Book Review: A Clockwork Orange


By Ülvi Gitaliyev

In the Western World, the 60s is largely remembered as a time of high crime, political struggles and the counter-culture. Many at the time longed for stability and were shaken to their core by these developments. In 1962, Anthony Burgess, the author of A Clockwork Orange, was one such man. He wrote the book as a warning of where society was headed, but it also asks its readers an age-old question; can morality exist without free will?

The book is written from the perspective of Alex, a fifteen-year-old gang leader who regularly steals, beats up and rapes those he comes across with little care in the world. Every night, he comes back home where his loving parents worry for his future. Alex keeps his three other gang members in control with a combination of threats and violence, but one night, tired of his lack of respect for them, they abandon him during a heist and he is caught by the police.

Alex is sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the murder of the woman whose house he was trying to rob. After two years, his violent tendencies have only increased and after killing an inmate during a brawl, the government decides to subject him to the experimental Ludovico Technique. For Alex, this entails being forced to watch violent movies ranging from Nazi propaganda to gang rapes while being drugged. The technique creates in him a ghastly fear of sex, violence and Beethoven’s ninth symphony. After a fortnight, he is promptly released from prison and becomes a freeman, but the world has not forgotten Alex so easily.

When Alex returns home, he finds that his parents have given away his room to labourer. He tries to fight this intruder, but as soon as he thinks of punching him, his mind is paralyzed and falls to the ground. Dejected, he goes to the library where one of his former victims recognizes him and starts to beat him up. Unable to fight back, Alex tries to run away but is saved. Unfortunately for him, his saviours are also former gang members turned police officers who take their revenge on his past transgressions by beating him up and abandoning him in the countryside. When night falls, he finds a village home to stay in, but once again, a former victim lets him in. At first, the villager, whose wife Alex brutally raped two years ago, does not recognize him, but when he does, things do not go well. Alex is used as an example of the inhumanity of the current government by opposition politicians. They even go so far as to play the Ninth Symphony in a locked room in order to make him commit suicide. Alex does try to end it all, but he fails and is instead sent to the hospital. There, he becomes a media sensation and both the government and opposition try to use him for the next election. More importantly, doctors in the hospital brought Alex’s love for violence back and he once again dreams of committing sprees of crimes.

In the last chapter of the book, Alex is now an adult and still terrorizes the streets, but with a new and more subservient gang. One night, he spots one of his former gang members who is now a married man with a stable job. Perplexed at first, Alex has an epiphany and decides to leave his life of crime behind and try to settle down with a family of his own.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the comparison between its original and American editions. The final chapter, which is in a separate paragraph, was removed from the original American publication of the book and did not appear for many decades. Publishers argued that the final chapter did not fit into the rest of the book. In my honest opinion, I enjoyed the American edition of the book more. While the idea that criminals cannot be rehabilitated and will always return to their evil ways is questionable at best, it is certainly more dramatic and less forced the actual final chapter, which skips a few years from Alex’s life with little explanation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It is the physical manifestation of a crazy rollercoaster. In some cases, Burgess’ personal biases and political philosophy override the story, but overall, Alex was in control and told the story in an interesting and grueling manner. A Clockwork Orange certainly deserves its place as one of the most widely read dystopian novels in the English language. Be warned though, it is certainly not for the fainthearted.

Final Review:

5/6 Torches

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