Anthony Burgess


Illusion of Free-Will in A Clockwork Orange
(ESSAY DATE: June 8, 2014) In this essay, A.S. will discuss the meaning of free will and choice in the anti-protagonist’s character, relating it back to the meaning of the work as a whole being the rejection of someone or group ridding an individual of natural human rights.
In a dystopian near-futuristic society, ultra-violence becoming the new fad for teenagers, and murder, rape, and theft being a typical Friday night, the government has teamed up with scientists to embark on a new method of delinquent correction: stimulated brainwashing. Alexander the Large, the main ant-protagonist of Burgess’s novella A Clockwork Orange is a notorious leader of an ultra-violent gang that undergoes an experimental brainwashing process that injects him with powerful, nausea-inducing drugs while being forced to view footage of ultra-violence, until the mere thought of violence and evil makes him succumb to his own body’s rejection of the topic. The method of the government brainwashing Alex strips him of his will to choose for himself, and affectively of his human right to free will, relating to the meaning of the work as a whole being that the idea of forcing a person to live against their nature rids them of their right to be a human being with the freedom of choice and will.
While Alex has no sound justification for his acts of ultra-violence, he explains to the audience after his post-correctional advisor pays him a visit that goes nowhere, since his advisor is incapable of relating to Alex as a person, that he doesn’t perform evil merely because he wants to be evil, but it’s his way of expressing his interests in will. He explains that people perform good deeds in society because it makes them feel good, where in Alex’s case, he performs acts of ultra-violence because it’s the person he is. “If lewdies [people] are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures… …but what I do I do because I like to do” (Burgess 40). The case is made that good people are able to do good because no one is imposing on their will, but in Alex’s case, he views it unjust that his will is imposed on because the government doesn’t approve of what he does. And since the government, doesn’t approve, they take it upon themselves to take away the will of an individual to better suit their own needs and the needs of others. While this case is more of the extreme sort, Burgess is showing that the will of others is meant to be personal property only, and shouldn’t be vandalized or destroyed by others who think they are doing it for the better good.
After being beaten and abused by past victims, rival gang members and formal friends/gang members, Alex finds that given his new state, feels that his inability to fight back is hindering his will to live, and with the final blow of F. Alexander blaring “Beethoven’s 9th Symphony”, a piece that Alex used to love and adore that now makes him violently ill, he decides he can’t take living in this kind of world anymore and tries to commit suicide. Nevertheless, his attempts at jumping out a window to his death fail, and he merely end up going to the hospital. The failed suicide attempt enlightens the concept of Alex being in a “no-win situation” or a “crooked fight”, in which after he loses his free will, every decision he makes only ends up being the wrong choice. From a literal standpoint, his life is a crooked fight, in the sense that he is completely incapable of defending himself from oncoming attackers, let alone fighting back. By taking away his free will via brainwash, the government effectively turned Alex into a punching bag for his previous actions to come back and exact revenge on him.
Not only is Alex void of acting any sense of aggression towards other individuals, but he is completely turned off to one of the things in his life that brings him great joy, being classical music. Since Beethoven’s 9th was accidentally played during the brainwashing process, Alex suffered the same consequences listening to his passion that he did when he subjected himself to violence. The government in that society not only removed Alex’s violent behavior, but also stripped him of his identity and his passion. While classical music did cause Alex to have thoughts about ultra-violence, the music was in no way harming to any of the people around him, and made him calm as well as helped him sleep at night. The removal of his will also removed him of his sense of comfort and security and thus made him a cold, helpless robot of a person who had no choice in what he did and could never experience feelings of happiness or joy. The removal of will, Burgess shows, always comes at a greater cost of a human life.
The idea of a person being turned into a machine with the sole purpose of pleasing the one who constructed it is even evident in the title of the book itself. “A Clockwork Orange” relates to the idea that something that grows sweetly and organically in nature, being an orange, turns into a sort of mechanism bent on being subservient to the person or group that designed the contraption, working precisely and orderly, in the similar fashion of a clock. Alex, while choosing to live a life of ultra-violence, soon turns from a member of society with free will into a humanoid robot, that’s only function is to serve the government in the way they designed him to. They rewired his nature of delinquency, and imposed on him a set of gears that only allow him to move in the directions that the gears turn. Even when the contraption leads him into being beaten and abused into attempts at suicide, every choice Alex can make is one that would only suit the government and the scientists
The purpose of this novella is meant more for didactic purposes instead of artistic ones. While this book is not meant to serve as a warning sign to the generation like George Orwell’s 1984, its purpose is more to show how people should be entitled to their own choices, and the repercussions that follow bad choices instead of ridding that person of their ability to make choices in the first place. Ridding someone of their free will not only makes them vulnerable and helpless for what the world has in store for them, but also rids them of their identity, turns them into a machine-like humanoid, eliminated any hope of joy or happiness for the individual, and also eliminates the freedom they have to learn from their mistakes at their own expense.
A.S. 2014