For those of you who haven’t read it, I’ll summarize – Alex is part of a teenage gang in a future society where crime is out of control. They spend their days beating up men and raping women, and Alex is also a big fan of classical music. Beethoven’s Ninth especially. Eventually he is caught by police and after a few years in prison is ‘cured’ of his violence using a form of brainwashing so that any time he has violent thoughts he feels sick and is unable to do it. By the end, after having been beaten up several times, he tries to commit suicide after being unable to even enjoy his music anymore. Somehow, the suicide attempt (he jumps out of a window) reverses the treatment but over time he matures and decides to ‘grow up’ of his own free will.
(Note – I haven’t seen the film, I hear it’s slightly different.)
Anyway, the point of the novel is about ‘free will’ and how we must be allowed to choose to between good and evil. The trouble with this is that it comes from a very Christian point of view. After all, in Burgess’ view it is God that will be making the ultimate decision – Alex’s victims will be able to live forever in heaven while those who sin will be punished. I guess this makes it easer to make a clear judgement.
But if there isn’t an afterlife in waiting, and no God to eventually pass judgement, surely it’s all a bit harder? Alex might have his ‘free will’, but his victims don’t. And that assumes that Alex is free to choose in the first place. What about the society around him? What about his parents? What about genetic predisposition to violence? Couldn’t these things blur the lines between a free agent and a ‘clockwork orange’?
The novel was first published in 1962 and it is so very sixties. Rebellion against the men in white coats, a paranoia of brainwashing, a celebration of the individual. The worst thing to do is conform – in this novel conform literally to a moral choice that you have to make yourself. (This isn’t a criticism of the book, but an attempt to place it in the cultural context.)
Anyway, free will “and all that cal”.