A Clockwork Orange is a classic of the genre and is read by students around the world. Its dark and unforgettable plotline and protagonist are not universally loved. But, few would dispute the cultural importance of the novel and the film it spawned. The book deals with themes that are applicable no matter when the novel is read, a feature that only emphasizes its importance in the literary world.
A Clockwork Orange Themes
Freedom of Choice
Throughout the novel, freedom of choice is debated. Human beings have the freedom to do what they want to do, that is until it starts to threaten society. Then, that freedom is taken away. This is what happens within A Clockwork Orange. But, it is pushed to the extreme. The government is willing to permanently take away Alex’s ability to choose between good and evil. They have a power that amounts to brainwashing and mind control. Throughout, readers may find themselves torn between two sides. There is the side that seeks to control violence at any cost and the side, represented by the chaplain and F. Alexander, that supports freedom no matter the cost.
Human nature is one of the most important themes in A Clockwork Orange. Throughout the book, Alex battles with his darker nature and attempts to explain why his violence is an equal part of his humanity as is his goodness. Burgess helps readers understand that without the darkness, human nature would be changed—and not for the better. Alex is an untraditional protagonist, due to his dark impulses and the terrible crimes he commits. But, readers should find themselves sympathizing with him by the end of the novel.
This last theme is related to the ways that the prior themes are compromised. Throughout the novel, Burgess’s characters battle against the institution of government. The doctors who work for the totalitarian-leaning regime are working to create effective mind control, something that’s sure to compromise freedom of choice and change human nature entirely. Alex refers to the government as a machine and himself and others as individuals working against it. The government, or state, tries to control Alex and those like him. His violence is one of the ways he pushes back against this. Others, like his parents, are willing to turn over control to the government in order to feel safer.
Analysis of Key Moments in A Clockwork Orange
- Alex goes on a crime spree with his gang. They rob, beat people, and rape.
- They break into an old woman’s home and she calls the police before Alex can get away.
- Alex punches Dim and the group turns against Alex.
- Alex is arrested by the police and sentenced to fourteen years in prison.
- He becomes friends with the prison chaplain after a few tough years.
- Alex is selected as a candidate for Ludovico’s Technique.
- He’s injected with a drug, making him sick, and forced to watch violent images accompanied by classical music.
- Alex is released, now harmless due to his inability to think violent thoughts.
- He’s beaten by Dim and Billyboy who are now police officers.
- Alex wanders into the home of F. Alexander, a man whose wife he’d raped early in the novel.
- Alexander decides to use Alex as a way to rally support against the government.
- He learns who Alex is and tries to get him to kill himself.
- Alex tries to kill himself but fails.
- The state undoes Ludovico’s Technique and Alex gets a new gang together.
- After a brief return to crime, he decides to turn his life around. He wants to get married and have a son.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
The style of A Clockwork Orange is one of the most notable parts of the novel. Burgess’s style is incredibly unique. It’s often clever and playful, using language in new ways and requiring readers to hold two opinions in their mind at once. Burgess uses incredibly dark images throughout the novel but often describes them dismissively, all as a part of Alex’s initial life. The treatment of violence with reverence in some parts of the novel has led to the book being banned in some schools and universities.
Throughout, Burgess also takes an interesting approach to his use of tone. Alex, as the narrator and protagonist, is in control of much of the tone. He’s often immature-sounding and irreverent. He expresses a love for violence, describing it as though it’s his art practice. He turns to it as a way to express himself and rebel against society. At the same time, there are moments where Alex describes violence with a detached and uninterested tone. It’s so normalized that he doesn’t need to spend any extra time on it.
Burgess makes use of many different kinds of figurative language in A Clockwork Orange. This includes the use of metaphors, similes, imagery, hyperbole, and more. He also uses a number of allusions. He mentions classical composers, philosophers, musicians, and more.
Analysis of Symbols
Cigarettes, which are called “cancers” in the novel are a symbol of youthful rebellion. They’re used when a character wants to look cool or as though they don’t feel anything about a particular situation. They also appear in a darker scene, when Alex rapes ten-year-old girls. They have a negative connotation butter repetitively turned to by all the characters in the novel, including the prison chaplain.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is an important symbol in A Clockwork Orange. Beethoven wrote the piece to express human goodness, an interesting fact when one considers how dark the rest of the novel is. The symphony is part of Alex’s experience with the world. It is used to emphasize the highs and lows of what he goes through.
Milk is one of the most interesting symbols in the novel It goes along with the Korova Milkbar that Alex and his gang frequent. Alex drinks milk with almost every meal he has, an interesting feature of the novel that may lead some readers to believe that milk is associated with naivety. This is furthered by the fact that none of the adults in the novel are drinking the same. This is emphasized by the spiked milk that Alex enjoys. It includes hallucinogens, a symbol for the way that the youth of this society are poisoning their innocence.
What is the most important theme in A Clockwork Orange?
Perhaps the most important theme in A Clockwork Orange is free will. This is closely associated with a human being’s ability to choose between good and evil and how both of these elements make one human.
What does A Clockwork Orange mean?
The title A Clockwork Orange was inspired by a cockney expression, “queer as a clockwork orange.” It’s used to describe something that’s unusual or unpredictable. It perhaps suggests that people like Alex should be left to express their free will and suffer appropriate consequences. They shouldn’t have their free will taken away entirely.
Why is A Clockwork Orange so disturbing?
For some readers, the focus on violence, particularly sexual violence in the novel makes it a disturbing book to read. It is also for their reason that the book has been banned, and still is banned, in some places.
Why are there Russian words in A Clockwork Orange?
Burgess was inspired by Russian slang to create Nadsat, a new slang language used in A Clockwork Orange. Some of these words are easily interpreted while others take more iterations in order to understand.
How is A Clockwork Orange a dystopia?
The society in A Clockwork Orange is a dystopia because the government is trying to exert ultimate control over its people. It imprisons dissidents, like F. Alexander, and forces Alex into a treatment that effectively brainwashes him.