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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Clockwork Orange!