In Anthony Burgess’ 1962 dystopian novella, A Clockwork Orange, teenage gangs and hoodlums run rampid in a futuristic society, inflicting mayhem and brutality among its totalitarian governed state. Alex, our protagonist/anti-hero, is among the most infamous in this violent youth culture. A psychotic, yet devilishly intelligent boy of fifteen, our “humble narrator” beats up on old folk, rapes underaged girls, pillages, and leads his group of “droogs” (friends) on a chaotic path of “ultra-violence.” With this society of citizens completely oblivious to the acts of such culture, the government offers to step in with a solution. After being jailed for the most heinous crime of murder, Alex volunteers for a procedure - offered by the government - to condition his aggressive behavior. What he endures under the government’s treatment, essentially, strips him from any sense of choice or free-will, rendering him a helpless, mechanical slave to this society. This sense of free-will, an opportunity to make a choice between good and evil, is an essential part of humanity...but controlling the freedom of choice is the true key to this idea. So how does this affect and influence Alex’s character to change?
The idea of choice is introduced at the beginning of each of the novella’s three sections, with the quote: “What’s it going to be then, eh” (9). Each quote, used in three different contexts, gives Alex the ability to choose his fate, and what to make of that choice. The first act of the novella follows Alex’s life as this conniving thief, to which he explains his reasonings:
This biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what
turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don't go into the cause of goodness, so
why the other shop? If lewdies are good that's because they like it, and I wouldn't ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop … But what I do I do because I like to do. (43)
In a Freudian perspective, Alex is the embodiment of the Id, relying on animal-like instincts to survive in this world. His justification for his actions lies within his idea of freedom of choice, that if one should act in accordingly to one’s own nature, they should be able to express their free will. In turn, he uses this justification to senselessly beat a man up for simply not liking him. This could be supported by a quote from an article about the study of free will vs determinism, which states, “freedom to choose fits comfortably with the assumption that people deserve what they get” (Carey 133). Alex could agree that someone of his own violent nature deserves this moment, or that the man deserved the beating.
However, in a critical essay by Rubin Rabinovitz, it is argued that this expression of “do what you want” attitude is just as mechanically determined. By dictating a lifestyle based around this preconceived mentality, Alex is already subjecting himself to a controlled fate by following this youth culture (Rabinovitz).