A Clockwork Orange

A “clockwork orange” can be described as something that has a convincing outer appearance yet in the inside is merely controlled by outer influences, such as a clock set in motion by its owner. In A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess takes us into the future where violent criminals are forced to be “good,” and introduces us to Alex, a young teen who engages in a life of rape, ultra-violence, and Beethoven with his “droogs,” or friends, and talks in the slang language of “nadsat.” He goes through various phases in his life, evolving into a more mature level of thinking; each of these phases can be seen as clockwork orange. What makes this novel so realistic however, is how real Alex really is and how each of his phases into maturity represents a part of us.
His youth is characterized as that of a rapist, practitioner of extremely violent acts, and a lover of Beethoven. These three adjectives point out what drives Alex’s actions: emotion. He follows no moral code nor does he even have one. However, he does follow his natural desire to sin, and can thus be described as a clockwork orange in that his actions are controlled by his emotion. We can clearly see how Alex’s inclination to do things that satisfy his emotion are strikingly similar to our desires to do the things that we want to do. This is the whole message behind the doctrine of original sin, where Adam’s first sin against God carried into his descendants. All humans are born with the desire to do evil, and thus we can justify Alex’s violent actions.
Eventually, Alex’s friends betray him and set him up to be imprisoned, where he is conditioned to hate evil and to become sick at the mention or thought of evil, as well as the music he so used to enjoy. Alex walks out as a new person: one who is totally “good,” yet has no choice to be bad. He is a walking robot conditioned by the government – a clockwork orange. After much turmoil and anxiety, Alex is “fixed,” and once more has free will.
In the final chapter, we see how Alex finally matures and frees himself from outside control. He decides to find a wife to take care of his son. In doing so, he realizes how his youth was that of a clockwork orange and we see how this realization breaks him from the control it had over him. This can be seen in our lives in that we eventually become morally responsible and take steps toward fulfilling our obligations in life.
Burgess points out an interesting question in this novel. Would it be better to be forced to do good or to choose evil with freedom of choice? Would it be right to live our lives “perfectly,” on the condition that we had no control over it? Burgess states his answer in the words spoken by the prison chaplain, who says, “When a man ceases to choose, he ceases to be a man.”