In “A Clockwork Orange”, the character of Alex is both the protagonist and the vessel used to impart the novels unusual views on morality. At face value, Alex is portrayed as a psychopath who robs, rapes, and assaults innocent people chosen at random for his own amusement, showing no remorse for his actions. He is the classic example of an “evil individual”, almost unrealistically so. He even has the intellectual capacity to know that this sort of behaviour is wrong, saying that “you can’t have a society with everybody behaving in my manner of the night”.
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He nevertheless professes to be somewhat puzzled by the motivations of those who wish to reform him and others like him, saying that he would never interfere with their desire to be good; it’s just that he “goes to the other shop”. It is almost as if, although he has the logical capacity to understand the concept of morality, there is not a single shred of “innate morality” in him that which is believed to be a defining aspect of human nature in Judeo-Christian influenced western thought and is also the position the novel adopts.
Alex is the perfect set piece around which the novels message that morality is not clear cut black or white revolves. From the moment we are introduced to Alex in the ‘Korova Milkbar’ we are told of how he and his ‘droogs’ drink milk laced with drugs. The Korova milk bar itself is quite a public place and we are made aware of how many people use this as a place to obtain these drugs and escape through hallucinations. Alex describes how a man was ‘well away with his glazzies glazed’ and thinks of these people as ‘very cowardly’ using hallucinogenic drugs as a method of escape.
It is at this point we begin to feel a sense of sorrow and despair for the people who live in this world as it would seem it has become the norm to take drugs to escape and through this we briefly pity Alex. However, it is not long until we see Alex’s intentions for the evening. It becomes almost comical that he is able to describe these people as ‘cowardly’ when he himself was consuming the drugs until as he describes ‘I could feel the knives in the old moloko starting to prick and now I was ready for a bit of twenty-to-one’.
His violent nature immediately becomes apparent as he continuously engages in unprovoked acts of violence. It is not only shocking that Alex preys on the innocent, but that we are made to be distracted from the incredibly harsh and violent acts by the strange and unfamiliar dialect of ‘Nadsat’ which Alex uses when he describes things associated with violence. Alex even changes the word ‘good’ to ‘horrorshow’ based on the Russian word kharasho. Something which is focused in on throughout the novel but most notably in part 1 is Alex’s remorselessness.
I would not argue that it is the acts of violence Alex commits which would characterises him as being ‘remorseless’, but I would argue it is the people he prays upon that gives this point any ground. We see in the first chapter when Alex, accompanied by his droogs prey on a man walking home from the local library with books under his arm. An equally important ‘violent act’ of Alex’s would be when he and his ‘droogs’ break into the cottage named ‘HOME’ and attack F. Alexander and rape and attack his wife.
Although Alex commits other acts of violence I feel that these two in particular have somewhat of a significant part to play in Alex’s development yet he feels no remorse. Alex lives in a world with people who are so willing to conform and are not interested to learn or educate themselves outside the state they live in and when he sees this man who is reading various books, it intrigues Alex. In a way him and Alex have similarities, as both want to escape the conformity; Alex with his violence and the man with learning.
I would argue that this is proven even more so with breaking into ‘HOME’, as Alex immediately sees F. Alexander is a man of learning and can tell he is unlike other people or even a ‘starry schoolmaster type veck’ which he equally despises. We can even see how later when Alex is alone he reminisces on the ‘Clockwork Orange’ paper he saw, still unbeknown to the affect this will eventually have on him, yet he still with the ‘respect’ he has for this man of intellect he still feels no remorse.
Throughout we are able to see how Alex assumes the role of leader in his group, commanding his ‘Droogs’ and leading them into violence and theft. He runs an almost communist society in his group where he is in charge, much like the society he lives in. But within such a close group, tempers rise and when the first signs of a potential conflict arise between Alex and his ‘droogy’ counterparts, Alex tells them ‘There has to be a leader. Discipline there has to be’. Ironically this is parallel to the society Alex lives in yet he does not accept consequence to his actions.
He is almost hypocritical in a way to think he is any different from the state he detests so much by running his own communist society. However this outburst on revolution from his droogs foreshadows what is to later come within the people living under the state’s rule. When outnumbered Alex learns that he is unable to rule if there is no sense of democracy which is what the people want in both his group and society. However, is it possible that Burgess intended the reader to view Alex as a potential victim? We cannot help but look at the society Alex lives in and be forced to pity him.
When we first meet Alex he is in the Korova Milkbar drinking milk laced with drugs, if it was not shocking that these drugs were so readily available we must remember that Alex is a child. He lives in a society which has little care for children who need guidance, but with this sort of ‘guidance’ into a world surrounded by adults taking drugs to escape the harsh reality can we blame Alex entirely for his behaviour? After all we must not forget, as Burgess tries not to let us forget, Alex is merely a child and has seen such horror in his life and been brought into a corrupt world.
This dystopian society run by an authoritarian government will not allow its people to have free will and express themselves with the ‘newspapers not being read much’ there is clear censorship and control over opinions with this power the state harnesses. And with this control, who has Alex to look up to as a role model? His parents both work for the state with long hours and little pay. They do not fight for their freedom or rights along with the rest of society; they merely accept these are the circumstance.
Therefore how can we not in a way pity Alex for trying to find a way to be free and fight for his right, he is only a child still and does not know how to express himself in a way which will change the world. Sadly Alex was never raised to be articulate and have the best education and so never had a real chance to reach anything but this mentality of how he must express himself. This society has clearly driven this child into a state of pure animalistic instincts where he cannot act in any other way as he has not learnt how. Alex is alone in his view of the world.
He may have his ‘droogs’ but again they are children and easily influenced by the strongest leadership (that being Alex). It could be argues that P. R. Deltoid tries to help Alex, but he was sent by the state to contain him as he is a criminal and nothing more to them. Not a boy who needs help and guidance, but more a project to become ‘morally good’ again as they believe his evil is just a derivative, completely out ruling the idea of free will which Alex believes he has chosen and calls the ‘other shop’. Finally we must look at how Burgess has cleverly manipulated the character of Alex for his own views and messages to be portrayed.
In hindsight we are aware that Alex progresses throughout the novel from a violent individual to one of somewhat of a reformed character by the end. His development ironically mimics that of Alex’s beloved ‘Beethoven’s 9th’ which is meant to reflect human goodness and the development of mankind. The start representing the lowest rungs of hell, the second represents human happiness from everyday pleasures, the third represents mankind turning to religion and the fourth and final part represents humanity at the height of glory coming from the depths of despair.
Alex will make this transition but is currently in this stage of the lowest rungs of hell, which is why I think Burgess has been so eager to exaggerate Alex’s character. It shows us the true, harsh and desperate attempts mankind will make to reach glory, which for Alex is free will. When mankind is oppressed in such a way that it takes the freedom of life and their will, they will commit such atrocities and rebel with such pure animalistic instincts. Alex embodies the true meaning of being human, right down to the basic instincts.