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A Clockwork Orange

Essay by review  •  December 30, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,228 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,402 Views

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A Clockwork Orange takes place in a futuristic city governed by a repressive, totalitarian super-state. In this society, ordinary citizens have fallen into a passive stupor of complacency, blind to the insidious growth of a rampant, violent youth culture. The protagonist of the story is Alex a fifteen-year-old boy who narrates in a teenage slang, which incorporates elements of Russian and Cockney English. Alex leads a small gang of teenage criminals through the streets, robbing and beating men and raping women. Alex and his friends spend the rest of their time at the Korova Milkbar that serves milk laced with drugs and a bar called the Duke of New York.

More than anything, Burgess believed that "the freedom to choose is the big human attribute," meaning that the presence of moral choice ultimately distinguishes human beings from machines or lower animals. This belief provides the central argument of A Clockwork Orange, where Alex asserts his free will by choosing a course of wickedness, only to be subsequently robbed of his self-determination by the government. In making Alex a criminal guilty of violence, rape, and theft the hero of the novel, Burgess argues that humanity must, at all costs, insist that individuals be allowed to make their own moral choices, even if that freedom results in depravity. When the State removes Alex's power to choose his own moral course of action, Alex becomes nothing more than a thing. A human being's legitimacy as a moral agent is predicated on the notion that good and evil exist as separate, equally valid choices. Without evil as a valid option, the choice to be good becomes nothing more than an empty, meaningless gesture.

The books treatment of this theme includes, but is not limited to, the presentation of a Christian conception of morality. The chaplain, the novel's clearest advocate for Christian morals, addresses the dangers of Alex's "Reclamation Treatment" when he tells Alex that "goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man." F. Alexander echoes this sentiment, from a different philosophical standpoint, when he tells Alex that the treatment has turned him into something other a human being. He has no power of choice any longer." Burgess's novel ultimately supports this conception of morality as a matter of choice and determination and argues that good behavior is meaningless if one does not actively choose goodness.

The primary and most controversial idea in A Clockwork Orange is voiced repeatedly by F. Alexander and the prison chaplain: without choice and free will, man is no longer human but a "clockwork orange," a deterministic mechanism. Free will, Burgess and his liberal mouthpieces argue, is necessary to maintain our humanity, both individually and communally; revolutions are built on free will, as Alex points out.

However, free will becomes problematic in other ways when we extend it to the community. Alex's unhindered free will violates what is known as "the harm principle," that any action is permissible so long as it does not harm anyone else. Burgess presents unequivocal evidence that Alex's immoral acts do harm others, so the question for A Clockwork Orange is whether it is better to allow harmful free will, or safely curb it. Burgess still maintains we should permit harmful free will, since goodness is authentic only if it is chosen; if goodness is forced, as is done to Alex through Ludovico's Technique, it is inhuman and mechanical.

Burgess also refutes the argument that ethical goodness has any relationship to aesthetic goodness. Alex comments on a newspaper article that proposes moralizing London's youth through the fine arts. Alex has refined taste in classical music, especially when compared to his pop song loving teenage friends, but the gorgeous, sophisticated music only amps him up for violence and sex. When music becomes associated with immorality for Alex through Ludovico's Technique, Burgess demonstrates the utter malleability of aesthetics and ethics.

Burgess complicates matters more by suggesting that Alex's inclination toward evil is somewhat mechanistic as well. While Alex does gain satisfaction from committing violent acts, he does so in as reflexive a manner as he avoids violence after Ludovico's Technique. Burgess subscribes to the Biblical idea that man has Original Sin and that condition implies a lack of choice. We see the mark of Original Sin everywhere in A Clockwork Orange, notably in the form of the Government the doctors and other state officials have just

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