A Clockwork Orange is told retrospectively by a character who is both a victim and a great exponent of violence. Alex inhabits a world that is almost thoroughly dispirited, broken down by a daily grind of meaningless work, stultifying mass culture (a combination of government propaganda and silly pop music), and officially sanctioned “milk bars” that serve a variety of drug tonics to send one off on incoherent fantasies. This gray world may well be Anthony Burgess’ vision of a not-too-distant future England suffering under the failure of socialism and liberalism, and Alex’s protest, as shocking and violent as it is, is curiously sympathetic.
The bulk of part 1 is taken up with descriptions of Alex’s exploits in, to use his own term, “ultraviolence.” He and his fellow gang members, Georgie, Pete, and Dim, wander across a bleak landscape each night in a parody of heroic adventures: They spend their time enacting a succession of rapes, robberies, and assaults, usually aimed at almost completely defenseless people. These attacks are surely pathological, yet Burgess is careful not to make them too terrifying. Alex is, ironically, as much a hero as he is a villain, and his violent acts are described in such a stylized, detached, and sometimes almost comical way that the reader tends to focus on his physical and imaginative energy rather than on the pain he causes.
Each of the gang’s actions is random, born of a moment’s opportunity rather than any planned hostility or purpose, but several of the violent encounters are particularly revealing. One of the first targets, for example, is an old man leaving a library with a few precious books: The joyful destruction of these books and pummeling of the man is only the first of many scenes in the novel that dramatize contempt for the life of the mind, a contempt that proves to be not totally unjustified. More significant, the gang later attacks a house clearly labeled as “HOME,” terrorizing the “father” and sexually assaulting the “mother.”...
(The entire section is 833 words.)