The Relation of Violence and Morality in American Psycho and a Clockwork Orange

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“I feel lethal, on the verge of frenzy. I think my mask of sanity is about to slip” Morality and violence will always be a controversial issue designed to shock and aims to make the readers question their own views and feelings on morality. The shocking and extreme nature shown by the violent and psychopathic actions, thoughts and feelings that are portrayed in both American psycho and a Clockwork orange can make readers question there own innate desires possessed by both characters. Both characters act as a caricature of men descending into violent and aggressive frenzies, not a psychological thriller but a depiction of society and its blurred views on morality- or lack of it. In both American Psycho and Clockwork orange, Burgess and Ellis use a single character to conflict with societal ideals of the society that surrounds them, this is a device used to shock the reader when reading both books Context: 1960s counter-culture Motives and explanations for the characters views and violent actions can directly relate from the societies of the time in which the books were written.

The clockwork orange was written in the 1960s which was a prominent time for the phenomenon counterculture which was an anti-establishment movement. Throughout the 1960s, teenagers and popular culture at the time provided as a concern for society, with the media ‘terrified’ of youth anarchy, deregulation and societies perception of ‘loose morals’. As the 1960s progressed, widespread social tensions also developed, concerning other issues, and tended to flow along generational lines regarding human sexuality, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and differing interpretations of the American Dream. Many key movements related to these issues were born or advanced within the counterculture of the 1960s. A lot if not all of these issues and subject matters are tackled in both American psycho and a clockwork orange. Due to the controversial issues, both books caused outrage not just nationwide but worldwide. Counter Culture also marked a new era of scientific possibility, which lead human psychiatrists into hubristic confidence in new methods for example the electric shock therapy Alex encounters in a ‘Clockwork orange’, At the time psychiatrists believed that these methods could ‘ force people to love, and behave properly’- this then would be referenced in Alex's constant pondering of the choice of morality.

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Although both American psycho and a clockwork orange contain very similar subject matters that shocked readers and critics alike, they were published 20 years apart when culture was very different. A clockwork orange was published in 1962 and American psycho was published in 1991, a completely different social climate. The 1960s as previously mentioned was the birth of counter culture ad led to major social change and revolution throughout the decades, but the 1990s was popular with subcultures and the birth of different groups and social change that hasn't been seen as clearly since. This is frequently referenced in American psycho with the clear differences between social classes and the importance the Patrick Bateman puts on social class and the worth he places on this. This could be a form of social commentary on the consumerist society in America at the time, the men in jobs such as Patrick Bateman's at the time were often thought to disregard morals for wealth and further career opportunities. This is evident in the clear reinforcement of social class throughout American psycho and reflects the economic and social climate throughout 1990s America.

In America Patrick Bateman represents the 1% of America which own 90% of America's wealth, making American psycho possibly a commentary on the social and class systems referenced in Patricks hatred of the homeless which ends up being his first target in his murderous spree- whether it be real or fictional it shows the classist aspect and the worth-or lack of- Patrick and the 1% he represents views those that they view as lower than them. Patrick Bateman, though symptomat­­­­­ic of genuine fears surrounding the emergence of capitalism in the late eighties, is by no means real; he is a literary creation, an archetype through which the author unleashes his scathing criticism of rabid consumerism. UNFINISHED Most readers of the novels tend to feel comforted by the legality of the actions in American psycho and A clockwork orange, The lack of social acceptance of these actions can comfort readers and cements the lack of morality that is conveyed in both novels, yet what is frequently ignored is the themes of power,narcissism, misogyny and violence- all frequently seen throughout mainstream society.

Although Alex’s rapes and Patricks violently sexual experiences are extreme and are caricatures of misogyny and sexism, they can still link back to popular society as shown by popular video games at the time which exploits deep feelings of violence, power and in essence a lack of morality and some scenes can often be a clear imitation of Alex and Patrick's highly controversial and repulsive actions. Misogyny is a clear and striking factor throughout both books and remains a key point of controversy for those who read the books, Patrick’s disregard for women is clear in the way he describes them with anger and as just an object to fulfill his desires. Although American psycho is sometimes seen as a form of satire and not to be taken literally, this is supported by the questionable ending that confused many readers on whether Patrick actually had carried out the gruesome murder or if it's just a figure of his imagination, The book focuses on violence and ‘bloodlust’ but with the overlying theme of men’s vanity and arrogance. Analyzing the book through a female gaze focuses on violence and the ugly underbelly of the male ego, it discusses and disputes our expectations and pivots the story from obvious plot hooks and choices. By writing from Bateman’s perspective Ellis focuses intently on the ways women are mutilated, raped, disfigured, and killed.

After a point his mayhem doesn’t shock - it bores. Ellis’s sexism is actually most apparent in scenes in which Bateman isn’t killing anyone at all. As the journalist Sady Doyle puts it, Ellis’s American Psycho “can’t be a satire of misogyny, because the author takes his own misogyny perfectly seriously, and has embedded it into the structure of the book itself.” LANGUAGE: Throughout American Psycho the language is highly sophisticated showing the arrogance and class of Patrick Bateman. His detached arrogance originally reads as an unnerving biographical style which has an unmatched level of self-absorption. This overwhelming amount of narcissism carries through to the present tense used in the narrative which therefore dramatises Patricks obsessions with his lavish and self indulgent lifestyle in which he is deliriously doomed to the repetitive nature of his lifestyle, with the sequence of high-class exclusive restaurants, clubs, only interrupted by violent outbursts and sexual encounters- which often lead to the infamous scenes of violence that the book has become famous for.

Throughout the book, Patrick's restaurant outings are never the same twice and the way he records the menu choices “Van Patten has the scallop sausage and the grilled salmon with raspberry vinegar and guacamole” not only does this show his neuroticism but the repetitive nature of his life and the encounters he shares. In a Clockwork orange Alex uses a neologism, a creation of his own language which is a mix of Russian and Cockney slang that creates a context-specific concept. The book is separated into 21 chapters, this is not an accident as 21 is the legal age of being an adult in America which symbolises human maturity - the 21st chapter refers to this and is highly significant as it includes Alex assessment of his own adolescent and draws attention to moral freedom- the freedom of Morality and someone's own conscious choice of action. The dystopian, futuristic landscape that Anthony Burgess created for his most famous novel was only made more apocalyptic by the obscure, fictional slang that Alex and his ‘droogs’ spoke. Much like George Orwell with his ‘Newspeak’ in Nineteen-Eighty Four (1949), Burgess aimed to create a timeless language to depict his dystopian future, perhaps the reason why the novel has had such longevity. The language also removes the action of the novel from a specific location, and the city it is set in could stand for anywhere from Manchester to Leningrad, London to Los Angeles.

Morality throughout literature, language and time is a question of choice, with morality being linked back to biblical times in parables such as the good Samaritan. Morality is seen as a choice links morality to responsibility, “is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?” In a Clockwork orange, the lines of morality are challenged and redefined by a new perspective. This idea is repeated throughout a clockwork orange with Alex questioning good and our choice in it, “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?”. This idea not only examines the cynical nature of society and its values but exaggerates and draws attention to societies overall lack of choice but also gives us an insight of Alex’s brain and therefore the brain of someone with no clear conscience or defined view of morality and good or evil- an abnormality. Through both a Clockwork Orange and American Psycho, the evil and lack of morality is demonstrated as an uncontrollable urge, just as Patrick satisfies his appetites for his luxury lifestyle he must satisfy his appetite for violence and murder.

The violence and evil is part of both Alex and Patrick in both novels which portrays it as a disease, shown in the quote ““I have all the characteristics of a human being: flesh, blood, skin, hair; but not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed and disgust. Something horrible is happening inside of me and I don't know why. My nightly bloodlust has overflown into my days” A question throughout a clockwork orange is: is moral depravity better than forced morality? Where does immorality figure in all of this? Throughout American Psycho, Bateman’s shockingly violent outbursts somehow become more normalised and as readers we become numb to the brutal attacks upon sex workers, women and homeless men, yet it's his conventionally ‘normal’ and monotonous behaviour that Ellis demonstrates in encounters in which he discusses popular culture, such as Whitney Houston and Phil Collins, This dates the novel but keeps it as a ‘naturalistic’ style novel, a style supposed to reflect how things are, in a biographic style of Patrick’s life. 'Whitney Houston is one of the warmest and most complex and altogether satisfying rhythm-and-blues records.' by commenting on Popular culture it reminds us of the setting of the novel but emphasises Patricks human side.

While Alex in a Clockwork Orange is regarded as an anti-social outcast and minority, Patrick is seen to be at the ‘peak’ of his life - he is successful, good looking and features all the characteristics of a man who achieved the American ideal in the 1990s. In Patricks own words “society can’t afford to lose me, I’m an asset” this highlights how conforming Patrick is in his daily life, his violent nightlife is the only exception to society's expectations, Patrick to the common eye would be the epitome of social desirability and a representative of the consumerist society he lives ins ideals. By having a morally corrupt and blatantly evil man as the peak of social desirability, Ellis is using irony to express his views on the state of the society he lives in and what it can become. While Patrick is extremely socially desirable, Alex is the complete opposite and represents what society feared that counter culture would make their society become. While Patrick's desirability comes from money, power and status, Alex’s representation of societies outcast shows his lack of interest in materialism, The motivations of Alex and Patrick are so completely different due to societies at the time.

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The Relation of Violence and Morality in American Psycho and a Clockwork Orange. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
“The Relation of Violence and Morality in American Psycho and a Clockwork Orange.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022,
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