Both Riddley Walker and A Clockwork Orange present a future where humanity is on the brink of destruction. Violence and death are common occurrences in both novels and the governments, rather than try to help their citizens, merely control them while covertly trying to gain more and more power. In Riddley Walker humanity has gone through a cultural devolution. It has regressed from a time when they had “boats in the ayr” to a second Iron Age. Man has returned to its hunter-gatherer roots. However this does not simply mean that they hunt live animals.
Iron is a highly sought after resource and so finding and salvaging old pieces of iron is a common event in Riddley Walker’s future. This all happened due to the “1 Big 1”; a nuclear world war which was initiated by Mr. Clevver, the Big Man of Inland. The Nuclear Holocaust written about by Russell Hoban stems from the period in which it was written. Riddley was written in 1982 and if we presume the past mentioned in The Eusa Story to be from roughly that year then we are, in the words of Riddley, living in a time where we “had evere thing clever”.
If that is the case then we can see The Eusa Story as partly an allegory of the cold war, part speculative vision of its outcome. Looking back, the notion of a nuclear war actually occurring may seem a somewhat farfetched concept, however to people at the early 80s there was a real fear of nuclear annihilation. As a result of the nuclear war the so-called “Bad Tyms” occurs. A time where civilisation collapsed, nothing would grow and humanity was practically wiped out.
As a result man had to adapt, which is why we see humanity having regressed: it would not have survived trying to sustain a modern civilisation at the end of a nuclear war. Parts 19 and 20 of The Eusa Story paint a vivid picture of what life was like. “Evere thing wuz blak & rottin … Peapl din no if they wud be alyv 1 min tu the nex … Cudn be shur uv nuthing din no wut was sayf tu eat or drink … it was nuthing only Luck if enne 1 stayd alyv. ” The inclusion of the Eusa Story in Riddley serves not only as a way of setting the back story, but also showing the strange situation humanity finds itself in in this future.
It is these vague recollections of an advanced past which give us a real feel of what the future is like in Riddley: A vague notion that life must have been better at some point coupled with a pre-historic mentality towards life and a devolved language. In A Clockwork Orange, however, humanity has gone through a natural progression, with ideals of community cohesion replaced almost entirely by the concept of individualism. As a result of this dog-eat-dog mentality the future in Clockwork has reached the point where this culture practically breeds lawlessness.
Indeed, in Clockwork lawlessness is rife, with violent gangs of youths roaming the street at night attacking innocent people, which has resulted in a police force who seem only marginally less dangerous than the criminals they are out to capture. The jails are full to bursting and the newly elected government won the election on a platform of toughness on crime. Anthony Burgess’ version of the future was inspired mainly by a tragic incident which occurred to him and his wife. During World War II his pregnant wife was attacked by four American soldiers and subsequently miscarried.
Had his child been born it would have been 21, and so legally an adult, on the year of the books publication. Burgess also felt that the attack resulted in his wife’s poor health and early death, in the same way F. Alexander (Who can be seen as Burgess’ fictitious representation of himself as he is also writing a book called A Clockwork Orange) sees his wife’s death as a direct result of her rape at the hands of Alex and his gang. Burgess later said the writing of the scene was a catharsis for him and “an act of charity”1 towards his wife’s assailants as he chose to write it from the antagonist’s perspective.
The society in Clockwork was also based on the common perception in the mid-late fifties and early sixties that the youth were become ever more unruly and violent. So Burgess imagined a future where this had been allowed to continue and had reached its extreme. He also however satirised the supposed causes of the problem. Alex asks: “But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into the cause of goodness, so why the other shop? ” It is however one of Burgess’ main intentions to study what constitutes goodness in Clockwork.
From the very title to Alex’s experiences with the Ludovico Technique Burgess wants to explore the inherent nature of goodness. And what better a character to answer these questions than a sociopathic teenager living in a world where chaos rules supreme? Both novels prominently use the actions of morally corrupt governments as central plot points. Both give fai?? ades of righteousness and desires to improve the lives of the people, however all they are both really after is power and both are willing to manipulate whoever they need to in their attempts to get it.