The novel A Clockwise Orange by Anthony Burgess raises questions on the manner a typical so-called free society in modern times deals with habitual criminal lawbreakers. The overwhelming question that is examined is if society can curb violence by implementing laws that by themselves are violent.
Society is expected to function properly only when people can carry out their day-to-day activities without being threatened by violent acts like stealing, sexual harassment. When unsocial acts from the likes of eve-teasing and pickpocketing cross limits to rape and murder, like acts of Alex in the novel under study, then perpetrators are perhaps too dangerous to be left free in the society.
According to Cullen, Wright, and Blevins, “Crime is a complex phenomenon that exists on varied levels of analysis, manifests itself in various ways across the life course, is linked to forces inside and outside the individual, and is enmeshed in contexts extending from situational dynamics to socio-political, historical eras.” Imprisonment is a way through which present day judicial system deals with such criminal offenders.
Though there is no authoritative definition of anti-social acts, they are ‘public’ in character, generally criminal, and at a low level of seriousness constitutes activities termed in popular parlance as ‘street offences‘. In United States of America, crimes are classified as felony and misdemeanor. While misdemeanors are usually lighter form of offenses dealt with corrective measures like fine or imprisonment up to one year, serious crimes like rape and murder come under the category of felony. They are punishable by imprisonment of more than one year to death penalty.
Alex, the protagonist in the 1962 novel A Clockwise Orange, and his pals are adolescent ‘style-boys’ used to ‘smashing faces and windows’ and night orgies. They communicate in slangs. Alex’s pals (‘droogs” in the novel’s Anglo-Russian slang) are Dim, a slow-witted, systematic bruiser and Georgie, a motivated No 2 in command, and Pete, all with a predilection for ultra-violence. Alex is a hardcore juvenile wrongdoer; he is, nevertheless, sharp and intelligent with an elegant taste of music. Alex is especially the fan of Beethoven.
During his imprisonment, Alex is the subject over which behavior-modification Ludovico Technique is experimented. Alex is injected a medicine that makes him sick and compelled to view violent scenes pushing him to strong bouts of nausea at the mere thinking of violence. The success of the application of Ludovico technique on Alex is exhibited to a cluster of VIPs, who observe as Alex falls down before a bully and abases himself before an insufficiently-attired young woman. Though the prison officials blame the government of depriving Alex of free will, the state bureaucrats are delighted with the outcome and Alex is discharged from the prison.
Application of Ludovico technique on Alex in the novel is an example of corrective measures taken in association with state and healthcare experts to address antisocial tendencies. The novel under discussion raises ethics and effectiveness of such state interventions.
According to Burgess, one of the purposes of this novella is to represent the idea of free will. Burgess argues that man is defined by his ability to select courses of moral action. He can use this to perform good or evil. Burgess contends, “If he can perform only good or perform only evil, then he is only a clockwork orange. It means that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice, but is in fact only a clock-work toy to be wound up by the God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State”.
According to Burgess, it is more agreeable to carry evil deeds than to be conditioned artificially for performing what is socially acceptable. Burgess is not impressed although Alex is transformed into a socially-acceptable breed after undergoing the Ludovico therapy. Burgess contends that sin is just one aspect of human behavior which cannot be segregated from human personality, or it would become kind of a mechanical clockwise orange losing creativity.