A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess


Characters Alex

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, Alexspeaks 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.