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“A Clockwork Orange”: The Purpose of Violence

Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange has had a lasting influence on generations as they read about the disintegration of British culture and the ruse of new youth culture in opposition to the tradition, producing perversity and violence. In the 1960s, which are being depicted in the book, the British culture has assumed a distorted shape both in terms of values and norms, being opposite to the original in terms of socioeconomic changes occurring after World War II. The generation growing up in the post-war period had to look at the world from a pretty different perspective because of the new tension of the nuclear war hanging over their heads. The aim of this paper is to analyze the article by Ahmed and Rahman that explores the cultural oddities of A Clockwork Orange and their impact on society. The authors argue that the novel offers an explanation for the subculture of resistance and opposition to the structural problems in post-war Britain, even though they fail to recognize the true purpose of talking about violence and its implications on society.

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The article was chosen because it is written from the perspective of individuals from a different culture with their own values and standards, and it will be interesting to see how the culture of the writers affects their perspectives on the matter. The focus of the authors is not the creation of a new subculture in Burgess’s novel, which attempted to seek solutions to the problems that mattered to the youth, such as educational disadvantages, low pay, as well as unemployment. Joining a subculture gave the young people an expectation of problem-solving, but it did the opposite. An interesting perspective that the authors provide is that the subculture depicted in the novel decontextualized the conventional meanings and styles, taking notable symbols and placing them in a new environment, which was intended to provoke. The subculture of the book questions the traditional standards inherent to the British culture by creating its own culture, involving a dirty and depraved mentality as its members find pleasure in robbery, rape, terrorism, and general hooliganism.

According to the article, Burgess decontextualized the Mod subculture, which originated in the late 1950s in London and represented a new modernist approach to life and art. Dressed in the height of fashion, the followers of the subculture in A Clockwork Orange engage in violence and brutality, with the world around them being immoral in all respects. Ahmed and Rahman argue that the protagonist’s desire to act violently is an act of rebellion against the social machine that aims to numb the general public to the highest degree possible, making them obedient and compliant (65). In the eyes of the article’s authors, the act of rebellion is a cultural oddity because they were exposed to the culture of acceptance and compliance from a very young age, and the way in which the ‘Teds’ of the novel expressed their dissatisfaction with the establishment seemed shocking.

However, what the authors fail to see is that the violence, which takes many forms in the novel, is detrimental not only to the storytelling but also to the idea of the book itself. A Clockwork Orange underlines the importance of evil as well as human nature. While the protagonist, Alex, is a despicable human being that gives free rein to his impulses of violence and aggression, the sense of freedom that he possesses is what makes him human and exuberantly alive as compared to many other characters. By vividly describing brutality in his novel, Burgess sees violence as a tool for not only setting a contrast between good and evil but also enabling readers to reflect on themselves and their personal capacities for nastiness. When Alex is ‘cured’ with the help of the Ludovico’s Technique, and the evil aspect of his personality seems to be erased, he, of course, becomes less of a social threat. However, as the novel suggests, he also becomes less human and less vibrant. Specifically, Alex is not good in the true essence of the word because he did not choose to be such and was forced instead, and the utilization of an active choice is crucial to human nature.

The majority of Ahmed and Rahman’s article is dedicated to the discussion of Alex’s depravities and the rebellious nature of young people who protested against the British tradition. Besides, they mention that Burgess himself seems to complain against authority for not being proactive in stopping the deterioration of law, which results in chaos and social unrest (Ahmed and Rahman 70). What the authors do not recognize is that Burgess intentionally depicted the authorities as being often indifferent because, in the real world, they usually are indifferent to regular people’s struggles. Moreover, in the world of the novel, the government plays the main antagonistic role against Alex, with its different views concerning morality, freedom of choice, and personal liberties. Therefore, Ahmed and Rahman do not consider the importance of showing such opposition between the government and its people. Through the lens of violence, Burgess depicts the actual state of affairs in British society of that time, specifically the disjointedness between what the government wanted and what people its people need.

When discussing Alex’s transformation as a result of rigorous and torturous therapy methods, Ahmed and Rahman say that self-realization did not last long, with the protagonist going back to his old ways and pursuing violence again (71). In addition, the authors of the article point out that the youth culture fails to rectify its members and make them acceptable members of society. While it should be noted that Burgess initially wanted to end the novel on a brighter and more redeeming note for Alex, who would supposedly lose his taste for violence, the reality is far from being this bright. It is unlikely that Alex, whose human nature is to be violent and act in opposition to society, can get magically cured and consider having a family and children of his own. Therefore, Ahmed and Rahman’s expectations are unrealistic, and the scholars should have recognized that individuals with violent nature cannot always become good because it is against who they are.

While Ahmed and Rahman’s exploration of A Clockwork Orange is full of detailed observations of the cultural aspect of the novel and its social commentary, the authors fail to understand the symbolism of violence in Burgess’s work. The sole focus on the youth subculture and their violent acts is a one-sided view that does not consider the intentions of the author behind shedding light on the issue in the first place.

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Ahmed, Mohammad Kaosar, and Mizanur Rahman. “Reading Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange: Cultural Oddities and Their Social Impact.” IIUC Studies, vol. 7, 2010, pp. 63-72.

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