Freedom in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange

‘What I do I do because I like to do.’
-Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, p. 31.

Anthony Burgess’ novella, published in 1962, invites discussion on the question of what is true freedom, and how much of it should we be permitted to have? T. H. Green’s definition of true freedom includes negative freedom, as well as positive.1 This is indicative of the idea that when freedom is desired, this idea of true freedom may not be implied. Instead, he suggests a sense of freedom with limitations, in which individuals are not free to do entirely as one wishes due to the potential negative consequences of this, as the more desirable concept.

Burgess’ protagonist, Alex, demonstrates Green’s idea of true freedom, as he is initially free from coercion or restriction and regulation. He also seemingly possesses the freedom to do as he pleases, committing monstrous crimes for his own pleasure. Although, as a society, we may supposedly crave a full sense of freedom, it is clear through characters such as Alex, that this complete sense of freedom may be detrimental to the community and therefore limitations must be enforced. The character narrates that ‘what I do I do because I like to do’, exemplifying his freedom of choice at the beginning of the novella and his application of this full sense of freedom.2 On the issue of morality, Burgess tells us in his introduction that ‘The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities’.3 Through the obscenities and gruesome crimes that the protagonist and his gang commit, we learn that with freedom comes moral choice and with good comes evil. Therefore, if we, as a society, allow freedom to be used for good, then it inevitably will be used in the same way for evil.

Once Alex’s actions have been altered by the aversion therapy, the state have influenced and limited his sense of true freedom, manipulating his freedom to act as he chooses, as well as removing his freedom from coercion. However, Sumner argues that Alex’s choices were never free for him to make, as he has always been manipulated by the state. He contests that the character’s criminal actions, and even the cause of these, being the desire for criminality, are ‘socially or institutionally conditioned.’4 This idea suggests that, although Burgess depicts the authoritative state to deprive Alex of his free will, and freedom to choose to act independently, in fact, the protagonist did not possess this to begin with. Sumner argues that Alex acts against the state, as his personal form of resistance. He furthers these ideas, claiming that ‘In a social and political register, Alex is forced to choose between totalitarianism and anarchy. That choice is false and, if anything, testifies to a lack of individual freedom. If there are no good options, then individual choice is a mere abstraction; one might as well flip a coin.’5 Although the character seemingly actively chooses to behave violently and break the law, Sumner argues that this, in fact, is his choice between two options dictated to him by the authority, and therefore, he does not possess the true concept of freedom. Alex is a product of the totalitarian state and he is therefore conditioned to behave violently as his form of resistance.

Featured Image: Front Cover of Penguin’s 2013 edition. See Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Classics, 2013).

1. T. H. Green in Adrian Blau, ‘Against Positive and Negative Freedom’, Political Theory, 32. 4 (2004) [accessed 2 May 2018] p. 549-50.

2. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (London: Penguin Group, 1972), p. 31. All other references are to this edition and are given in parenthesis in the main body of the text.

3. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (New York: W.W Norton & Company, 1986), p. XIII.

4. Charles Sumner, ‘Humanist Drama in A Clockwork Orange’, The Yearbook of English Studies: Literature of the 1950s and 1960s, 42 (2012) [accessed 1 May 2018] (p. 57-7).

Author: fretwellamy

MA Magazine Journalism graduate. BA Hons English Language and Literature. #cardifftrained @CMaglab

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