Updated: Feb 24
What if we could eradicate crime and violence from society? What if we could make sure that nobody was ever robbed, assaulted or killed ever again? What if we could do this, but only through the sacrifice of a person’s freewill? This is the premise of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess in which a teenager called Alex, accompanied by his dodgy gang of ‘droogs’, stroll through a dystopian England; stealing, beating, murdering and loving every second of it. However, when Alex is imprisoned and becomes the test subject of an experimental technique that renders a person unable to even kill a fly, the book spirals into a fascinating exploration of morality, human nature and government control. With countless stories of youth violence and crime filling the media, A Clockwork Orange is more relevant and important than ever.
A LITTLE BIT OF ULTRAVIOLENCE
The violence in A Clockwork Orange (which was later adapted into film by Stanley Kubrick) is brutal, detailed and abundant. We follow Alex and his droogs as they mercilessly beat an old man, engage in savage gang-on-gang fights and assault a writer and his wife in their own home. Furthermore, every gruesome detail is delivered by the sadistic voice of Alex himself, who is only fifteen at the beginning of the book, throughout his crusade of shocking crime.
However, does the violence on the page actually stretch beyond a work of fiction? As we see more and more stories of young people turning to violent crime, that question is screaming to be answered.
FACT OR FICTION
In 2018, over 65,800 children in England or Wales had been arrested. After reading this statistic, images of hundreds of knife-wielding twelve-year-olds running around grimy alleyways springs to mind. In fact, after years of similar numbers and facts being shouted down the public’s ear, you’d think that young people were becoming more and more violent every day. However, the previous statistic has actually fallen by 82% in the last ten years- so not quite the impending child-apocalypse that’s being peddled to the masses.
In a way, Alex is a reflection of the distorted view of young people which is endlessly perpetuated. On one hand, he is vile and horrifying, with not so much a lack of morality than a complete disregard for it, and yet he is simultaneously charming and intelligent, with a captivating confidence, wit and an absolute love of art and music- especially Beethoven. Whilst the media’s perception of young people flips and flails between a generation of delinquents and a group of unique, determined people, Alex encompasses both. He cannot be defined as simply bad or simply good, but is a mixed and muddled mass of many things,
just like our generation and the wider society itself.
In addition to this, while Alex’s acts are undeniably deplorable, much of what he is can be seen in the world he walks through. A Clockwork Orange is a world ruled by gangs and violence, where not only the youth but the police, social workers, and government are corrupt and arguably immoral. After Alex is ‘cured’ by the barbaric and experimental ‘Ludovico Technique’, he finds himself a victim of the same cruel world that he was a part of. He is beaten by the same people he assaulted, almost drowned by two of his former gang members (who had become members of the equally criminal police force) and then driven to attempt suicide by a political group who wanted to use his misfortune to attack the government. When he wakes up, Alex is back to his usual, violent self. In other words, after he is once again exposed to the society which produced him, he is moulded back into the terrifying sociopath from the beginning of the book who revelled in lashings of the good old ‘ultraviolence’. This raises the question of whether the root of Alex’s evil really lies in him or whether it lies in the world that he came from. And, if the true fault does lie in his environment, can we see this mirrored in our own world?
When we talk about youth violence, it’s important that we ask where it comes from. Children aren’t born wanting to smash your windows, mug your wife, or stab each other- so why do they?
Could it be that, like Alex, the young people who commit crimes are simply a product of their environment? To add to that question, if the image of a violent, criminal, dangerous youth is truly an accurate one and, if it is the conditions of the world that force these children into that stereotype, then what does that say about our world?
A Clockwork Orange is truly a literary triumph and a must-read for every teenager. However, if you look closely, maybe there is more reality in the writing than first meets the eye.