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A Clockwork Orange (Norton Paperback Fiction) by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange (Norton Paperback Fiction)

seph00017, April 30, 2009

Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel written as a social commentary. The country is run by a repressive government that often oversteps moral boundaries, and the streets are run by a violent subculture of youth, wherein rape, stealing, assault, and murder are all commonplace. Alex, a violent fifteen year old boy, and his droogs (friends or gang) are part of this criminal subculture. After Alex is arrested, he is subject to a controversial therapy known as the Ludovico treatment. Through unique literary style and Alex’s crimes, arrest, treatment, and reintroduction into society, Burgess creates a social commentary of human freedom, choice, and the evils of government.
A Clockwork Orange is an extremely unique book in terms of style. This is because of the novel’s narrator, Alex, who speaks in a fictional teenage dialect of English called Nadsat. The entire story is told in Nadsat, a combination of cockney rhyming slang, English, and Russian, so the reader must become accustomed to Alex’s unique matter of speech. Through context, one eventually is able to understand Alex and discovers that ‘rot’ means mouth, ‘droog’ means friend (most commonly used for Alex’s gang), ‘viddy’ means to see, and ‘slooshy’ means to hear. An example of this speech would be, “so you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches which would give you a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog” (3). The unique voice used in the novel and the first person point of view create a deep characterization of Alex for the reader.
Alex’s unique voice gives the reader an understanding of the youth in the world of A Clockwork Orange. Since the narrator speaks in Nadsat, the book has a very low level of diction and poor syntax. This style reflects the teenage subculture; the low diction and syntax show the uneducated and uncultured nature of the youth. There are several adult characters in the novel that do not understand Alex when he speaks. The fact that the teenagers of the novel use an entirely different language shows how separate the subculture actually is from the adult world.
The novel is told in first person, through the eyes of the anti-hero Alex. Alex relays all his thoughts as well as his actions as he tells his story, which gives the reader a peek into his mind and creates a deep understanding of his character. When Alex is in a knife fight with a rival gang member he reveals he, “was dancing about with my [razor] like I might be a barber on board a ship on a very rough sea…And, my brothers, it was real satisfaction to me to waltz—left two three, right two three—and carve left cheeky and right cheeky, so that two curtains of blood seemed to pour out at the same time” (20). Alex finds an aesthetic value to violence, rather than thinking about the pain he is causing his victims. Burgess intricately characterizes Alex through his language, the law defying subculture he belongs to, his personal thoughts, and love of violence. Through the government’s attempt to correct Alex’s ways, Burgess addresses several themes.
Alex is submitted to a torturous aversion therapy called the Ludovico treatment, wherein he is forced to watch movies of rape, violence and war while being subjected to drugs that make him sick. Because of this treatment, Alex becomes sick at the mere thought of violence and is forced to do only good. The treatment corrects his criminal activity at the cost of his ability to make decisions. After receiving the treatment, the chaplain at Alex’s prison states, “Choice…He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice” (140). He does not do good because he chooses so—it is because he is forced to by the treatment. The novel raises the question, is it better to be forced into doing good rather than choosing evil.
The theme of choice is what inspired the name of the novel; Alex is the clockwork orange. After the Ludovico treatment has taken its full effect Alex screams, “Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?” (141). Alex has lost his humanity along with his ability to choose; he has been turned into something mechanical and clockwork. He has been turned into a slave of the Ludovico treatment unable to evaluate good and evil. The novel’s overbearing government stepped over a moral boundary by subjecting Alex to the torturous Ludovico treatment.
Another theme present in A Clockwork Orange is the role of government and how much power it should have. When addressed with the immorality of the treatment, the Minister of the Interior responds, “These are subtleties…We are not concerned with motive, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime” (141). The government cares only for the ends and will go through unjust means to achieve them. Even though reducing crime is a good cause, stripping someone of their personality and humanity is not just compensation. In the novel, there is a book also named A Clockwork Orange that embodies the message of Burgess’ novel. “The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my swordpen” (25).
In A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess creates a social commentary scolding government and questioning human choice. He uses a unique style and story to create a dystopia that illustrates these ideas. Through the misadventures and suffering of criminal teenager Alex, Burgess shows how government overextends its power and what happens to a human without choice.
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