Status of law in the dystopian world of A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess's 1963 novel A Clockwork Orange: A Dystopian Society

Anthony Burgess's 1963 novel A Clockwork Orange shows the future laws that governments will enforce. As the author explains, there is evidence of a disconnected society in which citizens will have no moral since they will be ripped. Burgess exposes in the book that the government will limit the freedom of its citizens under the guise of providing security, which in reality is total control over individuals. In the society shown, drug addiction is rampant, and violence is epidemic, and as a response, the authoritarian regime imposes brutal measures of social control. hence the evidence of dystopia. In the society given by the author, ordinary citizens have fallen into a passive shock of complacency whereby they are apparently blind to the pernicious emergence of a not only rampant but also a violent youth culture. The author presents the protagonist named Alex, who is a fifteen-year-old boy seen involving himself in deviant behaviors such as leading a small gang of teenage criminals, robbing, raping women and also beating men. The government practices absolute control and exploitation of its citizens as is evident when the state inducts Alex as the guinea pig by carrying out the "Ludovico technique" on him. The law in the dystopian world of A Clockwork Orange is not only repressive and totalitarian but also inconsiderate of the humanity and free will of its citizens.

Demonstration of Argument

The state described by Burgess makes full use of authoritarian laws that impose inhumane forms of justice and punishment towards wrongdoers. Besides, the government in A Clockwork Orange systemically attempts to suppress the citizen in favor of the state or collective. A close reading of a scene in Part One of Chapter 4 proves the concept of a government that fails to consider the well-being of individuals. As articulated by Alex, the modern history represents a story of people fighting against large, restrictive state "machines" (Burgess, 2008). The author has effectively described how the government is prepared to use any means necessary to see its survival. The concept of absolute control by authoritarian governments is well elaborated in the work by Cavatorta (2012) where he argues that such dictatorial regimes require a bureaucracy as well as a set of legal norms that ought to be followed, and in the novel's case, it is the Ludovico's technique. A further close reading of Chapter 3 of Part One shows the "municipal painting" of the workers next to the flat Alex lives. According to Burgess (2008), the socialist State of A Clockwork Orange turns its citizens to "clockwork oranges" that end up working for the government without question; hence the proof of roboticism.

Evidence of Exploitation and Denial of Free Will

Also, there is evidence of exploitation of citizens that is linked with denying citizens their free will. Burgess believed that, more than anything, the freedom to choose is the most significant human feature. Similar thoughts are echoed by Ayala (2010) that the availability of moral choice acts as the sole differentiating factor between human beings and machines or lower animals. The book can be considered a perfect representation of the essence of free will particularly when Alex asserts his by deciding to follow a course of being wicked, only to be denied his self-determination by the State. Despite Alex having all the wickedness such as rape, violence and theft, the author still makes him the hero of the novel (Burgess, 2008). In this way, Burgess sets out to argue the fact that humanity is and must be committed, at all costs, to allowing people to make their own moral decisions, regardless of whether the freedom leads to depravity such as that exhibited by Alex (Fukuyama, 2006). Alex is reduced to a thing when the State removes his power to choose after making him go through the "Ludovico technique." There is the need to note that the legitimacy of a human being as a moral individual is best assessed on the notion that evil and good exist as separate entities, and in equal and valid choices (Arneson, 1998). Therefore, in the absence of evil as a valid option, the option of being good is reduced to an empty and meaningless aspect. The dystopian law is evident in this regard since the government apparently practices strict rules that are seemingly inhumane (Linz, 2000).

Neglectful Parents and Deviant Behavior

The next demonstration of the argument pertains to the theme of parents neglecting their parenting duties. The novel is primarily based on the topic of deviant behaviors of adolescents who, other than the idea of free, can be highly attributed to parents neglecting their children. As one closely reads the scene in the middle of Chapter 4, Alex is seen reading a newspaper article that is titled "Modern Youth" that is founded on the failure of parents to instill discipline and moral values on their children (Burgess, 2008). When parents in any society abscond their duties of parenting, there is a resultant rowdiness and lack of morals among their children.

As further explained by Carlson (2012), among the areas that have affected the adolescents in the novel include the family and home life, peers and also the community they live in. However, it is pertinent to note that some adolescents chose the path of wickedness as opposed to it being a product of absentee parents. The scene describes Alex's shenanigans and how he believes that he does evil since "he likes it". According to the secondary source Behavior Modification: A Classroom Clockwork Orange? by Heller and Kiraly (1974), the novel is a real portrayal of a detached and uncaring society where members view violence as the only way to express their existence. The analysis of Burgess's novel by Heller and Kiraly (1974) suits my argument in that it greatly considers the reasons as to why Alex is committing the immoral and horrendous acts.

Inhumane Treatment of Dissidents

The other argument pertains to the theme of inhumane treatment of dissidents in the society by the government. A close reading of different scenes in Part Two of the novel helps in the understanding of the "Ludovico technique" that is intended to be used on inmates by the State. The technique is an innovative form of therapy that, according to prison officials, "cures" wrongdoers and in so doing, it reduces the number of violent individuals in the society. The State in Burgess's novel is absolutely authoritarian in that it has the mandate to carry out the brainwashing technique on individuals without their consent. Even though Ludovico therapy has numerous side effects, they do not bother the State since it considers Alex's successful treatment as a gain for law and order; hence the plan to use it on a large scale (Burgess, 2008).

The issue of government disregard for the well-being of its citizens is evident when Alex is made to go through the inhumane treatment. When Alex is released after serving two years in prison, he is a harmless individual who cannot commit vicious acts, but the downside is that he is defenseless as well, which causes his earlier victims to revenge on him. While still in prison, the chaplain expresses clear objection towards the Ludovico technique with the claim that if a man cannot choose, then he ceases to be a man. The novel by Burgess supports the concept of morality as a product of choice and being determined, with the argument that positive behavior is of no use if an individual is incapable of actively choosing goodness.

"Eye for an Eye" Logic

There is also the argument of the applicability of the theme of "eye for an eye" logic throughout the novel. The government, through the prisoner Governor, believes that criminals should be punished in equal measures as they wrong their victims. According to the prison governor, an eye-for-an-eye form of punishment should be implemented as Ludovico's technique releases the prisoners to the community too easily. In his stand, the State reserves the right to take revenge on youths who are considered violent. As stated by the governor, "an eye for an eye, I say. If someone hits you, you hit back...why then not the State, very severely hit by you brutal hooligans, not hit back also" (Burgess, 2008)? Nonetheless, the perspective of the prison governor is controversial as explained by Wortley (2002) that maintaining ethical standards when handling prisoners is paramount and should be fully considered.

There is the need to understand that even though the style is unofficial, to some extent, it characterizes the form of justice that Alex is experiencing. The type of punishment is applicable in countries with Sharia law but remains illegal in democratic nations as explained by Lewis (2012). Such kind of punishment is a complete violation of the rule of law as well as prisoners' right to protection from torture as it could lead to dire consequences, such as the brainwashing of individuals before releasing them from incarceration.


Arneson, R. J. (1998). What if anything, renders all humans morally equal? In D. Jamieson, Singer and His Critics (pp. 1-19). Oxford: Blackwell.

Ayala, F. (2010). The difference of being human: Morality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (2), 9015-9022.

Burgess, A. (2008). A Clockwork Orange. London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.

Carlson, A. (2012). How Parents Influence Deviant Behavior among Adolescents: An Analysis of their Family Life, their Community, and their Peers. Perspectives (University of New Hampshire), 42-51.

Cavatorta, F. (2012). Civil Society Activism under Authoritarian Rule: A Comparative Perspective. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Fukuyama, F. (2006). End of History and the Last Man. New York City: Simon and Schuster.

Heller, J., & Kiraly, J. (1974). Behavior Modification: A Classroom Clockwork Orange? The Elementary School Journal, 74, 196-202.

Lewis, D. (2012). Understanding the Authoritarian State: Neopatrimonialism in Central Asia. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 19 (1), 1-12.

Linz, J. L. (2000). Totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Wortley, R. (2002). Situational prison control: crime prevention in correctional institutions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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