The central pillar upon which every dystopia rests is the means by which it has fallen from grace. Of course, it is almost always people who are responsible for society’s plunge, but what is the catalyst? The central fault line into which the world crumbles into? Most commonly, it is the oppressive government brainwashing its people, but even this genre contains variance. The most distinct difference between all of the brands of dystopic rule is the origin of oppression: roots that lie somewhere between "1984" and "A Clockwork Orange."
In basic terms, their dissimilarities begin when the ambitious slide, unnoticed, into the role of the tyrant. In "1984," it’s the cyclical, power-hungry Oceania government who reigns. They attempt and succeed at creating socio-political stasis so the rich can maintain their authoritarian position through convoluted suppression and conditioning tactics. Whereas in "A Clockwork Orange," the government has only began to drift into autocracy as they experiment with brainwashing as a method to reform the psychotic, amoral thugs that roam the streets. Both novels tell two radically different stories that cover a broad range of cultural weaknesses and faults that, however, which failure defines them as dystopic?
The world of Orwell’s "1984" is driven by a avaricious upper class that uses technological advances to spy on their own citizens, produce mass propaganda, and change the past itself. The greed of the rich and powerful is so great that they’ve systematically cleansed the people of all meaningful human emotion or instinct. Children are taught to report their parents, the only conversations are about government approved topics, marriage is by appointment and sex is illegal. Logic is overruled by government, order and fact is warped to such an extreme degree as to be rendered meaningless. There is no freedom except to think as the government instructs. This complete cultural dominance is enacted in order to prevent the lower or middle class from ever attempting to overtake the ruling class.
Winston, the main character, fights against his cage by desperately clinging to any stimuli, any stash of color in his bleak world. He dreams of rape and love, murder and torture and freedom and life; any fantasy to break the homogenous routine of corruption. Civilization is stripped of emotion, resulting in a perfectly cyclical system that exists only for its own sake. The world is a grey crater, populated by soulless grey husks, a world that juxtaposes nicely with "A Clockwork Orange," which while occupying a larger space on the emotional spectrum, is nonetheless just as horrific.
"A Clockwork Orange" centers around a vicious teenage criminal named Alex and his depraved lifestyle. He does drugs, cheats, steals, murders, date rapes prepubescent girls, and has an odd taste for Beethoven. The amoral climax of his exploits comes when he enters the house of a married couple with his friends and beats the husband, gang-rapes and murders his wife in front of him, and stops only for a moment to tear his magnum opus to shreds. Eventually his violent exploits come to a rather sudden end when a rival gang member brutally beats Alex and leaves him for dead in the house of an old woman they’ve just murdered. He’s caught and sentenced to prison where he serves two years working in a prison chapel, sating his urges by reading the bible for its bloodier passages. Eventually the inevitable happens and he beats a cellmate to death. From there, he elects to undergo an experimental rehabilitation treatment in return for early release. The process leaves him conditioned to have intense fits of nausea at the slightest violent inclination.
Using this framework, the author attempts to illustrate the importance of moral choice. The evil in his, and indeed this, world is perhaps overwhelmingly prevalent in all of its sadistic directionlessness, but even here you can catch a glimpse of what beauty there could be. A loving couple, a righteous man, a brilliant symphony; tiny pieces of a magnificent painting shining through layers of caked-on grime and neglect. This is not to say that Alex’s sins were of necessity, but their possibility is. To be purely one thing is to be nothing at all and to remove choice is to burn the painting all together.
Here we have a grey, dead world and a painting wreathed in flames; two perhaps very disparate metaphors that draw the same conclusions. Of course the meaning behind the stories varies, as does the setting and, the means by which their worlds have been created. However, it is through the differences in structure that the true horror carried throughout is revealed: the totalitarian rule, the extinction of freedom in every form. Winston is forehead-deep in oppression and fights to overcome, while Alex already lives in an anarchic and free world yet is still held in a mental cage. It’s almost as if "A Clockwork Orange" is a prelude to "1984." Just as the fist of control tightens around Alex, blotting out the light, Winston attempts to fight it. Perhaps there is futility in these actions, but it serves to illustrate what truly makes dystopia, not just the oppression of physical freedoms but of the mind.