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A study of the character Alex in A Clockwork Orange

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“The woman looked at the tree: the fruit would be good to eat; it was pleasing to the eye and desirable for the knowledge it could give. So she took some and ate it; she also gave some to her husband and he ate it. Then they eyes of both of them were opened . . . and the Lord God called to man and said, “What’s it going to be, eh?”

The answer is the choice of humanity: to seek after God, or to follow one’s own natural desires. To question whether God exists and is the truth is irrelevant. He is in the Bible and in the world of Alex. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, the Lord asks Burgess’ protagonist the same question Moses asked his Israelites: I have given you the ability to choose. Choose for yourself this day whom you will serve. (Joshua 24:15) Some may say that Alex’s choices were all determined by the society he lived in, but they are no more than any of the choices that we, as humans possessed of free will, make. At some point the responsibility has to lie with the person making the choice, and not in the situation. The choices that Alex makes compose his own version of the Bible’s salvation story: anarchic sinfulness of the lawless man, sanctification that changes outward actions but not the heart within, rebellion against this sanctification that leads to death, and final redemption through love. His story is the Gospel according to Alex.

“There is no one righteous; no, not one . . . All have swerved aside, all alike have become debased.” (Romans 3:12)

Alex opens the novel as the perfect Kierkegardan aesthetic man. What’s it going to be, eh? It’s going to be, for a painful while, Kierkegard’s first stage of man. The aesthetic is above all concerned with his own individual existence, and the sensory experiences he can obtain through that existence. That is Alex. After he rapes the children he says, “I lay there dirty and nagoy and fair shagged and fagged on the bed.” (46) Moreover, because the aesthetic cares only about himself, he enjoys his solitude and secrecy. Alex, of course, is this in spades. He locks himself in his room and removes himself from his family, “I gave him a straight dirty glazzy, as to say mind his own and I’d mind mine.” (49) He is supremely individualistic.Fittingly, so is everyone around him ­ the millicents, the governor, his parents ­ there is no communion in this world because they do not share any common belief or purpose. The reason is perhaps as simple as Alex says, “Badness is of the self, the one, the you or on odd knockies . . . what I do I do because I like to do.” (40) Later, when the government chooses to reform Alex, they follow this same rule, not because individualism is wrong, but like Alex and F. Alexander, they wish to create their aesthetic world where their own individualism is the only one that exists. This is why Alex hurts people, not only because he enjoys violence, but because those whom he hurts do not further his own individual purpose. Human society is his society, and once anyone stops serving that society, then he stops serving any purpose in life (23). Alex is the first modern utilitarian killer. Alone, the aesthetic sits in moral darkness.

“In the beginning . . . darkness was over the surface of the deep.” (Genesis 1:1-2)

The darkness is the realm of the aesthetic man. All of Alex’s actions take place in the dark, literally and figuratively. They travel by night then reside in the den of iniquity, the Korona Milk Bar, “there was no law yet against pridding dome of the new vesches which these used to put in the old moloko.” (1) Moreover, just as Adam and Eve hid their sin from god with fig leaves, similarly Alex and his droogs use darkness and disguise to hide from their god, the government. They do this with words as well. Not only is Nadsat a degenerative symbol of the West’s Cold War defeat, but it is an attempt by Alex to disguise his depravity. Instead of rape and assault he says the “in-and-out” and “tolchok”. Like Adam and Eve’s fig leaves, Alex’s darkness and disguise is necessary to create the beauty that he relishes.

“Now the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” (Gen. 6:2)

This beauty is what the aesthetic man searches for. Like the angels, Alex sees beauty and he takes it. When he finds a woman, he performs the old “in-and-out” on anyone he pleases. When he fights with Billyboy’s gang, their battle is like a waltz: thrust, parry, thrust, thrust, and first position again (17). When he fights with his brothers, it is art in action, a dance ­ “I counted odin, dva, tree, and went ak, ak, ak . . . . So I swished . . . and I slashed . . . up, cross, cut.” (54) Like the builders in Babel who tried to make a “tower that reaches to the heavens” (Gen 11:3), so too does Alex want beauty just for his own selfish sake. Nevertheless, it is a beauty that, while detestable, is understandable in light of the world he lives in. The government has removed all the real beauty, art, theatre, literature, from the world. Alex’s replacement is violence. It uses the same human passions, stirring the same emotions as art does. This is why Alex continually destroys books, because they compete with his grotesque definition of beauty. “Then out comes the blood, my brothers, real beautiful.” Like the beauty of Satan, under the cover of darkness, what appears to be beautiful is in fact a “horrorshow”, a show that is similar to the violent symphonies he adores. He describes his attacks as a masterpiece that he has composed and is orchestrating, with the screams of his victims as the chords, and the death of Catwoman, the crescendo. For the man who chooses to be a slave to his sin believes, the beauty is found in the darkness: “Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:18-20)

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:25)

It is because of the violence in the orchestra music that Alex chooses Ludwig Van as his god, “Music always sharpened me up, O my brothers, and made me feel like old Bog himself, ready to make with the old donner and blitzen and have vecks and ptitsas creecing away in my ha ha power.” (42). But what Ludwig Van brings forth in Alex is not complete satisfaction, but a promise of something greater, “the lovely blissful tune about Joy being a glorious spark like of heaven.” (46). The music is orgasmic and is his way of attaining bliss, but this bliss is only a spark of true ecstasy. Alex and his droogs search for through the old moloko, “Then the lights started cracking like atomics . . . . and you were just going to get introduced to old Bog or God, when it is all over. You came back to here and now whimpering sort of.” (4) In seeking the transcendent experience they do seek God, even if Alex refuses to accept that he is doing it, “You were not put on this earth just to get in touch with God.” (4) It is as Paul says, “No one seeks God.” (Rom. 3:11). He is the race of Israelites before the golden calf, exchanging God for something present, temporary, and satisfying. Alex chooses the temporary over the eternal, a choice that can be seen in his attack on HOME, an attack symbolic of the sinner’s choice to rebel against heaven. At HOME, F. Alexander, whose life sadly mirrors Burgess’, writes about man’s ability to choose God, “a man . . . capable of sweetness . . . to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God.” (21). But Alex has “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worship(s) and serve(s) created things.” (Rom. 1:25). He prefers the lie and this man’s truth serves no purpose in his life.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-6)

The truth still exists however. Both Alex and the state attack a man in an alley who sings of love, but both parties refuse to accept this light in the darkness because it interferes with their aesthetic selves. Their worlds cannot have love, because love means responsibility to others before yourself, the antagonist of the aesthetic. Therefore, the man must be stopped. However, no matter how many times they try to suppress, he sings the Song of Songs, the song of love. He sings until Alex attacks him and his blood is spilt, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood.” (John 19:33-34). He sings even imprisoned among the real sinners, “They crucified him, along with the criminals ­ one on his right, the other on his left.” (Luke 23:33) His love is analogous to God’s love in Christ, a love that in Part I, Alex is both seeking and resisting. Nevertheless, even if Alex will not choose God, He will still reveal Himself to him. The revelation is the only way to begin writing a gospel.

Once Alex is redeemed from his bondage in prison, or in Egypt, the process of sanctification begins. The treatment he is given in accordance with Old Testament law. If the Israelites do not follow God’s law then, “The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.” (Deut. 28:20). Similar destruction will happen to Alex if he does not abide by the law that has been implanted in him, the sickness will overwhelm him. Alex is forced to rise to Kierkegard’s second stage of life, the ethical man. He is a clockwork, with all of his actions for the universal good, abiding by the socially accepted moral principles. But the ethical man is still only another disguise for Alex. His ethics are still selfish so he is still the aesthetic man. As the chaplain himself says after Alex’s graduation performance, “He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement.” (126)They tell him he has made his choice and all this is a consequence of his choice (127), but as the Israelites say to Moses as they wander the desert, “If only we had died by the Lord ‘s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Alex knew no more about the choice he made than the Israelites did. They both choose to have faith in what can save them, but fail to understand what the object of their faith means. Moreover, there is a difference between the two however: while God may have control over their actions, he cannot control their thoughts. The state can, “I thought of killing a fly and felt just that tiny bit sick.” (129) God orders the Israelites to be like Him, but it is still within the realm of their lives to reject that choice, even if it means accepting the punishment. Alex’s sanctification does not allow for choice, and the only way he can choose otherwise, is through death. Fittingly, Alex’s lack of freedom to choose is only recognised by himself and the Chaplain, the only characters in the novella who believe in God. The Prison Charlie asks the inmates, “You have the birthright to be free, why would you choose this prison over freedom?” When Alex is “treated” the chaplain realises both the insincerity of the procedure, and the removal of freedom, “He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.” (126) Alex is only prisoner who desires this freedom and works hard towards the goal of obtaining it, “Sir, I have done my best, have I not . . . I’ve tried, sir, haven’t I . . . how about this new like treatment that gets you out of prison in no time at all.” (82) No one else in the prison has as much desire as Alex does to be free to pursue that transcendent joy that he has been searching for all his life. He does choose death because sanctification that changes the outward actions of a man, and not his inward motivations, is an unreliable and ultimately failing salvation. One of the reasons he kills himself is “When I desire to do good, evil is right there with me.” “Goodness is chosen” the chaplain philosophises, “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” (83) Therefore, what the doctors end up creating is a neutral man, unable to love, unable to hate, unable to do good, unable to do evil. This is precisely the man who God rejects because this man is not really His child, “You are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:16) The created man has a choice. When that choice is not exercised, then he has nothing more than lukewarm. This inhuman being that the state has created Alex into is an angel, incapable of alternative unethical action. Perhaps Lucifer was one of these inhuman beings, not having the ability to act on his evil instincts and still be a part of what he knew of as life, he chose the eternal torment of hell instead. When the chaplain wonders whether God would have preferred goodness over the choice, but his answer lies in the Garden of Eden. If God did not want us to have a choice, then there would have been no tree. Like Lucifer and the first humans, the ability to choose is greater than enforced paradise. As Alex sails to the ground in his suicide attempts, this is what he realises. best seen in Alex when, at the end of the second part, the punishment for not abiding by the path of good is taken away and he reverts to his natural state. Before this can happen, Alex is redeemed, literally redeemed, freed from state bondage. The problem is that neither his first redeemer, the government, who use him as their guinea-pig, nor his second savior, F. Alexander, take any responsibility for Alex. He has to perform for his redemption. These are the mechanisms behind a clockwork that does not believe in grace. What they have robbed Alex of is something he slowly begins to realise in his redemption: love. When he returns to his parents, he cannot admit that the rejection is painful because now that he is a better person, he expects those around him to treat him in the manner. It is a form of love that he seeks, one that he did not before. Now he is dependent on the whim of others, he is forced to be a part of a community, and he realises that the only way that he can survive in that community is through love. But the law Alex is under does not require love, only obedience. In his redemption, he is not forgiven in perfect love, but instead has to pay, literally with the cats, for the wrongs he has committed. He seeks forgiveness, but in a society that does not know how to love others, no one can forgive him for what he has done. No one, of course, but perfect love. Unfortunately, Alex is not under the law of perfect love. He is under one that does seek to change the soul, but only the actions. Therefore the sins he has committed have to be paid for with his own red, red krovvy. His parents reject him, he is attacked by the elderly librarians, and he is betrayed again by his friends. And when it appears that there is hope the F. Alexander, he turns and does the same to Alex what Alex did to him. For all of these actions have at their heart, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Revenge is not the way to redemption. The love that Alex seeks is. IN LIBRARY WITH OLD MEN. When everything else has rejected him, including his first three saviors, the symphony, the state, and F. Alexander, Alex has nowhere else to turn to but this perfect love. The only thing left to save him is the unity with God, the unity of a creature possessing free will, with a being that can impose His laws on it ­ a clockwork orange. He has rejected this route before, but now his worldliness has failed him, and he turns to God or Bog and all of His Holy Angels and Saints (141). When all the salvation rejections come together, F. Alexander plays the symphony that initiates the government reaction in him, he has no other choice but to jump out of the window intending to join them. He is stopped, for two reasons. One is because it is not his free choice to be in heaven. All it is, is a lack of any other choice, and what is that but another form of the clockwork? It is precisely what the last two sections of the novel have been about, when one chooses goodness because he has no other choice, his choice is not truly good, and as with the apple in Eden, this enforced choice is again not what God desires. Further, he cannot choose God in death if he hasn’t chosen Him yet in life. Alex does not care about the rape and death of F. Alexander’s wife, the news gives him the best night of sleep he has ever had. He has not been redeemed nor asked for forgiveness. “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10) Alex does not knock, he expects the door to be opened. He still has not chosen God. HOME summarises this paradox perfectly. When Alex returns to the HOME of his former victim, the heaven he chose to rebel against, he expects to be greeted with open arms as the prodigal Christian son, the model of Christian forgiveness and love. Home is a place of peace, forgiveness, and contentment, and Alex himself confesses, that is what he is in search for right now, “I must not ket on, though, for I needed help and kindness now.” (154) However, Alex does not let on the truth, does not confess his sins or ask for redemption. He lies about his crimes, the technique, and refuses to take responsibility for his own actions. Again, without choice, he cannot achieve redemption, “If we claim we are sinless, we are self-deceived and thr truth is not in us . . . If we say we have committed no sin, we make him out to be a liar, and His word has no place in us.” (1 John 1:8-10)Nor does F. Alexander, when he discovers Alex’s truth, offer forgiveness. He is another Alex, incapable of forgiveness or redemption, another clockwork product of this dark city. Further, he is just as much the aesthetic man as the state and Alex himself asre, using Alex for his own personal Cause, first the article, then his revenge. He is as incapable of love as Alex is. HOME cannot be attained without either repentance on the sinner’s part leading to forgiveness on the host’s. Perhaps if the truth had been told, this might have been done. It is not, however, because Alex arrives HOME, yet again, in the darkness, the absence of light, the absence of truth, the absence of love. Without this love, forgiveness is impossible and the redemption is a failure.Therefore, he jumps out of the window, looking for redemption, but cannot find it without either his own free choice or without love, “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8). He falls to the ground and “had this idea of my whole plot or body being like empties of as it might be dirty water and then filled up again with clean.” (172) This is his baptism, and the government, again replacing God, resurrects him into his rebirth. They return conditional free will to him, on the condition that he supports the government in their re-election ventures. With the return if his freedom, his aesthetic self appreciating the evil in the world again, Alex signs his soul over to the devil. Both he and the government lie to each other and themselves, and God has no place in a life that lies. Therefore he is replaced in Alex’s life yet again by the violent symphony of Ludwig Van and the glorious Ninth. He has become an orange again, and as expected by all men with the freedom to choose, it almost seems inevitable that, without love, he will choose evil, “God has given them over to their vile desires, and the consequent degradation of their bodies.” (Rom 1:24) So now, what is it going to be?

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I have no love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. I may have faith enough to move mountains; but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give all I possess to the needy, I may give my body to be burnt, but if I have no love, I gain nothing from it.” (Romans 13:1-3)

After his numerous redemptions, the aesthetic Alex again sits in the Korona Milk Bar and watches everyone around him still trying to reach heaven, “All round were chellovecks well away on milk plus vellocet and synthemesc and drencrom and other veshches which take you far far far away from this wicked and real world into the land to viddy Bog And All His Holy Angels And Saints.” All he does is watch and participate in this same mindless repetitive game until he finally becomes bored and hopeless. He does not buy the old women drinks, not because he hates the, but because he has no desire to abuse them anymore in his own clever schemes. He looks around and all he sees is the same degeneration that he has lived in his entire life, with nothing here that can be considered worthy of aspiration. Mozart, he says, did not write cal. He wrote heavenly music. This is the heaven that Alex has been aspiring towards since the beginning of the novella. On of the differences between this time and the first is that it is of his own free choice that he wants it. The other one is that he chooses it in love. The irony of the government removing Alex’s chance to be with God is that, in saving Alex’s life, they have allowed him to realise his need for love and confession and forgiveness, even when he has finally obtained everything that he has ever wanted. Instead of choosing God because that was the only avenue left available to him, he now chooses God when he has all avenues available to him and he realises that the only one he wants, is love. It is through love that Alex achieves his true redemption. Like Baal did for the Israelites, the god in which he has rested his new salvation, the “bolshy orchestras (with) the violins and the trombones and kettledrums” is not enough for him and he finds himself, “slooshying more like malenky romantic songs . . . just a goloss and a piano.” There is no violence involved in his new taste in music. It is a simple love that yearns, desires, and seeks. He wants to grow old surrounded by love, “And he like gave this Georgina of his a like loving look and pressed one of her rookers between his and she gave him on these looks back, O my brothers.” (188) That inexpressible look, inexpressible even to the very loquacious Alex, is what he wants to share. He dreams of a future prospered in love, really wondering what will it be. He looks at a woman and sees her beauty, not as an object to be abused, but as a fellow human to be cherished for love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:7) Alex diagnoses his ailment correctly: “There was something happening inside me.” He recognises the existence of human love, and remembers the promise of the divine. His growth is a spiritual revival, the inward transformation of the soul through love. The love he wants to discover through God can be seen in his desire to not only have a wife, but to also share the father-son bond that he has been denied so cruelly twice before in his life, with his own father and with his surrogate father, F. Alexander. Alex wants to experience what this love could be like, and it is this desire to experience paternal love that can be translated into living in the love of the Father, Bog or God. He has reached Kierkegard’s final stage of life: the religious man where the single individual relates himself to the absolute, a private relationship with God. The only way to enter that private relationship is through redemption in love, an internal redemption, not the external force of Ludwig van or Ludovico. What the government refuses to believe is that salvation is within human power, an idea that Burgess refutes emphatically. If a murderer like Paul can be saved through love on the road to Damascus, a child like Alex can be believed to undergo the same salvation. And he does. So now what’s it going to be? It is going to be the clockwork orange. God is the one endlessly turning the orange over and over in His fists, but it is a turning which Alex freely accepts. Alex chooses to join this endless clockworking of an orange under God’s law. All the gods make you into clockwork oranges, Ludovico, Ludwig Van, F. Alexander, but the only successful one that Alex is truly redeemed through is the one who fuses the clockwork with the orange in love. Because he chooses that path instead, the path of the religious man not the aesthetic man, he experiences a second rebirth, “something I would have to get strted on, a new like chapter beginning.” (191) In his realization that this life is not the one he wants, and confessing that aloud, he achieves his redemption. He has groweth up, and has given up his youthful ways. Paul echoes this in saying, “When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I though like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” (1 Cor. 13:10-11). He is an orange because he finally chooses freely, but a clockwork because he has chosen to have his life under the dominion of someone greater than himself. An orange because love is a rebellion in this regime. A clockwork because love is a tradition as old as Adam and Eve. An orange because chooses his own redemption. And a clockwork because he chooses to abide by the laws that the redemption requires. Paul closes the book on Alex with this: Love “is the end of the law and brings righteousness for everyone who has faith.” (Rom. 10:4) This is the story of the true clockwork orange. The redemption of perfect Christian. The Gospel according to Alex.

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