A Clockwork Orange is English-writer Anthony Burgessthe’s most famous book. The book was published in 1962, written in the dystopian genre, and made into a movie in 1971. The text is narrated by young Alex, whose entire life is full of criminal wrongdoings. Through Anthony’s novel, the author attempts to demonstrate that human behavior is predictable and can’t be corrected externally. However, Anthony also stresses that a person is only a person when he or she is making their own choices.
The novel is written in a very peculiar style – it is full of invented slang, some of which the author has adapted from the Russian language. There is also a little political twist among the book’s themes – the author couldn’t resist shaming totalitarian governments for disrespecting human rights. Overall, the text is full of interesting details and the book is definitely a worthy read.
Characters in “A Clockwork Orange” Novel
Alex is the 15-year old protagonist of the story, he narrates the entire text. He is a troubled teenager and, together with his gang, does a lot of terrible things – fights, rapes, steals, and partakes in drugs. Alex has a weird taste in music that his pals don’t get: he likes classical music; it makes him feel powerful and almighty. Such a lifestyle can’t end well for Alex: “Clockwork Orange” is the story of how he gets caught, is sent to jail, and undergoes experimental psychological therapy. But, his transformation isn’t genuine so his victim, and a fierce human-rights fighter, “help” him regain the rights to commit his wrongdoings.
George, Pete, and Dim
The are members of Alex’s gang whom he calls “droogs” (friends). They enjoy robbing local stores, beating up drunk people, and raping women together with Alex. But they aren’t genuinely loyal to him: George constantly takes advantage of any opportunity to undermine Alex as a gang leader, and all of them leave Alex behind to be caught by the police in the middle of one of their crimes. Dim would later become a police officer himself, while George gets murdered during a robbery. Pete finally departs his crooked path, gets married, and even starts speaking proper English. Alex’s encounter with Pete invokes a desire to stop his wrongdoings and start a family.
He is the leader of a rival gang, they fight a lot with Alex and his “droogs” before Alex goes to jail. He and Dim become policemen while Alex is incarcerated, and then beat him up when he gets released.
F. Alexander is one of Alex’s first victims and friends mentioned in the book. When the boys break into his house, they find pages of a manuscript entitled “The Clockwork Orange” and make fun of his ideas. His wife dies after being brutally violated, which leaves F. Alexander notably frightened. Once he finds out that Alex has been put through Ludovico’s rehabilitation technique, F. Alexander uses Alex to advance his beliefs against messing with people’s choices. He puts Alex through further experiments hoping the boy will commit suicide. Instead, Alex survives jumping off the 7th floor and the fall helps him regain his will to undertake any actions he wants.
Dr. Branom and Dr. Brodsky
They are the scientists that develop the Ludovico technique – a method to rehabilitate criminals by administering them drugs followed by a demonstration of violent pictures and movies. As a result, the subjects are supposed to feel physically ill, even at the thought of committing any wrongdoings. During the treatment, they also turn Alex’s favorite classical music on to make him more “sensitive”. Consequently, Alex experiences pain while listening to the music he used to like and while thinking of the actions he used to commit on a daily basis.
The Minister of the Interior (The Inferior) and Prison Governor
The people who approve the usage of the Ludovico technique and choose Alex to be among the pioneer subjects to test the treatment.
This man is one of the few people who stand against the Ludovico technique. He is convinced that people should change out of their own free wills and tries to dissuade Alex from participating. Alex doesn’t follow the chaplain’s advice.
Key Facts about Clockwork Orange
- The book is written in the dystopian genre – which means it portrays a bad future for society.
- A Clockwork Orange’s characters speak a slang language called Nadsat, it has an abundance of invented words. The author considers his book a “linguistic adventure”.
- The protagonist of the story is Alex. He is a troubled teenager who commits a lot of crimes with no remorse.
- Alex was forcefully repelled from committing criminal wrongdoings by Ludovico’s technique. It is depicted as an experimental clinical and psychological treatment believed to be able to prevent recidivism. It is supposed to be able to alter the bad behavior of the worst criminals by providing constant negative reinforcement.
- In the end, Alex regains his ability to commit crimes, but soon loses interest in carrying out wrongdoings. He decides that creating something is better than self-destruction.
- An introduction was added to the later editions of the book where the author explains his main ideas. However, he also mentions that: “It is not the novelist’s job to preach; it is his duty to show” (Introduction). The author states that he tries to describe the events as neutrally as possible and leaves it to the readers to make their own conclusions.
- The book is an immense source of topics and themes to write essays about – the freedom to do whatever one desires, the relationships between the state and ordinary people, human free will and how it changes throughout one’s life, the boundaries between freedom of action and criminal interference, humans’ ability to turn a blind eye towards things that disgust us, the role of police and penitentiary services in society, how the morality of individuals coincide (or doesn’t) with the morality of a group of people.
A Clockwork Orange Summary and Short Synopsis
The book is narrated by Alex, who welcomes the reader into what the future of modern society looks like. Alex and his young friends – Pete, George, and Dim – are having their usual evening: they are drinking, taking drugs, and beating up older people and members of other gangs. Their language is full of slang, and they like to insert Russian words into every sentence – such as “v kaif” (to enjoy), “tolchok” (kick), “starikashka” (old man) or “maltchiki” (boys). During the night, the boys break into some man’s house and rape his wife. The man, whose name is F. Alexander, turns out to be a writer. Pages of his manuscripts about some “clockwork orange” were scattered around the house. Alex gets intrigued by the weird title:
“…I read a malenky (A little) bit out loud in a sort of very high type preaching goloss (voice): – The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen” (Part I, Chapter 2).
The boys laugh at the writer’s ideas and leave him on the floor bleeding.
The next day Alex is alone, but he still manages to have a good time. He listens to his favorite classical music – Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart. The boy mentions that his pals don’t appreciate his fine taste in music and that they only listen to hip hop. He manages to find two young girls and makes them “submit to the strange and weird desires of Alexander the Large” (Part I, Chapter 4) while listening to his favorite music. The next day Alex and his pals go to steal silver from some lady who makes enough noise to attract the police. The boys manage to escape, but Alex gets caught. Alex mentions that his gang mates were always jealous of their leader. The police know Alex well as he had been involved in committing crimes for a long time now:
“Everybody knows little Alex and his “droogs” (friends). Quite a famous young boy our Alex has become” (Part 1, Chapter 7).
The woman, whose silver the boys were stealing, dies from the wounds she acquired during the robbery. Also, Alex’s cellmate gets murdered. This gets him a long jail sentence, even though he is only a juvenile (15 years old). He doesn’t like it in jail and can’t wait to get out. But he doesn’t make amends and feels no remorse. He thinks that he needs to be smarter to avoid getting caught next time. Alex spends some time with the prison priest. Eventually, he is chosen for an experimental treatment to correct his behavior called the “Ludovico Technique”. He is fed well, then doctors inject him with drugs and show him special movies. Alex is shown videos of different types of crimes, and the drugs in his body (believed to be a sort of “vaccine” against future crimes) make him feel sick while watching the videos. The films are very cruel and messed up:
“This time the film jumped right away on a young devotchka (a girl) who was being given the old in-out by first one malchick (a boy) then another then another then another, she creeching away very gromky (loud) through the speakers… if these films were made by the Good or the State you couldn’t imagine them being allowed to take these films without like interfering with what was going on” (Part II, Chapter 4).
The prison doctors force him to watch the videos. Some nurses even turn on his favorite classical music to increase Alex’s sensitivity and to enhance the development of the right reflex. In the end, Alex says:
“I began to feel sick. I had like pains all over and felt I could sick up and at the same time not sick up, and I began to feel like in distress, O my brothers, being fixed rigid too on this chair” (Part II, Chapter 4).
Supposedly, after two weeks of the treatment, Alex started to feel terrible when thinking about committing crimes. He had to behave well in order to feel well. The young delinquent was then released from prison after such an experimental probation method. After his release, Alex became a victim: he gets beaten by his previous victims, by the police, by his ex-pals (many of whom have joined the police forces). The boy couldn’t fight back because he’d feel even worse. His parents – that used to forgive him so many times – no longer exhibited benevolence towards their son. The boy felt miserable, he couldn’t even listen to his favorite music – it made him sick. One day Alex meets a man, F. Alexander, who tells Alex that what happened to him was the totalitarian control of the state over his human body and thoughts. The state had taken away Alex’s choices and freedom to make his own decisions. Later, it would turn out that F. Alexander was the man Alex and his pals had robbed at the beginning of the book. His wife died on that night and the husband lost his mind. At first, he doesn’t recognize Alex, while Alex thinks that F. Alexander is crazy.
Once F. Alexander realizes that Alex is the reason for his sorrows, he decides to try to coerce him towards committing suicide and blame the government for their experimental rehab therapy. Alex gets caught by the man’s friends – they all belong to a movement fighting for human rights. They lock him up and force him to listen to Beethoven’s music—which puts Alex in a lot of pain. Alex then tries to escape by jumping out of the 7th floor window. When he finally wakes up in the hospital, he winds up being cured of his rehabilitation treatment and can begin to carry out his wrongdoings again. He starts a new gang and becomes a bad boy once again. Eventually, Alex realizes that he no longer enjoys such a life. He meets his “ex-droog”, Pete, who got married and started a family. Alex also becomes attracted to the idea of having a house, a wife, and a baby… That’s how he realizes that his wild youth is over and he naturally grows up into adulthood.
A Clockwork Orange Themes
Fate and Free Will: A major theme of the novel is that it is pointless to try to change a man against his will. A Clockwork Orange’s meaning is an artificial mechanical interference with the natural course of events. Society doesn’t become a better place after Alex loses his capacity to commit crimes. It only reverses the victim-perpetrator relationship, and those who used to suffer from Alex’s atrocities start to take advantage of his weakness. In fact, Alex decides to become “good” when he has the full capacity to be “bad” – he was in charge of his fate and decided that he no longer wanted to be self-destructive. Every man has to learn from their mistakes.
Morality and Ethics: The novel takes place in a society that is full of young delinquents who do drugs, steal, commit crimes, and don’t feel the smallest bit of remorse. They lead an immoral life; however, is it ethical to force them to change their way of being? The reader of the book is torn between disgust towards the atrocities of young kids’ crimes and the moral dilemma of destroying somebody’s will.
Manipulation: Alex’s behavior was manipulated – he agreed to be subjected to experimental treatment only because he wanted to get out of jail. In fact, he was eager to take revenge on his enemies and get back to living the life he used to live. However, he wasn’t able to do it once he got out. This was not the life he had foreseen for himself and we don’t know whether or not he would have agreed to the treatment had he known its consequences.
Transformation: Alex’s transformation was fake and even his victims knew it. When Dr. Brodsky presented his successful therapy results, the audience rightly mentioned:
“He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self- abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.” (Part II, Chapter 7).
Violence. The novel is very cruel and violent, yet it is included in many school literature programs. That’s because there is also a great lesson and a lot to think about in this text. Alex’s gang is brutal towards defenseless people, and in return, his pals don’t spare Alex from taking revenge on him when he becomes unable to defend himself.
Language and Communication. This theme demonstrates how much our words reflect our character. From the first sentence Alex speaks, the reader can guess that he was a disturbed child. The carelessness of his tone and his use of slang demonstrate how much he is detached from the society we all know. Nadsat was used to stress the distinctive genre of the book and Alex’s gang as a class.
The Inherent Evil of Government. The author wrote this dystopian novel to stress the severity that governments are able to meddle into people’s personal affairs. The Minister of Interior approved the treatment for the “greater societal good” of preventing crimes. Nobody cared about what was best for a particular person and what the personal consequences would be.
Power. In his book, the author demonstrates that one of the strongest powers is power over somebody’s will. Even F. Alexander wasn’t shy to use Alex as a tool to advance his personal agenda: blame the government for interfering with personal business and infringing human rights.
A Clockwork Orange Analysis and Interpretation
Title: The first question that needs explaining is usually: “What is the meaning of a clockwork orange? In the introduction added to later editions of the book, the author explains himself: “I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness” (Introduction). Another possible explanation comes from the word “orang” – which means “a man” in certain languages. Lastly, there is also a theory that the author overheard “clockwork orange” being used as a slang expression at a pub. This expression referred to somebody being “queer”.
Symbolism: The book is composed of 3 parts, each part has 7 chapters. In total, the 21 chapters are symbolic and represent the transition of a young man becoming an adult. Society tends to believe that people become adults when they turn 16, 18, or 21 years old. However, the book stresses that every person has to go through their own set of challenges to really grow up and start making responsible choices.
Ending: The original publication of the book in the US doesn’t include its final chapter. American publishers thought that their audience wouldn’t fall for such a miraculous turn in Alex’s behavior. A bad boy that all of the sudden decides to be good sounded too much like a fairy tale, so the publishers decided to omit the last chapter and let their readers come up with their own interpretation of what would happen to Alex. After 1986, the book has been published in full with its positive and reassuring last chapter.
Background, imagery, and allegory: The book was written at the time when the author returned to live in England. At that time, the country was overwhelmed with increasing rates of juvenile crimes. Burgess’ first wife was beaten by drunk soldiers stationed in their town during the Second World War. Little nuances like a “Home” sign at the entrance of F. Alexander’s house ,or gang boys mixing drugs with milk, mean that crimes coexisted with normal everyday life and nobody could feel 100% protected.