A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess: A Literary Response

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Nadine Gordimer, South African writer and Nobel Prize winner, said that penetrating fiction doesn’t give answers, it invites questions. This quote is accurately reflected in Anthony Burgess’ novel, A Clockwork Orange, in which many questions and moral values are explored. Burgess strongly believed that humans’ ability of choice is the only factor distinguishing us between animals or machines. The two most predominant recurring themes of and questions relating to the novel involve ‘good vs evil’, and ‘fate and free will’. The novel begins with the words: “what’s it going to be then, eh?”, through which Burgess poses a literal question that ultimately leads to choice, and is always asked before determining one’s fate. This question introduces all three parts of the novel, as well as the final chapter. The repetition emphasises the symmetrical and symbolic structure of the book. It also echoes one of the aforementioned explored themes: fate and free will. The novel concludes with Alex finally deciding ‘what it’s going to be’, by him consciously deciding to discard his previous violent and ‘evil’ habits. Society and religion recur frequently in A Clockwork Orange, and each hold similar views and opinions concerning choice and good vs. evil. In Part 1, Chapter 4, Alex wonders why ‘evil’ is analysed and goodness is not only universally strived for, but accepted as the norm: “They don’t go into the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? Badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies and that 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.” Here, Alex refers to society and authority as the ‘not-self’. He believes that people are born ‘evil’, and suggests that conditioning human-kind to be ‘good’ removes individualism. The passage concludes with Alex saying, “I do what I...
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