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

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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
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But the development of Beethoven’s symphony soon puts a different interpretation on what appears, at first glance, to be Alex’s individual act of violence. After the solo bass intones an introduction, soloists and then a full chorus and orchestra join the soloist, unified in singing the same poem. What initially seems like an individual remaining separate from a group does not remain so for very long. As other soloists join the solo bass, the singers declare that "Men throughout the world are brothers/ In the haven of thy [joy’s] wings."2 If Alex truly does believe his violent act to be joyful, then the joy of violence blinds men throughout the world in a brotherhood. The image of the "tigers" (plural) leaping up inside Alex, also representing the group character of his act, reinforces the binding nature of violence. Alex’s supposedly individual act gets absorbed into a universal brotherhood.

The nature of the orchestral music chosen to accompany particular stages of Alex’s narrative further underlines the process by which violence causes the diminishment of individual identity, by compelling obedience to a group. When Alex "fancies this new violin concerto by the American Geoffrey Plautus" (32), he envisions "vecks and ptitsas, both young and starry, lying on the ground screaming for mercy, and I was smecking all over my rot and grinding my boot in their listos" (33). Although a violin concerto might suggest

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