Imagine a 1 5-year-old child, living on the streets alone, without the control of his own personal freedom or body. If attacked, there is no way for him to defend himself, no route to take but to run away from the situation in hopes of outrunning his opponents. This is the case displayed by the central character Alex, an embodiment of governmental control and power surviving in an environment of political and social turmoil, in A Clockwork Orange. Alex, a self-imposed gang leader, experiences the
Ludicrous technique firsthand, a governmental experiment that effectively erases the moral choice that he had once possessed. Afterwards, he is left in a state of aftershock, terrified by the image of a single switchblade, and left begging for mercy at the hands of the oppressor, the State. Through this process, Alex acts as an image on behalf of government as a criminal cured through a controlled miracle in the public realm. He conceals his own private, self only to reveal to the public the tool that he has become for the government.
This story is later replayed by political strident, who replace his government persona with their own persona, never unmasking Ale’s true image. The political masks played out by Alex were out of his own personal control, but were instead manipulated by the hands of those trying to appease their own personal desires. Only after Alex is cured from the Ludicrous technique does he regain the option to display his former self once again in public, having never truly let go of his previous, aggressive demeanor.
The several facades that Alex displayed can be understood through Wendy Denier’s article “Many masks, many selves,” which focuses on the multiple identities f each individual. Downier explains how “the people who actively and knowingly accumulate all their former selves, who don’t kill off their past selves, believe that all their selves are them, even though all selves are not created equal” (Downier 69). On the outside, the character that one plays in real life is the character that one arbitrarily chooses.
In actuality, however, the character may have accumulated several different identities throughout their past, and any moment could choose to switch to a former identity if their current one is to their displeasure. This choice revises the ability for an individual to choose the path that they most desire, or in Denier’s words’, “the freedom one feels to choose to don masks and delve into past selves” is the one that we place upon ourselves in a certain situational environment (Downier 69).
Due to this ability of choice, one has the power to stabilize and increase their personal wants while at the same time, utilize the option of trying out something that could benefit or possibly damage their current self. Throughout the novel, Alex switches between several identities, never truly letting go of one identity but instead stacking them on top of one another until the very end of the story. At the base to this identity structure is the identity a sees rated out with, a 1 5-year-old gang member.
After acquiring the identities of the government and the political dissidents, Alex returns to the identity of a gang member until he realizes that he must let go of his “youth” and attain the position of a man (Burgess 211). Throughout these alterations, Alex is never truly unmasked, but instead “glimpses the reality in the mask” (Downier 71). Though Alex was forced to take on the personae of he government and political dissidents, Alex continuously wears the mask of a gang member, effectively viewing the mask placed upon him through his own personal eyes.
This is apparent in the fact that Alex returns to his old self after the controlled chaos in his life dies down. His first step toward a true self-imposed change was when he decided to leave his youth behind, again forming the second mask the he himself, felt happiest in and loved the most. The mask that Alex preferred during his underdog years, however, was not the mask that was placed upon him as he was threw across the media for various sub-grouped target audiences.
Alex did not receive any personal gain since he was used solely as a tool for his oppressor’s individual wants. Ale’s own personal mask was displayed at the beginning of the story, a child who roamed the streets with his gang and committed random acts of ultra-violence. Only after the scene shifts to Alex in prison do the various groups revolving around the control of his personal image appear: the state government that mainly controls the city’s crime and the political dissidents who fight against a seemingly totalitarian government.
In each respective situation, Alex is portrayed as a former criminal that had been converted into a harmless human being, and also a victim of the governmental regime. Since these identities are forced onto him, the possibility that these appearances are the selves that Alex “prefer to pretend to be” are slim to none (Downier 67). Instead, Alex appears to be “gloomy and like scared,” barely recognizing his own despondent face on the cover of a government controlled newspaper (Burgess 194).
Through these newspapers, both the government and political dissidents were able to reach out to the general public. While still pleasing the target audience that Alex had been molded for, he was not able to express his own point of view, leading to mental and physical deterioration. The actions that Alex carried out in the novel were defined through how others viewed him, through the interpersonal signals of Judgment shared within a specific group of people. After Alex had experienced the Ludicrous technique, the prison performed a demonstration for others to see the effectiveness of the treatment.
Through a staged fight, the audience saw Alex suffer at the hands of the state, and assigned the identity of “the first graduate for the new State Institute for Reclamation of Criminal Types” (Burgess 194). In effect, Alex had lost the ability to decide on his own, and “ceased also to be a creature capable of moral choice” (Burgess 194). The true existence of Alex was essentially buried beneath a false existence created by the puppeteer. Downier states, however, “we exist only when someone sees us” (Downier 67). This is only true when one is able to reciprocate another’s Judgment with one’s own actions.
However, Ale’s personal mask existed only deep inside of him, while the mage that existed outside of him was an image that the government had manipulated, thus creating two separate lives, a dualistic notion on the focus of existence. Alex only existed for the ones that viewed him, not for his own self, which provides an exception to Denier’s tatterdemalion argument. During his political turmoil, Alex had become a tool, with the solitary purpose of pleasing others through his outside appearance, whether for the government or the political dissidents.
Throughout his shift from one group to another, Alex was never truly unmasked, altering automatically from one mask to another. In both groups, the government and the political dissidents, Alex was only able to appease the wishes of others, while his own personal enjoyment was nonexistent. After the Ludicrous treatment, a few newfound friends manipulated Alex into believing that he was protected from his recently traumatic experiences by attending to his crippled emotions.
However, during a near death experience that had been set up by these characters, Alex realizes that they had only befriended him “for their horrible selfish and boastful politics,” planning to make him a victim that had committed suicide wrought the after effects of governmental treatment (Burgess 189). This realization caused the political control of his mask to extinguish, with the reversal of the Ludicrous technique and the appearance of his own self-pleasure.
Alex had never let go of his primary mask as a gang member, and through the “self-conscious switching of masks” from his forced appearance to his personal appearance, Alex once became a gang member (Downier 69). The loss of self-choice for an individual can lead to the degeneration of that individual’s mental stability, especially when the ideas imposed on them are strictly against their personal beliefs. This loss of control creates a facade for their public life, covering their personal private life, the life that they wish to live the most.
Though one may still be able to fit within their specific surroundings through the choices made by others, and appease the audience that they are trying to target, their own personal happiness from appeasing others is absent. Instead, they are only acting on behalf of how society expects them to behave and act. In this extreme case, where one’s actions are completely dominated by societal Judgment, the power to choose disappears, as in the case of Alex, where at one point of his controlled state, he asks, “Me, me, me.
How about me? Where do I come into all of this? Am I like Just some animal or dog” (Burgess 141). The example of Alex provides a contradiction to Downier, who asserts that one does not have a private mask and a public mask, only a concoction of numerous identities at any point of time. Once the dehumidifying chains of control are broken however, the public mask, if preferred, is once again reinstated, returning equality to the exploited individual.