The Dilemma of Whether Man is Truly Free in A Clockwork Orange by Antony Burgess and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Taken from his seminal work The Social Contract, Rousseau‘s words suggest that man is repressed by the society in which he lives. Although the book discusses the subjects of personal freedom with regards to eighteenth century politics, the question of whether man is truly free is still prominent today. This debate underpins both Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (1962) and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985} A Clockwork Orange, set in a socially dysfunctional England, and Atwood’s novel, in which the society of Gilead is founded on Christian fundamentalist principles, are both influenced by the mid-late twentieth century fears of nuclear war and terrorism, emphasising the idea of a dystopian world If ‘free will‘ is defined as “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion”, or from a Christian perspective, the God-given ability to make one‘s own choices, it can be argued that as human beings capable of rational thought, Alex and Offred only partly succumb to the wills of their states.

In context of Rousseau’s words, it may be argued that the protagonists have limited control over what they can and cannot do » their lives are pre-determined by the social structures that surround them. Whilst this could suggest that the Alex and Offred possess no will of their own, others may disagree, claiming that they still retain a degree of choice and are able to act at their “own discretion“, In Part One of A Clockwork Orange, Alex’s narrative voice illustrates, or seems to illustrate, his ability to express himself “without the constraint“ of the state The section opens with Alex asking himself: “What‘s it going to be, eh?”, which, according to Gilchrist, “emphasises the value of the ability to choose.”J At this stage in the novel, Alex can choose from two equally accessible options – to be ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’, and he seemingly has complete control of what his actions are “going to be’i Alex and his droogs then attack an elderly man, showing how he naturally chooses the latter option as a result of his violent and rebellious nature which is heightened by his young age and lack of maturity.

They take out the man’s false teeth and treat “them to the old boot-crush”, the premodifier, “old”, suggesting that Alex is accustomed to violence and emphasizing his satisfaction with humiliating others. It is rebellious youths like Alex who give Burgess’ fictional England dystopian qualities. This is accentuated by Alex’s use of Nadsat, a Russian-influenced argot adopted by his droogs and other youths, inspired by Burgess’ 1961 visit to Leningrad. There he witnessed the Stilyagi, gangs of Russian teenagers, whose clothing countered the communist realities of the time, thus providing a template for Alex’s rebellious style and contrasting Offred’s conformist attire. Furthermore, whilst Alex‘s violence is still shocking today, his character may have impacted readers more at the time the novel was published due to the growing prominence of youth culture in post-war Britain.

Nadsat is first notably used when Alex describes his evening plans: …there was no real need.,,of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood…”. The terminology is initially difficult for the reader to understand, particularly because it is unlike any known ‘youth slang’ and so remains a timeless portrayal of free thought, It could also represent Alex‘s chaotic lifestyle, which is incomprehensible to the authoritarian mindset of the state. The excessive use of fricatives and plosives in, “pretty polly to tolchock some old veck“, aurally reflects his violent character. However, the fact that Alex uses nadsot is also indicative of his intelligence and creativity due to its code-like nature, components of his personality which are fuelled by his apparent ability to think and act freely.

Nevertheless, Alex’s “ability to choose” may not be ‘valuable‘ if it has been pre—determined by the society in which he lives. Conversely in The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred‘s journal-like narrative may initially portray her inability to express herself, As with A Clockwork Orange, Atwood’s novel is split into parts, with almost every other section entitled Night – the evening is the only time when Offred is alone and can reflect on her experiences. Offred’s room is described as having, “a chair, a table, a lamp. Above, on the white ceiling, a relief ornament in the shape of a wreath“ They’ve removed anything you can tie a rope to”, The premodifier, “white”, and the verb, “removed”, signify the simplicity and apparent purity of Offred‘s new home compared to her life prior to the establishment of Gileadi.

The tripling in, “a chair, a table, a lamp“, followed by the straightforward description of what she sees could represent the state‘s suppression of her emotion and creativity, juxtaposing Alex‘s anarchism. The declarative, “they‘ve removed anything you can tie a rope to”, and the connotations of eternity symbolised by the circular “wreath”, asserts that Offred cannot think or act at her “own discretion”, as even the right to die willingly is prohibited She later states: “It‘s the choice [of escape] that terrifies met A way out, a salvation”, the short syntactical structures and the verb, “terrifies”, stressing how, not unlike Alex, she has been conditioned to associate choice with fear. Like Ludovicos Technique, Gilead relies on manipulation and punishment to control its victims, as exemplified by the display of executed traitors on the Wall.

Pettersson claims that “it is actually the values of Gilead. . .which have intruded on Offred’s way of thinking“, indicating how in some parts of the novel, Offred’s thoughts seem almost robotic and influenced by state indoctrination. However, like Alex, it sometimes appears that Offred‘s natural thoughts have not changed but that her right to act upon them has been suppressed. The active repression by the states in both novels breaks the freedom the protagonists may have been granted Suppression of free will is also portrayed through the protagonists’ admiration of culture and expression. For Alex, violence and music are synonymous, as demonstrated when he rapes two young girls whilst listening to Beethoven’s Symphony Not 9‘ The juxtaposition between the connotations of civilisation and intellect presented by Alex‘s musical preferences – “base strings” – the concrete noun, “orchestra”, and the animalistic imagery of the metaphor, “I felt the old tigers leap in me”, reveal how Alex‘s two sides merger.

Music may even fuel his savage or primitive violent behaviour – by using his will he conjoins something which separates humans from their animal counter-parts. Conversely, perhaps the most notable exploration of cultural freedom is presented through E Alexander, a political dissident brutally attacked by Alex and his gang During this event, Alex reads an extract from E Alexander‘s book, also named A Clockwork Orange: “The attempt to impose upon a man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness.,,laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen”, This portrays the novel’s central theme of free will, the term, “capable“, suggesting that humans have an equal capacity to choose ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, The metaphor, “against this I raise my sword-pen”, may symbolise F. Alexander’s political and moral resistance to ‘conditioning’ treatments and ‘political corruption‘, also reflecting Burgess‘ personal view (e,g. he opposed the ‘behavioural modification‘ of American prisoners) and perhaps demonstrating how F, Alexander is a fictional representation of the author himself.

In reference to the book‘s title, Burgess explained: “I’ve implied the junction of the organic, the lively, the sweet — in other words, life, the we and the mechanical, the cold, the disciplined.”s This, in conjunction with “laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation”, reveals Burgess’ belief that “organic” beings cannot have man-made or socially-constructed restrictions imposed on them without consequence Without choice, man becomes “a clockwork orange”, a mechanism designed to produce one desired outcomes Thus, it is cultural freedom, expressed through intellectuals like F. Alexander, which demonstrates why the state views creativity and individual will as a threat.

In contrast, in The Handmaids Tale there is an absence of cultural appreciation, accentuating the corruption of Offred’s past life, During her encounter with the Commander, Offred observes how “[he] would like [her] to play scrabble with [him]” at which she wishes to “shriek with laughteru.”.The contrast between the adverbial phrase, “absolutely rigid”, and the verb phrase, “shriek with laughter”, illustrates Offred’s awareness of how to act ‘correctly‘ according to state rules, To her, engaging in an intellectual, creative and ‘forbidden’ game of “scrabble” is unthinkable due to the dangerous situation it creates and its absurd misplacement at this point in her life. It is later revealed in the novel’s epilogue, a transcript of a symposium held in 2195 and discussing the past society of Gilead, that the man most likely to have been Offred’s Commander was executed during “one of the earliest purges” for indulging in “liberal tendencies.”

This close resemblance to Stalin’s Great Purge reveals how the totalitarian need for complete devotion is reflected in Gileadl Atwood noted: “Gilead has utopian idealism flowing through its veins…but…it depends on its true believers“, highlighting how the government restricts the masses to ‘improve‘ society, similar to Burgess’ novel in which criminals are suppressed for the same purpose. As in A Clockwork Orange when Alex’s treatment unintentionally removes his ability to enjoy classical music, Offred’s government removes her right to legally enjoy cultural freedom and entertainment. However, neither Offred nor Alex are “true believers”, and the fact that Offred chooses to play ‘scrabble‘ may suggest that she is still, like Alex, able to think independently from the state. Partly due to Burgess’ Catholic upbringing, religion is also a central theme in A Clockwork Orange, the way in which it is used and interpreted emphasising the idea of free will.

Thus, when it is restricted or corrupted, the will of the individual is often compromised. During a treatment session Alex cries out: “‘Stopl‘ I creechedt ‘Stop…lt’s a sin, that’s what it is, a filthy unforgivable sin,,,”i His repetition of the abstract noun, sin , seems at first very ironic, as he is presented as irreligious and immoral. Strangely, Alex frequently refers to ‘Bog’ (God), befriends the prison chaplain and reads sections of the Bible, suggesting that his perception of sin and virtue is partly based on Christian values (although he manipulates the chaplain to gain special favour). However, his beliefs still differ from those of the state, as exemplified when he claims: “badness is of the selfniand that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty’i This demonstrates how Alex acknowledges the existence of a higher power to justify his actions, whilst reflecting Burgess’ Catholic View that man was given free will by God in order to choose how to act.

The repetition of the noun, “self”, accentuates the belief that the outcome of Alex’s life is not pre-determined, Burgess insisted that “man was granted the gift of free willntit is not the task of the state to kill this capacity for choice,”7 His words, “man was granted the gift of free will”, support Rousseau’s View that “man was born free”, whilst the phrase “everywhere he is in chains”, could explain how Alex‘s will (“gift”) is taken from him by the state Conversely, Gilead exerts its control through religion, using Christianity as the basis for its laws. This is highlighted when one of the handmaids tells Offred: “they can hit us, there’s Scriptural precedent”, the premodifier, “Scriptural”, revealing the fundamentalist views of the state and how religious values are used to suppress individual freedom.

It also evokes feelings of elevation and holiness, convincing people that those who work in the name of God (e,g, the Aunts) have a duty to enforce Christian principles, Ferris suggests that “all religions are man-made systems intended to explain a reason for existence and a pattern for living. A thoroughly dystopian government will make it clear that the individual exists to serve the state“E However, both authors use religion as the basis for the rules of their dystopian governments – Gilead has religious laws whilst the ‘morality’ imposed on Alex is fundamentally Christian. Consequently, whilst it may be true that “the individual exists to serve the state”, “the state” itself is built on Christian values Both texts also explore the issues of resistance and rebellion, suggesting that the will of the individual does not completely succumb to the will of the state It is evident in Part Two of A Clockwork Orange, that despite the effects of Ludovico‘s.

Technique, Alex’s natural thoughts never truly change. When the effectiveness of the treatment is tested and he is presented on stage with a woman, Alex initially thinks: “I would like to have hers . ,on the floor with the old in-out real savage…”, However, “skorry as a shot came the sickness…‘0 most beautiful and beauteous of devotchkas, I throw like my heart at your feetrrrmr The juxtaposition between the violent connotations of, “the old in-out real savage”, and the hyperbolic qualities of, “0 most beautiful and beauteous of devotchkas”, reveals how Alex partly succumbs to the will of the state because he fears the induced effects of the treatment, thus forcing him to immediately change his mind-set, However, he still does not naturally think in a ‘moral’ way, implying that the state only controls him on a superficial level. Later in the novel, after realising that he is weak and can no longer defend himself due to the treatment, Alex understands that he can only rebel against its effects, as well as his vulnerability to F. Alexander 5 revenge, by committing.

He 15 exploited by pol Cumulative Word Count: 2535 to further their own resistance towards the governments The short monosyllabic structure of the phrase, “then I jumped”, in, “I shut my glazzies and felt the cold wind on my litso, then I jumped”, reveals how death is Alex’s only choice, highlighting his lack of options presented by the phrase, “what’s it going to be, eh?” in Part Three. This interrogative also appears in the final chapter, indicating how the treatment has been reversed and how Alex has potentially overpowered the state. Once again, he can choose between ‘morality’ and ‘immorality’ – he appears to be ‘free’. However, Alex then contemplates having a wife and child, realising he is no longer interested in the rebellious activities he used to indulge in due to his new-found ‘adult’ mind-set, indicated by the less frequent use of nadsat.

This reflects Burgess‘ belief that free will is used correctly in conjunction with maturity – he argues that age influences man’s awareness of morality and reason Alternatively, it may be said that this ‘resolution’ period in Alex’s life was pre-determined by the social structures around him and that his transition to adulthood was not a choice, but an anticipated effect of being ‘enchained‘ by society and the state Similarly, this chapter was omitted from the American edition of the novel and Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation, portraying a more pessimistic view of free will. From these versions, it can be concluded that Alex resists the will of the state, as he remains unchanged from his former self.  In The Handmaid’s Tale, Moira is initially the most rebellious character presented. However, her will is clearly suppressed by the state when she is punished for trying to flee Gilead.

The noun, “example”, in, “Moira lay on her bed, an example”, demonstrates how Gilead publicly punishes those who rebel or resist in order to instigate fear. According to Weiss, “Moira is Offred’s revolutionary alter egom”3 , implying that Moira represents the part of Offred’s character that has been suppressed. The term, “revolutionary“ strengthens the idea that Offed, like Alex, is only physically restricted 7 she has the potential and the will to rebelt Furthermore, when the Commander takes Offred “out”, “all he has is lipstickmsome eyeliner and mascara”, revealing how scarce luxuries such as makeup have become, as well as their sexual significance in contrast to her usual role as a modest handmaid, The listing of the concrete nouns, “lipstick”, “eyeliner”, and ”mascara”, indicates how the normalities of

Offred‘s old life were taken away from her, meaning that by using these ‘forbidden’ items she is resisting the will of the state. However, some may say that Offred is upholding the will of the Commander to satisfy his suppressed desires rather than her own, as she cannot refuse him. This suggests that even in her most rebellious moments, Offred is not acting according to her own will; her actions are still dictated by an authoritative figure. Later, Offred’s resistance is finally discovered and she is taken away.

The sense of foreboding and tension presented by the declarative phrase, “the van waits in the driveway, its double doors stand open”, could signify how Offred will be punished and has therefore been defeated 7 she could not escape her inevitable future However, the ambiguity of her fate leaves the question of whether she fully submits to the will of the state unanswered, for both contemporary readers and the audience attending the fictional symposium in the novel‘s epilogue Ultimately, Alex and Offred succumb to the desires of their governments, Albeit at different extremities, both characters experience a degree of manipulation concerning their natural thoughts – Alex fears the sickening feeling induced by Ludovico’s.

Technique, whilst Offred has been religiously indoctrinated to fear the state and the consequences of acting at her “own discretion”. It would seem that Alex’s eventual change in behaviour represents his submission to the will and expectations of the state, as he transitions into adulthood and becomes a socially acceptable individual. Likewise, Offred is taken away for her crimes, suggesting that Gilead has finally overpowered her: Some may even argue that their experiences are inevitable, as both protagonists are influenced by the environments they inhabit, Thus, as Rousseau suggests, the individual is always “in chains”, naturally forcing them to succumb to the will of the state.

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The Dilemma of Whether Man is Truly Free in A Clockwork Orange by Antony Burgess and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. (2023, Jun 29). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-dilemma-of-whether-man-is-truly-free-in-a-clockwork-orange-by-antony-burgess-and-the-handmaids-tale-by-margaret-atwood/

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