Friday, December 17, 2004

Free will essay (English)

Free Will Defines Humanity:
Examples from A Clockwork Orange and 1984

Free will is what makes us human. When the authorities repress individual free will in Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange and Orwell’s 1984, they also kill their victims’ humanity. Three of the key characteristics that define our humanity—choice , knowledge, and passion—are all rooted in free will.

In accordance with the Machiavellian philosophy that the end justifies the means, the authorities of both novels eliminate the freedom to choose crime as a way of extinguishing the crime itself—the protagonists need not wrestle with right and wrong if right is the only option. The doctor in Clockwork believes that “common criminals…can best be dealt with on a purely curative basis. Kill the criminal reflex” (ACO 92), but while the criminal “ceases to be a wrongdoer, he ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice” (ACO 126). Similarly, 1984’s Thought Police decide to employ crimestop, “the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought…[so that] a skeptical or rebellious attitude [is] killed” (1984 174). Both authorities are willing to use unorthodox and inhumane methods of fighting crime; through Clockwork’s ruthless conditioning and 1984’s indoctrination, they infiltrate minds and eliminate will, “the mental faculty by which one deliberately chooses or decides upon a course of action” (The American Heritage Dictionary)—and after all, “when a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man” (ACO 83).

Like choice, knowledge and the resulting sense of self are also integral in defining our humanity. Even in the earliest stories, mankind has been characterized by knowledge: Adam and Eve decided of their own free will to eat from the tree of knowledge, though the action was forbidden by their authority, God. Alex, the protagonist in Clockwork, is particularly threatening to the authorities not because of his crimes but because of his knowledge of himself and of the world. Alex’s self-possession does not allow for ethical uncertainly; he is sure of himself because of the knowledge that violence is a source of pleasure for him and that he can evade the authorities. Thus, as Alex explains, “the government…cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self” and “the not-self [that the authorities create] cannot have the bad” (ACO 40). Winston develops a similar sense of self when he learns of the government’s absolute tyranny and corruption; this knowledge, or thoughtcrime, leads Winston to rebel against the Party. Indeed, physical crime is not a prerequisite for punishment in Oceania; the linguist Syme is killed for his knowledge alone, though he never actively opposes the Party. O’Brien overturns Winston’s thoughts when he rebuts, “The word you are trying to think of is solipsism…you are mistaken. This is not solipsism” (1984 219). In rejecting solipsism, “the theory that the self is the only thing that can be known” (The American Heritage Dictionary), O’Brien forces Winston to consider his own lack of self, a consequence of his fecklessness. The governments of both Clockwork and 1984 view knowledge as a crime, so they “propose debilitating and will-sapping techniques…[that add to] the full apparatus of totalitarianism” (ACO 160) by killing the individual, the sense of self, the very humanity of their subjects.

Yet the most significant element of humanity is man’s ability to feel passion, without which we turn into machines devoid of criminal instincts, perhaps, but also devoid of free will. “And is not our modern history,” argues Alex, “the story of brave malenky [little] selves fighting these big machines?” (ACO 40). As a side effect of suppressing Alex’s criminal instincts, the authorities also kill his passion for classical music, the only beautiful thing that exists in his life. “The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence,” explains Dr. Brodsky apathetically, “music, for instance” (ACO 115). Tragically, a similar killing of passion occurs in 1984; O’Brien warns Winston that after his free will is destroyed, no longer will “you be capable of ordinary human feeling…Never again will you be capable of love” (1984 256). While Winston still retained his free will and thus his humanity, his love for Julia was, like Alex’s music, the truest part of his life. Yet the Party’s eradication of thoughtcrime sapped this passion from him until he betrayed his love, “and after that, you don’t feel the same toward the other person any longer” (1984 292). Both Alex and Winston are “transformed out of all recognition” (ACO 92) into passionless clockwork oranges: the authorities “impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness…laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation” (ACO 21). Without passion, these men lack the impetus for willful behavior; the authorities “have turned [each man] into something other than a human being” (ACO 156).

“By definition,” writes Anthony Burgess in the introduction to Clockwork, “a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil…[but] it is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil” (ACO ix). Both Burgess’ Alex and Orwell’s Winston are seen as criminals; the authorities feel threatened and, as a result, they gradually make the protagonists inhuman by extinguishing their choice, their knowledge, and their passion. After the characters are mechanized, they are in fact “let out again in the big free world” (ACO 94)—the very notion of a “free world” made ironic by the protagonists’ lack of free will and loss of humanity.


Post a Comment

<< Home