Victimhood and Humanity in the Modern Age: A Review of Antony Burgess A Clockwork Orange

Published: 2021-06-22 17:09:40
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Sewanee University of the South
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Book review
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In the modern age, there are various circumstances and conditions that the society has put upon individuals. In Antony Burgess' novel, A Clockwork Orange,' the society seems rather harsh in its correction of errant members. The story, which is set in a dystopia, is about a deadly gang made up of teenagers with one fifteen-year-old Alexander Alex - as their leader. The gang terrorizes people, and Alex ends up getting arrested and ultimately imprisoned (Burgess). Unfortunately, the kind of correction that Alex goes through does not necessarily help him to do away with crime. He is picked as a candidate for a newly introduced method, the Ludovicos Technique, intended to stop hardcore criminals from engaging in crime. The technique involves injecting pain in an individual while at the same time forcing them to watch violence. He is then reintroduced into the society after going through the process of transformation. Although the society tries to make Alex change for the better, it ends up making him a victim of the modern age techniques. Instead of injecting the aspect of humanity in Alex, the society victimizes him thus making him worse than he was before. This paper analyzes the aspect of victimhood and humanity as depicted in Burgess' book, A Clockwork Orange.'

Every individual is expected to follow the social norms and behave in a certain way. Failure to follow the social norms leads to consequences. In an attempt to make the individual a more responsible and acceptable member of the society, there is both positive and negative reinforcement. Such reinforcement could be considered as the consequences of one's actions. However, some of the consequences are too severe, and instead of making the individual change for the better, they become victims of the society's wrath. In some cases, the society subjects a deviant to untold suffering in the name of transforming them. The aspect of transformation is expected to help an individual progress to a better person and fit in the society without the infliction of agony. Although the society victimizes Alex for not choosing to uphold morality, it is his love for music that ultimately restores the humanity in him.

To begin with, it is unfortunate that in the modern age, the society has become so complacent that they do not seem to realize the ominous growth of a youth culture that is characterized by extreme violence. By the time they realize the threat posed by the violent youth, it is a little bit late. For that reason, the reaction is not likely to work. This society then does not seem to recognize the tenets of humanity which Burgess describes as the deliberate effort to make an individual become a progressively better person. The narrator, Alex, is not given an opportunity to grow up as a normal child. At only fifteen, he is a seasoned criminal. This protagonist narrates the story of his life in a futuristic city in nadsat, a teenage slang. He tells of his teenage accomplices namely Georgie, Pete, and Dim. The gang takes milk laced with drugs at the Korova milk bar. They later descend upon the streets, ruthlessly beating people, robbing them and raping women. Later, the gang uses a stolen vehicle to travel to the countryside where they break into a cottage, and rape wife after beating up her husband. They even force the man watch as they undertake the brutal act. As if this is not enough, during a subsequent outing, the gang breaks into a senior woman's house. The old woman calls the police who apprehend Alex. This explains the complacency of the society. They all along ignore the threat posed by the gang until it turns lethal. Being sentenced to fourteen years is victimization for Alex. As a teenager, he deserves correction, not imprisonment. Life is too tough for him in prison, with oppressive guards and cruel prisoners who even want to rape him. This kind of life is not likely to restore humanity in him. The society has therefore failed to protect its own. It has victimized Alex.

Secondly, the modern age society uses coercion to transform an individual. This does not in any way bring out the face of humanity. According to Burgess, every individual has the right to free will. The Ludovicos Technique applied on Alex by the authorities to make him hate crime is inhuman. Instead of making him make a personal choice to avoid crime, he is suppressed, and this is why he finds himself going back to his old criminal self (Burgess). Alex is forced to watch violent movies while going through the excruciating pain that has been injected into him. The aim of the technique is to make Alex suffer every time he thinks of committing a crime. This means that he will never be free to choose not to commit a crime. Human beings are not machines, and what sets them apart is the freedom to make a rational choice to uphold morality (Burgess). In A Clockwork Orange,' Burgess seems to argue for the aspect of the freedom to make choices. The protagonist, Alex, chooses to become wicked, although this freedom is robbed of him by the government as punishment for his criminal life. There has to be evil for good to be recognized, else how will human beings differentiate good and evil? (Burgess). Alex's choice to become evil could be used as a scale to measure goodness, and in the absence of evil, goodness will remain a meaningless, empty gesture. This means that Alex should have been allowed to make his free will to abandon crime. However, the government tortures him in an effort to force him to abandon crime. Unfortunately, such suppressive method of behavior modification may not work. According to B. F. Skinner, operant behavior modification is a process that requires the free will of the subject, not coercion (Burgess). The fact that Alex is coerced to stop his bad behavior is what makes him to relapse into the same. Burgess argues in this text that free will is one of the most powerful tools of behavior modification.

In the modern age, police brutality is an issue that affects every person. Police victimize and brutalize innocent citizens with impunity. In fact, Burgess who was rather critical of the police force viewed then as an alternative body of criminals (Burgess). Although the reintroduction of Alex into the society seems to be timely, at least from the surface, he is not safe in the hands of police. Since the government has become intolerant of crime, it is expected that Alex can adjust and live safely in the society, especially considering his defenseless situation. However, it seems the police are waiting for an opportunity to brutalize him as in the case where he finds himself in the hands of Billyboy and Dim. These are Alex's old partners in crime. The fact that the government uses them as police officers portray just how far it is willing to go in appropriating criminal predispositions to keep law and order. The sponsoring of criminals to guard the streets is a demonstration that the state is more concerned about maintaining a semblance of law and order than minding the welfare of its citizens. As they go to the country, bullyboy affirms this hypocritical aspect when he tells Alex that there are many ways to keep the streets clean (Burgess). In fact, the only difference between Alex and these two is that Alex is not in police uniform; otherwise, the three are criminals. Alex is even better because he has undergone a therapy that makes him sick whenever he thinks of committing a crime. He is, therefore, less likely to commit a crime as compared to Dim and Billyboy. In fact, he is more likely to be victimized by these former goons.

The victim of the modern age is deprived of his right to live in his home. When Alex comes back from prison, it is expected that he is well integrated back to the society. However, it seems like it becomes the beginning of his troubles. He meets one F. Alexander whose wife he and his droogs had raped in part one of the book. F Alexander is a political dissident who believes that his woes are a result of the negligence of the government. F. Alexander takes care of Alex with the hope that he can help him oust the government as a way of avenging his wifes rape incident. In this sense, Alex has become a victim of the modern age all over again. Burgess brings Alexander in so that the father figure that he provides to Alex can act as an accelerator to his ambitions (Burgess). The coincidence of the names of these two victims does not, therefore, come as a surprise. Ironically, F. Alexander wishes to murder all the teenagers that raped his wife. Little does he know that the young man he takes in is one of those teenagers whom he would kill at the slightest opportunity. That notwithstanding, F. Alexander is planning to use the case of Alex to question the government.

Due to deprivation, the victim of the modern age does not suffer any regret for their past atrocities. Burgess criticizes the deprivation of humanity by implying that the victims of the modern age become like programmed machines that show no regard for their victims (Burgess). They have no moral conviction or genuine compassion to avoid bad deeds. When Alex learns of the death of F. Alexanders wife, he sighs with relief and is said to have had a restful night instead of sympathizing with F. Alexander and being sorrowful and regretful for having caused the death of the innocent woman. In fact, the only thing that bothers him is what might happen to him if F. Alexander realizes that he is one of the teenagers who raped his wife. The growing familial relationship between F. Alexander and Alex is emphasized by Burgess for a reason. Although it turns out to be a bitter relationship when the truth about F. Alexander's wife gradually unfolds. F Alexander harbors both a furious and considerate attitude towards Alex as the poor victim (Burgess). Nevertheless, he vows to revenge. He almost drives Alex to suicide. This relationship between the two is typical of Sigmund Freuds Oedipus complex whereby rivalry brews between a son and father over the mother (Burgess). F. Alexander is angry at Alex for having raped his wife while Alex has no regret and seems to have enjoyed raping a woman old enough to be his mother. This portrays the lack of a human feeling in a victim of the modern age.

In the modern age, victimhood is regarded as a form of deprivation of liberty. Although Burgess presents them as opposed to the state, the conduct of F. Alexander and his partners is a satire of the substantial tendency to abandon noticeable human realism for philosophical and political ideals (Burgess). Instead of looking at Alex as a victim of the modern age, who has been deprived of humanity, the men view him as an excellent device that they can install in their political plans and use to discredit the government. In that case, Alex is viewed as a machine, not a human being. He is like a machine that can be used and disposed of at will. This makes him angry since he expects better treatment from Alexander and his men. As a result of his individual will, Alex finally lapses into nadsat, and this makes F. Alexander and his colleagues reconsider using Alex for political reasons. They realize that using him is not a convenient idea. As a victim who has relapsed to nadsat, Alex is not the best choice to demonstrate the injustices of the state government.

Instead of victimhood, an individual should gear towards transformation. According to Kupfer, a work of art should demonstrate an aspect of moral transformation in the protagonist. In the last chapter, the malicious protagonist in Burgess' novel becomes somewhat humanized. His love for classical music demonstrates that he appreciates the fine arts. It shows that although he has been a public menace and bloodthirsty sociopath, Alex is not extremely malevolent. It seems that the cla...

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