A vicious fifteen-year-old "droog" is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick's magnificent film of the same title.
In Anthony Burgess's nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends' social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to "redeem" him—the novel asks, "At what cost?"
Why was it banned?
A Clockwork Orange was banned in some US schools upon its release on grounds of immorality – it was thought to contain too much sexual violence. Some of you might know that there is a movie adaptation of this book which caused even more uproar – upon the movie release, violent teenage gangs took to the streets of London, spurred on by what they had witnessed on the movie screen. Words are important, yo.
Why did you choose it?
So I picked A Clockwork Orange to read because it’s such a famous novel and has always been on my to-read list. I just needed a reason to get around to reading it, I suppose.
The novel tells the tale of Alex, a violent teenage boy who takes pleasure in harming those around him. Set in the future, where gangs of teenage boys take to the streets at night to rape, thieve and murder all for the sheer pleasure of doing so, this book is definitely not an easy read. Burgess coined the term ‘ultraviolent’ for use in his novel and there really isn’t a better word to describe the events that take place. After a planned robbery goes wrong, Alex is abandoned by his cohorts and is taken into custody and sent to prison where he is told about a revolutionary new scheme that will allow him to be released early. The ‘Ludovico Technique’ can supposedly make good men out of criminals by removing their ability to choose a path to take. Alex agrees to take part in the study and is subjected to hours of mental torture in which he’s weakened with nausea inducing drugs before being forced to watch violent footage, so that what previously gave him pleasure would now cause sickness and pain. Alex is released after he completes his therapy but finds that he’s incapable of violence even in self-defence, and that the classical music he previously loved now fills him with the same sick feeling as violence.
“Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.”
The novel challenges our understanding of morality. Is it better for a person to choose evil than to have good imposed upon them? Burgess believed that in order for goodness to mean anything, evil must coexist alongside it to balance the scales. The books explores the idea of free will in this sense; by the novel’s end, Alex has matured – he chooses to be good, but that is his choice and not one pushed upon him by external forces. The imagery of the Clockwork Orange refers to the image of nature, in the form of an orange, being manipulated by man to work in an unnatural way; clockwork. Burgess suggests with this imagery that human beings must be free to grow naturally, for good or for bad, and that to remove their right to choose makes them less than human and little more than a machine.
Burgess created his own language for the book that has its roots in Anglo-Russian dialect, and it is a unique experience reading those words and phrases. I really loved this book, although it’s not particularly enjoyable or easy to digest; the questions it raises are complex and it’s easy to see why this book retains its popularity so many years after its release because the subjects it raised are still relevant to this day.