A Clockwork Orange is a classic English novel published in 1962 by Anthony Burgess.
About the author: Born John Anthony Burgess Wilson in 1917. He wrote under the pen name Anthony Burgess. He became one of the most popular English writers in the late twentieth century.
Clockwork Orange took three weeks to write and was influenced by an incident where his wife was robbed and violated by army deserters in London during the blackout.
Plot summary: The book follows a young teenager named Alex as he engages and lives through a violent and sinister period in England. There appears to be a lack of control or authority over the city, and youngsters are free to participate in unlawful, rebellious and plain brutal activities.
Young Alex is the leader of a group of three boys, all of whom are very obsessed with violence, drugs and women. Their personalities and egos overlap and conflict grows more intense within their gang. Alex speaks to the reader, the book is sort of a soliloquy, whereby he interacts with the reader and guides us through his emotions and actions. The book starts off with Alex arrogantly asking “What’s it going to be then, eh?”.
Alex and his buddies spend most of their time at a street bar drinking milk laced with drugs. They are regulars there and the local girls often approach them flirtatiously in the hopes of getting a drink. One night they embark on a spree of vicious acts, involving stealing a car and robbing, molesting and assaulting a couple in their house. During that event, Alex picks up a pile of notes, the title of the work marked “A Clockwork Orange”. Alex tears the papers up.
Another night, tensions being high, Alex wants to prove his worth by breaking into an old lady’s house. After climbing in through the window and knocking the lady out, he opens for his friends. Dim, the arrogant muscle of the group, punches Alex. The police arrive after the others depart, leaving Alex to be arrested.
He ends up in prison after the lady dies from the sustained injuries. After several years in prison, Alex is blamed for killing a cellmate which results in government officials taking him for aversion therapy. This treatment is called Ludovico Technique and involves altering thought patterns through repetitive stimuli and medication.
Alex is released from prison after the officials deem him stripped of any free will and violence. He returns home to see that his parents have taken in a lodger. They don’t want to accept their son back into their lives. He is alone and wants to commit suicide. After an altercation at a library, police arrive. The one policeman is Dim. Dim and the other officer take Alex out into the country and beat him up. Alex is left on the side of the road, he crawls to a nearby village, where a man takes him in. It turns out this man is the gentleman of whom Alex and his friends had attacked those many years ago. The man’s wife had died from injuries received that night.
The gentleman wants to use Alex as evidence for the government’s wicked ways and sets out to get media publicity. During that time he realizes, Alex is the boy who killed his wife and so locks him up in a room. Alex jumps from the window to try end his life. He awakes in a hospital. The government want to try cover up the episode and their practices and so locks away the gentleman. They offer Alex freedom and a job.
Alex has regained his free will and is once again aroused by violence and rebelliousness.
After starting a new gang and participating in this “ultra-violence” he bumps into one of his old friends, of whom now has got married and started a normal life. Alex is inspired by this change and quits the gang. The novel ends with a glimmer of hope that Alex has finally overcome the evil that he was so possessed by.
My Thoughts: It is a very depressing novel that evokes emotions of dread, misfortune and rage. There is a strong sense of sorrow for Alex as he goes through this most tragic and violent life. Through no fault of his own, he is forced to participate and experience such wickedness. The gloomy, sinful England as in the novel gives no hope to anyone growing up in those times. Alex, through no fault of his own, sees and does far worse than any man should ever see or do.
Alex represents this extreme subculture of youth violence and lack of reform. How poor upbringing and weak law enforcement has allowed the behaviours of young boys to go astray. Juvenile delinquency provokes teenage gangs, hatred for the wealthy and a lust for brutality. Alex has been exposed to so little other emotions that the only thing he knows is violence. Despite the rigorous attempts by government officials to rewire his brain, Alex can not depart from that of which he has always known.
What I learnt: We are prone to accept and abide by actions and opinions that are not countered or controlled. Something as serious as violence can be imprinted in a young mind when there is no line between right and wrong. Without the right influences, without pure love, or goodness, we are as easily led astray.
Our minds are books that are continuously writing down things. And we try to make sense of it all. And the more of a particular word that is written down, the more likely we are to believe it, to do it.
And although we can easily destroy those words, we cannot unwrite it.
So what’s it going to be then, eh?
If you haven’t read the book, get it here: A Clockwork Orange