One of my all-time favorite reads is A Clockwork Orange. If you’ve heard of this book, then you most likely know that majority of it is written in a made up slang. I’ve read this four times and I still don’t understand all the nadsat talk. I just know enough to get by (If you’re planning on tackling this book, I found a great resource that helped a lot: nadsat dictionary). The slang adds to the violent aesthetic of our narrator. And while this book is notorious for its violence, it’s merely a cover-up for the real horror of this dystopian reality.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess focuses on the life and reformation of 15-year-old Alex, a droog dressed in the height of nadsat fashion who enjoys his milk-plus. At night he goes out with his gang of droogs to commit random acts of violence just because they can. After one escapade goes too far, he finds himself the guinea pig of a reformation project aimed at eliminating crime. While the book touches on topics of violence, adolescences, the criminal justice system and reformation, I think it’s ultimately about “playing God”.
So Alex is just a shitty kid. A product of his time. He’s also a teenager with parents who are afraid of him and a gang of other wild teenagers who consider him their leader. He’s the way he is because he’s able to play God. He has the power to make decisions for those around him and determine their safety. But then all that power gets taken away when he’s put in the care of Dr. Brodsky and Dr. Branom for their reformation experiment, the Ludovico technique. Now it’s their turn to play God by determining the actions of people by basically giving them no choice (specifically elimination by association. You think of something violent and then you instantly feel sick). They force Alex into being incapable of acting out in a “violent” manner, including being unable to defend himself or give in to certain pleasures. He is no longer able to make his own choices, making him a puppet of society.
The title A Clockwork Orange is the title of a book that’s written in the first few chapters by one of Alex’s victims (the foreshadowing in here is amazing btw). The title refers to Alex’s reformation and how he has become a clockwork orange, or a piece of machinery that is designed to work a specific way. That was the purpose of the Ludovico technique, to make criminals (or most likely everyone) into upstanding citizens who were incapable of acting out. It’s their way of turning their dystopian society into a utopian one (or vice versa?).
At one point it’s asked if God would prefer someone who could only do good, or someone who chooses to do good. And does being forced into being good actually make you “good”. Basically, is it better to be human or a robot. I’m not saying that this justifies any of Alex’s actions (seriously, he was shit) but being incapable of understanding why what you’re doing is wrong does not make you a better person. Simply doing what you’re supposed to do because you’re told to just makes you a robot. But that’s on an individual level. What happens when the entire society is taken into account? The reality of this book is that violence has taken over and anyone can be a victim. A way to protect the innocent is by removing the cause of harm. So is it moral to protect the safety and well beings of others by sacrificing the humanity of others?
Guess it depends on what you value most.
Anthony Burgess writes that he wishes this wasn’t the book that he was known for (which Stanley Kubrick pretty much made impossible) and doesn’t consider it his best work. While I haven’t read any of his other work yet (Sorry Anthony) I think this is a great piece of philosophical work. It’s controversial literature not because of the violence or language, but because of the questions it asks: What makes humans, human. And when does it become okay to play God and alter the reality of humanity.
“More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and the self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self.”
“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.”
“What is happening to you now is what should happen to any normal healthy organism contemplating the actions of the forces of evil, the workings of the principle of destruction. You are being made sane, you are being made healthy.”
“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 good imposed upon him?”
“They have turned you into something other than human being. You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable only of good.”