Anthony Burgess in his introduction, “A Clockwork Orange Resucked” (1986), says: “It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice” (ix). In short, A Clockwork Orange is a novel about moral choice.
In the beginning, Alex, our main character, chooses to do what he does because he enjoys it. He and his merry band are more than happy to steal, destroy, and rape because it is enjoyable to them and easy. Of course, to choose to be evil is to choose to bear the consequences thereof. At the age of fifteen, Alex is sentenced to fifteen years for the murder of a woman during the commission of a robbery. He bore the consequences alone, thanks to his choice to try and cut his friends out of the fun and thus when things went bad, they left him there on his own. In fact, his friend, Dim, helps to make sure he gets caught by hitting him in the face, blinding him temporarily. So Alex’s first choice is to do wrong and for that, he is punished.
His second choice is to become a part of the Ludovico project. When Alex first asks the Prison Charles (Priest) about it, the man expresses his reservations about the project:
“The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321 (Alex). Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” (83)
Alex is not interested in what the project will do to him, all he sees is the outcome which is rather than him having to serve his full fifteen years, he can get out in just over two. Therefore, he makes the choice to take part based on that selfish reason. He enters the project to be made good, and becomes the Clockwork Orange, a false object.
The project conditions Alex to find his former activities, even the more benign activity of finding pleasure in music, horrible. He cannot think about hurting someone without being seized with severe illness. He is touted by the government as the answer to the crime problem, since he is ‘cured’ of his need to do evil. He also cannot choose anything but good, which isn’t actually a choice. Once he has been released, he falls in with those who are anti-government, looking to expose the problems with the Ludovico project. This leads to his eventual suicide attempt and the hospital stay in which he is deprogrammed.
Once he is deprogrammed, Alex returns to his previous activities by choice. So he has once again chosen the side of evil; however, is it really a choice at this point or simply the knee jerk reaction to him not having a choice previously about being good?
In truth, Alex only really makes two choices: the choice to break in and attack the old woman and his final choice to seek a new kind of life, which he does in the book’s final chapter. (The final chapter is not in the 1962 printing of the American version.) In the final chapter, Alex gives up his life of evil to seek a different life, one where he has a family. He recognizes his ‘son’ will follow in his footsteps and there is nothing he can do about it, but that does not deter him from his own decision to change. Perhaps Alex’s adventures have taught him something and, by proxy, the reader as well.
Burgess, Anthony. “A Clockwork Orange” (1986) W. W. Norton & Company, London.