A Clockwork Orange
Analysis of Major Characters
Alex is the narrator and protagonist of A Clockwork Orange. Every word on the page is his, and we experience his world through the sensations he describes and the suffering he endures. He is at once generic and highly individual, mindless and substantive, knowingly evil and innocently likeable.
At first, Alex appears to be little more than a robot programmed for violence. In the world of the novel, youth violence is a major social problem, and Alex represents a typical—though highly successful—teenager. He dresses in the “heighth of fashion,” frequents all of the popular hangouts, and is the undisputed leader of his gang. Like most teenagers in A Clockwork Orange, Alex speaks in a highly stylized slang called nadsat. Alex is unique in his unyielding commitment to the ideals of violence, as well as the aesthetic pleasure he takes in his crimes. Alex elevates his evil behavior to the status of art. Alex loves art itself, particularly classical music. A devout enthusiast of Beethoven, Mozart, and other composers, Alex experiences something akin to religious joy when he listens to classical music. To Alex, the delight he finds in classical music is closely related to the ecstasy he feels during acts of violence. When listening to one recording, for example, Alex imagines “carving the whole litso [face] of the creeching [screaming] world with [his] cut-throat britva [razor].” Throughout the novel, Alex further emphasizes the connection between music and violence by reserving his most musical language for the descriptions of his most brutal crimes.
Alex experiences the pleasures of music and brutality in a direct and sensuous manner, without mediation or meditation. Unlike F. Alexander, one of Alex’s primary antagonists, Alex remains completely uninterested in explaining his actions in terms of abstract or theoretical notions, and he rarely considers himself in a larger social context. When faced with various hypotheses as to the origin of his depravity, Alex’s responses are staunchly anti-intellectual. Unlike his probation officer, P.R. Deltoid, Alex believes that evil represents a natural state for human beings, and is as valid a state of being as goodness. According to this reasoning, Alex believes that the State, which seeks to deprive him of the choice to act cruelly, encroaches on his freedom as an individual. Thus, in choosing violence, Alex ultimately affirms his sense of self.
Alex’s vileness in A Clockwork Orange underlines the theme that human beings, no matter how depraved, shouldn’t be deprived of their freedom of self-determination. The State’s destruction of Alex’s ability to make his own moral choices represents a greater evil than any of Alex’s crimes, since turning Alex into an automaton ultimately sanctions the notion that human nature is dispensable. Alex truly grows as a human being only in the last chapter, after the government removes his conditioning and he can see the error of his ways for himself, without the prompting of an external, controlling force.
Though they share a name, F. Alexander and Alex are quite different from each other. While Alex is an intuitive creature who makes decisions based on impulse, F. Alexander is an “intelligent type bookman type” who behaves according to abstract concepts, which he ponders from the safety of his country home, far away from the city streets with which he seems so concerned. F. Alexander thinks in broad, theoretical terms, and has trouble focusing on specifics. When Alex begs for mercy after being beaten by the police, F. Alexander pities him not as a suffering boy, but as an abstract “victim of the modern age.” Similarly, when Alex asks him how he expects to improve Alex’s life through the exploitation of his victim status, F. Alexander can’t provide an answer. F. Alexander claims to want to help people like Alex, but he remains unconcerned with Alex as a particular, individual person.
F. Alexander’s failure to embrace actual human reality can be read as a criticism of liberalist ideologies, which Burgess has criticized for being committed to improving the lot of mankind at the expense of man himself. F. Alexander’s belief that man is “a creature of growth and capable of sweetness” is a noble one, especially because he has experienced first-hand the kind of evil men are capable of. However, his readiness to use Alex, also a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, as a “thing” with which to wage war against the State reveals a certain degree of hypocrisy.
Minister of the Interior
The Minister of the Interior comes into power during the two years Alex is incarcerated. As the highest-ranking representative of the State, the Minister embodies the government’s changing attitude toward its citizens. The government he represents is even more repressive than the one Alex knows in Part One, and its cardinal virtue is the stability of society. To achieve this goal, the Minister has put two sweeping policies into effect with regard to criminal behavior. For already-incarcerated offenders, the Minister has decided to move ahead with an experimental rehabilitation program that destroys criminal tendencies. In this way, he can free up jail space for political dissidents, who threaten the new State order. In his other policy modification, the Minister gives badges to the remaining street thugs so that these violent criminals can authoritatively impose social order.
With the character of the Minister, Burgess satirizes the tendency of socialist governments to overlook the needs and rights of individuals who threaten communal order. Personal liberties mean nothing to the Minister, and neither do principles. He candidly admits to having sacrificed Alex’s individual, human qualities in exchange for a passive young man who can’t help but act in a socially acceptable manner. In these ways, the Minister differs from both F. Alexander and P.R. Deltoid. Unlike the former, he doesn’t care about principles, and, unlike the latter, he doesn’t bother to study the origins of violence. Rather, the Minister possesses a distinctly utilitarian attitude toward accomplishing the goal of total State security. Ironically, this acutely pragmatic attitude also prompts the Minister to cure Alex, when the Minister realizes that he needs Alex’s endorsement to quell the public outrage stirred up by F. Alexander. In ensuring society’s stability, the Minister always observes the following mantra: “The point is that it works.”
by ThatGenericUsername, November 29, 2012
Just wanted to say thank you for the post of the Nasdat dictionary. The language of the story was a bit overwhelming at some points, though this helped me pull through. I'd also like to mention the explanations under the "Important Quotes" were a very interesting read. If anyone reads this comment, I'd recommend them a read for a potential boost in the understanding of the subliminal contexts of Burgess's story.
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