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A Clockwork Orange

Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out.  You are free.

-Anthony Burgess

Anthony 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.  Burgesss 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 DroogsPete, Dim, and Georgieand 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 Ludovicos 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 Alexs 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 Kubricks film shows Alexs 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 novels main theme deals with free choice and spiritual freedom.  Anthony Burgess expresses his view that no matter how good ones 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 ones 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 individuals spirit.  Burgess feels that no matter how awful Alexs 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.

Burgesss 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 ones 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 Burgesss 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 wordsmost of which have Russian rootsto 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 cant 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 Burgesss 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 Burgesss 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 (Burgesss 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 Alexs 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.
Burgesss 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 Alexs 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 Alexs 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 Gods forgiveness for willful sin (Hausey).  Thats what its 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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