Lawrence Block once said, “Dangerous thing, giving humanity the knowledge of good and evil, and the capacity to make the wrong choice more often than not.” This quote is signifying that, because man has the capability to understand good and evil, it allows for society to prepare its citizens to make more wrong choices than right. Anthony Burgess was a comic writer and he was known for using satire, especially in one of his most popular novels, A Clockwork Orange. Burgess uses the language formally known as Nadsat, which translates to “teen,” and this specific style of language is portrayed in A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess’s childhood was not the best, specifically because of his cruel stepmother and the fact that he was severely bullied in school. Around his town, Burgess was known as the “Manichee,” which means that he connected both good and evil to society. Something that had a huge impact on Burgess’s life was the Great Depression, and having grown up during this time, made him see things that most people would never see in their lifetime.
During the 20th century, when Burgess wrote, the Korean War, Cold War, and Vietnam War were all taking place, and these events are significant because it influenced the way that Burgess thought and later, impacted the style in which he wrote. Anthony Burgess is the author of A Clockwork Orange, Shakespeare: A Biography, and Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems, and A Clockwork Orange focuses on conveying the necessity of good and evil in humanity. This novel is about four teenagers who think their purpose in life is to continuously commit violent crimes all throughout the city that they live in. The main problem that Alex, the protagonist, faces is getting into trouble with the law. A Clockwork Orange explores the themes of an individual’s place in society versus their freedom of choice, and the necessity of evil in humanity. Anthony Burgess’s novels focus on regular people who end up having to decide between good or evil, and Burgess highlights the significant role that that fundamental choice of freedom has on an individual’s life, but more importantly, the effect it has on society. The importance of having the freedom to choose, the necessity of good and evil in society, and the role that an individual’s conscience plays in their own life are three topics that Anthony Burgess’s works focus on. A literary phenomenon that occurs during the 20th century is that evil seems to prevail, and cross culturally, others are trying to protest for peace. Having the liberty to decide between good and evil is foundational to humanity, and it is what every individual must choose between when making a decision.
In A Clockwork Orange, Alex, Pete, Dim, and Georgie all display the effects in which the choice of evil has on them physically, also highlighting the importance of the role that an individual’s conscience plays in their life. The four main characters in this novel are known for committing violent crimes such as rape, theft, illegal drug dealing, murder, and so much more, which gives them a bad reputation in society. The violent actions of people can have a greater negative influence on good people than one might think, and it is our responsibility as human beings to protect our society, as well as ourselves, from conforming to the evil ways that others are acting. Alex is the one droog that is affected most by his evil actions because he is tested mentally, emotionally, and physically during his time in jail. The characters in this novel were raised in a way to where they believe that being evil is normal and a way to express themselves, therefore, letting them think that it is acceptable behavior in society. Alex believes that people like to commit evil acts simply because they find pleasure in doing so, same with people who like to do good acts. In chapter four of A Clockwork Orange, Alex is having a nightmare and is awoken by the sound of his doorbell to find his behavior advisor at his front door, coming to confront him about his violent actions that he had recently committed. Alex says, “The next morning I woke up at oh eight oh oh hours, my brothers, and as I still felt shagged and fagged and fashed and bashed and my glazzies were stuck together real horror show with sleep glue, I thought I would not go to school” (Burgess, A Clockwork Orange 39). Alex constantly has to choose between good and evil in his everyday life, but he has been so conformed to the evil acts that his friends choose to do, that he does not even think twice about doing something good. Burgess divides evil into two categories, moral and nature inspired, highlighting that each are powered by someone’s surroundings and personal experiences. Burgess claims that sometimes human beings are naturally evil, and do not need any outside encouragement for their actions. A Clockwork Orange is excellent at revealing the evils of the world that we live in, and Burgess suggests through his protagonist that one can rebel by choosing evil over good. The actions of others impact everyone in society and the way that it functions, along with influencing an individual’s mental state.
In Shakespeare: A Biography, Burgess talks about the most popular plays written by Shakespeare, and highlights on how Shakespeare used his characters in his plays to show the role that good and evil has in society at the time. In addition, Burgess expresses how the mental state of Shakespeare was impacted by the things he had seen in society during the time that he was writing. Shakespeare’s plays are known for incorporating violent acts and they also portray good and evil through different elements and characters. For example, in Macbeth, Shakespeare expresses good and evil by light and darkness, as well as having some of the characters commit murder. Shakespeare shows the powerful grip that evil can have on an individual, and ultimately, he shows the consequences that it brings to society when violent actions are not stopped. In the section titled “home,” Burgess says, “The plays of Shakespeare have much to say against the evils of social ambition, but they are merely plays, entertainments for a couple of idle hours; they are not considered and sober testimonies of their author’s convictions” (Burgess, Shakespeare: A Biography 17). While Burgess is saying this, he is talking about how Shakespeare was a socially ambitious man, and that he was influenced by his family and society. Burgess uses Shakespeare’s plays to represent how social ambition can get the better of people, to where they would do anything to be accepted in society. Focusing on the word “entertainments” in the quote, Burgess is enlightening us on the fact that evil acts are simply entertainment for some people, signifying that an individual’s self-indulgence can get the best of them. The characters in Shakespeare’s plays are given the freedom to choose between good and evil, however, it depends on their conscience and reasoning if they will ultimately decide to be good or evil. Burgess uses Shakespeare’s plays to show his audience that society depends upon having both good and evil in it, evil to a certain extent, in order to function.
In Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems, the poem O Lord, O Ford, God Help Us, Also You explores the role that evil has in society and the domination it has on humanity. This poem is about new beginnings, specifically starting a new year, and conveys to the reader that it is best to leave behind everything in the past and look forward to what is ahead. The poem goes on to say how humanity has turned to the dark side and is bringing evil everywhere man goes. Burgess says, “Man’s gobbled up the soil and also hurled his poisons in the water and air, hell is a fact and no mere Sunday scare, America as Eden’s dead and gone, the devil rides, and so on and so on. Men we thought bug are now revealed as little, conniving and contriving, mean and brittle, power-hungry merely, greedier than us, vindictive, ignorant, pusillanimous, liars, vulgarians, and ugly too” (Burgess, Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems, O Lord, O Ford, God Help Us, Also You 37). This quote shows that man brings violence everywhere and that a person can try to start with a clean slate but end up going back to their old ways if they were evil before. Evil actions committed by man instantaneously have a ripple effect on society and one of society’s biggest arguments is the battle of defending an individual’s freedom to act and securing those this may harm. One universal truth that Burgess displays in A Clockwork Orange is that every person has been through circumstances where some of their past actions have come back to haunt them, making them regret what they did, big or small. Regardless of an individual’s situation, the foundational right to have the freedom to choose should always be given.
In conclusion, having the liberty to decide between good and evil is foundational to humanity, and it is what every individual must choose between when making a decision. The actions of individuals, both good and evil, create a ripple effect on society and has the powerful force to set the standard for what society accepts “appropriate” behavior to be like. Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Shakespeare: A Biography, and Revolutionary Sonnets and Other Poems excellently convey the essentiality of having a society that has both good and evil in it, in order for it to function. Without good and evil in society, humanity would never be able to understand what it means to have morals, standards, and ethics. Furthermore, the nature of good and evil in humanity effects our emotional, social, and non-verbal communication.