The title of the novel is an allusion to its central ethical dilemma. The phrase “A Clockwork Orange” appears within the book as the name of F. Alexander’s polemic against Reclamation Treatment, the state-sponsored aversion therapy that Alex undergoes. Reclamation Treatment renders criminals unable to think about violence without experiencing extreme pain themselves, thus removing a significant amount of their free will. In this way, the treatment turns individuals into “clockwork oranges”—nadsat speak for “clockwork men.” The prison chaplain is particularly attuned to the moral quandary inherent in this treatment: “What does God want?” he muses, worried of the consequences of Alex’s therapy. “Does God want woodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?”
The complexity of this problem is best illustrated by the predicament of the activist F. Alexander, who attempts to use Alex as the poster child of his campaign against Reclamation Therapy. On one hand, F. Alexander is morally opposed to stripping criminals of free will. However, the activist later recognizes Alex as the perpetrator of the brutal, lethal rape of his wife—a devastating tragedy that he feels the overwhelming need to avenge. For F. Alexander to maintain his ethical stance, he would need to advocate for restoring Alex’s ability to commit further, equally heinous crimes. This position is, unsurprisingly, impossible for the activist to support, and he is locked away after making threats on Alex’s life. Readers are left to resolve the question on their own: is it just to reintroduce a criminal to society by removing the free will that impelled him to act abhorrently? Or is it more moral to lock him in prison, while he remains unrepentantly and ineradicably sadistic—but mentally unfettered?
Free Will vs. the “Clockwork Orange” ThemeTracker
Free Will vs. the “Clockwork Orange” Quotes in A Clockwork Orange
Himself has grave doubts about it. I must confess I share those doubts. The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.
Common criminals like this unsavoury crowd…can best be dealt with on a purely curative basis. Kill the criminal reflex, that’s all. Full implementation in a year’s time. Punishment means nothing to them, you can see that. They enjoy their so-called punishment. They start murdering each other.
It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. And when I say that to you I realize how self-contradictory that sounds. I know I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want woodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him…You are passing now to a region where you will be beyond the reach of the power of prayer. A terrible terrible thing to consider. And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprive of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good.
Stop, you grahzny disgusting sods. It’s a sin, that’s what it is, a filthy unforgivable sin, you bratchnies!... Using Ludwig van like that. He did no harm to anyone. Beethoven just wrote music.
And what, brothers, I had to escape into sleep from then was the horrible and wrong feeling that it was better to get the hit than give it. If that veck had stayed I might even have like presented the other cheek.
He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.
He will be your true Christian…ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly.
You’ve sinned, I suppose, but your punishment has been out of all proportion. They have turned you into something other than a human being. You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable only of good. And I see that clearly—that business about the marginal conditionings. Music and the sexual act, literature and art, all must be a source now not of pleasure but of pain.
When I woke up I could hear slooshy music coming out of the wall, real gromky, and it was that that had dragged me out of my bit of like sleep. It was a symphony that I knew real horrorshow but had not slooshied for many a year, namely the Symphony Number Three of the Danish veck Otto Skadelig, a very gromky and violent piece, especially in the first movement, which was what was playing now. I slooshied for two seconds in like interest and joy, but then it all came over me, the start of the pain and the sickness, and I began to groan deep down in my keeshkas. And then there I was, me who had loved music so much, crawling off the bed and going oh oh oh to myself and then bang bang banging on the wall creching: “Stop, stop it, turn it off!”
Oh it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.