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Anthony Burgess: The importance of moral freedom for all in A Clockwork Orange
Moral freedom is one of the most if not the most important of any freedoms available for humans. Moral freedom is the ability to either choose to perform good and bad deeds or both. Totalitarian governments take away one’s individual choice and thus, suppresses and suffocates thee soul. The setting in A Clockwork Orange, is a general parallax to a totalitarian and oppressive government. Alex the main character is the representative of the common man, and his struggle in this type of government. In the novel, A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess suggests that the importance of moral freedom be stressed even for criminals condemned by society.
“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim….and we sat in the Korova milkbar making up our rassadooks what do with the evening,” this was a typical night of a “nadsat” or teenager. A bunch of hoodlums, going around committing acts of violence and crime, for they have moral freedom; which they choose to do bad. First they assault a young man in an alley, and then they go to this author’s house, and vandalize it and rape his wife. But while at this house, they come across a book called A Clockwork Orange, and Alex reads about it: “The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation,”(26) at which he ironically laughs and tears up.
After an eventful night like that, Alex goes home, “Where I lived was with my dadda and mum in the flats of Municipal Flatblock 18A, between Kingsley Avenue and Wilsonway.”(37) There he goes to his room, and turns on his stereo and his good side comes alive. His deep love for classical music like Mozart, Beethoven, and G.F. Handel, can be seen clearly. In the morning he decides not to go to school, and he ends up violently raping two “devotchkas”, again displaying his moral freedom to be bad. That same night, they try to rob and old “psitsa” that has a hundred cats living with her. Alex ends up killing the old lady, but he gets caught by the “millicents” and will be tried as an adult.
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While in court, Alex promotes his innocence and blames his companions. “ Where are the others? Where are my stinking traitorous droogs? One of my cursed grazhny bratties chained me on the glazzies. Get them before they get away. It was their idea, brothers. They like forced me to do it.” (74) But his pleas are futile as he gets sent away to the Staja, also known as a penitentiary. From that point on, Alex feels oppressed by the small cells full of older criminals. Although these brutal situations fit Alex, he realizes that only repentance and good behavior in the eyes of the officials can release him from the jaws of justice. So in order to be viewed as a reforming criminal Alex turns to religion. He plays the music during religious ceremonies and becomes good friends with prison chaplain. However Alex’s intent on reforming was not a religious aspect but the quickest so he can get revenge on thee traitorous droogs and return to his thuglife. He hears about a new technique, “the Ludovico Technique,” will get him out quickly. He talks to the chaplain, but the latter casts shadows about it by retorting: “I must confess I share those doubts. The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” (95) This does not deter Alex from the thought of an early release but only makes his desire for it greater. He is picked to be the first test suject of the new Ludovico technique.
The Minister of the Interior comes to the Staja, and Alex is selected for the new technique. With the augmentation in population comes an increase in crime too, which brings new techniques to “cure” or “fix” the criminal mind. The minister says: “The government cannot be concerned any longer with outmoded penalogical theories. Cram criminals together and see what happens. You get concentrated criminality, crime in the midst of punishment…Kill the criminal reflex, that’s all.” Alex thinks its an ideal solution, to become good and free at the same time and get out quickly, nothing wrong with that at all. But he does not realize that his eagerness is blinding him from the oppression and he is being robbed of his moral freedom.
The prison chaplain, again tries to warn him:
“Very hard ethical questions are involved…You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against thee State’s Peace. I hope you take all that in. I hope you are absolutely clear in your own mind about that…Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed on him…In choosing to be deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good.” (110)
The rehabilitation technique used upon Alex is that of responsive conditioning, with the use of drugs and films. This type of conditioning forces Alex to feel sick when confronted with evil sites or thoughts. Also included in this conditioning was the use of classical music, which Alex used to love, and now feels nausea when he hears it. After his fortnight, a two week period at the institution, Alex seems to be “cured,” a situation is created where he is to use violence against an aggressive man, but he is unable to because of the conditioning. All the people attending the demonstration see how effective the new technique is, but only the Charlie, chaplain of the Staja sees the lack of moral freedom. He says: “He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a creature capable of moral choice.” (145) The attending doctor simply replies: “These are subtleties…We are not concerned with motive, with higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime.” (145)
After being released Alex goes back home to Flatblock 18A, where surprisingly his pareents think he has escaped and they now live with a new lodger; Unwanted Alex goes to the “Public Biblio,” where he is attacked by an elderly mob of ‘vecks” who recognized Alex as the one who ruined all the books on crystallography. The police come and break up the fray, to Alex’s surprise he recognizes two of the millicents. One is Billyboy is old nemesis and the other is Dim his old droog. They take him out to the country and beat the life out of him, he cannot defend himself because of the conditioning.
After waking up from his beat-down, Alex walks to a nearby village and to a house, with the Home sign on it. He doesn’t know that it is the house of the author of A Clockwork Orange, but he recognizes Alex and takes care of him. F. Alexander, the author and the his friends want to make the public aware of the evils of this new Ludovico technique. Meanwhile Alex becomes mentally weak, and cannot take anymore of this trauma, he decides to commit suicide. He jumps out of a window, but does not die…
The fall has somehow cured and freed Alex from the effects of Ludovico’s technique, he has again become his bad self again. He soon returns to his thug-habits, and a new group of droogs to surround him. Even with his regained freedom, he chooses not to commit “ultra-violence” and now wants a wife and a son. Alex through time has matured from adolescence to adulthood.
The novel’s main theme deals with moral freedom, Anthony Burgess expresses his view that no matter how “good” one’s actions are, unless one has moral freedom, they are spiritually restricted and oppressed. Burgess mainly expresses his view and concerns through the chaplain’s dialogue, where he is the only one that really sees through the evils of Ludovico’s technique. If one is forced to be good, and they do what is right, it is not out of any ethical or moral conviction. When one is forced what to do, he us merely a tool, or a pawn of the state. A clockwork orange, an automaton, unlike someone with the freedom of choice who is an individual.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: Ballantine Books, 1963.