The Nature of Good and Evil

Anthony Burgess’s doctor once told him he had an incurable brain tumor with less than a year left to live. Wanting to support his wife financially even after he was gone, he decided to write novels, thinking the royalties would provide his wife with an income. Within the next twelve months, he wrote five novels and one of them was his most famous called “A Clockwork Orange.”

The title comes from a British term “As queer as a clockwork orange.” Anthony Burgess used that term to describe something mechanical that appears to be organic, and that became the basis of his novel’s theme.

In “A Clockwork Orange,” the question is whether a man can be good if you force him to be good. If you force him to be good, does he cease to be a man any more without freedom of choice? If a man chooses evil, he still exhibits freedom of choice but at what cost to himself and the rest of society?

Ultimately, there can be no good alone without evil because people will make mistakes and be tempted to do evil. Yet they can only be good by deliberately choosing to be good. The stereotypical idea of heaven involves a paradise, but how can that paradise even exist unless people no longer have freedom of choice? If they no longer have freedom of choice, how can that be a paradise?

This inherent contradiction explains why good and evil must always exist in the same world simultaneously. “A Clockwork Orange” is both a great book and a movie, but there are subtle differences.

The book originally had 21 chapters divided into three sections because 21 represents the official age where most societies assume someone is legally a man. Yet the American edition of the book omitted the final chapter and the movie was based on the American edition.

The missing final chapter has been restored in most versions of the book, but check before buying a copy. The missing 21st chapter shows how the hero finally decides to choose good over evil, but its conclusion seems forced and contrived.

On the other hand, the movie version ends with the vague conclusion of whether the hero really accepts good or will return back to evil. It’s a more interesting though inconclusive ending.

The movie trims and alters some of the novel’s story so it’s similar but visually compelling. Anthony Burgess reportedly didn’t like the movie version but the movie still seems fresh even today.

By reading or watching “A Clockwork Orange,” you can better understand the nature of good and evil. One cannot exist without the other and people must freely choose between the two. Since some will always choose evil, evil will always exist. The only truly good people are those who choose to be good and resist evil, and those are rare indeed.

“A Clockwork Orange” will definitely make you think, and that’s the type of book and movie we need more than ever.