Music, Violence, and Identity in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange
Linking the fundamental conflict between individual identity and societal identity with musical imagery in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange creates a lens through which one can recognize the tendency that violence has to destroy an individual’s identity. Although Alex clearly associates violence with his own individual identity and sense of self, he consistently reveals the impossibility of remaining an individual in the face of group-oriented violence. Images drawn from the realm of music parallel the destruction of Alex’s identity, either through conformity to a group’s style of violence or through failure to embrace the homogeneity of group actions associated with violence. As Alex’s narrative progresses, musical imagery follows the decline and re-emergence of his personal identity as a function of his involvement in violence. Musical references underscore the power of violence to negate individual identity in favor of group identity, thereby illuminating the destructive effect that violence as on the human personality.
One musical image, the "ode to Joy" from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, illustrates the manner in which violence steals the identity of an individual and replaces it with a group identity. As Alex puts on the last movement of Beethoven’s symphony, he "feels the old tigers leap in [him]" (46),1 and he forces himself on the two young girls he has brought with him to his den. The rape of these two girls by Alex appears to constitute an individual act of the self, and indeed the vocal section in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony begins with an individual voice, without any accompaniment. Alex offers this explanation: "I am serious with you brothers over this. I do what I do because I like it" (40). He makes the rape appear to constitute a joyful act of individual violence. But the development of Beethoven’s symphony soon puts a different interpretation on what appears, at first glance, to be Alex’s individual act of violence. After the solo bass intones an introduction, soloists and then a full chorus and orchestra join the soloist, unified in singing the same poem. What initially seems like an individual remaining separate from a group does not remain so for very long. As other soloists join the solo bass, the singers declare that "Men throughout the world are brothers/ In the haven of thy [joy’s] wings."2 If Alex truly does believe his violent act to be joyful, then the joy of violence blinds men throughout the world in a brotherhood. The image of the "tigers" (plural) leaping up inside Alex, also representing the group character of his act, reinforces the binding nature of violence. Alex’s supposedly individual act gets absorbed into a universal brotherhood.
The nature of the orchestral music chosen to accompany particular stages of Alex’s narrative further underlines the process by which violence causes the diminishment of...