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Reviewing an infamous book can be a daunting task, especially when so much has already been said about it. To ensure that my opinion is unbiased, I choose to avoid reading anyone else’s thoughts until I’ve formulated my own. This way, I can form my own opinion without the influence of others. After I’ve written my review, I can then look to see if my thoughts align with those of others. By taking this approach, I’m able to ensure that my opinion is not influenced by anyone else’s.
This book contains both horrific events and stunning beauty. The conclusion of the story justifies the way it was told, even if the events that occur in the tale are not always justified. Readers will be able to contemplate the many themes and ideas presented throughout.
Book vs Film, and Omission of Final Chapter
I read the book after watching the film, and the familiarity with the plot and Nadsat slang made it easier for me to relax (if that’s an appropriate word, considering some of the horrific events to come) into the story. The film is more shocking than the book, as it is more visual, and like the US version of the book, it leaves out the more hopeful final chapter.
The British censors originally passed the film – uncut. But a year later, it was cited as possibly inspiring a couple of murders, leading to threats against Kubrick’s family. The year after that, Kubrick asked for it to be withdrawn, and it was, even though he said”It is life that modifies art, and not art that modifies life. To attempt to assign blame to art for life’s circumstances is to view the situation incorrectly. It is life that transforms art, not the other way around.“
See Withdrawl of film from UK screensandOmission of final chapter
Plot and Structure
Alex, the protagonist of this short novel, is a troubled teen living in a dystopian world. His days are filled with “ultra-violence” and the sexual assault of young girls. In the midst of his chaotic lifestyle, Alex is sent to prison where he undergoes a horrific treatment – a form of aversion therapy. The experience changes him and, upon his release, Alex is a changed man. Now a puppet of opposing political factions, Alex is rejected by his parents and must make his own way in the world. As the story progresses, themes of original sin, punishment, revenge, free will, and the nature of evil are explored. Through Alex’s journey, readers are invited to consider these difficult questions as they grapple with his ultimate fate.
A truly shocking incident occurred when a writer’s house was broken into and his wife was brutally gang-raped, ultimately leading to her death. Sadly, a similar tragedy befell Burgess’s first wife, though he was not present at the time. Writing a fictionalized version of this event from the perspective of the perpetrator is a remarkable feat. Is it an act of charity, a cathartic exercise, or something even more complex?
Why is Alex as he is?I believe that what I do is because I enjoy doing it. Alex has the right idea when he muses, “This preoccupation with what is the source of evil is what makes me grin. It’s like they don’t even consider what the source of goodness is. It comes from within us, and it is something that God takes immense pride in creating.”
Can people like Alex be cured, and if so, how?Imprisonment, police brutality, and fire and brimstone are ineffective. Enter the Ludovico Technique, which involves injecting Alex with emetics and restraining him with his eyelids held open, forcing him to watch videos of extreme physical and sexual violence. This method conditions him to be unable to commit such acts, or even contemplate them. This raises more questions than it solves. The prison governor prefers the traditional “eye for an eye” approach, but has to give in to the new idea of making bad people good. “The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within… Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” The chaplain also has doubts, asking, “Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” On the other hand, by agreeing to the treatment, Alex is, in a roundabout way, choosing to be good.
The technique touted as a means of making Alex “sane” and “healthy” in order for him to be a “free man” ultimately leaves him still imprisoned. Music, which he once loved, now causes him distress due to its connection with the technique, and his inability to defend himself renders him unable to escape his own victimization.
Do the ends justify the means?Dr. Brodsky believes that cutting down on crime is more important than considering the higher ethics of a situation. He argues that even if the effects of any action taken to reduce crime becomes short-lived, it will still have been worth it.
Redemption?The possibility of redemption is a common thread, reaching its peak in this final chapter. Burgess was raised as a Catholic, educated in Catholic schools, but lost his faith aged sixteen. He continued to have profound interest in religious ideas, though, as explained here.
The concluding chapter (previously omitted from US editions of the book until 1986, and also the film) seems somewhat paradoxically optimistic. However, by implying that the only solution to juvenile delinquency is maturity, one may consider it to be the gloomiest chapter. Is teen violence something that people naturally outgrow when they comprehend their place in the grand scheme of things? Does society accept this as a plausible explanation?
Language – Nadsat Slang
A distinctive feature of the book is the Nadsat slang that Alex and his droogs use (“nadsat” is the Russian suffix for “teen” – see hereBurgess created Nadsat from a combination of Russian, Cockney rhyming slang, and Malay. By avoiding the use of contemporary teen slang, he ensured that the book wouldn’t become dated quickly. The text is written so carefully that its meaning is usually clear, and it becomes progressively more so as the reader gets used to it. For example, “a bottle of beer frothing its gulliver off and a horrorshow rookerful of like plum cake” and “There’s only one veshch I require… having my malenky bit of fun with real droogs” both use English words both literally and metaphorically. “Viddy” is used to refer to both seeing with one’s eyes and understanding someone’s point.
The skill of carefully used context makes Russian-based Nadsat much easier to follow than the dialect of Riddley Walker (see my review HEREEven though Riddley Walker is written in dialect, Clockwork Orange has a unique style of its own. It is written in conventional English, but with a generous amount of slang. This makes the story more vibrant and exciting, as it captures the essence of the time and place in which it is set. The language also adds a sense of authenticity to the narrative, as it helps the reader to better understand the characters and their motivations. By using slang, the author is able to convey the vividness of the characters and the environment in which they live.
Dropping readers into an unknown environment, Alex invites them to join him and his gang on a journey of exploration and discovery. By providing a vague yet inviting description, he encourages readers to immerse themselves in his world and experience its wonders for themselves. In this way, readers are drawn in and captivated by Alex’s adventures, allowing them to fully appreciate the nuances and richness of his story.
Nadsat gives the text a captivating and lyrical feel that directly contrasts with the feelings of disgust that arise from some of Alex’s actions: “tolchocking a starry veck” does not sound nearly as bad as “beating an old man into a pulp”. The use of Nadsat creates a protective barrier. In the film, this effect is lessened since we can SEE these acts.
Published in 1962, Alex often used “like” as an interjection, a common feature of youth speak in recent times. What happened between then and now, I wonder?
Alex often speaks with the eloquence of Shakespeare and the King James Bible: “Come, unfortunate soul. Do not dwell on them” and “If fear lies in your heart, oh brother, let us expel it immediately” and “Do not be afraid. He can certainly take care of himself, truly.” Despite the poetic nature of his words, they often depict scenes of sorrow and misery.
Alex’s brotherly address of “Oh my brothers” is unsettling, as it prompts the reader to question if they are in some ways condoning or complicit in Alex’s actions. The phrase, “What’s it going to be then, eh?” is repetitively used throughout the first chapter of each section, making it seem almost liturgical. It serves as an opening phrase to each section, leaving the reader in suspense, wondering what Alex’s next move will be.
Alex has a deep appreciation for classical music, particularly “Ludwig van”. This may be a way for the book to remain timeless rather than focusing on more modern music, but it’s also an example of creating dissonance. It doesn’t make sense that someone who is engaging in delinquent behavior would also have a passion for great art.
Alex has lots of small speakers around his room, providing a meshed orchestra of sound that brings him immense joy: “Oh bliss, bliss and heaven! I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, sloshing the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh.” Unfortunately, the treatment he’s undergoing has devastating effects on this pleasure.
Horror and Beauty, Sympathy for a Villain
Ultimately, Alex can be seen as a sympathetic villain due to his exuberant charm and charisma. Although he does terrible things, it’s hard not to feel sorry for him when he is subjected to terrible acts himself.
This book is filled with horror, yet there is beauty and thought-provoking moments to be found. The conclusion of the story is worth the journey, even though it is not always the same for the characters. It’s brilliant!
Jabberwock in Nadsat
Thanks to Forrest for finding this brilliant hybrid:https://medium.com/@johnlewislo…/the-…
Frequently asked questions
What is A Clockwork Orange about?
A Clockwork Orange is a novel by Anthony Burgess that examines the nature of good and evil, and the consequences of extreme behavior. It follows the life of a young delinquent named Alex as he struggles to reform and make sense of the world around him.
Who is the main character in A Clockwork Orange?
The main character is Alex, a 15-year-old delinquent living in a dystopian near-future version of England.
What genre is A Clockwork Orange?
A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel written in a contemporary style.
What is the significance of the title A Clockwork Orange?
The title A Clockwork Orange is meant to evoke the idea of an organic being (the orange) being turned into a mechanical one (the clockwork). It is a metaphor for the transformation of Alex and his attempts to reconcile his violent nature with the demands of a civilized society.
Is there a movie adaptation of A Clockwork Orange?
Yes, there is a 1971 film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange directed by Stanley Kubrick which is considered one of the most important films of the 20th century.