A Clockwork Orange

by: Anthony Burgess

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained
2. The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen.

In Part One, Chapter 2, Alex reads this passage from F. Alexander’s manuscript, “A Clockwork Orange,” before beating F. Alexander and raping his wife. Though Alex mocks the pompous didacticism of F. Alexander’s prose, this quotation represents the most succinct expression of Burgess’s main theme, a point reinforced by the fact that Burgess gives both his novel and F. Alexander’s manuscript the same title. There are many similarities between Burgess and F. Alexander. Both men use their books as platforms from which to criticize governments that, in their eyes, seek to limit an individual’s freedoms through the application of technology. In addition, both men continue to uphold these beliefs despite being the victims of violence committed, it would seem, by individuals who run athwart of those governments. Alex dismisses this passage when he first reads it, but he is reminded of it later in the novel, when his free will is revoked by the state.

Though F. Alexander’s prose style may strike us as ludicrously overblown, and his betrayal of Alex may cause us to doubt his character, that doesn’t mean we can discount the essential truth of this passage. A Clockwork Orange is notable for its lack of clear-cut heroes and villains. After all, the novel’s protagonist and demonstrated champion of free will is a sadistic thug. The priest, another devoted advocate for the importance of self-determination, is a drunk and a careerist. These seeming contradictions, however, represent an essential element of Burgess’s argument. For human will to be truly free, Burgess argues, human beings must be legitimately able to choose wicked, depraved options, otherwise good behavior remains a meaningless, empty gesture.