Burgess openly addresses this violence which is often physical and sexual and contrasts it against the oppressed and controlled lives of other citizens of the novel.
Alex’s view of the world is nightmarish and will likely disturb a large percentage of readers. But, it’s also presented as a necessary evil in a world where free will and human nature are on the verge of being entirely stopped out by a burgeoning totalitarian state.
The novel was incredibly influential in the years after it was published, gaining a cult and then mainstream following, especially after the filming of the A Clockwork Orange movie, directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film went on to influence visual and musical artists as well as fashion designers and other filmmakers. Burgess’s novel was a game-changer, redefining what the genre of dystopia could accomplish.
Violence in A Clockwork Orange
All that being said, this novel isn’t for everyone. It’s incredibly violent, driven in sections by Alex’s willingness and desire to harm other people. He is fueled by a need to break with the rules society sets for him, and in doing so, he commits acts that are likely going to bother readers. This novel is not for those troubled by descriptions of violence nor for young readers who are not yet mature enough to handle it. This is furthered by the fact that in many passages, violence is treated artistically. Alex sees it as an expression of his inner-self. It is treated as something aesthetic and something to be admired. Here is a great example of the way that violence is treated:
Oh it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk round my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.
Words like “gorgeosity” and “silverflamed” in addition to “silvery win,” “wonder of wonders,” “thick thick toffee gold and silver” are all
The Use of Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange
His horrific acts are only partially disguised by the use of Nadsat, requiring some translation on the reader’s part. The use of slang in the novel is something that also turns away some readers. The novel starts with the following quote:
‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’ There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim. Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry. The Ko Part 1 rova Milkbar was a milk-plus mesto, and you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like, things changing so skorry these days and everybody very quick to forget, newspapers not being read much neither.
There is an immediate barrier to entry with this novel. Readers are met with new words, ones that require context to understand. It may take pages or even chapters for one to figure out what words like “mestos” and “droogs” mean. This was, of course, intentional of Burgess’s part. He even fought with publishers to keep a glossary of terms from being published as part of the novel. He wanted readers to work to figure these words out. This means, though, that the first pages of the book are hard to get through. It requires perseverance to read pages of text that don’t entirely make sense. But, the language and what does come through in amongst the Nadsat is interesting enough to compel most readers onward.
As the novel progresses, it gets easier and easier to figure out what the slang means. By the end of the book, the language appears almost normal. That is until Burgess includes dialogue from an adult and readers are returned to the world of contemporary English. While the slang presents positives and negatives, it can’t be denied that it does a great job of transporting readers into the world of A Clockwork Orange. With these new and strange words, Alex’s thoughts are distorted and made even harder to comprehend than they otherwise would’ve been.
After the novel was published, Burgess famously referred to it as “too didactic” to be considered art. Although some have issues with the book, this is a statement that very few readers and critics agree with today.
What’s so special about A Clockwork Orange?
When it comes to the book, Burgess attempted a type of writing and a storyline that had never been attempted before. He used language the reader was not meant to understand, relished in the ultra-violence of his main character, and focused on a series of characters who are all unlikeable. The novel transports readers to a different world, one that’s as compelling as it is nightmarish.
Why was the book A Clockwork Orange banned?
The book was, and still is, banned in some schools and other intuitions due to its depictions of violence, physical and sexual violence. The novel is fueled by these passages and without them, it would lose much of what makes it worth reading. Alex’s violent acts are at the center of the discussion of free will versus control.
What is the ending of A Clockwork Orange?
The ending is different depending on which version of the novel you’re reading. In some American versions, the final chapter in which Alex reforms himself is omitted. In others, readers learn that Alex stops his violent acts and turns his mind towards finding a wife and having a son.
Was A Clockwork Orange based on a true story?
No, not entirely. There is one incident in the novel that may have been based on a similar event in Burgess’s life, an attack on his wife during a WWII blackout. But, aside from that, the world of A Clockwork Orange is entirely fictional.
A Clockwork Orange: Burgess' Violent Masterpiece
Lasting Effect on Reader
A Clockwork Orange Review
A Clockwork Orange is Anthony Burgess’ best-known novel. It follows Alex, a violent and seemingly irredeemable protagonist who is subjected to a brainwashing experiment at the hands of the State. No longer able to think violent thoughts, he serves as a lesson of the importance of free will.
- Incredibly creative writing style
- One of a kind dialogue
- Memorable characters
- Nadsat is challenging to read
- Very violent
- Characters are unlikeable