Alex DeLarge: a Tragic Villain

The dystopian, ultra- violent world Burgess’ ‘A Clockwork Orange’ has created withstands his legacy as a novelist. The contextual flavours and stylised use of historical and societal concepts is beautifully embellished by Kubrick’s film adaptation of the book, whereby the upturned version of British society is brought to life in moving picture. I have found it difficult to determine whether I prefer the film or novel of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, provoking me to come to the conclusion that I have ultimately fallen in love with the story.

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The dichotomy of a charming and nonchalant protagonist, Alex DeLarge, amongst a world of corruption, violence and rape creates the feeling of discomfort and insecurity as the reader ponders as to whether they even like the persona of the book. This is further enhanced when Alex is a subject of the ‘Ludovico Technique’ after he is charged with murder. The confusion instilled in the reader presents the conflict between sympathy and justification for the torture inflicted upon Alex, therefore challenging the reader’s perception of the main character and his motives. Kubrick embodies Burgess’ sense of audience sympathy and justification through Alex’s initial self-aggrandisement to his vulnerability in the end of the film. It can be seen as an attack on youth culture through the manipulation of audience sympathy; using Alex’s youth as a justification for his violent acts and abusing his vulnerable portrayal to make the audience forget why he is being tortured in the first place. This manipulation is ultimately due to Burgess’ writing and the creation of a story where the victor becomes the victim by his own accord, and embodies the literary tragic villain.

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The use of ‘the old ultra-violence’ in a very visual, graphic sense encapsulates the reader by shocking them into the reality of this British dystopia. The gruesome descriptions of Alex and his droogs’ violent acts, and the vivid rape and torture in Kubrick’s film, forces the audience to become comfortable with it and therefore lulls them into immersing themselves in what society would be like tolerating ultra-violence. Having been written in the 1960s, I can be said that Burgess’ aim when incorporating ultra- violence was to foreshadow how society would degrade with the swinging 60s liberal revolution, enthused by his Catholic background. This is supported by the influence of London’s ‘Teddy Boys’ in the creation of Alex’s ‘droogs’, suggesting that societal violence will increase with growing liberalism. Juxtaposing the use of serious, harmful violence with the created language of ‘Nadsat’ mutes its atrocity and restores the sense of normality when one compares it to the use of Cockney in London. This also adds to Alex’s charm and makes the reader excuse his evil actions. Kubrick interprets the violence in Burgess’ novel perfectly with no censorship or sugar coating, instilling that shock and discomfort that set the atonal thrill and intrigue ‘A Clockwork Orange’ creates.

The chilling tone shadowing the events throughout the novel is ultimately inflicted by the irreconcilable identification of a villain. Although Alex’s transgression is formidable, it can be argued that he is simply fulfilling an overbearing addiction, and is in some sense a victim. Similarly, the doctors involved with the Ludovico technique are presented through Alex’s eyes as torturous and evil, but perhaps they genuinely feel like they are curing Alex or are the book’s heroes by giving him his just desserts. These question remain unanswered, which in my eyes is the beauty of Burgess’ novel and the unique affect it has.

Angel Witney

@angelxwitney