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Music, Violence, and Identity in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange Essays

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Music, Violence, and Identity in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange


Linking the fundamental conflict between individual identity and societal identity with musical imagery in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange creates a lens through which one can recognize the tendency that violence has to destroy an individual’s identity. Although Alex clearly associates violence with his own individual identity and sense of self, he consistently reveals the impossibility of remaining an individual in the face of group-oriented violence. Images drawn from the realm of music parallel the destruction of Alex’s identity, either through conformity to a group’s style of violence or through failure to embrace the homogeneity of group actions associated with violence. As Alex’s narrative progresses, musical imagery follows the decline and re-emergence of his personal identity as a function of his involvement in violence. Musical references underscore the power of violence to negate individual identity in favor of group identity, thereby illuminating the destructive effect that violence as on the human personality.

One musical image, the "ode to Joy" from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, illustrates the manner in which violence steals the identity of an individual and replaces it with a group identity. As Alex puts on the last movement of Beethoven’s symphony, he "feels the old tigers leap in [him]" (46),1 and he forces himself on the two young girls he has brought with him to his den. The rape of these two girls by Alex appears to constitute an individual act of the self, and indeed the vocal section in the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony begins with an individual voice, without any accompaniment. Alex offers this explanation: ...


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...ty of the group. Group violence in prison leads to a dream in which Alex literally becomes an instrument of the orchestra, a material object without individual character or identity. In the final chapter however Alex departs (at least temporarily) from a violent way of life. The Lieder, or the personalized sound of a single human voice, invoked in connection with Alex’s departure from violence, announces the return of individual identity. In helping to clarify the role that violence plays in the destruction of individual identity, musical references in Burgess’ work reveal the annihilation of self as the ultimate end of violence.


Works Cited

1. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1986).

2. Ludwig Van Beethoven, "Libretto," Symphony #9, Arturo Toscanini dir., Louis Untermeyer trans., NBC Symphony Orchestra, BGM 1990.


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