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A clockwork Orange
A Clockwork Orange - A Clockwork Complex.
Anthony Burgess’ novel leaves room for so many discussions and interpretations, that it would fill ten books of the original story’s volume. This is what caused the most of my difficulties with this essay, as I couldn’t quite decide where to start. Should I write about “nadsat”, Burgess’ invented language? Or should I perhaps analyse and judge the “Ludo- vico-technique”?
I finally agreed with myself on concentrating on the main character, Alex, as he probably represents the most complex element of the book. I hope I have somewhat succeeded in demo nstrating this complexity.
1.1 Alex - A Small Summary
Alex, narrator and main character of the book “A Clockwork Orange” , is a 15 year old only child and still in high-school. He is always dressed at the height of fashion, loves classical music and sweets and considers himself fairly good-looking. Despite being very polite most of the time, he enjoys robbing, hitting, kicking and raping people, though never attempting to kill them. He has been arrested before, but because of his tender age he didn’t have to go to state prison yet and the only thing he has to worry about right now is his post-corrective-adviser Mr. P.R.Deltoid, whom he doesn’t take too seri- ously.
At night he likes to hang around with his friends, Pete, Georgie and Dim, in the “Korova- Milkbar”. He is their leader and has never had his authority questioned so far. After drinking their “moloko with knives” (milk with synthetic drugs in it that makes them ag- gressive) they usually get out on the street and look for someone stupid enough to still be outside at such a late hour, and they beat that person up. Later they go to a shop or something similar where they break in, steel the money and beat up the owners. After that, they sometimes sneak their way into a house, by lying to the proprietor, and if there’s a woman around, they rape her (first Alex and then, one by one, the other three guys).
Like most teenagers they speak a language of their own, a mixture between Russian, cockney rhiming-slang and their own invention, which adults can rarely understand. During the day Alex keeps quiet and goes to school most of the times. To put it in his words:
“The day was very different from the night. The night belonged to me and my droogs and all the rest of the nadsats, and the starry bourgeois lurked indoors drinking in the gloopy worldcasts, but the day was for the starry ones, and there always seemed to be more rozzes or millicents about during the day, too.” (P.64, line 17).
But of course Alex wouldn’t be a real nadsat if he were the perfect nice guy during the day. Sometimes he just fakes a headache so he doesn’t have to go to school, and occa- sionally he picks up some eleven-year-old girls, takes them home, puts them on drugs and rapes them.
He doesn’t worry much about things, he doesn’t believe that he’ll ever get caught. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter to him, he figures that if he does have to go to jail, it’ll only be for three to six months, and that that should be no problem for him to bear. And once he gets out, he can go on with his violence.
1.2 Keywords and Contradictions in Alex’ Life
Violence and Beauty
What’s behind the rough picture painted of Alex above? The most obvious element of his character can be described with one word: violence. One word that opens an enormous world within Alex. Violence for Alex is joy, is sexual pleasure, is satisfaction, and is addiction. The sight of blood turns him on, the sound of breaking bones and the humiliation of his victims represent pure beauty to him.
In his twisted mind his actions are not wrong - they have their place in the world, in society, just as the good actions of all the righteous people have. “There’ll be life like down here most likely, with some getting knifed and others doing the knifing.” (Alex’ answer to Dim’s question, what might be on the stars above, p.31, line 21).
His behaviour seems natural to him. He thinks of it as a simple fact, that some people are like he is and that the others are the victims.
It is obvious throughout the book, that Alex in general doesn’t set himself any moral lim- its to his violence. The only thing he tries to avoid is killing somebody, because that would give him a harder sentence if he ever gets caught. Yet still he needs, and that strikes the reader as strange, some kind of “excuse” before exerting a violent act. Before robbing someone, he has to be broke first, so he spends all his money. To beat up an in- nocent citizen on the street, he needs to pretend that the books the man is carrying con- tain dirty language. Before raping a woman in her own house and almost beating her husband to death, he has to make fun of the novel the husband is writing, etc. Another contradiction, and Alex is full of contradictions, is his love for classical music. It is a drug to him and more important than anything else. He feels the music, he lives every single instrument of the orchestra. Classical music projects images of violence in his head, it “sharpens him up”, as he calls it, more than any “moloko with knives in it” ever can. Listening to it almost leads him to an orgasm! The music somehow makes his violence look like poetry, like art in his mind. The beauty of it deletes every sense of moral within him and just makes him want to hit and kick and beat even more and even harder.
Alex also has a strong sense for what is nice, neat, appropriate and polite. He expects his friends to always wear clean and fashionable clothes and not to make them dirty or mess them up - this especially refers to Dim: “I didn’t like the look of Dim; he looked dirty and untidy, like a veck who’d been in a fight, which he had been, of course, but you should neverlookas though you have been.” (P.22 line 23). “…only Dim…looking all dirtied over and too much von of sweat on him, which was one thing I had against old Dim.” (P.42, line 10).
He admires his own silk-nightgown and whenever he speaks to an official he uses a very polite, a very chosen language. He despises anything that is common or dirty. You could ask yourself, how he can bear violence then, but as explained before, violence seems to make a great impression on Alex, it seems to be something he admires, something that fulfills him.
Violence plays a great role in this book, but it doesn’t really hit the reader. Alex and his friends speak a completely different language, nadsat, that contains big influences of Russian, rhyming slang, common slang and made-up words. Because Alex is the narra- tor, a big part of the book is written in nadsat, so when violent scenes are described, one is so busy translating the words, that one doesn’t realise, can’t fully envision the descrip- tion.
1.3 The People Around Alex
Alex is the leader of a gang of four, includingDim,Pete,Georgieand himself.
Dimis the strongest and biggest member of the group, though not exactly the brightest. When they’re in a fight, he usually is the one who gets the most out of it. According to Alex, Dim outplays three ordinary men in his strength and madness. Because of his dumbness he has to suffer from many an offensive remark made by Alex, especially when he looks dirty after a fight or makes fun of something Alex likes.
Georgie, though never as bright as Alex, is still a bit more intelligent than Dim and so he is the first one of Alex’ “droogs” (nadsat for “friend” or “buddy”) to question Alex’ leadership and challenge him. When Alex slaps Dim for making fun of a singer in the “Korova Milkbar”, whose singing he has been enjoying, Georgie stands up for Dim and states, that he wouldn’t have let Alex slap him just like that.
Peteis a character we don’t learn much about, but his level of intelligence and his behaviour roughly match Georgie’s. He’s not that provocative though - when it becomes clear, that Alex will stay their leader, he just says: “I never said anything,” … ”I never go- voreeted one slovo.” (P.80, line 24).
P.R. Deltoidis Alex’ post corrective adviser, which means, that Alex must have been ar- rested once during his little adventures. Deltoid watches Alex very closely and he knows when he’s staying out of school and what he does at night. He tries to warn Alex, that he’s now gone too long without getting caught and that he should be careful. Deltoid has a good reason to be anxious, because the government considers it to be a confession of failure, when a post-corrective doesn’t reclaim one of his clients. P.R. Deltoid also claims to be “… the one man in this sore and sick community who wants to save you from your- self.” (P.59, line 17).
There’s not much we learn aboutAlex’parents, all we know for sure is, that they are simple people who both work all day and have to be constantly worried about Alex. They are also quite scared of him, though it is not sure if he’s ever hit them. They are aware that he is probably lying when he says his absence every night and all his money origi- nate from a job he has, but they don’t dare to ask what he really does and they probably don’t want to know.
2.0 The Turning Point
One night the four buddies decide to rob an old woman. They try to get into her house like they usually do, by telling her some kind of lie at the door. The woman is careful though and won’t let them in. So Alex sneaks into the house through a small window. When the woman notices him, she starts to scream and fight and so do her dozens of cats, but eventually he manages to hit her down. What Alex doesn’t know is, that the woman called the police while he was still trying to climb into the house.
When they realise the police is coming, Georgie, Pete and Dim tie Alex up and escape, leaving him behind. What Alex never really believed would happen, just has: he has finally been caught.
2.1 What Leads To It
How come the usually so careful Alex, who always makes sure that he has an alibi and always wears a mask during his crimes, has got caught now? How come his supposedly loyal friends leave him back for the police to find him?
The night when Alex slaps Dim in the “Korova-Milkbar” for making fun of that singer, his friends’ attitude toward him changes. They start to ask themselves, what or who made Alex the leader, what right he has to give them orders. Alex notices this change and it worries him so much that he even has a nightmare in which his friends turn against him. Therefore he is determined to strengthen his position in proving his friends who the boss is and why.
So when George suggests they pull off something big that could make them seriously rich, he pretends to be interested, although it doesn’t make any sense to him: ”I didn’t really care for any of this, my brothers. ‘And what will you do,’ I said, ‘with the big big big deng or money as you so highfaluting call it? Have you not every veshch you need? If you need an auto you pluck it from the trees. If you need pretty polly you take it. Yes? Why this sudden shilarny for being the big bloated capitalist?’ ’Ah, said Georgie, ‘you think and govoreet sometimes like a little child.’… ‘Tonight,’ said Georgie, ‘we pull a mansize crast.’ ” (P.77, line 16-25).
He listens to Georgie patiently, though he is fully aware that he is just about to undermine his authority.
He remembers his dream and sees that it has told the truth. At first he pretends he’s giv- ing in to them, that he accepts it, that George is trying to give orders now. But when a car passes by with a Beethoven Violin Concerto playing in it, he suddenly has a vision of what he has to do. He first challenges George, and then Dim to a fight and wins against both of them. After that, neither Pete nor the other two have to be convinced anymore, that Alex is indeed deservedly their leader.
Still Alex feels that there’s a crack in his position now, so he decides to pretend he takes them seriously and listens to George’s idea of the “mansize crast.” This idea consists of simple burglary in an old woman’s house. It’s something they have done many times before.
When they arrive there and notice, that the woman won’t let them in, no matter what lies they tell her, they decide they’ll have to sneak in somehow else. Alex sees this as a good opportunity to fully prove his leadership and so he offers to go in alone. He stumbles over his pride and his conviction, that he is superior to others and that he can pull the “crast” off alone.
2.2 In Prison and The Way Out
In prison Alex still doesn’t take things too seriously at first. When beaten up he just es- capes into a dream world with flowers growing and Beethoven’s music playing in the background. But then the old woman he had attacked before the police picked him up, dies in the hospital and he realises, that his prison-time won’t be as easy and short as he had thought.
He is sentenced to 14 years imprisonment and turns from “Alex” to the number 6655321. For two years he’s being bullied and perhaps even raped. The smell and the dirt in jai make him sick; also, he doesn’t feel like an ordinary criminal, he feels superior and be- cause of his youth he thinks he’s special: “I am not a common criminal, sir, and I am not unsavoury. The others may be unsavoury but I am not.” (P.128, line 9). Extremely disgusted by the other criminals, he is desperate to get out. One day, probably when overhearing a conversation, he learns about a new program, that can get you out of prison and makes sure you don’t get in again. He asks the prison’s priest about it, which tells him, that this new method is called the “Ludovico’s Technique”, but that it isn’t free of all doubt: “I must confess I share those doubts. The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Good- ness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” Alex doesn’t care, he just wants to get out somehow to continue his orgies of violence. The only things that has kept him going in prison for so long are his classical music and the Bible. Not because he has suddenly become religious, but because he enjoys all the violence in the Bible. This shows that his imprisonment has certainly not helped to cure him from his violent traits.
Soon after his conversation with the priest, he accidentally kills a new cellmate in a fight. The government then decides to try this new technique on Alex and he is transferred to another building. Many people, including the Governor, are against Ludovico’s technique. “Very hard ethical questions are involved,” … “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 you own mind about that.”
Alex still has no idea, what it actually is all about - he is just happy to get out and he silently laughs about the officials’ pathetic hope that they will be able to “make him good”. He is convinced that they will not succeed: “I said: ‘Oh, it will be nice to be good, sir.’ But I had a real horrorshow smeck at that inside, brothers.”
Alex’ treatment starts. For two weeks he’s being fed meals with drugs in them that make him feel sick and dry. He then is being shown films with violence and torture, rape and classical music in the background all day. In consequence his body slowly begins to associate the violent scenes, sex and the music with the physical pain.
3.0 Back On The Outside
3.1 The New Alex - A Better Person?
When Alex is released after a fortnight, he is completely helpless. Even a violent thought or his biggest pleasure, music, physically hurt him now.
So Alex has by no means become a better person. He would love to continue his fighting and raping from the old days but he simply can’t. They have taken away from him his power of choice.
When back in reality, he is confronted with his past. His former victims now turn against him and he can’t defend himself. When he calls the police, he meets Dim again who has become a policeman. That’s the government’s plan, to turn their most dangerous young criminals into men of the law, so their violence towards citizens becomes legal and it makes it appear as though the government has reduced the number of crimes. Instead of helping Alex, Dim beats him up and leaves him on a field somewhere outside the town. Seriously hurt, he somehow manages to reach the next house, where a man takes him in and provides him food, shelter, and medical care. Alex then remembers the man - it is the husband of a woman he has raped and accidentally killed years ago. Luckily for Alex, the man doesn’t recognise him.
The man has read about Alex in the newspaper and tells him, that he is very much against this new treatment. He belongs to a political party that is in opposition to the current government and that is planning to use Alex as part of their campaign, to prove that the government is inhuman and dangerous.
They bring him to a hotel room, where Alex realises that he doesn’t want to live like this anymore, without his beloved music and the thrill of violence. He tries to commit suicide and jumps from a window.
3.2 Cured Again
Alex survives his suicide-attempt and wakes up in a hospital. He finds out, that the political party that is currently in charge of the country now wants to use him fortheircampaign. For this purpose, they reverse the treatment he has suffered and he can again listen to his music or think about violence without feeling pain.
As soon as he is released from the hospital, he goes back to his old ways. He finds a new bunch of guys with whom he can hang around and practice violence. You could call him a hopeless case, he hasn’t learned anything from those two years in prison, and what followed it. Violence is his nature; he needs it just like he needs the air he is breathing and his music.
3.3 Growing Up?
If I would be writing about the American version of this book or about the film, this last paragraph wouldn’t be necessary. Burgess’ original novel contains a chapter that has been removed in the American release and is not part of the film either. In this last chapter Alex is now 18 years old and still roams around at night, looking for people to attack, but he doesn’t feel the same pleasure, the same enthusiasm anymore that he used to feel when he was younger.
One night he meets Pete again, who is now married and is leading a normal citizen’s life. Alex suddenly starts wondering, whether the time has come for him to grow up as well and to leave his child- and teenagehood behind.
The book finishes with an optimistic prospect for Alex’ future and suggest that Alex maybe isn’t a bad person after all, that he was just going through a phase during his teenage years.
Some people might consider this ending inappropriate. In my opinion, it is some sort of comfort for the reader, because Burgess’, in spite of his extreme brutality, has managed to make Alex seem sympathetic, by inserting him as the narrator and using a fantasylanguage to mask the violence. So with this last chapter, the reader doesn’t have too feelthatguilty anymore about liking Alex.
- Quote paper
- Anna Eldring (Author), 2001, Burgess, Anthony - A Clockwork Orange, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/103961