Lewis and Burgess present their novels in different forms – Burgess writes A Clockwork Orange in bildungsroman, presented in retrospective first person narrative and continually displayed within Burgess’ choice of ‘unreliable narrator’ (The Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne Booth, 1961), which is used by Burgess to show Alex’s justification of his crimes, and therefore his inability to objectively narrate; whereas Lewis’ omniscient “salacious and blasphemous elements of his narrative” (Nick Groom, 2016) in third person allows The Monk to be unbiased in its depiction of Father Ambrosio’s actions as the antihero.
However, despite their differences in narrative perceptions, both Lewis and Burgess choose to structure their novels into three parts. In creating such structure of the three parts in A Clockwork Orange and The Monk, both Lewis and Burgess have divided their novels into parts necessary to the progression of the narrative. Burgess in particular structures his three parts of A Clockwork Orange regulatory: each seven chapters segmented under crime, punishment or recovery. The initial era of gothic fiction, of which The Monk was a catalytic text, spanned from the late 18th century to the heart of the fin de siecle.
The Monk’s 1796 publication was in the transient gothic era, from the romantic era, and proves the political context of The Monk, including the enlightenment era and the French Revolution, to have changed Western Europe’s societal thinking to the point of a major change in literary movements. Characteristics such as the use of dark sorcery and omens within Matilda’s aid to Ambrosio to seduce the innocent Antonia, the gothic violence and excess expressed in Agnes’ torture by hypocritical nuns and the prevented repentance of Ambrosio by the Devil, conclude The Monk to be a gothic text.
Doubt elicited by the use of sorcery and the presence of the Devil is characteristic of gothic fiction. Doubt, irony and scepticism are also characteristics of the era of postmodern literature, particularly in relation to society and political constructions. Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian post-war novel of the postmodernist era which is explorative of psychopathy and medicinal and political mind control.
The literary eras of both The Monk and A Clockwork Orange therefore allow for the concept of the antihero in their characteristically dark, interpretive and cynical periods of publication. A Clockwork Orange’s 1962 social and political context was post-world war, economic depravity, a state of Cold War and the establishment of media within the Vietnam War. Alex DeLarge, the “classic teen antihero” (Blake Morrison) commits rape, enjoys violence, robs and assaults, depicted in graphic detail that emphasises his immunity and satisfaction of such acts.
Whilst many critics believe Burgess to have unnecessarily depicted such scenes and sins committed by Alex and his “droogs”, under immediate aftermath of the Second World War there is a question to society’s own immunity to debaucheries. The antihero, definitively amoral, must earn a begrudged understanding from the reader, anything more so would elicit respect or admiration, and therefore the identification of the antihero as the archetypal protagonist, where it is instead the antithesis of such archetypes.
If the portrayed immoral actions of Alex were lessened, the impact of his acts would be lessened. 1962 had been subject to media coverage of death, assaults and wars from the aftermath of World War Two and into the Vietnam War from 1955. Similarly, the social context of Matthew Lewis’ writing of The Monk was amongst “the extreme violence of the French Revolution and its nightmarish horrors” (Nick Groom), of which Lewis himself had briefly witnessed, in 1791 Paris, and over 40,000 people were killed.
Amongst eras of violence, warfare and debauchery, therefore, the construction of impact and terror was possible only when adhering to the horrors of Lewis and Burgess’ immediate contexts; and with such observance, “the horrors of The Monk becomes if not justifiable, at least explicable” (Nick Groom, 2016). The sins committed within The Monk were a reflection of the attitudes to religion during the French Revolution.
Upon 1789, “France’s population of 28 million was almost entirely Catholic”, “Yet, by 1794, France’s churches and religious orders were closed down and religious worship suppressed”. Such suppression of Catholicism was not solitarily subject to France, however, as in fact “the revolution reawakened Whig guilt at the bloodiness of English history” (Nick Groom, 2016), and therefore “a great distrust of Catholicism remained” (Nick Groom, 2016) in England – the origins of the writing of The Monk; and Catholicism was additionally “expressly satirised in fiction” (Nick Groom, 2016).
Despite the second-class positioning of Catholics within 18th century England, “the chastity of monks and nuns were treated with suspicion by Protestants” (Nick Groom, 2016), and the prevalent distrust of Catholic tradition, power and values elicited by both the setting and background of The Monk allows for the extreme sins committed by Father Ambrosio, a man “deaf to the murmurs of conscience, and resolved to satisfy his desires at any price” (The Monk, 1796), to take place without being completely gratuitous.
Equivalently, the postmodernist view on the concept of religion corresponds with the sins committed by Alex and his “droogs”, of which there is significant immunity. The lack of “absolute values” (BBC, 2009) within the concept of postmodernism, of which “every society is in a state of constant change” (BBC, 2009) – and therefore only relative truths exist – reject “universal or ethical laws” (BBC, 2009) in favour of the determining of communities’ “cultural context” (BBC, 2009).
Burgess, an apostate from the age of sixteen upon reading James Joyce’s A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, despite his Roman Catholic upbringing, resembles the postmodernist view of religion, and therefore sins. The prevalent theme of original sin within A Clockwork Orange further conforms with Burgess’ establishment of negative connotations towards religion within his novel.
As a former Catholic, Burgess has successfully used the concept of inherent sin within Christianity, the result of the fall of Adam and Eve, as a means of further justification of Alex’s actions, through his use of unreliable first person narrative, “what I do I do because I like to do. ” (A Clockwork Orange, 1962).
Burgess does not rule out the Catholic concept of original sin in A Clockwork Orange, but rather leaves the possibility for the redemption of his mouthpiece Alex in the third part of his novel, in which Alex proves to have matured over the 21 chapters. However, Burgess’ tone within the use of original sin allows for the justification of Alex’s actions, rather than the guilt intended by the Catholic church, thus allowing Burgess to have successfully subverted and undermined the underlying Catholic tones within A Clockwork Orange.
The lack of positive religious connotations within The Monk and A Clockwork Orange significantly allow for the portrayal of sins – to the grotesque – within the novels, and the hideous extent to which these sins are portrayed – in direct defiance to the Catholic Church – ultimately prove the immunity of the sanctified to the readers with regard to social and religious context of the publication dates of the two texts.
However, while Alex’s favour of the concept of original sin as opposed to the widely accepted theory of environmental behaviourism presented in chapter four of the first part of A Clockwork Orange is a subversion rather than conformation of Catholic ideology, the debate put forward by Alex’s Post-Corrective advisor P. R Deltoid, a mouthpiece for A Clockwork Orange’s societal views, arguably does conform with the view that ‘the portrayal of the antihero is a reflection of contemporary societal concerns’ of post-world war Western society. The apprehension and confusion expressed in P.
R Deltoid, who fails to understand “What gets into you all? ” (chapter four, part one, 1962), explains the theory of environmental behaviourism A Clockwork Orange’s society has “been studying for damn well near a century” (chapter four, part one, 1962). Similar to post-modernist theories of Burgess’ contemporary society, Alex’s “good home here, good loving parents” does not correlate with society’s analysis of “modern youth” (chapter four, part one 1962), which argues for correctional discipline as the solution for the sins committed within the “modern youth” (chapter four, part one 1962), such as Alex.
As a dystopian novel – the creation of an imagined state or “society characterised by human misery” (dictionary. com, 2016), typically one of a degrading totalitarianism society, heavily influenced and often a foreboding warning of the author’s own contemporary society – A Clockwork Orange’s societal concerns correlate significantly with that of Burgess’ own contemporary post-war society, of which Zeitgeist fear of the degeneration of culture was prevalent – particularly with the increasing popularity of drugs, and the accumulative rise of capitalism, pop culture, and the subjectivity of the Vietnamese war through media.
Therefore, the States’ analysis of “modern youth” (chapter four, part one, 1962), as responsible, uneducated and a simply solved solution is a reflection of Burgess’ contemporary societal concerns; and Alex’s rebuttal of the States’ studies “for damn well near a century” (chapter four, part one, 1962), in favour of “I do what I do because it’s what I want to do” (chapter four, part one, 1962), and his status and portrayal as an antihero, is Burgess’ conscious reflection of contemporary societal concerns.
Therefore Anthony Burgess, who succeeds in following the definition of the archetypal dystopian novel in A Clockwork Orange, as well as the archetypal portrayal of the antihero through his mouthpiece Alex DeLarge, uses the theme of freewill to present the totalitarian society of which A Clockwork Orange is founded on, and successfully reflect his contemporary societal concerns. In summation, the view that ‘the portrayal of the antihero is a reflection of contemporary societal concerns’ is true within the portrayal of Alex DeLarge in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Father Ambrosio in Matthew Lewis’ The Monk.
Contextually, both The Monk and A Clockwork Orange were immersed in societal concerns such as the prominence of Catholicism in 1796 Europe, in the backdrop of the French Revolution, which affected the whole of Western Europe, including the Spanish setting of The Monk and the English home of Matthew Lewis; and the eminent rise of Capitalism in post-world war Western Europe in 1962, resulting in the rise of media, pop culture and the zeitgeist fear of the degeneration of culture, and Matthew Lewis and Anthony Burgess used their novels as subverted mouthpieces for such societal concerns, shocking their contemporary readers into realisation, and were later praised for addressing “acutely and savagely the tendencies of our time” (New Statesman, 1962).