Title: Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Type of Text: Novel
Main Characters: Alex, a violent teenage thug and lover of classical music; his three “droogs”, Georgie, Pete and Dim; his parents, referred to as “pee and em”, and his Post-Corrective Adviser, PR Deltoid; Billyboy, who leads a rival gang. In prison, the “charlie” (Chaplain), the Governor, and the Chief Chasso (head guard); Dr Brodsky who administers Alex’s treatment, and his assistant Dr Branom. A writer and opponent of the government, F. Alexander.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopia, Bildungsroman
Narrative Style: First-person: the narrator is Alex, who addresses the readers pleasantly as “my brothers” throughout; his English is interspersed with slang words from the invented (but Russian-based) language “nadsat”. The novel is carefully divided into three parts of seven chapters each, although, infamously, the initial American version had the final chapter cut out to leave the novel with a more pessimistic ending.
Themes & Imagery: Drugs and alcohol; hallucinations as escapism. Milk. Extreme violence, murder, theft, rape, blood, terror. Anti-intellectualism and war between generations. Classical music which, perhaps in contrast to established views, acts first as incitement to violence (rather than civilisation) and then as a source of punishment (rather than pleasure). Brotherhood or gangs; leadership and authority; betrayal and revenge. Free will; morality and religion. Political propaganda and dissidence.
Synopsis: “A Clockwork Orange” charts teenager Alex’s violent crimes, his painful reform in prison, and the consequences when he is set free. After a night of drug-fuelled violence ends with Alex punching Dim, Alex’s droogs turn against him, and, when they fail to beat him in a fight, they instead leave him to be caught by the police after another night of violent burglary. In prison, Alex befriends the chaplain, and asks him to put Alex forward to an experimental new method – “Ludovico’s Technique” or “Reclamation Treatment” – of reforming criminals through extreme aversion therapy; Alex is taken onto the scheme after killing a cell-mate and proving his need for urgent reform, but soon comes to regret this, as the process becomes more like torture. When Alex is so fully reformed that he cannot even think of committing violence without himself experiencing physical pain, he is released, only to find that his parents have taken in a lodger and don’t particularly want him back in the house, law-abiding or otherwise. Miserable, Alex decides upon a peaceful suicide, but his former misdeeds (and their victims) catch up to him first. Alex finds himself badly beaten and unable to retaliate, misused for the purposes of propaganda, hospitalised and, eventually, cured for good.
Personal Response: Although this novel is certainly not for the fainthearted, it is, surprisingly, not particularly explicit in its depiction of assault, rape and other violent crimes. This is due to the use of the invented slang “nadsat”, behind which much of the violence can be hidden. At first, “nadsat” can prove a bit of a barrier to comprehension, but once you get used to it and let it wash over you (rather than caring about whether you understand every word), it adds real character to the text. I thought that many of the words seemed naturally to fit the things they were describing, and added a musicality to the prose which fit well with the wider imagery of classical music running through the text and which is so pointedly contrasted with the violence of the narrative. Alex works to build a rapport with the reader, and while I didn’t find myself sympathising with him during his early acts of violence, or with his later (foiled) desires to commit violence, neither did I actively dislike him, and I was on his side against the unfairness of the last third of the book; Alex sees himself as an underdog, an innocent, a victim of betrayal, and this impacts on how the reader views him in turn. The world of the dystopia is lightly sketched: this does not feel like a book about politics or authoritarianism or even the violence of youth, although those themes do feature, so much as a book about the world of an individual (who doesn’t have much interest in politics). This medium certainly allows more nuance than the infamous Kubrick film which it inspired, and I think it’s also better for the inclusion of the final chapter (omitted from the American edition and therefore from the film). I should also note that I tried to read this novel once before, in small chunks in the evening, and stopped after half a dozen chapters, because it isn’t the sort of text which makes for a relaxing read before bed; far better to read it in one go, so that the disturbing aspects have less chance to bleed into your everyday life.
Favourite Part: The end of Alex’s treatment, when his inability to do wrong is demonstrated to an audience, and Alex and the prison chaplain each complain about what has been done to him.
My Top Five Lines & Passages:
Alex enjoys some classical music after a night of violence:
Oh, bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk around my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers. Pee and em in their bedroom next door had learnt now not to knock on the wall with complaints of what they called noise. I had taught them. Now they would take sleep-pills. Perhaps, knowing the joy I had in my night music, they had already taken them. As I slooshied, my glazzies tight shut to shut in the bliss that was better than any synthemesc Bog or God, I knew such lovely pictures. There were vecks and ptitsas, both young and starry, lying on the ground screaming for mercy, and I was smecking all over my rot and grinding my boot in their litsos. And there were devotchkas ripped and creeching against walls and I plunging like a shlaga into them, and indeed when the music, which was one movement only, rose to the top of its big highest tower, then, lying there on my bed with glazzies tight shut and rookers behind my gulliver, I broke and spattered and cried aaaaaaah with the bliss of it. And so the lovely music glided to its glowing close.
Alex dismisses his correction officer’s concerns over how he turned out so bad with such a normal upbringing:
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? If lewdies are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.
Alex describes reading the Bible in prison:
It had been arranged as part of my like further education to read in the book and even have music on the chapel stereo while I was reading, O my brothers. And that was real horrorshow. They would like lock me in and let me slooshy holy music by J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel, and I would read of these starry yahoodies tolchocking each other and then peeting their Hebrew vino and getting on to the bed with their wives’ like hand-maidens, real horrorshow. That kept me going, brothers. I didn’t so much kopat the later part of the book, which is more like all preachy govoreeting than fighting and the old in-out. But one day the charles said to me, squeezing me like tight with his bolshy beefy rooker: “Ah, 6655321, think on the divine suffering. Meditate on that, my boy.” And all the time he had this rich manny von of Scotch on him, and then he went off to his little cantora to peet some more. So I read all about the scourging and the crowning with thorns and then the cross veshch and all that cal, and I viddied better that there was something in it. While the stereo played bits of lovely Bach I closed my glazzies and viddied myself helping in and even taking charge of the tolchocking and the nailing in, being dressed in a like toga that was the heighth of Roman fashion. So being in Staja 84F was not all that wasted, and the Governor himself was very pleased to hear that I had taken to like Religion, and that was where I had my hopes.
Alex is attacked by old men in the public library, one of whom he once assaulted, and can’t do anything to defend himself:
There was now like a sea of vonny runny dirty old men trying to get at me with their like feeble rookers and horny old claws, creeching and panting on to me, but our crystal droog was there in front, dealing out tolchock after tolchock. And I daren’t do a solitary single veshch, O my brothers, it being better to be hit at like that than to want to sick and feel that horrible pain, but of course the fact that there was violence going on made me feel that the sickness was peeping round the corner to viddy whether to come out into the open and roar away.
Alex is tortured by the sound of classical music coming from a neighbouring flat:
When I woke up I could hear slooshy music coming out of the wall, real gromky, and it was that that had dragged me out of my bit of like sleep. It was a symphony that I knew real horrorshow but had not slooshied for many a year, namely the Symphony Number Three of the Danish veck Otto Skade-lig, a very gromky and violent piece, especially in the first movement, which was what was playing now. I slooshied for two seconds in like interest and joy, but then it all came over me, the start of the pain and the sickness, and I began to groan deep down in my keeshkas. And then there I was, me who had loved music so much, crawling off the bed and going oh oh oh to myself and then bang bang banging on the wall creching: “Stop, stop it, turn it off!” But it went on and it seemed to be like louder. So I crashed at the wall till my knuckles were all red red krovvy and torn skin, creeching and creeching, but the music did not stop. Then I thought I had to get away from it, so I lurched out of the malenky bedroom and ittied skorry to the front door of the flat, but this had been locked from the outside and I could not get out. And all the time the music got more and more gromky, like it was all a deliberate torture, O my brothers.