LITERATURE: A Clockwork Orange – Social Significance

I don’t believe that Burgess is giving us just the usual youth rebellion, but rather a social comment on a move towards violence through the freedoms granted within a civilized society.  Alex, the narrator and bad boy, has turned sly; he knows right from wrong.  He exercises his freedom of choice by seeking out pleasure, despite the damage to others, and keeps pushing the ticket to obtain greater thrills.  Beethoven and Mozart brought him the same bliss as beating, stealing and rape, and so it is obvious that he picks and chooses what pleases him.  What this young generation has done is gone beyond the control of a society grown complacent and tolerant, one that has fought for freedom of choice.  Now, they don’t know how to handle the outcome.

The process that Alex undergoes is one that uses punishment of pain and nausea via association so that Alex in effect, has lost freedom of choice as far as doing good or bad, though the choice is still his to do bad if he is willing to suffer the horrible effects.  While incarceration certainly is a deterrent, as long as one doesn’t get caught, one may be willing to risk it.  Even the death penalty seems an unlikely possibility when one is enjoying the fruits of one’s deeds.  But what has been done to Alex is immediate.  He’ll suffer if he so much as thinks about evil (shades of Catholicism here).

It hasn’t however changed his desires.  It has just overcome his desire to rape and pillage and burn with the stronger desire to avoid feeling bad.  And that is, feeling bad physically; they still haven’t changed what he’d really like to do.

How different is this then castration?  How are the rights of individuals to do evil protected versus the rights of the larger society to be safe?  How valuable then is freedom of choice?

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