Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange and Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye are both world famous novels focusing on the fragility of the modern teenager and the struggles faced in reaching adolescence. In both novels symbolism in structure, objects and language are used to show the alienation faced by the protagonist, much of which is brought on by the pressures from the societies that the characters are a part of. A Clockwork Orange explores individualism against the collectivism of society where as The Catcher in the Rye focuses upon an individual’s struggle to find a place within their own society.
The Catcher in the Rye tells the story of seventeen year old Holden Caulfield, who has just been expelled from yet another school due to a lack of effort, labelling almost the whole world and everyone in it as “phony”. Holden’s most recent school; the prestigious Pencey Prep is used as a symbol to represent this “phony” world whose adverts are “always showing some hot-shot guy on a horse jumping over a fence. Like as if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time.” However Holden is quick to show the fallacy of these advertisements, stating ” I never once saw a horse anywhere near the place” suggesting the glamorous, sophistication of the school and indeed the entire “phony” world is all in fact a disguise. Holden’s alienation from society is misanthropic in tone and is evident from the very start. Salinger also uses horses as a symbol at the end of the novel, but in this example it’s is when his younger sister Phoebe is riding on a carousel, the single moment when Holden is actually happy throughout the novel; “I felt so damn happy all of a sudden, the way old Phoebe kept going around and around.” Where as the horse performing equestrian sports on the Pencey Prep badge is a symbol of the prestige and sophistication of the world, the simple carousel symbolises a much less glamorous, fashionable source of enjoyment. The fact Holden admits he takes greater pleasure from the carousel suggests he is rebelling against the customs and desires of the rest of his society, believing they are pressured into conforming to expectations as they are “phony” and inauthentic.
Similarly to Catcher in the Rye‘s focus on individuality against conformity, Clockwork Orange focuses on the nature of the individual against the system of the state. Burgess’ concept of a ‘Clockwork Orange’ is a juxtaposition of government control; the robotic order of clockwork, against the orange; a metonymic symbol of the naturalness of humanity and human behaviour, with Burgess himself stating “I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness”. A Clockwork Orange explores how too much control from the government can dehumanise and alienate a person, there is a need for autonomy. Another symbol that subverts the natural is milk, which Burgess uses to show the corruption of youth. “Milk-plus” is milk enhanced with drugs that the boys drink in order to hallucinate or “sharpen” up. Milk is a symbol of childhood and innocence but these concepts have been corrupted with drugs. The youth have been taken away from what is natural and alienated from themselves, leading them to turn to rebellion through the form of violence.
Where A Clockwork Orange focuses on the loss of identity and individuality, The Catcher in the Rye focuses more upon the fluidity and fickleness of ones identity, with Holden’s different identities being symbolic of his emotions. As Danielle M. Roemer discusses in “The Personal Narrative and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye“: “Through Holden, Salinger suggests the fictive status of identity.” Throughout the novel, Holden goes through many imaginary identities that he gives to himself, one example being “I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes. That way I wouldn’t have to have any goddamn stupid useless conversations with anybody.” The “deaf-mute” identity is symbolic of Holden’s alienation, fabricated as a form of escapism from his own life, he fantasizes a life where he is removed from the company of others. Another one of Holden’s identities is when he is wearing his red hunting hat; one of the most recongnisable symbols from twentieth-century literature. The hat, which Holden suggests isn’t fashionable; “very corny, I’ll admit”, is symbolic of Holden’s uniqueness, and he is intent on mentioning whenever he chooses to wear it. Considering the hats unfashionable status, Holden often takes the hat off to avoid being seen in it. However at other times Holden doesn’t care what people think “I took my my red hunting hat… and put it on—I didn’t care how I looked.” The hat is an important factor in how Holden see’s himself; it gives him an identity and makes him different, mirroring the novels main conflict of individuality versus conformity. As Roemer suggests “Plotted into artificiality by Holden, those people he calls phonies remind him of his own exaggerated need to achieve a sense of self.” He is in search of his own identity and creates these personalities to mentally assert himself into society.
Salinger uses spatial metaphors to show Holden’s emotional state. The novel starts with Holden standing alone on top of a hill, looking down onto a football match where his whole school is in attendance. Holden chooses not to attend as the day before he left his fencing teams foils on the subway, now being resented for it; “The whole team ostracized me the whole way back on the train. It was pretty funny, in a way.” Holden attempts to show strength in character by laughing off his situation but his physical removal is symbolic of the social reality; he is alone and constantly making one mistake after another, being left behind by the fast moving world around him. Throughout the novel Holden finds himself aimlessly wondering the streets of New York, unsure exactly where he is going and what he will do next, for example: “I didn’t know where the hell to go. I didn’t want to go to another hotel and spend all of Phoebe’s dough.” Salinger uses the city as a symbol of society, with Holden’s peregrination showing his feeling of displacement; he is alienated and doesn’t know his place in the world.
Both novels can be seen as subverted forms of the bildungsroman, or coming of age stories. The start of The Catcher in the Rye has Holden referencing Charles Dicken’s classic bildungsroman David Copperfield, saying that “the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like … and all that David Copperfield kind of crap.” Interestingly, at the start of David Copperfield he mentions how he was born with a caul, suggesting Salinger chose to fuse caul and the “field” from “Copperfield” when he was characterising Holden Caulfield. This suggests Holden himself is a symbol of youth and Salinger is purposefully playing on the bildungsroman form to suggest possible flaw’s and difficulties in reaching adolescence. Unlike most bildungsroman novels including A Clockwork Orange, The Catcher in the Rye’s structure is based on a very short time period of two to three days. This means the reader isn’t actually told the entirety of Holden’s story and are only zoomed into a short section of it where no great events happen. Holden is effectively alienating himself from the reader as well, not completely informing them of the situation he is in at the time of narration. Catcher is more of a psychological story, based more on the narrator rather than the plot. Salinger’s 1957 letter discusses how the the novel is based upon Holden’s cognition: “gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartons—in a way, his thoughts.”
A Clockwork Orange’s structure also holds strong metaphorical significance to the novel, being split into three sections like a classical symphony. Phillip E. Ray states that
his story is, in that same sense, a song. And the question of what sort of song redirects our discussion to the matter of the novel’s structure, for the ABA pattern in music is universally recognized as the distinguishing characteristic of the da capo aria in eighteenth-century Italian opera.
A Clockwork Orange | Critical Essay – Philip E. Ray
As Ray astutely notes, the novel follows an ABA structure; the first part of a classical symphony establishes the new themes of the song, as we see in ACWO with the first part of the novel introducing the themes of violence, rape and drugs. The second part of a symphony usually moves away from these themes and is completely different from the first, which is also the case in the novel as it moves onto Alex’s time in prison. The third part goes back to the original themes from the first and resolves them; Alex is back on the outside world, goes back to his violent ways but eventually decides “Alex like groweth up, oh yes.” This order gives a formulaic structure to what is a story of chaotic events, thus supporting the ‘Clockwork Orange’ metaphor where the structure is a symbol of order and regulation – the ‘clockwork’. Burgess himself was a composer and classical music is a recurring theme throughout the novel. Alex takes a lot of pleasure from classical music, with it being his only real passion besides violence, but this pleasure is temporarily taken away from him, making him feel sick because of the Ludovico technique. Burgess uses classical music as a symbol of human pleasure, suggesting over-controlling governments can make one less human and alienate them from themselves and art itself.
With The Catcher in the Rye and A Clockwork Orange first being published in 1951 and 1962 respectively, these novels are both from a period of time that saw the birth of teenage culture, with the word “teenager” only being invented in the 1950’s. There was an influx of population into this age-category and greater independence and freedom for the youth to do and like what they wanted, in terms of music and fashion. In Clockwork Orange, Burgess gives the teenagers their own created argot called Nadsat. Nadsat is a slang based language with influences not only from English but from Russian, with words like “baboochka” and “devotchka”. At the time of the novel being written, Russia itself was a symbol of socialism and the Russian influences on Nadsat are a result of the socialist state that the novel is set in; all property in the state is owned by the government and all able-bodied citizens are made to work. The socialist element of the language supports the notion of Alex only being a member of the state rather than an individual, much like how he is only identified as “6655321” when in prison. Nadsat also reminds the reader of the childish nature of the teenager with words such as “jammiwam” and “eggiweg” that sound like infantile noises. Alex’s idiolect often becomes so strong it is indistinguishable to adult characters: “He talks funny, doesn’t he?” Nadsat is used as a symbol of the great divide between the youth and the adults, further showing how the young are alienated from the rest of society. Nadsat is also a source of alienation for the reader, who at first cannot decipher the foreignness of it, being made somewhat oblivious to the violent nature of Alex’s actions at the start of the novel.
Holden and Alex are both alienated. They are alienated from the structures of their societies and at points alienated from themselves, with their identities and individuality in question. Holden is forever searching for his place in the world he sees as inauthentic, struggling to find his purpose in it whilst coming to be known as a symbol of the mentally struggling teenager. Alex chooses to rebel against his society as he feels that is his only way of holding an identity, in a system where individuality is valued less than the state, and where the naturalness of the “orange” is constantly controlled by the “clockwork” of the government.
A Clockwork Orange | Critical Essay – Philip E. Ray
The Personal Narrative and Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” – Danielle M. Roemer
Children’s Literature | A Very Short Introduction – Kimberley Reynolds
For my English coursework I am currently reading the adventures of Tom Sawyer. What I find most interesting in this novel is Twain’s way exploring the simple things of the 19th century society in America with such clearly detailed analysis. The book is Brocken up into small stories rather than chapters allowing for a new deep insightful meaning/ moral of the story after every chapter.
Twain’s characterisation of young Tom Sawyer is very interesting; a typical bored young boy who is always looking for a new thing to interest him. It is also made clear just how hard life was for people in those times and how hard poor people would have to work to make a living.
Aron Ralston is the man who famously survived a canyoneering accident in which he had to go to extreme circumstances to survive. Ralston was hiking in South-eastern Utah when he fell down a slot canyon. He survived the fall but a dislodged boulder had fallen down with him and trapped his arm.
Ralston screamed and shouted but there was no-one around to hear. He spent five days rationing his small amout of water and food. There was no way for him to free his arm or break the boulder and on the fifth night he thought he would die there and so carved his name, date of birth and presumed date of death into the wall. He also famously recorded a film of him saying goodbye to his family. Ralston’s situation become so desperate he was forced to drink his own eurine.
Ralston had already tried to amputate his arm with his small pocket knife but realised he was unablthe tool was insufficient. The following morning Ralston had an epiphany. Being an engineer he knew of the momentum of force called torque. If he could snap both bones in his arm then he could break his arm free. Having the willpower to break your own arm shows a great sense of will to survive where many others wouldnt be able to. Ralston broke free of his imprisonment in the cave but the had to climb down a 20m cliff before being able to walk the 8 miles to his car.
On the way back to his car he met a family of hikers who gave him food, water and called for help. If Ralston did not meet the family he would have most likely bled to death from his arm wound and so the timing that Ralston left was vital because without meeting the family he wouldn’t have survived where as if he didn’t free himself he would’ve been found dead in the canyon. This story is a great story of both his will to live and how fortunate he is to be alive. After the incident, Ralston’s arm was retrieved and cremated, which he scattered over the boulder where he said they “belonged”.
Joe is a funny old man. Every person has their own views on him…
One way we respond to Joe is that we see him as foolish. For starters, for Joe to be climbing up mountain where no-one had ever been before makes the reader feel nervous and cautious. We could also see Joe as foolish because he runs our of gas and food, meaning he was unprepared for the journey.
Whilst some could respond to Joe as being foolish for putting himself into danger, others could see him as brave as he is willing to put himself into situations that others would be too frightened too.
Personally i see Joe as being someone who craves acknowledgement and he climbs because he wants others to praise him. An example of this is “i hope somebody finds us, and knows we climbed the west face.” He says this at the time when he believes he is about to die, meaning acknowledgement means more to him than other things; family or his friends.
Here you will be able to create, edit and receive feedback on pieces of work that you will complete as part of English. You will be able to use this as a way to develop your writing and thinking outside of class.
Everything that you publish here publicly can be seen by anyone with access to the web, but namely your fellow students, teachers and parents. So think carefully before you post, but equally remember this is a chance to experiment with your work and receive feedback. Don’t be scared to get it wrong. (Remember if you don’t want anyone else to see your work, you can always publish it privately and the blog will notify me so I can still respond.)
The blog will be a great place for you to learn and to have fun with your work, so make the most of it. Go forth and blog!