Creation and Destruction in A Clockwork Orange
In the novel A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess shows his readers a society in which pure destruction seems to reign supreme. The lead character, Alex, and most members of his generation, spend their evenings recreationally beating passersby, having small but brutal gang fights, and generally destroying both property and people. Yet these images and instances of destruction constantly interact with images of art, of things created, usually thought to be the diametric opposite of such violence. Indeed, over the course of the novel, creation and destruction become almost indistinguishable. The motivations for creation and destruction are more important to the novel than the distinctions between the two.
Alex and his three droogs, Pete, Georgie and Dim, commit many acts of violence in the first five chapters, vivid and graphic enough that even Burgess admits in his introduction that "my intention in writing the work was to titillate the nastier propensities of my readers" (Burgess ix).1 The crimes are always committed with a certain theatricality, giving Alex’s narration the tone of an artist’s pride. The "maskies" that the four wear are not only "real horrorshow disguises," but also provide dramatic effect (153). It is ars gratia artis (art that comes purely out of a desire to create art), as Alex does not cite any motivation for his violence besides the fact that he derives pleasure from it, and these four perpetrators consider their violence art. Alex’s repetition of "O my brothers," particularly in the more grueling scenes, gives the novel the feel of one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories,2 a creation myth. Both the manner of telling the tales and the tales themselves are a new, hybrid genre. There are even specific rules for how it should be done, parameters of the genre, as Alex shows when he criticizes Dim for "going too far, like he always did" in berating an old man on the street before the four attack him (Burgess 6). Dim tries to make the "dirty" content that the four supposedly see in the man’s scientific books much too obvious, destroying the subtlety with which Alex would like to confuse and frighten the old "veck." He must be frightened, as any criminal would like his victim to be. But Alex also wants to inspire curiosity in his audience, create suspense, create something that the audience has to figure out. All of these are the goals of his new genre: destructive violence that contains elements of creativity and creation.
Nadsat, the hybrid slang of English and anglicized Slavic words that Alex and most people of his age speak, also contains both destruction and creation. Nadsat is a butchery of Russian and Slavic words, and also tears down many rules of English grammar. But out of this destruction, an entirely new way of speaking has been created; a vernacular that belongs to one particular generation and to no other in Alex’s society or in ours. The...