10 Things You Should Know About A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

10 Things You Should Know About A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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  1.  "A Clockwork Orange" written by Anthony Burgess is a piece of literature that remains popular to some and bewildering to others.  It is one of those literary works that often divides its audience. Regardless of personal preference, this book is frequently taught in high school classrooms all around the country, and there are ten things a person should know in order to fully understand "A Clockwork Orange."


    Anthony Burgess wrote "A Clockwork Orange" in 1962. Burgess explores the concept of morals and violence within society. Apparently, he was inspired to write the book after visiting a communist country where he observed extreme oppression and violent teen gangs. Surprisingly, the author was not the biggest fan of his well known novel. He states in the 1986 introduction to the book that he wishes he could "disown (the novel) for various reasons."


    Originally, the American publication of "A Clockwork Orange" did not contain the final chapter that Burgess wrote. The final chapter concludes with Alex deciding to give up his violent, immature ways and live a normal life. The American publishers did not think this would be satisfying for the American audience, so it was ended at Chapter 20 instead of 21. The original version was restored in the 1980’s when Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation of the book came out.


    "A Clockwork Orange" is considered to be a part of the dystopian genre of literature. In dystopian literature, the world in which the story takes place is wholly imperfect and corrupt in some way whether politically, socially, or culturally. In this novel, it is the corrupt government and the extreme violence which create the dystopian world.


    The title "A Clockwork Orange" comes from Cockney which is a specific dialect spoken by people who inhabit the eastern area of London. The expression is reported to mean strange, weird, or unusual. 


    According to the American Library Association(ALA), many people have attempted to get this book banned from libraries and schools due to the violent content and language. In 1973, according to the ALA, a man was even arrested for simply selling the book in his shop. It remains one of the classic works of literature that is frequently challenged.

    The language

    The characters in "A Clockwork Orange" speak their own language. This is one of the reasons that this book is considered to be a difficult read. Not only does a person have to figure out what is going on in the plot, but the additional chore of translation can create frustration. Some of the these words include: droogs(friends), dog (God), and lewdies (people). Burgess created this slang and called it "nasdat."


    Usually, protagonists have some redeeming quality, but not in this book. The main character, Alex, is very similar to an antihero which is a protagonist without the typical qualities of a hero such as nobility or a pure spirit. Alex and his friends rape, steal, and beat up several characters in the book. These actions are done without much remorse, or at least it appears that way to the reader.

    Basic Plot

    A group of teenage boys, including Alex who is the leader, go on a crime spree which includes robbery, rape, and beatings. Alex gets caught by the police and is given a 14 year prison sentence. After awhile, Alex kills another inmate and is placed into a brainwashing program in an attempt to rid him of his violent nature. This brainwashing process turns out to be effective and Alex is released from prison soon after. Due to the brain washing process which included pairing violent images with feelings of nausea and classical music. Alex no longer has any desire to commit violent acts. Back in the real world, Alex meets up with a  man named F. Alexander. This man was one of the reasons Alex went to prison in the first place as he raped and beat F. Alexander’s wife who later died. Since Alex wore a mask during that attack, F. Alexander does not recognize him. Alex tells the man about what happened to him in prison and F. Alexander, who severely dislikes the current government, wants to use his story as a tool to bring it down. Eventually, the man discovers who Alex is and locks him in a room blasting classical music in an attempt to drive Alex to suicide. Alex ends up in the hospital and the doctors reverse the brainwashing techniques allowing Alex to be violent once again. He reverts to his old ways, but finds that he does not find the same satisfaction in it that he once did. The final scenes of the book show Alex running into one of his old "droog" who is now married and living a normal life. Alex decides that he wants this sort of life and the audience is led to believe that he will once and for all give up his violent behavior.


    One of the most important themes within this book is the concept of free will. Free will is illustrated in the beginning of the novel with Alex choosing of his own volition to commit acts of violence. His free will is essentially taken away when he is brainwashed in prison. When the brainwashing is reversed, he is returned to his former state of violence. At the end of the story, we see Alex utilize his free will once more when he decides to lead a normal, non violent life.


    There are many references to drugs within this book. This is an important feature as drugs typically symbolize rebellion, especially for teenagers. One mention of drugs is the "milk" that the characters drink which contains a certain hallucinogenic drug. The juxtaposition of milk which is often promoted as a tool for building healthy bones in children with drugs symbolizes the conflict that teenagers face as they are no longer children but not yet adults.

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