In A Clockwork Orange, however, humanity has gone through a natural progression, with ideals of community cohesion replaced almost entirely by the concept of individualism. As a result of this dog-eat-dog mentality the future in Clockwork has reached the point where this culture practically breeds lawlessness.
Indeed, in Clockwork lawlessness is rife, with violent gangs of youths roaming the street at night attacking innocent people, which has resulted in a police force who seem only marginally less dangerous than the criminals they are out to capture. The jails are full to bursting and the newly elected government won the election on a platform of toughness on crime.
Anthony Burgess’ version of the future was inspired mainly by a tragic incident which occurred to him and his wife. During World War II his pregnant wife was attacked by four American soldiers and subsequently miscarried. Had his child been born it would have been 21, and so legally an adult, on the year of the books publication. Burgess also felt that the attack resulted in his wife’s poor health and early death, in the same way F. Alexander (Who can be seen as Burgess’ fictitious representation of himself as he is also writing a book called A Clockwork Orange) sees his wife’s death as a direct result of her rape at the hands of Alex and his gang. Burgess later said the writing of the scene was a catharsis for him and “an act of charity” towards his wife’s assailants as he chose to write it from the antagonist’s perspective.
The society in Clockwork was also based on the common perception in the mid-late fifties and early sixties that the youth were become ever more unruly and violent. So Burgess imagined a future where this had been allowed to continue and had reached its extreme. He also however satirised the supposed causes of the problem. Alex asks:
“But, brothers, this 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 the cause of goodness, so why the other shop?”
It is however one of Burgess’ main intentions to study what constitutes goodness in Clockwork. From the very title to Alex’s experiences with the Ludovico Technique Burgess wants to explore the inherent nature of goodness. And what better a character to answer these questions than a sociopathic teenager living in a world where chaos rules supreme?
Both novels prominently use the actions of morally corrupt governments as central plot points. Both give façades of righteousness and desires to improve the lives of the people, however all they are both really after is power and both are willing to manipulate whoever they need to in their attempts to get it.
The portrayal of the government in both novels seems to match the portrayal of the party in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where they seek power only for their own benefits. As O’Brien puts it: “The party seeks power for its own sake ... We are interested solely in power ... pure power”. This is also an apt assesment of the governments in both novels.
The government in Clockwork seems to have legitimacy. It has been elected on a mandate of reducing crime. They intend to do this through the use of conditioning to “kill the criminal instinct”. However, this plan ends up backfiring on them after Alex’s suicide attempt.
They manipulate the people through the use of propaganda. For example when Alex is in hospital they have him agree to have his photo taken with The Minister of the Inferior/Interior and to publicly support them in return for a good job. They also use the violent gangs as a form of vigilante police force to stop people being out at night. The police procedure towards the gangs is clearly half-hearted and it seems the government believes the ends justify the means.
In Riddley the government is not the same as what we conjure up when we think of a government. Their grip on power is tenuous (It’s not clear in the novel exactly how they came to acquire power in the first place) and they could be considered a literal puppet government.
The ultimate aim of the government is to be able to return to “gud tyme” by creating the 1 lyttle 1 (Gunpowder) at first and then eventually making the 1 big 1 (nuclear fusion).
The government is similar to the government in Nineteen Eighty-Four in another way, namely in Eighty-Four the government uses the technique of funnelling base emotions towards single points. The semi-mythical character of Big Brother is used as a beacon of adoration so that the people are indirectly feeling love towards the party while the character of Goldstein is used as a figure of hate and disgust so that these feelings are not harboured towards the party. This again ties into the need for the denizens of Inland to understand a past they can barely comprehend and the level of their regression based on the inane way they try to do this.
Compare this to Riddley where the government put on puppet shows for the people. They use the Eusa puppet in the same way Big Brother is used. Were it not for Eusa shows then the people would no doubt split into warring tribes. They also use the character of Mr. Clevver as a target for their hate. Again the feeling is that if they hate Mr. Clevver they won’t feel anger towards each other.
The governments in the novels are the reflections of the change in humanity as portrayed by the authors. Namely that life seems to have no higher purpose to the people in the novels, so they live life in their own selfish ways.
Both novels use a non-standard form of English. In Riddley language has devolved out of necessity. In a hunter-gatherer society there is little need to write, thus written language almost died out. However it still exists but is now phonetically spelt. This is similar to Middle English, where there were no standard spellings, but words were written phonetically. Language seems to have come full circle in Riddley.
Clockwork has the youths speak nadsat. Nadsat is a sort of rebellion by the youth against established societal norms. The irony is that they use it to be different but Dr. Branom calls it “Propaganda. Subliminal Penetration” The language stems from slavic languages and rhyming slang. Its purpose is not only to give the novel a timeless feel, but to shield the reader from the brutal violence and rape scenes featured in the novel.
Although the books are already set in the future, what if we look even further into the future? What do the authors see occurring after the ends of their stories? Is the outlook pessimistic or optimistic?
Both novels use a common technique of the dystopian novel. That is that despite all the actions on the part of the protagonist the status quo remains almost unchanged. Examples include Nineteen Eighty-Four where at the end of the novel the party are still in power and still in total control. In A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley the hedonistic pleasures of sex and drugs are still present and as is the caste system and the Savage Reservation.
In Clockwork the effect of nothing having changed is more prominent. The government is still in power and crime is still rife. Alex is still living with his parents. However Alex is not the same. He realises that what he really wants is to settle down, get married and have a family. It appears at first that the outlook for Alex and society is optimistic. However Alex notes that his son will no doubt act the same as him, being violent. He says that he won’t be able to stop this, leaving a dark cloud of never ending societal mayhem hanging over the end of the novel.
Alex’s transformation from sociopathic child to socially adapted adult gives the novel an hopeful feel overall while still leaving lingering doubts for the reader, is Alex truly free as he is now just following societal norms? This change in his character provoked criticism from some people. It was seen as “Blandly optimistic” and that Alex’s return to violence (“I was cured all right”) at the end of Chapter 20 is more befitting of the book’s overall tone.
In Riddley the outlook seems bleak. Humanity is no better off. Foraging for iron still occurs as do puppet shows (however with a different subject matter and theme). There is no government and Riddley is now a social outcast. He will be forced to forever live on the fringes of society, travelling with his puppet show from town to town. The children make a song about Riddley:
“Riddley Walkers ben to show
Riddley Walker on the go
Dont go Riddley Walkers track
Drop Johns ryding on his back”
Riddley previously mentioned that once children start singing about your actions then you are stuck on your set path, even if you manage to make the children stop singing. Riddley, however, says that he “wunt have no other track”. He is accepting of his life and now has the ability to stop people making the same mistake as before. The novel ends on a quiet note of optimism.
Both authors had very different views of what the future would be like. They however both wrote cautionary tales. Attempts to warn us of what the future could be like through speculation of eventual outcomes of different aspects of humanity. In doing so they presented us with a window to look through and information on the means to avoid such bleak fates.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. Penguin, 2000.
Hoban, Russel. Riddley Walker. Bloomsbury, 2002.
Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Penguin. 2000.
Bookrags staff. "Riddley Walker Study Guide." Bookrags. 27 Nov. 2007 <>.
Blake Morrison, Introduction, A Clockwork Orange, Penguin, 2000, p. xiv
Blake Morrison, Introduction, A Clockwork Orange, Penguin, 2000, p. xxi