothic fiction appears as a specific response to the Age of Reason’s order. During the late eighteenth-century, several different kinds of new fiction arose to challenge the Augustan tradition; leading the way was the Gothic novel. An interest in those things, which cannot be understood, for example religion and the soul, results in an overwhelming expansion of what is accepted as art in the literary world. No longer is literature responsible for explanation, but it now has the power to question.

Where the classical was obsessed with order, the gothic exemplified chaos; where simple and pure, Gothic was ornate and lustful; where tradition was expected to be followed, the Gothic represented boundless exaggeration; and where reason was respected, imagination took hold. With the evolution of the Gothic novel, for the first time literature was perceived as limitless. In a literary context Gothic’ is most usually applied to a group of novels written between 1760 and 1820. Characteristics of the Gothic novel are: an emphasis on portraying the terrifying, insistence on archaic settings, a very prominent use of supernatural forces, the presence of highly stereotypical characters and an attempt to perfect the technique of literary suspense. Angela Carter most accurately defines Gothic, in her collection of tales “Fireworks”:

“The Gothic tradition grandly ignores the value systems of our
institutions, it deals entirely with the profane. Its great themes
are incest and cannibalism. Character and events are exaggerated
beyond reality to become symbols, ideas and passions. Its style
will tend to be ornate, unnatural and thus operate against the
perennial human desire to believe the word as fact. Its only humor
is black humor. It retains a singular moral function – that of
provoking unease” (p 4 Carter).

This description identifies all the defining characteristics of Mathew Lewis’ The Monk and educates the reader as to what to expect.
Unlike traditional literature of predecessors like Fielding, Johnson and Pope, Lewis’ The Monk embodies one of the first steps into the realm of the Gothic novel; presented as a rebellion against the traditional norms. “The chilling paradox of the novel is found in Lewis’ mixing of a rationalistic secular skepticism and insistent employment of the least rationalistic supernatural element: Satan. God does not truly exist but the devil does” (p63 Greary). Lewis evokes the horror of horrors, a malign cosmos where the devil, not God, is the only authoritative power presented. Robert Geary acknowledges Lewis’ use of religion as a basis for skepticism in his novel. Instead of focusing on the conventional wrath of God, Lewis implores a wrath of a demonic supernatural force. The basis for this creation lies within a mistrust of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Gothic fantasy was not a call for revolt, but a revolution from the values and attitudes of everyday life. In creating a monk who rapes, kills, and sells his soul to the devil, Lewis is enlightening the reader to the moral depravity which man is capable of when he becomes obsessive. This psychological aspect of the novel appeals to the readers mind and self. The differentiation between the mind and self was a relevant topic during
the late eighteenth-century. While Ambrosio has all the qualities of a monk, Lewis draws attention to the unnaturalness of his rearing through the church. All that a monk is expected to avoid, is constantly enveloping Ambrosio’s mind.

Lewis illustrates, exceptionally well, the devils control over an individual most unlikely to succumb. Without the psychological analysis, which is available today, Lewis attempts to offer symbolic suggestions as to the cause of the irrationality of his characters. For example, Ambrosia’s condition is blamed on fault in his background, for he was brought up by monks who “terrified his young mind, by placing before him all the horror with which superstition could furnish them” ( P188 Lewis).

As evident here, the Gothic novel evoked a new perception of viewing what was considered normalcy, in a way that was for so long buried beneath the rationalism of the Age. “The Monk became the authoritative model for the high Gothic novel of unmitigated hideousness and extravagant supernaturalism” (p7 Barron). Lewis offers the reader a continuing extravaganza of horrid shock while subjecting  both his good and evil characters to the powers of the devil.

Throughout the novel, the Catholic Church is seen as a thorn in a side of the characters , which allows them to become claustrophobic instruments of isolation and reinforce the errors of social communication, which have been a longstanding convention of the eighteenth-century life. According to Barron’s Horror Literature, this depiction of the church as a threat meets the first criteria for a Gothic novel in that “Gothic characters must feel enclosed by menacing buildings and by other circumstances of enclosure within the Gothic structure Claustrophobic confinement is the psychic imperative of all Gothic fiction” (p8 Barron). Lewis was interested in the particular vicissitudes of the psyche and he made use of social phenomenon and setting to reinforce this depiction.

Lewis took the stipulations set before him by the Augustan thinkers of the eighteenth-century and created a novel by representing everything these thinkers opposed; ultimately creating a whole new genre of literary fiction. Fielding and Johnson helped to lay the framework for Lewis by bending the limitations placed on literature.
The creation of the Gothic novel can be contributed to Lewis’ The Monk; he set the standard for which authors still today use for reference in their own Gothic novels. Mathew Lewis is the father of the Gothic revival.

Works Cited

Barron, Neil. Horror Literature: A Reader’s Guide . Garland Publishing, New York: 1990

Carter, Angela. Fireworks: Nine Profane Pieces. London: 1974. p4

Greary, Robert. The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction. Edwin Millen Press, Lewiston: 1992.

Lewis, Mathew. The Monk. Penguin Press, New York: 1990.

Punter, David. The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fiction from 1765 to Present
Singman Press, London: 1980.

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