Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” tells the tale of a man named Alex who uses his personal power and desire to do all kinds of violence during his youth. However, his violence ends after being arrested and placed in a Reclamation Treatment program where his violent acts and behaviors are destroyed through psychological and medical procedures. After being released, Alex goes back to normal life but his old-friends-turned-enemies attack him for all his violent actions against his victims. In the end, he realizes that he must return to his old life as a violent man though he also learns that he is getting old and that he wants his own family like his friend Peter who gets a wife and a decent life after years of being a thug. The plot of this story is simple despite the complex use of language. The author shows the struggle and desire of the protagonist to prove and justify his free will in a society that is full of laws, doctrines, policies, and restrictions. Like a typical 15-year-old boy, Alex makes a violent spree to show that he is powerful enough to destroy anyone he likes though with the help of his friends. However, Alex must take responsibility for his freedom. This is what Burgess presents in his book—showing the impact and implications of free will in people’s lives. Freewill is not only about freedom but also requires a person to take responsibility for his actions, which happens to Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
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Alex is aware that free will is a right and he has the entitled to do what he wants—whether it is right or wrong. It is justified when he says, “If lewdies are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, then you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty” (Burgess 44). This statement emphasizes Alex’s knowledge of what is good and bad—and he chooses to be bad because he wants to live that way. He wants to take advantage of his capability as a thug leader—and he wants to satisfy himself in overpowering others whether old or young, rich or poor. What Alex wants throughout the story is freedom (Strange 271). He wants to believe that everyone is bound for freedom. The freedom to do things according to their will without thinking about the repercussions or limitations. For Alex, freedom is not about restrictions but greatness and satisfaction. This is how he sees life at a young age—in an age when he has the grace, knowledge, skill, and strategy to do everything without being seized.
However, every person must take responsibility for his freedom especially if his free will tends to destroy others. This happens to Alex when he is arrested, which serves as his punishment for going beyond the limits of his freedom. When Alex undergoes the Reclamation Treatment program, the government takes his freewill—the decision to remain bad. As what the chaplain tells the protagonist, “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 the State’s Peace. I hope you take all that in. I hope you are absolutely clear in your own mind about that” (Burgess 106). The society aims for peace and order so they need to eradicate those who commit violence, wrong behavior, and unjustifiable actions to keep the society healthy and livable. This results in the creation of the Reclamation Treatment program where Alex experiences a different kind of rehabilitation. From a Christian perspective, which is depicted by the chaplain, freewill supports the act of sin (Smyslova and Khabibullina 2628). As what the chaplain says, Alex will never be the same again because the procedure aims to make him good. It can straighten his mind and emotions in order to do good to others instead of destroying their peace and lives.
The book also explores the effect of doing good, especially for a man who lives his life doing the bad thing in order to justify the concept of free will. As what the prison chaplain says, “It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good…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 ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? Deep and hard questions…” (Burgess 106). This statement justifies that people like Alex may have different questions in mind about the idea of goodness and the concept of free will. These questions become bound to the existence and will of God for mankind. These become complex, deep, and hard inquiries of man towards his existence. This is agreeable because it shows that the man is frail and vulnerable. His free will makes him prone to extreme desires that lead to destruction, violence, and distortion. After Alex learns about these things and the effect of the treatment program, he makes his own decision—a decision that leads him to his “normal” life, which is a violent life.
Freewill is perceived to be the greatest theme in the novel because of the protagonist’s determination to free himself from confinement. In the course of the treatment, Alex begins to realize that his condition destroys his character. At this moment, he tells himself, “Hell hell hell, there might be a chance for me if I get out now” (Burgess 134). This dialogue shows that Alex chooses to remain bad despite the chance of being good because it is hard for him to become good while he is innately bad as a person. For Alex, goodness is a form of confinement—an imprisonment that keeps him sick and distracted. In the course of this illustration, the author “wants to maintain the claim that free will is inherent in humanity. He also wants to say, however, that behavioral interventions seem to be able to override this free will” (Newman 66-67). This is an important point to consider because Alex viciously demonstrates his free will because of his belief that he has the right to do anything he wants. However, in the society where justice, peace, and goodness are imposed, Alex needs to undergo an intervention to destroy his badness. In the end, Alex realizes that after all the negative ideas in exchange for his free will, he needs to grow up and become a better version of him.
At the end of the story, Alex still exercises his free will, but a choice to become a man living in a normal and peaceful life. In the latter part of the book, the main character says to himself, “That’s what it’s going to be then, brothers, as I come to the like end of this tale… I was young. But now as I end this story, brothers, I am not young, not no longer, oh no. Alex like growth up, oh yes” (Burgess 212). This statement justifies the protagonist’s realization, which proves the success of the treatment program. Alex soon learns that having a wife and son is more important and beautiful than raping young girls and someone’s wife or destroying the property of others. It is more fulfilling to become a family man than to be a thug. This helps Alex to realize that he is not a young boy anymore, but a man who needs to act like a man. Despite the horrifying and disturbing scenes in the story, the author still able to end the novel with a positive feeling and realization that can be used in helping the youth to restore their lives away from violence, destruction, humiliation, and pride.
In conclusion, Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is a typical story of youth that tends to believe that free will leads to happiness. Alex is a significant example of a teenager trying to overpower others through violence. For him, it is a freedom from the society’s confined laws, rules, and policies. He believes that free will is a right that he needs to enjoy—regardless of its impact or effect on others. As long as he is happy and satisfied, he does everything that he wants. However, at a young age, Alex fails to realize the value of social responsibility. This is what Burgess tries to emphasize in his book through the protagonist. Freedom is connected to social responsibility. Despite the youth’s freedom, they must be responsible enough to act and behave according to the rules and laws of the society. Interestingly, at the end of the book, Burgess shows that violence and negative behavior are typical acts of adolescence—a period that passes as they reach their adult realization of becoming a man with purpose and peace.
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