Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A Clockwork Orange presents a frightening picture of the direction in which Western civilization seems to be heading. “Respectable” working-class and middle-class people live a drastically attenuated life, trapped in their decaying homes at night after “rabbiting” all day at mindless occupations. Teenagers, before their inevitable decline into a similar pattern, spend their time soaking up one-dimensional pop culture during the day as a prelude to nights of violence or easily available and officially sanctioned drug stupor. Liberalism does not help: Even well-intentioned functionaries such as P. R. Deltoid, Alex’s truant officer, can barely mask their contempt for delinquents, and as a result, they preside over but never combat the process of decay. Authoritarianism is even worse. It is effective, but at too great a price: As in Fascist Italy and Germany, the trains may run on time for a while, but too many people are in concentration camps.

All this is a familiar part of the future that modern man has already begun to endure, but Burgess’ point is not only to satirize the conditions of modern life but also to examine some of the basic and perhaps inevitable contradictions of psyche and society. The perennial problem of evil allows for no easy solution, Burgess suggests, as long as one continues to value human freedom; otherwise, evil could be curbed quite handily by a combination of behavioral engineering and governmental tyranny....

(The entire section is 534 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Free Will
A Clockwork Orange explores the ideas of good and evil by asking what it means to be human. Burgess asks and...

(The entire section is 944 words.)