Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange follows Alex, a young boy who constantly finds trouble with his “droogs” until getting caught and ultimately becoming involved in an experiment that questions the morality surrounding free will.
The novel is divided into three parts with seven chapters each, totaling in 21 chapters, a nod to 21 as being an age of maturation. However, the last chapter was omitted by the editor in the original American editions because the editor said that American audiences wouldn’t take to the final chapter in which Alex reforms and denounces his violent tendencies.
Burgess formulates new kind of slang called Nadsat that Alex and his friends talk in, which has a foundation in the Russian language. This makes for a little bit of a tough read at first, but as the novel goes on, it becomes easier to understand and one may even begin to govoreet the slang in his own head.
Each part of the novel begins with the same question of, “What’s it going to be then, eh?” which serves as a repetition of the theme of free will. This theme constantly occurs, especially in parts two and three during and after Alex’s procedures of attempted reformation using the Ludovico Technique. The way the Ludovico Technique works is simple: Alex is injected with nausea-inducing drugs and then forced to sit and watch violent films. As a result, he becomes sick at the thought or sight of violence due to the past prolonged associations.
Unfortunately for Alex, the Ludovico Technique also ruins his love for classical music as it was the background music for the films he had to watch. Alex’s passion for classical, particularly Ludwig van Beethoven, was established early on in the novel and until its association with his sickness, it always provided him with a sense of comfort from the outside world. The Ludovico Technique strips Alex of any semblance of a normal life that he once had.
A Clockwork Orange deals not only with the question of morality surrounding free will, but also problems regarding the suppression of the individual for the sake of the state. The government attempts to control Alex and his friends, and ultimately does in some ways (here’s looking at you, Dim). It explores these complex issues in a way that is captivating and enjoyable, and once you get used to the Nadsat language, it turns into a quick read.
To my personal pleasant surprise, this novel seemed to be an amalgamation of other books I have previously added to the B-Side bookshelf. It contains the troublesome youth found in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, the dystopian society with an overreaching government that is similar to 1984, and the idea of the technological operation gone wrong like what is seen in Flowers for Algernon. However, although there are similarities, A Clockwork Orange is its own masterpiece and definitely worth checking out, that is, if you haven’t already.