It was through fear and subtle conditioning that they won their power, and it was at the height of their power that the societies they had oppressed rebelled. Just as Edmund Burke says “the greater the power the more dangerous the abuse”, it was their abuse of power that led to their demise. This idea of how achieving complete power over society and the individuals therein through conditioning cannot last forever, and will inevitable lead to a rebellion and retaliation is explored by the novels 1984 by George Orwell and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, as well Jonathan Demme’s film The Manchurian Candidate.
Both A Clockwork Orange and The Manchurian Candidate develop this theme through the use of an unlikely anti-hero (who is also the spokesperson for the authority attempting to gain control), the individual struggle to maintain the most basic control (while the authority counters their every effort), and the juxtaposing symbols (that mirror how society is violating the natural order). In Burgess’ novel the protagonist, Alex, is a typical delinquent; he breaks any and all rules without any concern for the repercussions.
Naturally, the reader comes to dislike him. Unexpectedly though, Burgess makes the reader feel Pathos for Alex, as he becomes a test subject for the government’s new Ludovico Technique. In an attempt to rid the streets of teenagers like Alex, they select him – being the worst of them all – to become their spokesman of sorts. The doctors involved in his “treatment” go to extreme lengths to rid him of any qualities they have deemed unacceptable in a perfect society.
The beginnings of their treatment seems to mimic the basis of Skinner’s operant conditioning, although they take things many steps farther than he could, “Skinner employed punishment in one early experiment and was so disturbed that he never used it again”, whereas the doctors in A Clockwork Orange do anything they feel necessary (Freedman). The doctors turn his every action against him, and cause him seemingly endless mental anguish, eventually conditioning him to conform to essentially anything they decide. The plan of the government backfires as soon as they release him.
Once society has seen what the government has done, they vehemently reject the idea. After this, society’s view of Alex changes drastically; he switches from a fearsome troublemaker to a fragile victim: “Another victim…A victim of the modern age” (Burgess 113). This idea of society and the individuals therein rejecting the controversial plans of their government is also prevalent in the film The Manchurian Candidate. In an attempt to gain all the governmental power, Sergeant Raymond Prentiss Shaw has his mind controlled by high authorities.
Due to his own ideology, without being under anyone’s control, Sergeant Shaw would be an ideal presidential candidate, but he would be an independent one, “I believe in freedom…”(The Manchurian Candidate). The people of power in the film believe that in order to achieve a perfect utopia, they must govern everything. When presented with the idea that his thoughts may not be his own, Sergeant Shaw is in disbelief, and thus begins the viewer’s idea of him as a protagonist. Similarly to Alex in A Clockwork Orange he begins an internal struggle to overcome the conditioning and mind control that has been imposed on him.
At the end of the film, he successfully overpowers the control that was being held over him, and rebels against it. It is his rebellion that causes the entire plan to fail, thus making him a victimised anti-hero in the same sense as Alex. Contrastingly to both Alex and Sergeant Shaw, the protagonist in Orwell’s 1984 does not become a hero at all. While he does struggle to gain power and the most basic control over his life, Winston does not succeed. Rather than being the force to overthrow the corrupt and suppressive society in which he ives, he becomes yet another powerless victim. In this sense, he mirrors both Alex and Sergeant Shaw; they are all powerless against their oppressors. The key flaw in the strategies of the government in both A Clockwork Orange and The Manchurian Candidate is that they explicitly tried to condition their subjects using physical and intimidation processes. The reason that Big Brother in 1984 was so successful in oppressing nearly everyone is that they did their controlling more implicitly through “reality control”, and by coercing the citizens to condition themselves.
They began using a Hitler-like control method – turning everyone against each other to guarantee that no one will help anyone. The society in 1984 is a mob mentality; everyone is so caught up in the moment that they do not dare counter the group, “Of course he chanted with the rest [during the two minutes hate]: it was impossible to do otherwise… to do what everyone else was doing, was an instinctive reaction” (Orwell 19). It is through the events that victimised him that Sergeant Raymond Shaw begins to understand his own thoughts and his unclear past.
Once he begins to question specific aspects of his life – such as the events that occurred while he was at war – he is able to discover what is really going on. In order for him to be controlled, a specific line must be recited. When Sergeant Shaw is aware of how his mind is being controlled, he is able to attempt to fight it. This is depicting his mental struggle to maintain control over himself. At one point, Rosie, a woman affiliated with Sergeant Shaw’s platoon-mate says “Maybe I was feeling fragile at the time” (The Manchurian Candidate).
This line encapsulates the underlying theme throughout the entire movie – the fragility of the human psyche, especially when one is out of control of themselves. It is Sergeant Shaw’s battle to overcome this fragility that leads to his eventual rebellion. This fragility is mimicked by Alex in Burgess’ novel, through Alex’s reaction his life and his struggle to maintain his personality while undergoing the Ludovico Treatment. Alex views himself as a leader, and therefore he must conserve that powerful role in his gang to continue to have his sense of self.
When that power is threatened by George, Alex’s preservation instinct is triggered and he physically fights to regain the order that had previously been established; “Now we’re back to where we were, yes? ” (Burgess 42). This struggle to cope with a change of power is also seen during his stay in the Ludovico Treatment center when he realizes he has been conditioned, “‘You are being made sane, you are being made healthy’ ‘That I will not have…nor can I understand at all’” (Burgess 81). When all power has been taken by the higher authority, Alex has been “turned into something other than a human being” (Burgess 115).
This sense of dehumanising a person coincides with the theme of countering the natural order to gain ultimate power shown through the symbols used in Burgess’ novel. One of the key symbols is that of the clockwork orange. Creating a clockwork orange is to completely destroy all that is natural about it, thus ruining it, in an effort to create something controllable and mechanised. Bruce Olsen states in his analysis of the novel that “a clockwork orange applies to the conditioned Alex as well: Though he appears natural from the outside, he is thoroughly unnatural within”.
This statement becomes a theme in both the novel and the movie The Manchurian Candidate. Another symbol is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony which is a peaceful song, and for Alex, the only way to feel appropriate emotions. During the Ludovico Treatment, the song is used against him in order to condition him – again, taking something beloved and natural and making it evil, “Using Ludwig like that... and I was really sick” (Burgess 85). Another reoccurring symbol is that of water. Water is typically associated with renewal and life, which is how it is portrayed in Burgess’ novel.
Alex imagines his body “being like emptied of as it might be dirty water and then filled up again with clean”, symbolizing his new start after his rebellion against his oppressors (Burgess 127). Another piece of literature in which water is used to wash away sins and aid in the renewal process is Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. The main instance in which the symbol of water is used for cleansing the spiritual body is when Lady Macbeth is attempting to wash the blood from her hands in her sleep. Like Alex, she realizes it makes her impure and yearns for an opportunity to remove it from her body and mind.
Water is also a prevalent symbol in The Manchurian Candidate. Unlike in A Clockwork Orange the water in the film is juxtaposing its typical meaning. In the film, Sergeant Shaw kills his competitor in the lake. Clearly, murder is unnatural and for Sergeant Shaw, as is the case for most people, it is unthinkable. Unthinkable that is, until the authority controlling him tells him otherwise. This illustrates the complete control held over him by whoever is dictating his actions, leaving him with “no power of choice any longer” (Burgess 115).
Coinciding with the clockwork orange motif in Burgess’ novel, there is a tomato motif in Demme’s film. Likewise to an orange, a tomato is natural. In the film, it is used for testing to reconfigure genetics and implantation of memories. The government plans on taking something natural, and using it for their own awful needs in their quest for ultimate power. Finally, though it is natural to want basic control and power over oneself, violating another individual or society’s right to that same control will have dire consequences.
As seen through Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate, and Orwell’s 1984, oppression and gross abuses of power will ultimately lead to the destruction of said power and the rebellion of the oppressed. Referencing what Edmund Burke is quoted as saying above, any large amount of power will eventually cause greed and destruction. Burgess and Demme use the archetypal anti-hero, the internal conflict within that hero, and the reoccurring symbols to explore that theme of the destruction caused by misused power, whereas Orwell offers the alternative – succumbing to the power, and accepting a total loss of control.
Works Cited Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. London: Penguin Books, 1972. Print. Orwell, George. 1984. London: Penguin Books, 1987. Print. Demme, Jonathan, dir. The Manchurian Candidate. 2004. Paramount Pictures. DVD-ROM. Olsen, Bruce. "A Clockwork Orange. " Masterplots, Fourth Edition (2010). Journal. Freedman, David H. "The Perfected Self. " Atlantic Monthly June 2012: 42-52. Literary Reference Center. Web. 9 Jan. 2013. .