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In his most acclaimed book, "A Clockwork Orange," Anthony Burgess spends a lot of time debating the nature of free will. This book is basically about a man's decision between good and bad. Burgess has some solutions to issues that have plagued many people since antiquity. “Life is separated into the horrible and the miserable,” wrote Woody Allen, and so do the characters in A Clockwork Orange.
“Goodness is something that is chosen. When a man is powerless to choose, he ceases to be a man” (Burgess). What exactly is freedom of choice? We're all looking for this freedom. But do we fully comprehend the meaning of freedom and its consequences? We despise every manifestation of restriction of our freedom since early childhood. Those restrictions arise inevitably in the process of upbringing. Of course, some of those restrictions can be called necessary because their goal is to teach us certain valuable truths. So where does the line between upbringing and compulsion lies?
“But what I do I do because I like to do” (Burgess). Alex is not our ordinary teenager. He masterfully uses his straight razor in fights and robberies. He likes raping young girls and watching others being humiliated. You can easily call him a real sadist. But it does not make him stupid at all. He at least likes classical music, which is already a sign of some intelligence. Moreover, he is a leader of his gang, which also requires some skills. “I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong” (Burgess) sounds like his life motto.
During the second part of the book Alex was deprived of his freedom of choice, while all the other characters had their freedom all along. But nevertheless every single one of them decided to be bad or at least miserable and selfish. There is literally no positive character in this book. It is kind of strange for a book on the choice between good and evil. It is like Anthony Burgess has ultimately pessimistic view on the modern society. We all have our freedom of choice, because there is no Ludovico’s Technique in real life (or at least we do not know about it). But still it is so hard for every one of us to make the right decision in the direction of moral ethics. So are the characters in this book always making selfish decisions.
For a start, there are members of Alex’s gang that share his sadistic inclinations, but are also quite brainless at the same time. Dim, for example, is really dim and is filed with envy towards Alex. “What natural right does he have to think he can give the orders and to chock me whenever he likes? Yarbles is what I say to him, and I'd chain his glazzies out soon as look” (Burgess). He is even more hostile and vindictive to Alex when they meet in the third part of the book after Ludovico’s Technique when Alex is so defenceless. “Long time is right, I don't remember them days too horror show. Don't call me Dim no more either, Officer call me” (Burgess). There are other characters of course who want to take revenge on Alex for everything he did to them. And they choose to do it. They have their freedom of choice and they choose to multiply evil.
There are also politicians who predictably behave in the most selfish way. Although there are representatives of both libertarian and authoritarian political models, they can also be described as horrible and miserable. In their ever-lasting race they are similar to Ouroboros. They inevitably replace each other in their natural cycle. While representing different approaches to governance of a whole country, their methods of getting this power remain the same. Consequently, authoritarians use Alex and Ludovico’s Technique not to fix something broken, but to pursue selfish goals. They make other people a part of their political campaign. There is also a political opposition. There is a man whom Alex encountered at the beginning of the book, one Mr. Alexander, who represents libertarians in his words and books, but not in his deeds. He says "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, against this I raise my sword-pen" (Burgess). But he does not mean it. He is hypocritical and two-faced. He first wants to use Alex as a tool to fight his political enemies, and he then wants to kill Alex for the same reason. This specific character is probably one of the worst in the book. Though he may seem akin to Alex due to their name likeness, it is comparing to him that Alex really shines as a most decent character in a book. “It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. And when I say that to you I realize how self-contradictory that sounds. I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? Deep and hard questions, little 6655321” (Burgess). Hard questions indeed.
There is also a group of people who invented and started using the Ludovico’s Technique. In a way, they can be considered as even worse human beings than those whom they try to change. By taking away the freedom of choice they also take away the free will, which can be considered as the most horrible sin that a man can do to another man.
The main idea of the book is plain and simple. Freedom of will lies in the fact that the person himself makes decisions and is responsible for them. And is it better for Alex to stay a sadistic maniac or become clockwork orange that is programmed for forced good? Indeed, a man only becomes a man when he is able to make a deliberate choice in favor of good. All the rest is fiction. And seeing that every other character in this book is filled with evil intentions, Alex starts to look like the only good, or at least sincere one. It is also confirmed in the English version of the book, in which Alex eventually grows tired of violence and wants to have a normal life with wife, children and such.
Allen, Woody. Annie Hall Screenplay.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Print.
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