Comparison of a Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies

9 September 2016

Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man. ”  How do Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange and William Golding in Lord of the Flies reflect violence and social responsibility? Both Lord of the Flies, first published in 1954 and A Clockwork Orange, published eight years later, focus on the inherent human capabilities for evil as well as good.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously posits that ‘whatever is done for love always occurs beyond good and evil’ and it is clear from both novels that it is this absence of love as a driving force that prevent both Alex and Jack from moving beyond the simplistic notions of good and evil and choosing a socially responsible path that looks beyond the self.

Comparison of a Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies Essay Example

Both narratives reflect the growing concerns in British society at the time: A Clockwork Orange is scathing in its attack on the supposed values of communism, inspired by Burgess’s stay in Leningrad, and by the undercurrent of violence that filtered into Britain as a result of gang culture. Golding’s concerns seem to stem from his first-hand experience in World War II and the horrors which he encountered as a member of the Royal Navy.

The novels share a common theme: the notion of good and evil among young males. In Lord of the Flies, Golding establishes very early on a clear narrative framework in which a microcosm of society can be examined. His initial meeting in Chapter One between Ralph and Piggy is deliberately paced to allude to the ways in which power can be wielded in society. Ralph’s keenness to impose superiority over Piggy paves the way for his insistence on rules and domination among the other boys: ‘I’m chief then. His intentions may be rooted in a desire to be socially responsible and offer rational solutions, however, his ‘tribesmen’ quickly become disillusioned with the notion of peace and order which he aims to instil, and their inherent desire for ‘bad’ comes to the surface. Alternatively, Golding may be wishing to refer to the inequalities in society and the ways in which the subjugated will invariably ‘rise up’ against their oppressors. Burgess’s cast of characters are clearly children.

They speak in a clipped, often immature manner – ‘We’d better all have names…I’m Ralph’ – and their actions perhaps lack the foresight of adult experience, such as the indecisiveness and lethargy in building a shelter. Yet Golding makes it clear that the essential actions of these children are within us all. The fact that these are twelve or thirteen-year old children does not obfuscate the principle that evil is innate and that the concept of fairness, or social responsibility, is something that must be learned or imposed by government.

Again, perhaps Golding wishes to allude to the ways in which it is not always the socially responsible who wield the power and that the base and evil seen in Nazi Germany can occasionally, with staggering consequences, triumph over the rational. Whereas the boys in Lord of the Flies speak in a relatively straightforward, colloquial English, A Clockwork Orange’s most striking stylistic touch is Burgess’s use of invented, or ‘borrowed’, words with which he bestows the novella’s fifteen-year old protagonist and narrator, Alex.

This meta-language, called nadsat, is a blend of Standard English, Russian, British slang and original coinage and initially distances us from Alex until the reader is able to infer the meanings of several key terms. At the point at which we begin to comfortably translate, for example, ‘viddy’ as watch, ‘droog’ as friend or ‘horrorshow’ meaning very good (from the Russian ‘khorosho’), the reader has formed an almost subconscious intellectual bond with Alex.

His speech is full of rhythm and onomatopoeia, and so alive with melody that even Alex’s most violent and reprehensible acts are rendered, at the very least, engaging and lacking in the overt sadism one would expect from such behaviour. When Alex rapes the writer’s wife early in the narrative, Burgess writes: ‘…I ripped away at this and that and the other…and real good horrorshow groodies they were that then exhibited their pink glazzies…while I untrussed and got ready for the plunge. ’ His savagery is undeniable but it is rendered behind a facade of exuberant wordplay and elaborate euphemism.

Alex is intelligent and quick-witted but the dystopian society in which he lives offers no outlet for his potential and, therefore, he actively rejects the notion of social responsibility in favour of criminality. It is possible for the reader to be both repulsed by his actions and to be sympathetic to his lost cause. Similarly to the ‘leaders’ in Lord of the Flies, Alex is equally revered for his wilful violence but turned upon by his own tribe when they have had enough. The treatment of women in a ‘man’s world’ is disturbing in both A Clockwork Orange and Lord of the Flies and furthers the notion of a rejection of social responsibility.

The aforementioned rape in Burgess’s novella is highly stylised and the alarming abuse of girls, or ‘devotchkas’, as young as ten treated matter-of-factly: ‘…if they would not go to school they must still have their education’. However, the near-climactic passage in Golding’s work in which Jack and the boys kill the sow is almost more brutal in its portrayal and clearly works as an extended metaphor to represent the sexualised male aggression over the female. Golding is chilling in his description. The boys ‘[force] a spear still deeper’ into her flesh after the initial entrapment and ‘follow her easily by the drops vivid blood’.

Later, ‘the hunters [follow], wedded to her in lust, excited by the long chase and the dropped blood. ’ When Jack mounts the sow, he stabs ‘downward with the knife’ and ‘leans with his whole weight’. When she finally dies, ‘hot blood [spouts] over his hands and he and the other boys are ‘heavy and fulfilled upon her’. Golding explicitly emphasises through the use of the pronouns ‘her’ and ‘she’ the sex of the pig and the language clearly refers to the passionate fervour associated with not only violence but also sexual domination.

It is at this point of the novel that the boys’ ultimate rejection of social responsibility is complete. While Ralph and Piggy, the novel’s moral arbiters, look on in disgust, they are powerless in the face of the raw, masculine group mentality of the others. In Golding’s relatively neutral third-person narration, Robert ‘stabilized the thing in a phrase which was received uproariously’, the phrase in question: ‘Right up her ass! ’ Arguably, the horror of the misogyny of the scene is heightened by the exclusively male culture that has been constructed on the island.

A feminist reading may also see it as telling that the least stereotypically masculine characters in Lord of the Flies, Simon and Piggy, are killed by the other boys. Their deaths serve to represent not only the dominance of males in society but also the rejection of typically feminine characteristics – reason, diplomacy and sensitivity. Although clearly an allegory for human nature in its entirety, Lord of the Flies also represents a world without adult intervention and the tenets of social responsibility that come with maturity make way for the baser aspects of free-will.

Burgess also examines the absence, or ineffectiveness, of adult role-models in A Clockwork Orange. Alex’s parents appear largely absent in his life and their suspicions about his nocturnal habits are hardly pressed: ‘Not that I want to pry, son, but where exactly is it you go to work of evenings? ’ Burgess names Alex’s Post-Corrective Adviser P. R. Deltoid – a name of artificiality and coldness, state-sanctioned and reminiscent of the faceless anonymity of communist regimes of the time and hardly the kind of supportive counsel a disturbed teenager might need.

When Deltoid asks of Alex: ‘You’ve got a good home here, good loving parents, you’ve got not too bad of a brain. Is it some devil that crawls inside you? ’, there is no clear answer offered. This may be the question the reader wants answered too, but Burgess refuses to openly judge Alex. He is by far the most alive and charismatic character in the narrative and the reasons behind his choice to brutalise others remain ambiguous. Like Simon in Lord of the Flies, Deltoid fails to understand the rationale behind brutality.

Alex believes, just as Jack does, that it is more honourable and authentic to act on impulse than on rational, responsible thought: ‘[t]his biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? ’ Deltoid does not, or chooses not to, understand Alex and it is his falsified recommendation that leads to Alex serving a fourteen-year prison sentence. When Deltoid spits in Alex’s face during his incarceration, we actively abhor the role of the state in his downfall, despite his own inarguably abhorrent crimes.

It is, ironically, in the prison chaplain, or charlie, that Alex finds most comfort and companionship. In earlier chapters, Alex rejects the notion of religion – he calls God ‘bog’ and ridicules the word of a clergyman in the newspaper – but Burgess creates a sympathetic outlet for Alex in the form of the admittedly flawed chaplain. The chaplain finds the potential in Alex and portentously warns him about the possibility of correction: ‘The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good…Goodness comes from within…Goodness is something chosen…When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man. This perspective contrasts with the policeman’s earlier statement at the time of Alex’s arrest which appears to suggest the inevitability of a cycle of brutality: ‘Violence creates violence’, said the top millicent’. Perhaps Burgess is claiming that with more understanding guidance and compassion, Alex’s fate may not have been sealed in the way it is about to be. Alternatively Burgess, himself raised in a staunchly Catholic home, may be espousing the relative virtues of religion over those of politically motivated states.

Burgess may be saying the socially responsible doctrines of organised religion are a force for good. Biblical references also litter Lord of the Flies. In a sense, the anonymous beauty of the island reflects the untarnished Garden of Eden. If Piggy and Ralph make an unusual Adam and Eve, they do symbolically represent a new start and the hope of a new life. When the plane crashes we are led to believe that it is during wartime and the children might therefore be the planting of new seeds while the adult word implodes.

The opening to the novel is written with descriptions of ‘shores fledged with palm trees’ and ‘high ledges of pink granite’, utopian visions that share something in common with life before human intervention. Simon’s depiction mirrors that of Jesus – he takes himself away to the glade in the forest to meditate and he arrives at a number of truths the other boys are unable, or oblivious, to see. Simon’s conversation with the Lord of the Flies also parallels the confrontation between Jesus and the devil during Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, as told in the Christian Gospels.

Simon is eventually sacrificed for his beliefs and his unwillingness to adopt the lifestyle of the savages. While Burgess is more direct in his depiction and discussion of religious ideologies, Golding clearly alludes to the stories of Christianity. However, his disturbing portrayal of the killing of the sow, which may be a link to the ritual of religious slaughter, suggests a more judgmental view on organised religion. The endings of both novels suggest a clear sense of closure in their respective narratives.

Golding employs deus ex machina to return the remaining boys to reality. It is a fire signal, a recurring symbol for civilisation and common sense in the novel, that alerts the officer to the island but not the one Ralph had intended to be seen but rather one set by the other boys as a way to kill him. The officer, however, does not instil a sense of relief in Ralph. Golding mocks the officer and the illusion of British patriotism: ‘I should have thought that a pack of British boys…would have been able to put up a better show than that’ and suggests that the ycle of violence will continue in the adult world just as it has always done. On the other hand, in A Clockwork Orange, Alex’s discontentment with violence after his reprogramming leads him to consider an alternative future in which he can reclaim the role in society he had once lost, albeit a homogenised and stereotypical one with a wife and a son. It is telling that in the original American publication of the novel, the final chapter was excluded, against Burgess’s wishes. Without Alex’s renouncement of violence, Burgess said, the novel would have been ‘irredeemably evil’.

It is no surprise that both Lord of the Flies and A Clockwork Orange are still relevant and widely-read today. Oppression, subjugation, sexual violence, tyranny and misogyny are still rife in the world and discontentment among people continues to lead to uprisings against corrupt or totalitarian states. Although the social responsibility of the ‘average’ person and also of the ruling class is reflected in these novels, it may not be true, after all, that ‘goodness is chosen’. Rather it is in human nature and, therefore, the way of the world that evil exists. Word count: 2245

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