I posted a number of days ago my thoughts upon reading the first few chapters of Anthony Burgess’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and have taken longer reading this than I originally intended and imagined. However, I literally have just finished it, and felt that I should get some ideas down while they are still fresh- even if it is 3:35 AM!
Originally, the violence bothered me in both the sheer brutality of it and the way in which it is told with cold excitement and pleasure. However, I can now see that the violence enacted by Alex and his friends is but a narrative device on which to hang the central theme of the book. The idiosyncratic language used allows much of the violence to be covered up (or at least veiled), and after initially finding this daunting and inapproachable (due to having spent too long trying to decipher ‘Ulysses’), I soon read past this. Indeed, the use of the slang draws the reader in and makes them feel as though they are a part of the story, as they can understand what the narrator is saying and the words he uses, when many of the characters cannot break this code.
I was surprised to find myself as shocked by the violence depicted in the “cinny” as by that carried out in the first part of the book, and irritated that I begun to feel for Alex during his corrective treatment due to the way in which the supposedly ‘good’ State was treating him and abusing him phycholigically. I say irritated, as I begun the book wanting to hate Alex, and convinced myself that I would be detached from his character. Also, after hearing of the rapes and attacks, I was shocked by the slow revelation that the characters carrying out these acts were so young, with gradual references to school, living with parents, and the use of milk-bars to suggest the adult pub, but with a more childish edge.
The central theme of the novel (novella?) is summed up initially by the charlie (prison chaplain) when he says:
“It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. … Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?”
It can be seen that the enforced good is so rigorously and violently imposed that it ceases to be good, and becomes a form of evil and ‘bad’ in itself; whereas the bad commited under one’s own free will becomes more ‘good’ in comparison due to the retention of human free will. Interestingly, the US market received the book upon its original publication in 1962 (and subsequent publications until 1986) without the final chapter, leaving Alex to return to his own ways. It is this ominous and defeatest ending that Kubrick used to close his film on, making the story a cyclical one that becomes not so much about a singular character named Alex, but about an everyman character named Alex, whose tale is to be echoed on and on and on. However, the original book in its UK edition contains a further chapter which I feel actually reveals the true message of the book. Burgess gave ‘A Clockwork Orange’ 21 chapters to relate to the age at which people are seen to become full adults, and in this final, 21st chapter, the 18-year-old Alex realises that even though he has regained the free will to commit acts of violence, it is actually the love of a wife and the role of a father that he wishes to choose for himself. Yes, we can see that the narrator is finally choosing to be good rather than having it imposed upon him, but we also become aware that the entire book has been an (albeit very exaggerated) alegory for a person’s teenage years and their path to maturity and adulthood: He rebels against his parents and society; he is punished for this and adults attempt to mould him into a better person (or the person that society wishes them to be); this works for a time, but then the child has to work out for themselves that this adult life is what they want, not what they are told they want; finally, the rebellion is put behind them and they become an adult. Personally, for me this is the bigger message of the book, and one that turns this book from an exploration of a philosphical conundrum to a coming-of-age story with a more powerful and applicable message.
All-in-all- not what I expected, but a lot better and a book I would thoughroughy recommend.