Creation and Destruction in A Clockwork OrangeIn the novel A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess shows his readers a society in which pure destruction seems to reign supreme. The lead character, Alex, and most members of his generation, spend their evenings recreationally beating passersby, having small but brutal gang fights, and generally destroying both property and people. Yet these images and instances of destruction constantly interact with images of art, of things created, usually thought to be the diametric opposite of such violence. Indeed, over the course of the novel, creation and destruction become almost indistinguishable. The motivations for creation and destruction are more important to the novel than the distinctions between the two.
Alex and his three droogs, Pete, Georgie and Dim, commit many acts of violence in the first five chapters, vivid and graphic enough that even Burgess admits in his introduction that “my intention in writing the work was to titillate the nastier propensities of my readers” (Burgess ix).1 The crimes are always committed with a certain theatricality, giving Alex’s narration the tone of an artist’s pride. The “maskies” that the four wear are not only “real horrorshow disguises,” but also provide dramatic effect (153). It is ars gratia artis (art that comes purely out of a desire to create art), as Alex does not cite any motivation for his violence besides the fact that he derives pleasure from it, and these four perpetrators consider their violence art. Alex’s repetition of “O my brothers,” particularly in the more grueling scenes, gives the novel the feel of one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories,2 a creation myth. Both the manner of telling the tales and the tales themse…
… Alex eventually grows up. Violence, at the end of the novel, ceases to be his most desired form of creativity. Alex is ready to put his energies elsewhere. “At eighteen old Wolfgang Amadeus had written concertos and symphonies and operas and oratorios and all that cal, no, not cal, heavenly music” (189). The Ludovico technique that would have destroyed Alex would not have been something he could outgrow.
A Clockwork Orange blurs the lines between creation and destruction, to the point where distinctions between the two become almost irrelevant. What is important to Burgess is the motivation behind each, and the ability of characters doing either, or both, to change their ways.
1) Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1986).
2) Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1974).