The Crucible Essay, Research Paper
A Literary Comparison Of
A Clockwork Orange and The Crucible
The existence of evil in the world is a universal question that is often contemplated. Anthony Burgess and Arthur Miller in their novels A Clockwork Orange and The Crucible address this question of evil. One of these stories is set in the future, and the other in the past confirming the belief that the human struggle between good and evil is timeless and applies to every person in society. Throughout history numerous examples of leaders have attempted to control the nature of people within their society through systems of punishment and reward. This system had failed continuously to control the entire population because people still retain their ability to choose. It is said that once a person loses his free will, he ceases to be a person. This is the struggle confronting the protagonists in both A Clockwork Orange and The Crucible. The fifteen-year old rebel Alex and the respected farmer John Proctor refuse to conform to the rules of their oppressive societies, and as a result are denied the freedom to choose between good and evil, therefore becoming less than human.
Both Alex and John Proctor live in highly oppressive societies from which they feel alienated, and therefore decide to rebel against. The futuristic setting of A Clockwork Orange is one of a constructive, depersonalized society where the government has far too much control over people s lives. They are forced to live in strictly regimented communities, and their daily life is dreary. Alex s England is a socialized nightmare. (De Vitis, 106) It is because of this meaningless life that Alex chooses to rebel against his society, committing so many brutal acts of violence that he soon becomes desensitized to the horror he is creating. When questioned by his correctional officer as to why he acts this way, Alex replies badness is of the self, the one, the you or me. They of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow badness because they cannot allow they self what I do, I do because I like to do it. (Burgess, 34) Alex fully
realizes that the controlled society he lives is one that tries to eliminate all individuality. This causes him to act out in violence against authority as a means of expressing himself and retaining his personal freedom. Similarly, the historical setting of Arthur Miller s The Crucible is one of a lifeless and highly conservative community in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts, in the late seventeenth century. The citizens of the town are narrow-minded, hardworking people who live in constant fear of sin and the Devil, and whose habitual lives revolve around the church. Salem was governed by a combine of state and religious power whose function it was to keep the community together, and to prevent ant kind of disunity that might open it to destruction by material or ideological enemies . (Moss, 38) It is this mindset, shared by the community that Proctor disagrees and rebels against when he has an affair with Abigail Williams. Proctor soon realizes his mistake and denies the affair. Abigail, however, is still in love with him and is bitter for him rejecting her as she shouts; You loved me, John Proctor, and whatever sin it is, you love me yet! (Miller, 24) John Proctor is ashamed of his adulterous sin. Were I stone I would have cracked for shame this seventh month! (Miller, 62) Although he feels remorse for his sin Proctor is unable to confess it because he knows he will suffer judgment and disapproval. Both Alex and John Proctor are different from those around them, and therefore find it difficult to live by the same rules. It is this, which prompts them to rebel against authority, and commit crimes in order to remain true to themselves in a time and place where individuality is condemned.
Since Alex or John Proctor will not allow their lives to be governed by the rules of society, they are removed from the community and denied by their authorities their right to choose between good and evil. In A Clockwork Orange, Alex is arrested and sent to a state jail. While in prison, he is selected to test out a newly designed government rehabilitation technique known as Ludovico Process . The process involves Alex being exposed to scenes of violence and simultaneously results in a drug induced feeling of pain and nausea. Never again will you
have the desire to commit acts of violence to offend the states peace. (Burgess, 76) He becomes brainwashed by the government so that the thought of violence will result in agony and pain.
When he is released back into society he is no longer a freethinking individual. Before the brainwashing Alex has chosen, consciously as he thought, the evil action. By means of the Ludovico processing, Alex is denied the choice itself. (DeVitis, 108) When Alex is set free, he force to live by the rules that he despises. The government is condemning Alex to a life of confinement where his decisions are made for him, making him no longer an individual. Likewise in The Crucible John Proctor is placed in a situation where he is falsely accused of witchcraft, arrested, and put on trial before a merciless town judge. Although he denies having anything to do with the devil, he is given the choice between confessing to the crime or being hanged. Once accused, John must choose what the town has deemed to be goodness , that is, admitting to a crime that he is not guilty, or face death. Proctor wants to live, but does not want to see his false, signed confession on the church door. I have confessed myself! Is there no good penitence but it be public? God does not need my name nailed upon the church. (Miller, 142) Proctor is unable to lie to himself, and chooses death since it is the only option left for him to keep his integrity. As he is about to die he says to his wife, Would you give them such a lie? You would not. It is evil for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor. (Miller, 138) Proctor, knowing he has done nothing wrong, refuses to let his right to choose between right and wrong be taken away, and as a result must choose death to remain true to himself. Alex and John proctor are given no choice but to be good as defined by the government, and because they do not act in the way society wishes, they are denied their free will.
By taking away Alex and John s liberty to choose between right and wrong, the government strips them of their freedom of thought and action, which is essential to all people, thus making them less then human. When Alex is released form prison is incapable of
committing a crime, and posses no threat to society. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence or offend in any way against the states peace. (Burgess, 76) To his dismay, Alex realizes that things he took pleasure in before, such as music and art, are now a source of pain to him. (Burgess, 180) Thus, he is forced to live in innocence, without the ability to choose for himself, and it is this weakness which separates him form humanity. Alex has essentially become a clockwork man himself, as he is now an empty person who must experience life without being able to enjoy it. Before Alex underwent the process, he is warned by the prison chaplain of the negative effects of such a process: the question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man. (Burgess, 67) Alex takes no notice of this warning and as a result the process, and for a period of time he is unable to function as human. Realizing the rest of his life will be a mechanical existence; Alex attempts to commit suicide. He awakes after throwing himself from a window to discover that he is once again able to make his own choices. At the end of The Crucible Proctor is faced with the same situation. Unable to choose what he knows to be good, he is forced to sign a confession and face a life of shame. It is this that causes him to retract his confession, and chooses death. When told that he will die if he does not allow his written confession to be made public, John replies Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign and sign myself to lies! I have given you my soul; leave me my name! (Miller, 143) Proctor knows that if he sign s his name he will live a life of shame and guilt. Also, in denying him the freedom to choose what he knows to be right, he will lose his individual morality, something he knows he cannot live without. He chooses death, as being the honorable solution to this conflict since it is the only way he will be allowed to remain true to himself. Proctor realizes that life without free will is a subhuman existence and not worth living. Both Alex and john, unable to choose between right
and wrong for themselves, cease to have a normal existence, and both choose death over a life without choice. This is the only way they have of affirming their humanity.
Both Anthony Burgess and Arthur Miller believe that it is more important to remain true to oneself then to always choose good over evil. They show a person must maintain their free will in order to function properly as a human being. They prove this in their works A Clockwork Orange and The Crucible by showing the negative things which befall the protagonists when their
right to choose is taken from them. Basically, a free will is essential to every human being, and to take it away is to dehumanize an individual. The two novels function as notable warnings to those that would sacrifice their individuality to please authorities. In addition, they remind the reader that what makes a person is their ability to choose, and so it is necessary that people be allowed that choice.