A Crime of Fashion and A Clockwork Orange

Categories: A Clockwork Orange

A night out for Alex, the “[h]umble [n]arrator” (Burgess 69) of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and proud participant in the trends of “nadsat” (teenage) (125) culture, involves the usual shenanigans of “assualt, rape, and robbery”(Cullinan). While this behavior is startlingly gruesome, Alex and his “droogs” (friends) at least draw the line at murder, until one accidental misstep that lands him on track to a punishment far worse than time behind bars (Burgess 3). After hearing of a seemingly perfect get-out-of-jail-free card, Alex essentially sells his soul to the state.

Instead of completing his prison sentence, he undergoes the experimental and torturous “Ludovico’s Technique” (Burgess 93) in which “he is deprived of free-will—and thus, suggests Burgess, his humanity” (Cullinan). The stark changes in his character following the treatment, and once again after the reversal of its effects can all be tracked through Alex’s unfalteringly high taste in and respect for fashion. Through the motif of clothing, Burgess develops Alex’s personal identity and values, and eventually creates sympathy by revealing the dehumanizing extent of the drastic transformation brought on by the morally unsound and tyrannical manipulation that, though innocently claiming to cure evil, ultimately acts as the cruelest form of punishment—robbing him of his self-respect, sources of happiness, and freedom.

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Alex values fashion sense very highly, equating it with respect or importance. He takes pride in the norms of teenage culture, including the unique slang used throughout the novel and his daring taste in fashion. He has a keen eye for style and uses his clothing to express himself and his self-identity.

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During the first chapter, he goes into great detail describing the outfits of himself and his gang, claiming they are “dressed in the heighth of fashion” (Burgess 4). Upon spotting a few girls at the bar, he suggests his interest in them by praising that they too are “dressed in the heighth of fashion” (5). From this, the synonymous relationship Alex sees between stylish clothing and respect is established, and he upholds this belief consistently and frequently throughout the course of the novel.

To Alex, proper dress creates an air of importance, no matter how much he may dislike the individual otherwise. He describes first seeing the Governor by saying, “You could [see] who was the real important [person] right away… real [good] [clothes] on him, the most lovely suit, brothers, I had ever [seen], absolutely in the heighth of fashion” (102). Though it is no secret Alex, and his fellow misbehaved teenagers, are no fans of authority figures, he gives the Governor credit where he believes it is due, because style is something pure, to him, that goes beyond such petty barriers. Even the doctors that relentlessly torture him are said to be “in the heighth of fashion,” (137) yet he shares nothing but contempt for his “Post-Corrective Advisor,” P.T. Deltoid, whom he describes as “looking shagged, a battered old [hat] on his [head], his raincoat filthy,” demonstrating how powerful of a status symbol fashion is to Alex (41). Inversely, lackluster clothing is enough to condemn a man as far as he is concerned, and is often one of the first details Alex notices. A drunkard on the street, for example, particularly aggravates Alex and is subjected to harsh brutality from his gang, because “his [clothes] were a disgrace, all creased and untidy and covered in [dirt] and mud and filth and stuff” (16). While he maliciously enjoys robbing, beating and violating innocent civilians on a nightly basis, a fashion mistake seems to be a crime Alex never forgives.

Understanding Alex’s obsession with being well dressed makes the moment he is “no longer in the heighth of fashion” all the more significant (170). Even when Dim, a member of Alex’s gang, looks disheveled after a fight, Alex does not let their reign of terror continue until they fix him back up (14). However, after undergoing “Ludovico’s Technique,” he has lost absolutely everything (93). Despite the attempts of the prison to take away the identities of the inmates by replacing their names with a series of numbers and forcing them to wear uniform suits, Alex still clings to his self-respect after two years in prison, which is proven by him stating, “So here I was now… dressed in the heighth of prison fashion” (86). This key statement demonstrates that although his time in prison was certainly unpleasant, he had not yet been broken. That loss does not occur until he undergoes the brainwashing and torture that takes away his ability to choose his own actions.

For Burgess to argue that the presence of evil in society is a far more moral option than tyrannically forced goodness, he must portray the latter as far crueler than the former. With as horribly guilty of a criminal as Alex, sympathy is not easily felt. However, by taking away one of his unwavering sources of pride, identity, and self-worth, the gravity of the crimes of the state are brought to a new extreme. Alex becomes a truly pitiful character. Even something as innocent as the clothing style he once loved conjures up traumatic visions and makes him physically ill, forcing him to use his worst insult on himself.

Despite all his unforgivable wrongdoings, Alex does have redeeming qualities. Samuel Coale describes him as “an artistic and intelligent person” due to his sharp dress along with deep love of classical music (qtd. in Semansky). His appreciation of style is a positive quality that is truly a part of his core being and a root of his self-respect, allowing its absence following the psychological manipulation of “Ludovico’s Technique” to create an outpouring of pity (Burgess 93). In the final chapter, after the effects of the treatment are reversed, it becomes clear that his artistic qualities are a solid piece of him, while his violent tendencies were a temporary juvenile phase. As he matures and does not have the same taste for brutality he once did, he still remains in the “heighth of fashion” (201-205). Though being an immature child does not justify his horrendous crimes, the crimes also do not justify taking away his underlying positive qualities and his humanity in general.

Works Cited

  • Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W W Norton, 1962. Print.
  • Cullinan, John. ‘Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange: Two Versions.’ Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Brigham Narins and Deborah A. Stanley, vol. 94, Gale, 1997. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1100001244/LitRC?u=lom_macombtgps&sid=LitRC&xid=6d4a4ba0s. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019. Originally published in English Language Notes, vol. 9, no. 4, June 1972, pp. 287-292.
  • Semansky, Chris. ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Novels for Students, edited by David M. Galens, vol. 15, Gale, 2002, pp. 1-20. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2592800012/GVRL?u=lom_troyhs&sid=GVRL&xid=15fa9f6a. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.

Bibliography

  • Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W W Norton, 1962. Print.
  • Craik, Roger. ‘Some unheard melodies in a Clockwork Orange.’ Notes on Contemporary Literature, vol. 38, no. 4, 2008, p. 8. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A185166836/LitRC?u=lom_macombtgps&sid=LitRC&xid=e09802fe. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.
  • Cullinan, John. ‘Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange: Two Versions.’ Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Brigham Narins and Deborah A. Stanley, vol. 94, Gale, 1997. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1100001244/LitRC?u=lom_macombtgps&sid=LitRC&xid=6d4a4ba0s. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019. Originally published in English Language Notes, vol. 9, no. 4, June 1972, pp. 287-292.
  • Petix, Esther. ‘Linguistics, Mechanics, and Metaphysics: Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962).’ Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Brigham Narins and Deborah A. Stanley, vol. 94, Gale, 1997. Literature Resource Center, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/H1100001242/LitRC?u=lom_macombtgps&sid=LitRC&xid=462bc3f9. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019. Originally published in Critical Essays on Anthony Burgess, edited by Geoffrey Aggeler, G. K. Hall, 1986, pp. 121-131.
  • Rubin Rabinovitz. ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Novels for Students, edited by David M. Galens, vol. 15, Gale, 2002, pp. 1-20. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2592800012/GVRL?u=lom_troyhs&sid=GVRL&xid=15fa9f6a. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.
  • Semansky, Chris. ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ Novels for Students, edited by David M. Galens, vol. 15, Gale, 2002, pp. 1-20. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2592800012/GVRL?u=lom_troyhs&sid=GVRL&xid=15fa9f6a. Accessed 8 Jan. 2019.

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A Crime of Fashion and A Clockwork Orange. (2021, Dec 07). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-crime-of-fashion-and-a-clockwork-orange-essay

A Crime of Fashion and A Clockwork Orange

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