If you are looking for a twist on a coming-of-age novel that is subtly dystopian and features ultraviolence, then look no further. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess features a vision of the future where criminals roam in the dark wreaking havoc on citizen bystanders. The novel is told from the perspective of Alex, who is a teen turned criminal who enjoys both violence and classical music. Alex and his gang of “droogs” speak in what is known as nadsat—or a slang that is both Russian and English.
Because of this slang, it is very hard to initially get into the novel as there is a clear barrier in our understanding of the language. As the novel progresses, the slang is used less and less, and you find yourself adapted to reading it. If you do decide to pick up this novel, make sure you have a glossary handy as most of the words in the first chapter are fictional. Another factor of the novel that may deter people is the ultraviolence that is depicted and carried out by Alex and his gang. The novel features lengthy descriptions of the acts that Alex commits, but the language used creates a sense of separation from the violence to the point that you are questioning what really happened.
Despite the ultraviolence depicted in A Clockwork Orange, the novel itself goes deeply beyond the superficial violent acts shown. The book as a whole is largely about freewill, or more specifically, human’s ability to choose. The novel leaves you pondering whether morality remains intact when someone loses their ability to choose right or wrong. Can an act be considered “good” if the person did not inherently choose that act? Also, is it better to have freewill and choose to be bad or is it better to be forced into acts that are good? These types of questions follow you throughout the entirety of the novel.
Another aspect that the novel incorporates is sympathy for the narrator, who some may say deserved what he experienced. The fact that Burgess’s writing makes you even feel sympathy for someone as violent as Alex is speaks to how talented of a writer he was and to our human nature. We feel upset and shocked at someone losing their freewill, because we ourselves know the importance of freewill. In the novel, Alex is used as a pawn for the government and for criminal rehabilitation that he willingly signed up for, but he did not know the details of the rehabilitation program upon signing up. It is quickly revealed that the rehabilitation is really just torture and conditioning that forces Alex to be rehabilitated by producing averse bodily responses to any mention of crime. Is this really being rehabilitated if he is being forced to steer clear from further violence? That is a question that you will have to figure out for yourself if you pick up this novel.
Overall, A Clockwork Orange really is an inventive and lingusitical masterpiece. However, it by no means is everyone’s cup of tea. I am glad that I did pick up this novel, but the violence and language did initially deter me as I am sure it does to many people. If you can get past this or have any interest in this novel, make sure you pick up a version of the book that has the original last chapter included, as the American version omitted it. Reading the last and final chapter in the way that Burgess intended allows the reader to make their own decision on how they feel about Alex at the end, which reinforces the theme of freewill and choice that occurs throughout the book.
If you do pick up this novel or have read it in the past, feel free to email me your own thoughts on how it made you feel. I am interested to know if I am the only one who does not love this book as much as other people do. However, I do appreciate what Burgess intended to do with it, so overall, I am rating it a 3.5/5.