A Clockwork Orange Questions and Answers
by Anthony Burgess

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What might have influenced Anthony Burgess's writing of A Clockwork Orange?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The changing culture in England and the development of a youth culture influenced Burgess to want to explore and write about teenagers. For example, at the time he wrote the novel, England was increasingly concerned about a rise in juvenile violence, something that Burgess explores. Burgess said too that he based Alex and his gang's rape and beating of a woman in the novel on an incident during World War II when his wife was beaten and robbed by drunken servicemen. Other real life concerns that influenced him included totalitarianism.

A predictable line of dystopian novels influenced the writing of A Clockwork Orange, including Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984, and Zamyatin's We. Burgess also wished to critique behavior modification and the work of B.F. Skinner.

Burgess's interest in and training as a linguist inspired him to develop the slang language called Nadsat that Alex and his friends use in the novel. Part of what makes the novel seem real is the well-developed alternative dialect Alex and his subculture use.

While Burgess's novel was not well understood by critics in the era of its release, it was ahead of its time in examining the growth of violence and of youth culture in modern Western society and has since become a classic.

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Philip Arrington eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the famous dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess writes of a teen named Alex who engages in "ultra-violence" with his cronies until he is captured and subjected to an extreme form of behavior modification by the state. Eventually, after traumatizing experiences upon his release, Alex's violent tendencies return, whereupon he exclaims: "I was cured all right." Numerous influences prompted Anthony Burgess to write this dark futuristic vision.

Literary influences include dystopian classics such as Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, and Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley. Burgess was also influenced by works on behaviorism by B. F. Skinner.

In 1959, Burgess returned to England from overseas teaching posts to discover an emerging new youth culture of drugs, violence, and pop music. The violence in the novel was also inspired by an attack by American soldiers his first wife suffered during a World War II blackout.

The unique slang called Nadsat that Alex the narrator uses to tell his story is the result of Burgess's visit to Leningrad in 1961. The word "Nadsat" means "teen" in Russian, and Burgess uses many Russian words in it, as well as criminal slang and a smattering of Romany words and phrases.

According to Burgess, the novel's unique title comes from a phrase of East London slang: "as queer as a clockwork orange." In an interview Burgess said, "I've implied a junction of the organic, the lively, the sweet—in other words, life, the orange—and the mechanical, the cold, the disciplined."

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The influences on Anthony Burgess' A Clcokwork Orange were both historical and personal. Much of the novel reflects Burgess' reactions to a visit to the Soviet Union in 1961 and his revulsion against the way in which the totalitarian state controlled the lives and behavior of the people. He also noted the growth of a violent youth gang culture in Russia quite similar to that he found at home in the impoverished inner cities of Britain. His notion of gang violence as a response to an over-controlling state led him to become an advocate of anarchism.

The specific personal; incident leading to the novel was an episode in which some AWOL United States soldiers stationed in England during World War II assaulted his pregnant wife, killing their baby, and precipitated in his wife a form of PTSD leading her to alcohol and eventually premature death.

LIteray influences include many modernist authors such as James Joyce and Flann O'Brien (who also used polyglot language) and dystopian science fiction.

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