A Clockwork Orange is a novel about moral choice and free will. Alex’s story shows what happens when an individual’s right to choose is robbed for the good of society. The first and last chapters place Alex in more or less the same physical situation but his ability to exercise free will leads him to diametrically opposite choices—good versus evil. The phrase, “what’s it going to be then, eh?,” echoes throughout the book; only at the end of the novel is the moral metamorphosis complete and Alex is finally able to answer the question, and by doing so affirms his freedom of choice. The capacity to choose freely is the attribute that distinguishes humans from robots; thus the possibility of true and heartfelt redemption remains open even to the most hardened criminal. A Clockwork Orange is a parable that reflects the Christian concept of sin followed by redemption. Alex’s final and free choice of the good, by leaving behind the violence he had embraced in his youth, brings him to a higher moral level than the forced docility of his conditioning, which severed his ability to choose and grow up.
The question, “what’s it going to be then, eh,” is asked at the beginning of each section of the novel. In the first and third part it is asked by Alex, but in the second part it is asked by the prison chaplain. The answer does not come until the end of the novel when Alex grows up and exercises his ability to choose. He progresses to become a responsible and discriminating individual, escaping the clockwork that binds the rest of society.
A Clockwork Orange opens with Alex and his buddies outside the Korova Milkbar deciding what they were going to do for the evening. Alex acts on his impulses to do evil. He is driven by cause and effect relationships. When Alex wants something, he simply goes out and gets it. If he needs money, he steals it; if he wants to let out his aggression, he beats people up; if he wants sex, he rapes; if his ‘droogs’ do not listen to him, he teaches them a lesson. He feels no remorse when stealing, raping or murdering innocent victims. Man possesses potential for both good and evil. Alex’s decision cannot be blamed on any outside factor, it is simply something from within that drives him to lea...
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...ion “what’s it going to be then, eh,?” repeats throughout the novel and shows Alex as a different individual every time. It should be noted that the government’s conditioning did nothing to change Alex’s mentality. Burgess portrayed Alex as an extremely evil character on purpose to show that each individual is in charge of his destiny. The character was still an emerging human being that had to go through a moral metamorphosis. Alex, the clockwork figure, was impelled towards evil but transformed into a useful member of society, on account of his free will to choose good.
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2. “Bog or God.” Craig, Roger. ANQ Fall 2003. Vol 16. Issue 4. pg 51
3. “A Clockwork Orange.” Wallich, Paul. IEEE Spectrum. July 2003. Vol 40. Issue 7. pg 42
4. “A Clockwork Orange.” Ingersoll, Earl. Explicator. Fall 1986. Vol 45. Issue 1. pg 60
5. “A Clockwork Orange.” Coleman, Julian. Explicator. Fall 1983 Vol 42. Issue 1. pg 62
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