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[497] A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

” You’ve sinned. I suppose, but your punishment has been out of all proportion. They have turned you into something other than a human being. You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable of only good. ” (Part Three, Ch.4, p.156)

Despite the shocker of unbearable violence and an obscure, invented lingo that takes a while to get the hang on, A Clockwork Orange is deeply philosophical. Set in the future, fifteen-year old Alex is a vicious teenager who is bent on senseless violence. He and his droogs unleash their destructive power at night, “razrezzing and giving the old in-out.” These thugs are on a spree of petty crimes, from mugging to car theft to gang fight and robbery, thinking they can get away with their alibis. What finally does him in is a break-in in which he beats an old lady to death.

You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence or to offend in any way whatsoever against the State’s Peace. I hope you take all that in. I hope you are absolutely clear in your own mind about that. (Part Two, Ch.3, p.95)

Released from state custody, he is subjected to treatment meant to impart goodness in him. The form of treatment involves an injection, and to arouse in him a moralistic sense through experiences of visual repulsion. Alex is shown, while handcuffed to an armchair, films that depict very tragic and atrocious violence that reminds him of his own crimes—and induces discomfort.

The pain I felt now in my belly and the headache and the thirst were terrible, and they all seemed to be coming out of the screen. So I creeched. ‘Stop the film! Please, please stop it! I can’t stand any more.’ (Part Two, Ch.4, p.105)

The premise of A Clockwork Orange is simple: the important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita also echoes this theme and goes farther since Satan is one of the characters. In this case, when the state undertakes to reform him, forcing him to to walk a tightrope of imposed goodness, they have gone too far. The government has entered a region beyond its covenant with the citizen; it has closed to its victim a whole world of non-moral goodness. What Burgess was trying to say was that it is better to be bad of one’s free will than to be good through scientific brainwashing. In other word, as a result of this reform, Alex is deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice. A human being is endowed with free will—he can use this to choose between good and evil.

The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man. (Part Two, Ch.1, p.83)

This lesson sticks out like a sore thumb. In the author’s own words, if a person can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange, meaning that “he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by Good or Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State.” The novel, written in a very articulate and invented lingo, has a three-pronged narrative that depicts moral progress: from the total evil to a total good rid of criminal propensities, and the ultimate reconciliation that evil and good must coexist because they justify one another. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be completely evil.

The writing can be hard going at the beginning. But the invented lingo seems systematic in the way that words are repeatedly use to convey the same meaning. I read the edition with a chapter that was originally left out when the book was published in the United States back in 1962. The edition is also devoid of a glossary of the teenager’s language but I got a hang of the language after three chapters.

192 pp. Norton Paperback Fictions. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


5 Responses

  1. The message of this book somewhat echoes a conversation my friend and I were having the other day. We discussed how there is truly no objective morality, although so many social sources try to tell us there is; people find it so hard to accept that humans are capable of anything.

  2. […] [497] A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess […]

  3. […] this is another of Kubrick’s genius acid induced pieces of cinema history… and an acid induced novella by Burgess. I give this movie 9 out of 10 and my most heartfelt congratulations to both the author […]

  4. […] industry in post-war England and Mrs. Hawkins’ career as an editor; Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange triggered unexpected conversation by the pool in Russian River. In the author’s own words, if […]

  5. […] A Clockwork Orange [1971]/ IMDb – novel: A Clockwork Orange/ author: Anthony Burgess Image source: […]

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