Repentant, Redeemed, & Reformed: Moll Flanders as a Clockwork Orange

Document Type

Graduate Research

Publication Date

Spring 4-8-2015




Moll Flanders is a clockwork orange. But what exactly is a clockwork orange? According to Anthony Burgess, author of the novel of the same name, a clockwork orange describes one who “has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State” (xiii). Moll Flanders’ entire identity less life is made up of mechanical movements dictated by various outside forces, but never by Moll herself.

The theme of overarching powers of the state, God, and the Devil, in Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders is eerily similar to themes within another London-based tale of redemption: A Clockwork Orange, written centuries later, with the crucial difference being the ultimate fate of the narrators in each tale – one fated to forever being clockwork orange, the other fated for true redemption of his own free will. Moll Flanders appears to exhibit free will through her choices made within her criminal life, her time in prison, and her life after prison, but in all instances she is simply being wound by outside forces like a clockwork orange. On the other hand, Clockwork’s Alex, despite the “reconditioning” of his criminal brain, exhibits free will in all stages of his criminal life, his time in prison, and his life after prison, thus rendering it impossible to label him as a clockwork orange.

After addressing what forces turn a person into a clockwork orange and what keeps them in that state of being, we must then consider the forces acting outside of our own lives, and whether or not his label applies to us. Are we all just clockwork oranges? Are we simply wound by our own versions of God, the Devil, or the Almighty State? It may appear as if Moll’s actions are of her own free will, but we will see that she is simply wound by forces outside of herself, and eventually, wound by her author. If in the end Moll is wound by Daniel Defoe, who do the hands belong to that are winding him? In that sense, can the same question be asked for Alex, or Anthony Burgess? Perhaps, ultimately we are all really clockwork oranges, though it is the question of what “winds” us that will always remain- our own free will, or something else?

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