Power of Choice in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange

The choice between good and evil is a decision every man must make

throughout his life in order to guide his actions and control his future.

This element of choice, no matter what the outcome, displays man’s power as

an individual. Any efforts to control or influence this choice between

good and evil will in turn govern man’s free will and enslave him. In the

novel A Clockwork Orange, the author uses symbolism through imagery, the

characterization of Alex, and the first person narrative point of view to

prove that without the ability to choose between good and evil, Man becomes

a slave.

The symbolism through imagery proves how Alex’s ability to choose

between good and evil is his ascendancy over the innocent and the weak.

The first symbol is the music to which he listens and loves. It is the

only thing in Alex’s life that he truly cares for. This music represents

the element of his choice and free will. When his ability of choice is

robbed in an attempt to better him, he loses his love for music in which he

exclaims, “And all the time the music got more and more gromky, like it

was all a deliberate torture, O my brothers . . . then I jumped”(131).

The music that represents his freedom to choose is now gone. He is left

without any reason to live. When he realizes that he is no longer a man

because of his absence of choice, Alex decides to end his life. The author

illustrates through Alex’s violent actions, how they represent his abuse of

power through his freedom of choice. Alex consistently chooses evil as a

means to display his power over the innocent and the good. While beating

and raping a young girl, he states with pride, “So he did the strong-man on

the devotchka, who was still creeching away . . . in very horrorshow

groodies”(22). This proves that he feels he must display his power through

his abuse of choice. His love for violence symbolises his abuse of power

as an evil trait, but his love for music symbolises his human side. In the

end of the story Alex decides that he is ready to become a man. During

this rapid evolution from adolescence to manhood, Alex chooses a wife, a

family, a life, and in essence he chooses good for the first time in the

story. “There was your humble narrator . . . I knew what was happening, O

my brothers. I was growing up”(147). Alex realizes that he may choose

good and still maintain a strong element of choice. He becomes stronger

because he now has a broader selection to choose from. He sees that the

abuse of the ability of choice is not what makes Man powerful. It is

instead, the realization that the choice between good and evil, no matter

what decision, is the power within Man.

Using the characterization of Alex, it effectively illustrates how

the element of choice is linked to the power within man. The author uses

violence to represent the abuse of power when the right of free will is

controlled. Alex believes that his decision towards evil proves his

freedom of choice; subsequently it also proves his abuse of the power

within him. The violent acts described are graphic and are intended to

shock the reader. They also show that the suppression of others is wrong,

because it is destructive to the natural rights of man. He consistently

chooses evil and violence to show his power of choice, “And now I was

ready for a bit of twenty-to-one . . . then I cracked this veck”(7). Alex

beats, rapes, robs and pillages the weak and innocent to prove domination

and control, thus proving his choice towards evil. In a society that “lets

the young get on to the old . . . there’s no law nor order no more”(14).

He takes on a role of authority in a society of anarchy, and uses violence

to portray his abuse of this ascendancy over the weak. Although he is

impervious to the choice of good, Alex does not remain ignorant to this

choice throughout the entire novel. In the beginning, he believes that

violence is the only way to prove his control. This then leads to his loss

of control through the loss of his ability of choice. Only in the very end

does Alex finally evolve and become a well-rounded character. He realizes

that he does not have to choose evil and abuse his position to prove his

right of choice. Proven is his freedom to decide between good and evil.

“But where I itty now, O my brothers, is all on my oddy knocky, where you

cannot go. Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers”(148). Alex now knows that

his future is open for his choices to lead him. For good or for evil, it

is his right to decide, and this is what truly proves his power. Through

these thoughts narrated by Alex, he illustrates how horrible it is to be

powerless and how it proves through characterization that man develops

power through the element of choice.

These thoughts and feelings prove that through a first person

narrative point of view, the author is able to effectively demonstrate how

the element of choice is essential to man. Throughout the story, Alex is

the narrator for the reader. The only feelings and insight originate from

Alex’s point of view. This view is very biased and one sided, thus

evoking a sense of sympathy and compassion from the reader. Even though he

commits horrible, senseless acts of violence, they are lightened by his

narrated thoughts to prove his control. Alternatively, any attempt to

control Alex is shown as a horrendous attack and abuse of power. When the

ability to choose independently between good and evil is stripped from Alex,

he realises the importance of choice to his rights as an individual. “I

was not your handsome young narrator any longer, but a real strack of a

sight”(55). Alex has lost all of his rights and control of himself, which

leads to his loss of self respect. He has now lost what gave him

ascendancy over the weak, his free will and ability of choice. As stated

in the story, “goodness is chosen from within”(67). When choice is forced,

man no longer has any power within himself. He is told from the prison

warden, “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man”(67). After

being told, Alex is still able to sign over his rights as an individual.

In each stage, his point of view proves how he loses his natural power as

he loses his choice. When Alex regains his ability to decide between good

and evil, he narrates, “And there was the slow movement and the lovely

last singing . . . I was cured all right”(139). Through this thought, he

proves power through the ability of choice. He once again decides upon

evil to display his power through violence. This thought is crucial to the

reader’s understanding of how close the ability of choice is related to

individual power. The demonstration of his free will and his loss of power

through the absence of choice is effectively accomplished through the use

of first person narration.

Throughout this story, choice has proven many aspects of power and

it’s abuse. Through strong symbols in imagery, Alex’s characterization,

and his point of view, the absence of choice is proven as the most

debilitating and most overlooked depravation of man’s individual power. In

everyone’s life, the struggle for power exists in all situations. The

decision between good and evil is the power that anyone must have as an

individual. The choice of which path to take is dependant on the person

and the situation, but the realization that both exist is a power unto

itself.

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