“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” How do Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange and William Golding in Lord of the Flies reflect violence and social responsibility? Both Lord of the Flies, first published in 1954 and A Clockwork Orange, published eight years later, focus on the inherent human capabilities for evil as well as good. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously posits that ‘whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil’ and it is clear from both novels that it is this absence of love as a driving force that prevent both Alex and Jack from moving beyond the simplistic notions of good and evil and choosing a socially responsible path that looks beyond the self. Both narratives reflect the growing concerns in British society at the time: A Clockwork Orange is scathing in its attack on the supposed values of communism, inspired by Burgess’s stay in Leningrad, and by the undercurrent of violence that filtered into Britain as a result of gang culture. Golding’s concerns seem to stem from his first-hand experience in World War II and the horrors which he encountered as a member of the Royal Navy. The novels share a common theme: the notion of good and evil among young males. In Lord of the Flies, Golding establishes very early on a clear narrative framework in which a microcosm of society can be examined. His initial meeting in Chapter One between Ralph and Piggy is deliberately paced to allude to the ways in which power can be wielded in society. Ralph’s keenness to impose superiority over Piggy paves the way for his insistence on rules and domination among the other boys: ‘I’m chief then.’ His intentions may be rooted in a desire to be socially responsible and offer rational solutions, however, his ‘tribesmen’ quickly become disillusioned with the notion of peace and order which he aims to instil, and their inherent desire for ‘bad’ comes to the surface. Alternatively, Golding may be wishing to refer to the inequalities in society and the ways in which the subjugated will invariably ‘rise up’ against their oppressors. Burgess’s cast of characters are clearly children. They speak in a clipped, often immature manner – ‘We’d better all have names…I’m Ralph’ – and their actions perhaps lack the foresight of adult experience, such as the indecisiveness and lethargy in building a shelter. Yet Golding makes it clear that the essential actions of these children are within us all. The fact that these are twelve or thirteen-year old children does not obfuscate the principle that evil is innate and that the concept of fairness, or social responsibility, is something that must be learned or imposed by government. Again, perhaps Golding wishes to allude to the ways in which it is not always the socially responsible who wield the power and that the base and evil seen in Nazi Germany can occasionally, with staggering consequences, triumph over the rational.
Whereas the boys in Lord of the Flies speak in a relatively straightforward, colloquial English, A Clockwork Orange’s most striking stylistic touch is Burgess’s use of invented, or ‘borrowed’, words with which he bestows the novella’s fifteen-year old protagonist and narrator, Alex. This meta-language, called nadsat, is a blend of Standard English, Russian, British slang and original coinage and initially distances us from Alex until the reader is able to infer the meanings of several key terms. At the point at which we begin to comfortably translate, for example, ‘viddy’ as watch, ‘droog’ as friend or ‘horrorshow’ meaning very good (from the Russian ‘khorosho’), the reader has formed an almost subconscious intellectual bond with Alex. His speech is full of rhythm and onomatopoeia, and so alive with melody that even Alex’s most violent and reprehensible acts are rendered, at the very least, engaging and lacking in the overt sadism one would expect from such behaviour. When Alex rapes the...
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