Irony and satire are prominent themes throughout Anthony Burgess’s
Irony and satire are prominent themes throughout Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth. Burgess’s novel satirizes the world as Burgess viewed it in the mid to late 16th century. It was a world in which individuality copped out to societal norms. Wolf attempts to illustrate the irony of the tenuous connection between the age of reason and the modernization in her work To the Lighthouse which was published in 1984. Like Woolf and Burgess, Cary too takes an entirely satirical approach to the early twentieth century in his work The Horse’s Mouth.
Each work published at different junctures in the twentieth century offers unique parodies of the times and the direction each author saw society following. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Irony, is perhaps the cornerstone of A Clockwork Orange.
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It is most frequently demonstrated through Alex who prior to his government mandated treatment repeatedly refers to violence as a thing of beauty. For example, after hitting Dim Alex goes on to note that his victim “is singing blood to make up for his vulgarity.
” (Burgess, 28) In another example of irony, prior to his treatment, Alex looks upon those things that most people deem desirable such as religion, education and reason as purely undesirable. In other words, Alex sees things in reverse until the government reforms him. After his treatment he adapts an entirely passive outlook manifested by the following excerpt: “And what, brother, I had to escape into sleep from then was the horrible and wrong feeling that it was better to get the hit than give it. If the veck had stayed I might even have like presented the other cheek.
” (Burgess, 121) This turn in Alex’s attitude toward violence comes as a result of a rigorous two week treatment in which Alex while incarcerated for crimes of violence is injected with a drug. The drug makes Alex ill and during the effects he is forced to watch tapes containing excessive violence. The technique known as associative learning forces Alex to become ill at the thought of violence. Ironically, following the treatment, Alex who was an ardent admirer of classical music cannot stand to listen to classical music since he associates it with violence.
Irony and satire is further illustrated by the name attached to a cottage where Alex and his gang members, called droogs, entered and committed crimes of rape and assault. This was prior to Alex’s arrest, incarceration and eventual associative learning treatment. The cottage is named Home and Alex describes it as “a gloopy sort of name. ” (Burgess, 19) The word home is associated with comfort and safety and naturally an escape from the abrasive outside world. At Home, Alex and his droogs turn the concept around by beating the man of the house and raping the mistress.
Ironically the master had written a manuscript in protest against the treatment that the government used to reform Alex. While at Home committing violent crimes, Alex burnt the manuscript which is the very thing that might have spared him the treatment that he received in prison. In the final analysis, the government, by brainwashing Alex for the collective good of society had ironically dehumanized him. This dehumanizing took the form of robbing Alex of free will and free choice.
He had not elected to abstain from violence he had been programmed to do so and as such was no more than an animal or a thing. The greatest irony of all is that the very violence that Alex perpetrated had been regarded as non-human. His treatment did no more than suppress his desire for violence leaving no less human than before his treatment. Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange therefore offers a satirical indictment of modern approaches to order in society. Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey represent the gap between realism and modernity with an ironic undertone.
While Mr. Ramsey is apt to rely upon his intellect and Mrs. Ramsey relies on her emotion, both characters are keenly aware that their existence is profoundly transient. For instance Mrs. Ramsey is weighed by concurrent thoughts of her sons’ growth and the inevitable dangers in the outside world. Mr. Ramsey is constantly obsessing over his inevitable demise. In many ways this approach to modern day chaos is reflected in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Man’s attempt to modernize and grow threatens the very essence of humanity.
In A Clockwork Orange the dehumanizing impact of technological progress was epitomized through Burgess’s Alex. Woolf’s approach is slightly different but is nonetheless satirical. Despite the advances in technology humanity is characterized by its flaws. A flawless society is impossible despite the perfection offered by modernity. Woolf highlights this satirical approach in a scene where Mr. Ramsey is observing Mrs. Ramsey and James, (their son) through a window as he strolls through the lane. Woolf writes the following:
“Who shall blame him? Who will not secretly rejoice when the hero puts his armour off, and halts by the window and gazes at his wife and son, who, very distant at first, gradually come closer and closer, till lips and book and head are clearly before him, though still lovely and unfamiliar from the intensity of his isolation and the waste of ages and the perishing of the stars, and finally putting his pipe in his pocket and bending his magnificent head before her—who will blame him if he does homage to the beauty of the world?
” (Woolf, Ch. VI) Obviously, Woolf is demonstrating that humanity is flawed and no amount of science can prevent the inevitability of mortality. For Burgess humanity is endlessly flawed by free choice and no amount of scientific procedure can correct that flaw without substituting one problem with perhaps a larger problem. For instance the treatment given to Alex only robbed him of human traits while attempting to make him more human by eliminating his desire to commit acts of violence.
While Burgess uses Home as a symbol of irony in that it typifies a place of order and peace yet becomes a place of great violence and upheaval, Woolf takes a more traditional approach. At her dinner party, Mrs. Ramsey poignantly observes that despite the outside chaos and the turmoil of the outside world there is some peace at home. Reflecting on the dinner party Woolf write: “It partook . . . of eternity . . .
there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today, already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that endures. ”(Woolf, Chapter XVII) Although this aspect of the home can be distinguished from Burgess’s satirical approach to the home the message is nonetheless vastly similar. Certain elements of humanity cannot be usurped by modern technology.
As advanced as the sciences may become, human nature remains sacred and necessary for a cohesive society. As collective as society has become at the heart of society there are individuals with human desires, the hub that successfully turns the wheel of humanity. As Mrs. Ramsey observes, some things cannot change and that is human nature. For Alex, human nature required free choice. For Mrs. Ramsey human nature required peace and rest. Ironically, free choice, peace and rest are all compromised in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse.
For Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, humanity was threatened by modern technology as evidenced by Alex’s treatment. For Woolf, humanity was likewise threatened by modern technology at a time when the world was at war and the industrial revolution was in full swing. The Lighthouse in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse can be compared to the Home in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange in that they both represent the irony of contradictory nature of things. As previously observed the Home, traditionally a place of refuge became the scene of heinous crimes in A Clockwork Orange. A similar, yet not so dramatic contradiction and irony surrounds Woolf’s Lighthouse.
For instance, James observes as the Ramsey’s boat approaches the Lighthouse: “The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening. Now— James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it? No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too. ” (Woolf, Chapter VIII)