The book of the English writer Anthony Burgess “A Clockwork Orange” was never assigned to any of the established literary genres. This is a dystopia, and a deep psychological drama, and social fiction. Despite the absolute improbability of most of the events, the images of the characters, their actions and the surrounding society are frighteningly recognizable. And that makes the book incredibly compelling.
What is A Clockwork Orange about?
This is a story that is told on behalf of a 15-year-old teenager, Alex, who made a gang of robberies and rapes from his peers. In the 4 parts of A Clockwork Orange, the protagonist details the crimes he commits, his arrest, trial, and imprisonment.
While serving his sentence, he becomes a participant in a cruel experiment that is supposed to “cure” an uncontrollable and cruel teenager. The technique worked. Alex can no longer show aggression and resist violence from other people. With any burst of rage or thoughts of illegal acts, he is tormented by debilitating bouts of nausea. He is subjected to monstrous humiliation in prison.
After his release, his life becomes even more hopeless: his parents abandoned him, former friends turned away, and the husband of one of the victims of their gang decided to take revenge on Alex. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, a young man becomes the object of everyone’s attention. Parents forgive him, officials see him as an unfortunate victim of the system, and newspapermen make him almost a national hero.
Alex gets a good job at the State Archives. But his patience is only enough for a year. It turns out that after the injuries received as a result of a failed suicide, the prison “treatment” ceased to work. Alex is no longer sick at the thought of crime, and he decides to put together a new gang. He returns to his favorite bar, begins to work out plans for upcoming crimes. And suddenly he realizes that he is no longer interested.
He sees that his former gang mates have settled down, one even started a family. And the main character also begins to think that in his life it is time to get married, become a father and raise a son. True, the idea of writing some kind of instruction for the unborn child is quickly fading away. Alex is sure that the youth will always rebel and the same scenario will be repeated in every generation.
Meaning of A Clockwork Orange
Of course, from the reading it follows that the work teaches something like: “No matter what we do, we will not get rid of the outcasts.” However, it is worth thinking and understanding – what is the idea of the novel “A Clockwork Orange”? Did the author want to show us all that this world is unfair and cruel? Yes, no doubt. There will always be a place for crimes, betrayal, tragedies in it. Evil is on the same earth as good, and there is no getting away from it. Alex saw and felt all the meanness of society, with its unfair laws and low moral standards, and became part of it, which at least reaps the fruits of human vileness. He only chose what was best under the circumstances, that’s all he can be tried for, and Burgess is far from the prosecutor’s pathos. The writer, although he was in the role of a victim of a crime, refuses the idea of the violent suppression of evil and the right to revenge. He even ridicules the image of himself in the novel, summing up the life of the writer Alexander a miserable conclusion: he went crazy with rage at his offender. The bearer of the bright ideas of humanism and freedom from hatred turns into the same criminal, ready for cruel reprisals. Thus, there can be no violence for the good, it will poison even the most moral person.
Even the author of A Clockwork Orange, who lost his wife through the fault of the same thugs, surprisingly sees no point in the logical and simple pagan formula “an eye for an eye.” So what happens, do nothing, let them rob themselves? No. It is in our power to try to change the poisonous atmosphere that forces people to be like that. Only on your own can you come to the realization of your actions and to their redemption, so you need to help a person understand that the world can be different, but it depends on each of us. As long as at least one of us keeps kindness in our hearts, and the ability to stop the animal aggression in ourselves, which is manipulated by the authorities, Alex with his theory of a “stinking” world will be just a hero of a dystopia.
In any case, talking about the positive correction of the whole society and the world is stupid, because you never know when such marginal boys will fall upon you. Even science fiction writers cannot come up with a recipe for getting rid of them. Therefore, we must start at least with ourselves and our environment.
The author used in his work “A Clockwork Orange” fictional slang (nadsat – from the Russian “eleven”), which is used by British teenagers, mainly the main character and his company. The jargon, which is remarkable, consists of the words of the Russian language, written in Latin (droog “friend”, malchik “boy”). Apparently, Burgess was inspired by a trip to the Soviet Union, which he undertook shortly before writing the novel. The basis for Newspeak was not chosen by chance: this is how the writer plays up the fear that Europeans had for the Russians. The aggravation of the already strained relations between Western civilization and the USSR, which found expression in the Caribbean crisis, frightened many people. By the way, the same prejudice is noticeable in the choice of the surname for the main tormentor of young criminals – “Doctor Brodsky”, the names of locations (the Melodiya store), etc.
It is curious that the book contains the novel “A Clockwork Orange” and its author. Alex sees the title of the manuscript for the first time when he breaks into the writer’s house. He wonders what such a strange title means, but soon forgets about it. But the phrase itself crashed into his memory and pursued throughout the story, like an evil nickname thrown by fate. One gets the feeling that his role from beginning to end was spelled out by his own victim even before the crime and all subsequent events. While the hero was serving his sentence, the work was published, and its writer earned fame as an opposition creator.
In the image of Alexander, Anthony Burgess tried to throw out his anger overflowing to those tormentors who dealt with his wife. He recovered from it by adding the text and bringing the logic of hatred to a victorious ending. The hero never managed to take revenge, but in this impulse he loses his own personality. Everything that separated him from that crime collapsed, we had the same killer in front of us, just the motive was different. The author proved to himself that, no matter how painful, one should not stoop to cruelty.
Before the accidental murder of the old woman, the hero did not take the life of anyone. This event was a turning point in his life. The same thing happened with Rodion Raskolnikov, who killed Alena Ivanovna in exactly the same way – with a blow to the head. This reference to the work of Dostoevsky is obvious. Alex, too, justifies his raid on her house by saying that the pathetic old maid has too much good fortune allotted for her. None of the characters really managed to take anything from the damned place, let alone spend it on their own needs. Each of them, in his own way, understood Nietzsche’s theory of the superman and tried to rise above the crowd of “trembling creatures.” For various reasons, they imagined themselves to be “entitled”, and each survived his punishment. However, the problems and the idea are the same: a person can repent only on his own. Thus, “A Clockwork Orange” – “Crime and Punishment”, translated into postmodern language, replayed in the tune of the 20th century. Using the example of comparing the heroes of their time in the same circumstances and scenes, we can trace how the world has changed in just a hundred years.
The apotheosis of evil in the behavior of Alex and his cronies has been called “ultra-violence” in criticism. In other words, it is destruction for the sake of destruction, without commercial or other motivation.
Main characters and their characteristics
- Alex– the main character (nickname – shorty) of the book “A Clockwork Orange”. A cruel and merciless teenager, a rebel. This is not a youth tortured by life and suffering, poverty does not hang over him, hunger does not prevail and the insurmountable fate of an orphan does not rise. He has ordinary, quiet parents, there are no bullies at school who bully him, there are no problems, there is no first unrequited love. But he considers this world “shitty”, he does not find in it a place for justice, kindness, honesty and sympathy. There is no place for them in it either. He truly enjoys what he does. Ultra-violence becomes the meaning and form of its existence. The guy sees in him beauty and incomprehensible music for the townsfolk. When he listens to Mozart or Bach, he imagines destroying a shop or raping women. In his image, the author shows how the age of wars and revolutions changed the paradigm of human thinking, changed the psyche: now aggression and destruction have not only become familiar, but have acquired aesthetic significance and a narcotic effect for other people. Alex in this sense is a portrait of his era. It reflects her craving for despotic anarchy on blood. At the same time, it is impossible not to find positive features in him: he is a passionate admirer and connoisseur of musical art, loves his parents in his own way (gives them money, does not hide from them), polite and courteous when he needs it. You can’t refuse him in mind, fortitude and dexterity either, it’s not for nothing that he is the leader of his “caudle”. However, the thirst for power and recognition blinds him, so he often acts short-sighted and reckless. but acquired for other people an aesthetic value and a narcotic effect. Alex in this sense is a portrait of his era. It reflects her craving for despotic anarchy on blood. At the same time, it is impossible not to find positive features in him: he is a passionate admirer and connoisseur of musical art, loves his parents in his own way (gives them money, does not hide from them), polite and courteous when he needs it. You can’t refuse him in mind, fortitude and dexterity either, it’s not for nothing that he is the leader of his “caudle”. However, the thirst for power and recognition blinds him, so he often acts short-sighted and reckless. but acquired for other people an aesthetic value and a narcotic effect. Alex in this sense is a portrait of his era. It reflects her craving for despotic anarchy on blood. At the same time, it is impossible not to find positive features in him: he is a passionate admirer and connoisseur of musical art, loves his parents in his own way (gives them money, does not hide from them), polite and courteous when he needs it. You can’t refuse him in mind, fortitude and dexterity either, it’s not for nothing that he is the leader of his “caudle”. However, the thirst for power and recognition blinds him, so he often acts short-sighted and reckless. does not close from them), is polite and courteous when he needs it. You can’t refuse him in mind, fortitude and dexterity either, it’s not for nothing that he is the leader of his “caudle”. However, the thirst for power and recognition blinds him, so he often acts short-sighted and reckless. does not close from them), is polite and courteous when he needs it. You can’t refuse him in mind, fortitude and dexterity either, it’s not for nothing that he is the leader of his “caudle”. However, the thirst for power and recognition blinds him, so he often acts short-sighted and reckless.
- Tom is a traitor who is very offended by Alex for his superiority. He tolerates his power, but all the time he is looking for a reason to shake it, pretending to be a simpleton. In the end, not defeating the leader in a fair duel, he decides to set him up and at the decisive moment leaves him, bloody and helpless, at the crime scene. He is very envious and limited, but strong and strong physically. A vile nature with a passion for violence, ironically, finds its place in the police, where scumbags are specially recruited. There he feels at ease: he also tortures people, but under the guise of the law. In addition, the law gives him a much-desired power that he could not acquire on his own.
- Pete is a slave member of the gang, only a year older than the leader. He does not care who will be in charge, he does not have enough extra stars from the sky. One gets the feeling that he is superfluous in the company, and life has proved this: at the age of 19, the hero settled down, got a job and got married. It was Alex who met him at the end of the novel and realized that it was precisely this harmony of Pete with the world and himself that he lacked. The character always goes with the flow, takes the side of the majority and does not climb on the rampage. Apparently, these qualities, coupled with mediocrity, provided him with a place in a “decent” society.
- Jorjik is an ambitious and greedy juvenile delinquent who also claims to be the leader. Unlike Tom, he is smart and cunning, his actions more like those of a leader. He is trying to safely and peacefully intercept the baton of the championship, but the leader of the gang disarms him, confirming his status. The hero, however, does not remain aloof from betrayal and easily leaves a comrade in trouble. However, he finds his death very soon after the conclusion of a friend: he is killed by a robbery victim.
- Alexander F. – a writer who was robbed and beaten by the above-described characters of A Clockwork Orange. In the book, he represents Burgess himself, because the same thing happened to his wife. True, the heroine was raped right in front of her husband. She died soon after, never recovering from the shock. Then her husband also lost his mind a little, became interested in politics and began to write opposition literature. Despite the tragedy, he was categorically against the new system of punishing criminals. In the beginning, he is characterized by distraction, kindness, gentleness and compassion. He let the beaten Alex into the house and took care of him as if he were his own son. However, his motives soon become clear: he is sick with the idea of overthrowing the government, and his guest is needed as an informational weapon for agitation against the government. Although he himself propagates lofty thoughts about the rights and freedoms of people, but he doesn’t care about the people themselves. In the finale, he completely goes crazy when he finds out that the rapist and murderer of his wife was visiting his house. From a just and sympathetic person, he turns into an evil and implacable executioner who wants, by all means, to take revenge on the offender. Now it no longer seems to him that his new acquaintance was treated inhumanely. Thus, the author ridicules politicians on both sides of the barricades, because they are all driven by hypocrisy alone. Alexander preached his peace-loving “truth” only until he himself recognized the victim as his tormentor. Now it no longer seems to him that his new acquaintance was treated inhumanely. Thus, the author ridicules politicians on both sides of the barricades, because they are all driven by hypocrisy alone. Alexander preached his peace-loving “truth” only until he himself recognized the victim as his tormentor. Now it no longer seems to him that his new acquaintance was treated inhumanely. Thus, the author ridicules politicians on both sides of the barricades, because they are all driven by hypocrisy alone. Alexander preached his peace-loving “truth” only until he himself recognized the victim as his tormentor.
- Freedom of choice. Anthony Burgess ponders whether an earthly court can infringe on a person’s right to choose between good and evil? The writer believes that no, because then people lose their essence and become biorobots, deprived of a full life. Their actions cannot be trusted, because they do them only because they cannot do otherwise. However, complete permissiveness is fraught with danger for society, which will not be able to protect itself, for example, from crime.
- Marginalization of society. The novel A Clockwork Orange depicts a city infested with bandits and maniacs. In such an atmosphere, young people simply cannot behave differently. They need to decide on a position in tough conditions: “you – them” or “they – you.”
- Justice and injustice. The question of the legitimacy of a person’s actions in relation to another has always been relevant. In this work, he was reflected in the relationship between Alex and Alexander: did the writer have the right to avenge his wife? How just is this desire, which struck all his life principles? In this irresolvable dispute lies the age-old problem of justice.
- War. The social cataclysms depicted in the novel were the result of protracted and bloody wars. It was they who accustomed people to violence and made it the norm of life.
- Immorality. Moral values lose their value when human life ceases to have significance.
- Lawlessness and arbitrariness. Worse than criminals in the book are only law enforcement officers and their unscrupulous regime.
Analysis of the book “A Clockwork Orange”
The book leaves a heavy, depressing impression. It contains many detailed scenes of violence and cruelty, disgusting details. And all this is stated on behalf of a young man, cynical and ruthless. In the first part of the book, while working with his gang, he commits terrible misdeeds, which he considers pranks. Some of them lead to death – one of the victims commits suicide after the abuse that was committed against her. Another Alex himself kills in a state of demonic excitement, wanting to prove his right to leadership in the gang.
In English society in the early 60s of the twentieth century (the book was published in 1962), A Clockwork Orange did not find its response. Too difficult reading, causing gloomy thoughts and creating terrible pictures in the imagination.
The whole concept of this work is a kind of manifesto of the author, who faced in real life with manifestations of cruelty, grief and hopelessness. His first wife was severely beaten and raped by four deserters. At this point, she was pregnant and lost the baby as a result. Never recovering from everything that happened, she began to abuse alcohol and soon died.
The writer depicted the near future – or rather, what it could become if the wave of violence and cruelty that swept the world was not stopped.
The history of the creation of the book “A Clockwork Orange”
The idea for A Clockwork Orange arose at the intersection of two events that made a deep impression on Burgess. First, shortly before starting work on the manuscript, he and his second wife visited Leningrad. The writer spent his vacation in a very peculiar way. Apartment hangouts, flea markets, semi-underground clubs interested him much more than museums and theaters.
It was the experience of communicating with the Leningrad beatniks and dudes that gave the idea of inventing a special jargon of “bandits from a fantastic future.” Half of the words in Alex’s speech are Russian words written in Latin, or hybrids of English and Russian.
Secondly, shortly before starting work on the book, the writer was informed that he had a dangerous brain tumor. Doctors believed that if a man lived another 6-8 months, this would be an excellent result. Their predictions did not come true – Burgess died in 1993 at the age of 73.
But the stunning news that his life could end at any moment, the reaction of friends and relatives to this, the feeling of being deceived became the impetus for creating a gloomy, paradoxical and cruel atmosphere of a fantastic future in which cruelty rules.
Meaning of the book title “A Clockwork Orange”
The author himself explained the choice of the name in two ways:
among the representatives of the bottom of London society – the inhabitants of the working district, who were called “cockneys”, people embittered and degraded, there was an expression “crooked as a clockwork orange.” So they talked about everything strange and incomprehensible,
Burgess lived for a long time in Malaysia, where the word orang denotes a person. In pronunciation and spelling, it is close to the English “orange” (orange).
A strange person, incomprehensible even to himself, is Alex himself. He is a real clockwork orange, which is rejected and betrayed by everyone – from friends to parents.
The problems of the book “A Clockwork Orange”
Like most science fiction stories, A Clockwork Orange turns the reader to a very real issue:
- “bad companies” in which teenagers try to assert themselves by any means, even illegal and dangerous ones;
- the line, crossing which, the young man loses the remnants of the human – murder,
- feelings of powerlessness and a thirst for revenge, which are experienced by people whose loved ones have become victims of a crime,
- the hypocritical behavior of the authorities, who are not really interested in the well-being of citizens;
- the lust of media representatives for all sorts of high-profile stories with a scandalous tinge, fueled by public interest in such articles,
- relationships between parents and children
- true values, without which a person cannot fully live.
Despite the fact that the book was written 60 years ago, the problems raised by the author are still relevant today.
What does A Clockwork Orange teach?
The author makes you think about what methods are really effective in order to pull a teenager out of a criminal environment. And this is not violence, not medical therapy and not material well-being. Sincere love, mutual care and kindness – this is the support on which the world should be built.
Explanation of the ending of A Clockwork Orange
The ending of the story about Alex is open. He saw how his friend, who had previously participated in pogroms and rapes, settled down, started a family and became a law-abiding citizen. Now the former bully is a caring husband and father who is ready to do everything to protect his wife and child from people like he and Alex were in their youth.
Alex reflects on the fact that he cannot and does not want to live anymore, doing evil. He even perceives the experience of his acquaintance as a kind of guideline and tries to imagine his future in the same way.
But he himself does not believe in the existence of a world without evil and violence, believing that such a terrible protest is an indispensable part of the life of young people who rebel against the law-abiding society of adults. Obviously, even if Alex and his friend had matured enough, the evil remained to live in them. And it is not known at what point it can break out again.
I hope I have helped you find the meaning of A Clockwork Orange, as well as its ending. If you have a different vision of the book – write your own version in the comments.
According to the author himself, he asserted “the superiority of even a moral choice used for evil over the non-alternativeness imposed by the state, the need to accept the dangers of freedom.” But whether he succeeded or not, they are still arguing. It is known that A Clockwork Orange was not accepted by contemporaries, and it sold very poorly (less than 4,000 copies were sold from the first edition) until it was filmed by Stanley Kubrick. “Cheap clichés about juvenile delinquency,” the Times reviewer dubbed the book novelty.
Andrey Tsunsky, a reviewer, frankly spoke about this in his article:
Domestic criticism often carefully scolds Burgess, moving on to his own personality. But if our critics think they are original, they are wrong. In the West and in the East they wrote and write almost word for word the same thing. But in all languages, in all countries, this “voniutshi griaznyi orange” is recognized as a great book. Otherwise, one would have to make a bold statement that the problem of evil inside a person can be solved, and you even know the ways. And what can be written if a great novel has raised questions that no literary critics can solve … Even on the grave of the writer is inscribed ABBA ABBA – “Father, Father” – the last words of Christ left without an earthly answer.
Indeed, many consider Burgess to be the “genius of one book,” since, apart from “A Clockwork Orange”, which was successful thanks to the sensational film adaptation, nothing else is known from 57 volumes of his work. Even his friend, writer Paul Theroux, said of him: “Perhaps his restlessness, impatience, overproductivity prevented him from becoming a great writer.” Even the triumph of the ultra-violent novel is seen by many as undeserved. The text describes many scenes of a sexual nature, they were repeated in Kubrick’s scandalous film, which is why the artistic value of the work is called into question. People are allegedly attracted there by the exceptionally naturalistic description of bed scenes. The author himself complained about this:
The novel attracted the reader to itself not at all by what I wanted to tell the reader in it. They were attracted by the content, not the form. People, unfortunately, love violence. Time magazine called me the godfather of punk. I don’t mind. But what really bothered me was something else – Burgess was grieving.
But not all readers of A Clockwork Orange agree on this. In the work, many of them find something more significant than a description of the physiological details of the gang’s lifestyle. For example, the first translator of the novel into Russian, V. Boshnyak, is more concerned about the amazing paradox that became the basis of the main image: “In the book and the film, a young monster was bred – the criminal and sadist Alex, obsessed with a thirst for violence and craving … for beauty.” The inconsistency of the character creates the desired ambiguity of perception: a literary work is interpreted in different ways, a controversy is created.
The Russian critic V. Utilov aptly spoke about the character: “It is equally dangerous to succumb to the intonation of his internal monologue, describing either the hero’s epic atrocities, or his epic torments in prison, during treatment according to the “Louis system”, or his experiences after being released . The form of the monologue, allowing the author to distance himself from his character, makes both the reader and the viewer forget that even in this story, Alex plays his role, skillfully places accents that are beneficial for himself in the “montage of attractions” that turns out to be his “odyssey”. As a result, we are almost glad when in the finale the hero again becomes himself – the embodiment of triumphant dark instincts, which have now received, as it were, a moral right due to the immorality of civilization.
He also gives a philosophical assessment of the musical tastes of a teenager:
Alex’s strange love for music as such (he is unusually knowledgeable in this regard and even professionally understands the sound of individual instruments) marks the death of humanistic civilization – an irrevocable rupture of spirit and matter, ideal and its form.
He also points to the similarity between the hero’s preferences and the Nazi repertoire, a favorite accompaniment for genocide.
A Clockwork Orange never appeared in the Soviet press, although critics wrote about it. Of course, the book was ideologically grounded, washed, it reflects the decay of the West and the decay of capitalism. But it was impossible to print it, since the form of narration turned out to be unacceptable for our sober and positive moral climate: sheer violence, nonconformity, swearing, etc. This is how this status of non grata is explained by the editor-in-chief of the journal Foreign Literature, Alexander Livergant:
The way Burgess wrote and expressed, and the way Burgess posed the problem, for all the critical orientation of his book, was not written in the way the Soviet publishing house would have liked. It was all the same, of course, an alien book