Anthony Burgess' Novel, a Clockwork Orange: a Study Of The Oppression Theme

Categories: A Clockwork Orange

Alienation under a Totalitarian Government: The Nonconformist as a Victim

The dystopian novel, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, explores the effects of oppression on the youth when it is subject to the confiscation of moral choice. Burgess uses a variety of motifs that make the main character’s acts seem more normal than they really are, such as the use of Nadsat and the protagonist’s obsession with classical music. The main character, Alex, is shown to be normal on the surface, but deep down, readers know that he is mentally and physically scarred because of the inability of the government to see his crimes as justifiable.

The audience would think that Alex is to blame for his own actions when, in reality, the government has failed to demonstrate acceptable norms of a society. The drastic effects that the government uses to establish these norms are what make the protagonist unstable, causing him to rebel. In order for society to maintain stability and order, a government will compromise freedom of speech and freewill, leading to alienation and oppression, which in turn will result in rebellion.

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This is primarily shown in the conflicts between Alex and the higher authority, the protagonist and antagonist, respectively.

One of the minor details of oppression that is often overlooked in the novel is Burgess’s use of a “Statefilm.” These are films that citizens watch on television created by the government. According to Alex, there “. . . was the usual cowboy riot . . . of the US marshal six-shooting .

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. . out of hell’s fighting legions . . . the kind . . . put out by Statefilm in those days” (Burgess 22). The reader can see that the government uses violence in its films. In addition, there is no indication that watching television is a form of entertainment or leisure. It is merely a form of brainwashing that the higher authority utilizes to keep society within acceptable social boundaries.

Despite the fact that the government wants to maintain its idea of peace, it is the complete contradiction of what Alex does in the society. He rebels against society by performing various crimes with his gang members Peter, Georgie, and Dim. The most unusual aspect is he does crime only when he hears classical music. According to literary critic Bruce Olsen, Alex initially chooses evil and then digresses from it; he favors the idea of free choice, and that is what makes him truly human (Olsen). When Alex accuses his gang members of going behind his back with democratic reforms in the group, he hears classical music from Beethoven. He pulls out his razor and attacks Georgie by slashing his fingers (Burgess 58). Classical music is Alex’s stimulator that triggers his mind to perform crime. In another scenario, he buys classical music from the store, sees two ten-year old girls there, takes them back to his house, and rapes them both while listening to the music. For Alex, this is a form of ecstasy for him. The reader can conclude that society has pounded totalitarianism to such an extent that even the youth have to resort to crime as a means to feel liberated.

As mentioned before, Alex chooses evil and then chooses to divert away from it. In the case in which he is forced to divert away from evil, it only proves disastrous to the protagonist. At the end of the novel when Alex graduates from his rehabilitation program, he ends up living with F. Alexander, whose house Alex attacked in the beginning of the novel. Alexander does not recognize him as the criminal because he was wearing a mask at the time. When Alex tells him about his torture at the rehabilitation treatment, Alexander writes an article about the torture, which shows he is a radical. When Alex gets an apartment from Alexander’s three associates, he confesses to killing Alexander’s wife previously. He then hears very loud classical music and starts to feel sick to the point where he tries to bang his head and attempt suicide by jumping out the window (Burgess 187-188). Consequently, the same music that makes Alex ecstatic now makes him feel disgusted because he is brainwashed in therapy to associate classical music with crime. As the state tries to be more controlling, it becomes detrimental to humankind as an act of evil (D’Ammassa). He has been reduced to someone without an identity who lacks the ability to retain a unique personality that makes him stand out in society. Instead, he is commanded to feel what the government wants him to feel – remorse from freedom of choice.

The most compelling evidence of Alex’s isolation from the world is when he goes to rehabilitation after going through jail for assaulting the old lady at the Manse house. At the rehabilitation program, he is forced to watch special films that contain graphic violence, such as rape, blood, and the cutting of body parts. Every day before he watches the films, he is given an injection, which he claims makes him feel sick. Even when Alex continually begs Dr. Brodsky to stop, he continues with the films and even hits Alex at one point when he tries to escape or assert his demands (Burgess 126-128). According to John Greenfield, Dr. Brodsky is “. . . superficially friendly and coldly scientific and is able to deal ruthlessly with Alex to prove his theory” (Greenfield). Throughout the two-week program, the state forces Alex to live in isolation where no one is there to help him. The people there treat him like an object or some sort of experimental specimen that can prove to society that the program is effective for “curing” patients. There are a plethora of psychological setbacks and symptoms of alienation, such as “. . . anger, resentment, frustration, and despair . . . resort to violence against themselves or against others . . . goes hand in hand with political powerlessness and social oppression” (Gaydosik). Victoria Gaydosik proves that if social oppression is integrated into society, it will lead to isolation.

In view of Alex’s personal life, the audience can see that his family is also very unstable. Although his parents are affectionate and show unconditional love to him, he shuns them out of his life and continues to commit violent crimes behind their backs. At one point, his father asks him where he goes to work every evening, and Alex lies to him saying he does odd jobs. In reality, he steals money and commits crime during that time. His father seems to suspect and worry about him, and he even has a foreshadowing dream in which Alex is beaten up and lies on the ground bloodied up (Burgess 53). Even though his father is worried about him constantly, Alex brushes it off and takes his father’s concern for granted; he somehow cannot establish a successful relationship with his own family. In another instance, Alex wakes up one morning and decides to skip school. When his mother finds out, he lies and tells her he will go later after resting. She sighs while putting his breakfast in the oven (Burgess 40). There is an indication that his mother is tired of dealing with Alex’s rebellious ways because he skips school and does not show concern for it. No matter how hard his parents try to get through to him, they do so to no avail, and they slowly start to give up on trying to help him or make him into a good civilian.

To put it another way in describing oppression and leading to rebellion, the novel even shows grown men being punished for trying to be independent. For example, Joe, the new lodger who rents Alex’s room while Alex is away at the rehabilitation program, gets arrested for asserting his rights when he was standing on a corner waiting for a girl and was told to move. He gets taken away and is fired from his job as well (Burgess 193-194). Even if civilians have the thought of being assertive towards police officers about their rights and opposing their orders, their “freedom” is confiscated. The fact that his family replaces him with a lodger proves that they stopped caring about him at one point and thought he would never come back. The problem is that the government tries to put such an emphasis on family and togetherness that the more they reinforce that ideology, the worse it becomes.

Finally, the most recognizable piece of evidence that the author uses to show the aftermath of oppression is the use of Nadsat as a motif in the story. The Russian-English slang language is mainly used by the youth in the story, such as Alex and his gang members. The use of Nadsat is a result of social oppression because there is a huge generation gap between the State and the teenagers. According to Sherri Szeman, “The language of the novel captures the reader and makes him or her one of Alex’s ‘droogs,’ maintaining sympathy for Alex throughout his violent activities” (Szeman). It is a sign that teenagers refuse to speak proper English like their parents or any other adults, so they rebel to form a language where it is “dumbed down” to a baby language. For example, Alex says “Appy polly loggies” in an attempt to show remorse (Burgess 55). For the reader, it is difficult to understand the language at first, which makes him/her feel alienated, but it also masks the violence in the novel.

The concept of an ideal society in a dystopian government is falsely identified by a government that is unwilling to let morality and choice affect one’s actions. It is clear that when the government interferes in every affair of every citizen, nobody will no longer want to live in a world where freewill is compromised for a peaceful society. They are willing to do anything to be dominant of their rights, even if it means rebelling to be heard. A Clockwork Orange is very powerful in sending that message out, but even when the nonconformist tries to be the loudest, he/she always suffers the consequence of being corrected or taught to think a certain way. That proves to be catastrophic because it will only lead to isolation, distress, and rebellion. A government that exhibits a totalitarian reform is a government that will tumble to its demise.

Updated: Feb 23, 2024
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Anthony Burgess' Novel, a Clockwork Orange: a Study Of The Oppression Theme. (2024, Feb 23). Retrieved from

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