A Clockwork Orange

by Anthony Burgess

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What is the symbolism of music in "A Clockwork Orange"?  

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Little Alex loves Beethoven. Although Alex is a thorough-going sociopath in every other respect, having no regard or empathy for the people he terrorizes, gang rapes, beats, and kills for his amusement, his adoration of Beethoven's music is the one light in his dark mind. He even feels a glimmer of identification with other people who like Beethoven, which, for Little Alex, is remarkable.

Ironically, when Little Alex is being reconditioned using the Ludvico method that causes him to become physically ill at the thought of violence, Beethoven plays in the background as he is watching films of the concentration camps and other atrocities. Therefore, Little Alex ends up becoming ill at the sound of Beethoven as well as the idea of violence.

Beethoven symbolizes the humanity within Little Alex. Taking it from him while conditioning him shows how forcing people into conformity can rob them of their humanity and, therefore, dehumanize them. A parallel can be found in the novel Brave New World, of which Burgess was well aware, in which people are conditioned into a "happy" conformity but at the price of any knowledge of artists like Shakespeare or Beethoven.

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The music lyrics noted multiple times in Anthony Burgess' novel A Clockwork Orange are

And I will go back to my darling, my darling,

When you my darling are gone.

These lyrics express the idea of moving back and forth in time and an exploration of both good and evil. The lyrics, therefore, speak to the fact that one floats back and forth between the forces and pressures associated with good and bad behaviors.

Another lyric which is brought up shows the violent and aggressive attitudes of the characters in the novel.

Boy, thou uproarious shark of heaven,

Slaughter of Elysium,

Hearts on fire, aroused, enraptured,

We will tolchock you on the rot and kick

Your grabzny vonny bum.

These lyrics certainly speak to the violent and aggressive attitudes of the characters. The words evoke feelings of hatred (for the characters) and fears (for the readers and those the violence is enacted upon).

Therefore, the music depicted in the novel symbolize the inner feelings of the characters.

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