Last Updated 27 May 2020

Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange

Essay type Process
Words 917 (3 pages)
Views 458

The essential conflict in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange exists between the individual and the social order. Philip E. Ray, cites early critics of A Clockwork Orange such as A.A. DeVitis, Carol M. Dix, and Robert K. Morris who suggest that "the theme of the novel is the conflict between the natural and untainted Individual and the artificial and corrupt State" (479).

More importantly, A Clockwork Orange seems to address the individual's ability to express his or her free will within the context of the collective society, and, particularly, poses the interesting question of whether the individual's primary expression of free will is through acts of violence. Through the depiction of a dystopian future, the novel interrogates the interrelationships and conflicts among the individual, society, violence, and free will, thus requiring the reader to do the same.

Order custom essay Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange with free plagiarism report

GET ORIGINAL PAPER

The novel opens with Alex, the narrator and main character, sitting at a bar with his gang of droogs posing the question, "What's it going to be then, eh?" (Burgess 1). Alex poses this question eleven times throughout the novel. In fact, the novel is book-ended by this question, as it is the first line of the first chapter and the first line of the last.

This question seems to present the reader with a declaration of free will. Essentially, Alex seems to be announcing his ability to choose any action he wishes. According to Veronica Hollinger, "the question itself implies the power of the individual to make choices" (Hollinger 86). The power to choose is the power of free will, and for Alex, choice and free will must be expressed through violence. Even Burgess writes of "a free and violent will" (Burgess xii) in his introduction to A Clockwork Orange.

The first act of violence perpetrated by Alex occurs within the first chapter when the narrator and his group of "droogs" attack a man in the streets. They proceed to beat the man and destroy his property. The group of youths revels in their violent outburst against the social machine, which is embodied for them in this adult. Within the first thirty pages, Alex and his gang are responsible for four different instances of extreme violence, while the powers-that-be only make a brief appearance and are easily outwitted.

The futuristic society of A Clockwork Orange is an extension of our society of commoditization. From clothing to drugs, every possible outlet for the expression of individual free will has been turned into a commodity of the society. The youth seems to be left without any possible expression of individualistic will. Alex seems to see violence as the last non-commercialized expression of individualistic free will available to him; thus, it appears the individual must be in violent conflict with the social order in order to express free will.

After the initial scenes of what Alex refers to as "ultra-violence," the novel proceeds towards a series of collisions between the two main players of the novel: Alex and his society. The social order, embodied in several select social institutions, uses a variety of methods to control Alex's violence in order to maintain its own stability.

Alex is eventually captured after he invades the home of a young woman and beats her to death, and the social order, in the form of governmentally funded scientists, begins the process of reforming Alex. The scientists remove Alex from prison and attempt to inhibit his ability to act violently through a chemically induced Pavlovian conditioning designed to make him sick at the very thought of violence. After the experiment is concluded, Alex is completely reformed and cannot stand to enact violence or be witness to violence.

When Alex loses his ability to choose violence, he also seems to lose any expression of will. The relationship between free will and violence is expressed through the musings of the prison chaplain who eventually poses the question, "Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed on him?" (Burgess 106).

Essentially, the chaplain worries that Alex cannot be truly human and good if he cannot make a choice to be, or not be, violent. After Alex is conditioned and his violent free will is removed, he undergoes a series of hardships, ending in his near suicide.

From the moment Alex loses his violent will, the reader must watch him undergo torments in the form of rejection by his parents, beatings by his previous friends, and torture at the hands of a radical anti-government writer.  Further, Alex is pushed around from place to place and seems to have no will of his own. The loss of a violent will seems to be the loss of free will and individuality.

Violence in A Clockwork Orange appears to function as synecdoche for all individual expression. If the only way for Alex to express himself effectively is to engage in violent acts, then the violence-less Alex is a tragic creature because he lacks any expression at all. The destruction of violence by society is the destruction of the individual and expressions of free will.

Despite the evidence that violence is only an expression of the individual and free will, the text is also full of examples that point towards violence as a mechanism of society. In fact, the society seems to need violence just as much as Alex, as a representation of the individual, does. Violence is exhibited as a tool of the social order in several key scenes—notably a police brutality scene after Alex is released from prison and the novel's original, final chapter.

Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange essay

This essay was written by a fellow student. You can use it as an example when writing your own essay or use it as a source, but you need cite it.

Get professional help and free up your time for more important courses

Starting from 3 hours delivery 450+ experts on 30 subjects
get essay help 124  experts online

Did you know that we have over 70,000 essays on 3,000 topics in our database?

Cite this page

Explore how the human body functions as one unit in harmony in order to life

Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. (2016, Jun 29). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/anthony-burgesss-a-clockwork-orange/

We use cookies to give you the best experience possible. By continuing we’ll assume you’re on board with our cookie policy

Save time and let our verified experts help you.

Hire writer