The Evolution of Dim in A Clockwork Orange
Alex is the central character in A Clockwork Orange. He is the narrator and the master/victim of the societal violence. Through Alex, Burgess expresses his theme which is that you cannot force a person to behave through external measures. The person must either decided to be good or not and there is ultimately nothing society can do to force virtue. Anthony Burgess spent much of his career complaining about the decision of the original American publishers to remove the 21st chapter where Alex decides to grow up and become a productive citizen. Yet, Alex’s existential journey from rapist to tightly controlled tool of society to grown-up is less indicative of a society out-of-whack than the non-journey of his “droogs” Georgie, Dim & Pete who symbolize the followers who make up the social order – whether functional or dysfunctional. Of these three droogs, Dim is the most interesting one because in many ways, he is the perfect illustrations of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”
Dim & Pete as Droogs
In the early chapters, Georgie, Dim & Pete are placed in the position of followers of Alex. There are several ways to interpret their importance in Alex’s life. Davis & Womack state that they form a pseudo-family or the “dysfunctional interpersonal unit that problematizes Alex’s various efforts to establish selfhood and to transcend the violent landscapes of his youth” (22). In this way, the droogs are the first extended family of Alex. In the viewpoint of Burgess and many pundits, teenagers and young adults form familial bounds outside of their birth parents. In the context of this theory, Alex becomes the patriarch of a roving family of miscreants with Dim and Pete as only slightly misbehaving children in a milieu where good behavior is the defined as the ability to follow Alex’s violent lead.
This is supported by the opening line in the book where Alex introduces himself and his crew with the statement “There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim, Dim being really dim” (7). In this family unit, there are definite scales with Dim as the one that delights Alex the most as the least articulate and dumbest member of the crew. He describes Dim as “not ever having much of an idea of things and being, beyond all shadow of a doubting Thomas, the dimmest of we four” (8). The critic Neil D Isaacs sees the essence of Clockwork Orange in the irony of the audience’s sympathy. According to Isaacs, Burgess is allowing us to see beyond the narrator’s mask. “We are made to sympathize with the willful against the imposed in spite of the extremes in which it is expressed…we despise the corruption and expedience of the opposition party while we cheer its platforms; that we despise Alex while we rejoice in the restoration of his willful and violent self” (127).
In this context, Dim & Pete become the masks of Alex. They take their lead from Alex and they carry out his will or at least what they see as his will. Again Dim becomes the main reflection of Alex’s will and when there is a debate as to leave Dim behind, its Dim’s violence that works for him. Even then Alex cannot stop insulting Dim. “Dim was very very ugly and like his name, but he was a horrorshow filthy fighter and very handy with the boot” (9). At this point, Dim is merely a tool for Alex to use in his will. As long as Alex is the master of the pseudo-family Dim will remain the reflection of Alex’s violence. Pete and Georgie tend to reflect Alex’s more academic and cultural pursuits at points in the narrative but Dim remains Dim. In the scene where the droogs accost a man carrying books and take the books out of his arms, Dim does not receive a book. When Pete is passing around books and does not give one to Dim. In the book reading scene, Dim appreciates the prurient interests of the books and dismisses them as the work that can be appreciated by “nothing but a filthy-minded old skitebird” (12).
At this point, Alex registers another complaint against Dim as someone who “goes too far” (12). Even as Alex takes great joy in dismissing Dim as the dumbest member of the crew, Dim also becomes a source of concern for Alex and Alex sees his own excesses reflected in Dim’s appearance. In the scene where Alex states “I didn’t like the look of Dim; he looked dirty and untidy, like a veck who’d been in a fight, which he had been, of course, but you should never look as you have been” (18), he fulfills both roles as a reflection of Alex and a virtual child. The droogs take Dim into an alleyway and smarten him up so that he can have the superficial appearance of the rest of the droogs. This characterization is driven home by the scene where “Poor old Dim kept looking up at the stars with his rot wide open” (24). Even as Dim is a child, he is sometimes a misbehaving child. When Dim makes a rude noise, Alex reaches over Georgie to hit him and when Dim asks him why he did it, Alex responds “For being a bastard with no manners and not the dook of an idea how to comport yourself publicwise, O my brother” (34). As far as Alex is concerned, this is a correction that one gives to a wayward and idiot child; however, this is the point where Dim pulls away from Alex and claims that they are no longer part of an extended family. Georgie takes the opportunity to encourage Dim’s waywardness by stating “if you don’t like this and you wouldn’t want that, then you know what to do, little brother” (34). In many ways this scene reflects the biological family with the children finding their independence and acting out. Alex can only see this as a challenge to his authority and he reacts by attempting to beat them into submission, but the reader who is familiar with the story can tell that this is the point where Alex loses the control of the artificial family.
In many ways, Alex feels like he is driving them forward and their resistance appears to be only facial. After all, Alex can be forgiven for thinking that Dim and the rest will always follow him. Dim echoes Hannah Arendnt’s “famous character-judgment throughout about Eichmann being not a monstrous ideologue but a ‘thoughtless’ or basically ‘banal’ person who though knew, never realized what he was doing” (Kaposi 270). Without much of an issue, Alex brings Dim back into line by pounding all of the droogs into submission “so they knew now who was master and leader, sheep, thought I” (60). It is only when Alex is arrested that he rids himself of his family in the least convincing manner possible. “Georgie and Dim and Pete. No droogies of mine, the bastards” (72). Alex’s attempt to distance himself from his pseudo-family is partially true since they have abandoned him to be arrested.
Dim Changes Roles
After Alex has been “treated” for his violent tendencies in a way that keeps Alex from using violence without becoming physically nauseous, he again encounters Dim in a way that allows Alex to know that the world has changed for him. He is assaulted by vagrants who recognize him and is rescued by two police officers that he recognizes as “old Billyboy, my old enemy. The other was, of course, Dim, who had used to be my droog and also the enemy of stinking fatty goaty Billyboy” (160). As far as Alex is concerned, this is a betrayal of the family that he established in the beginning. This is depicted as a lesson to Alex that there is no longer an easy adolescent method of understanding the world. His enemies and his friends are no longer at odds per his worldview. Instead, they are working together.
Ultimately, the scene with Dim and Billboy is about power and Dim, the least promising droog in the beginning, is now in a position of power over his past father figure. He says with authority “I don’t remember them days too horrorshow. Don’t call me Dim no more, either. Officer call me” (161). In order to distinguish his current role from his past role, he states that he does not remember the past where he was once under the thrall of Alex. Even more important, he has a change of name which echoes the Biblical accounts where the characters change their names in order to define their new roles in the narrative (Saul to Paul, Abram to Abraham, Simon to Peter, etc.). Yet, how much has Dim changed from the beginning until this point in the narrative?
As far as Alex is concerned, Dim has changed a great deal. Dim is no longer the child who Alex’s most violent and primal thoughts. Alex can no longer see Dim as a reflection of his own rampaging id nor can Alex treat Dim like a child. Alex cannot believe that Dim does not “pull his shlem off his Gulliver and go haw haw” (161), because it is such a monstrous joke that someone that Alex once considered to be his idiot child is now in power over him. However, Dim has only the barest hint of nostalgia for the old days. When Alex attempts to mock him for his lack of literacy, we have only Alex’s word that Dim was “very like gentle and like regretful” (162), before he pounded Alex in the face. As soon as Dim and Billyboy drive Alex out to the countryside, they beat him with the legal authority that Dim was missing at the beginning of the book.
When they finally finish, Alex cannot tell Dim from Billboy. His former friends and enemies have merged into one being and they have found a way to take joy in the same violence that once was illegal. They are both still defined by violence and their criminal capacity for beating on people has become sanctioned by the state. One key moment is the end of the beating where “Dim just gave one of his old clowny guffs” (162-163). As much as Dim has changed position in life, this is telling us that Dim is still Dim. In Alex’s narrative, he does not allow Dim to be Officer because as far as Alex is concerned, Dim is always going to be Dim. In many ways, the book supports Alex in this bias. Alex changes from a violence-prone youth to a victim of the system. By contrast, Dim begins as a violent outsider who takes his orders from Alex, but remains violent. The main difference between Dim as an outsider and Dim as an insider is the fact that he takes his orders from a different master.
Dim appears again at the end of the book when Alex is the victim of F. Alexander, the writer that he brutalized at the beginning of the book. The scene where Alex is being driven mad by a loud recording of Beethoven includes several memories of all that has happened to him thus far in the book which include a flashback to Dim and Billboy beating him.
However, the more profound points comes when Alex is being prepared for the tortured. “Dim dim dim,’ F. Alexander kept saying in like a low mutter” (178), and this recitation of Dim is an effective method of conveying the ways that F. Alexander and Alex have changed positions within the context of the book. When Alex first encountered the writer, he was the brutalizer and F. Alexander was the victim. At the end of the book F. Alexander is the aggressor and Alex is the victim. However, in both cases, Dim is the unthinking golem-like creature who aids and abets in the torture. By invoking Dim in this final scene, Burgess is stating that no matter who is the victim and brutalizer, the social order requires the Dim character in order to carry out these brutalities. The master can only be the master as long as he has willing followers, and Dim proves that he is more than willing.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. Print.
Davis, Todd F. & Womack, Kenneth. “O my Brothers: Reading the Anti-Ethics of the Pseudo-Family in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.” College Literature 29.2 (Spring 20020): 19-36. Print.
Isaacs, Neil D. “Unstuck in Time: Clockwork Orange and Slaughterhouse –Five.” Literature and Film Quarterly 1.2 (Spring 1973): 122-131. Print.
Kaposi, David. “The Unbearable Lightness of Identity: Membership, Tradition, and the Jewish Anti-Semite in Gershom Sholem’s Letter to Hannah Arendt. Critical Discourse Studies 6.4 (November 2009): 269-281.
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