Freedom and liberalism are catchwords that appear frequently in both philosophical and political rhetoric. A free man is able to choose his actions and his value system, to express his views and to develop his most authentic character. What this kind of idealistic liberalism seems to forget, however, is that liberty does not mean a better society, better life or humanistic values such as equality and justice. In his novel A Clockwork Orange (1962), Anthony Burgess portrays an ultimately free individual and shows how a society cannot cope with the freedom which it in rhetoric so eagerly seeks to promote.
Existentialism as a mid-20th century philosophical trend introduced the idea of an absolutely free individual into the scheme of modern and postmodern individualism. A Clockwork Orange is a novel that raises a wide range of ethical questions from the definition of free choice and goodness to methods of punishment. Existentialism in the form presented by Jean-Paul Sartre and the German phenomenologists does not provide an ethical nor a psychological perspective to the novel. Applying 'existentialist thought' to Anthony Burgess' work will, however, give understanding of the narrator Alex as a case of a free individual who attempts to construct his world and relate to it authentically. Hence the main issue to be examined is the necessity of self-definition and the extent of its discouragement in Alex's social environment.
Alex is a 15 year-old boy cast into a problematic future society. He is the dominating only child of an ordinary working class family. He attends corrective school during the day and seeks violent pleasures with his droogs during the night. As ...
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... postmodernist rhetoric he devises a "new chapter beginning" for his living story.
In the eyes of abstract existentialism Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange is an interesting exploration. The novel illustrates that the nature of society is the restriction of freedom. In the social contract some human liberty is exchanged for a social membership, a construction. The problem of society, it appears, is the balance between rights and obligations within the contract. If the balance is not directed towards the individual, but towards the state, the society becomes the annihilator of authenticity. Such a society cannot cope with the natural sense of freedom, self-expression, and authenticity of its people.
Burgess Anthony 1962. A Clockwork Orange. Penguin Books 1996.
Sartre Jean-Paul 1956. Being and Nothingness. Washington Square Press 1992.
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