Anthony Burgess

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Julian Mitchell (review date 18 May 1962)

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SOURCE: "Horrorshow on Amis Avenue," in The Spectator, Vol. 95, No. 6986, May 18, 1962, pp. 661-62.

[Mitchell is an English novelist, playwright, and critic. In the following positive review, he lauds A Clockwork Orange as a brilliant mixture of horror and farce, calling Burgess's use of language an "extraordinary technical feat."]

Anthony Burgess must have garnered some excellent reviews in his short, busy writing career (A Clockwork Orange is his eighth novel since 1956). No one can match his skill at anguished farce about the end of empire. His characters seem to be trapped in a tent whose pole has just been sawn in two by an over-enthusiastic administrator doing his part in a campaign to save wood. It is hilarious to watch their frantic heaving and humping beneath the spoiled canvas, to hear their absurd multilingual pidgin groans. But as we wipe away our tears of laughter, we notice that someone has just thrown petrol over the collapsed and writhing tent: frozen with horror, we see him strike a match.

If Mr. Burgess is, in some ways, a pupil of Mr. Waugh, he yet has an originality of manner and subject which place him, to my mind, among the best writers in England. Yet he has never received the critical attention granted to Angus Wilson and Kingsley Amis, with whom at least he deserves to rank. Certainly his prose is more attractive than either's, and he is prepared to take risks which they are not. And if his novels seem rather hollow and heartless at times, from a tendency to move his characters about to illustrate his points instead of letting the characters find their own way to making them, the points are major ones about our times.

A Clockwork Orange is set in the future, in an England where the streets are called things like Amis Avenue. It is narrated by Alex, a beguiling adolescent gang-leader with ultra-violent tendencies and a passion for classical music, in a teenage slang which takes a few pages to grasp. A splendid slang it is, though, full of stuff like 'yarbles' and 'profound shooms of lip-music brrrrrr' and 'droog.' The key praise-word is 'horrorshow,' for Alex's world is horrible and sadistic, and he is one of the toughest juvenile delinquents one could hope to meet. Very properly gaoled for killing a cat-loving old lady, Alex is subjected to a new cure for criminals, similar to that for alcoholics: he becomes sick and faint at the thought of violence or the sound of classic music (connected by him with violence). Released, he finds himself the victim of the entire world, at the mercy of policemen, old professors and politicians. His responses are no longer his own.

Mixing horror with farce in his inimitable manner, Mr. Burgess develops his theme brilliantly, though there is a certain arbitrariness about the plot which is slightly irritating and I find it difficult to accept the contention that being young is like being a clockwork toy—you walk into things all the time. But the language is an extraordinary technical feat, and the whole conception vigorously exhibits Mr. Burgess's great imaginative gifts. No doubt ignorant and anonymous reviewers will criticise him for 'experimenting' (as John Wain was recently and absurdly criticised): they will be merely exhibiting their ignorance and anonymity. Mr. Burgess is far too good and important a writer not to go in any direction he chooses.


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A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess

(Born John Anthony Burgess Wilson; also wrote as John Burgess Wilson and under the pseudonym Joseph Kell) Born in 1917, Burgess was an English novelist, essayist, critic,...

(This entire section contains 1120 words.)

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playwright, translator, editor, scriptwriter, short story writer, poet, author of children's books, composer, and autobiographer. He died in 1993.

The following entry presents criticism on Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange (1962). See also Anthony Burgess Criticism (Introduction), and Volumes 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 13.

A Clockwork Orange is Burgess's best known and most controversial work. A kind of dystopian bildungsroman relating the "ultra-violent" life of Alex, a teenage hoodlum in a future English society, the novel is told in the first person and features Burgess's invented "nadsat" language, a patois comprised of distorted English and Russian words that is spoken by Alex and his cronies, or "droogs." The novel presents a bleak picture of society terrorized by street gangs and incompetently governed by hypocritical and self-serving officials. Through Alex's story, Burgess explores themes of free will, violence, and state-controlled behavior in a blackly humorous and subtly satirical style. Originally published in the United States in a truncated, twenty-chapter edition (which served as the basis for Stanley Kubrick's 1971 film), the complete novel ends with a twenty-first chapter in which a somewhat older Alex, grown bored with his violent lifestyle, dreams of beginning a family. Burgess later attempted to distance himself from A Clockwork Orange, believing that the novel—inflated by the popularity of the film—overshadowed his other works. In addition to the film version, A Clockwork Orange has served as the basis for three stage productions, two of which were written by Burgess.

Plot and Major Characters

Alex and his "droogs," under the influence of hallucinogenic milk, engage in acts of extreme violence against innocent, randomly-selected citizens and other gangs. One night he and his gang steal a car and travel to the outskirts of town where they happen on a private residence called HOME. There they brutally beat and rape the wife of F. Alexander, a liberal intellectual writer and author of a book called A Clockwork Orange. The next day Alex feigns a headache and stays home from school. He goes to a record shop where he meets two young girls whom he leads to his house and rapes. Alex's starkly violent life is counterpointed by his startlingly inventive discourse and by his love for classical music, particularly Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Later that evening, two of Alex's droogs, Dim and Georgie, challenge his leadership of the gang. A fight ensues in which Alex reestablishes his authority by slashing the two with a razor. Later, however, while escaping the scene of a burglary during which Alex mercilessly beats an elderly woman to death, Dim hits his leader in the eyes with a metal chain and the gang abandons him to the police, or "millicents." Alex spends more than two years in the "Staja" (STAte JAil). In that time, the prison chaplin introduces Alex to the Bible, which he reads as though it were a lurid novel; Alex also kills a fellow inmate who made sexual advances toward him. He then accepts an opportunity to undergo the experimental "Ludovico Treatment," a form of behavior conditioning in which the subject endures drug-induced nausea while being forced to watch films of wildly violent acts. Alex is made incapable of considering violence without becoming physically ill and is released from prison. Lonely and bereft of vitality, Alex eventually runs into and is brutally beaten by Dim and Billyboy, his former droog and an old gang foe who have since become members of the police. Left for dead on the outskirts of town, Alex stumbles to the nearest house—F. Alexander's HOME—where he quickly becomes the pawn of a liberal political organization that attempts to use him as an example of the current government's sadistic and ineffective methods of dealing with crime. Alex then attempts suicide by jumping out of a window; the fall doesn't kill him, but it nullifies the effects of the Ludovico Treatment. After recovering from his injuries he considers himself "cured" and is again free to contemplate and commit acts of violence. In the novel's final chapter, the older Alex loses interest in his old way of life and dreams of being married and having a son. The novel ends with Alex melancholically imagining that his son will be much like himself: that, as a father, Alex will be no more successful controlling his son than his own father was at controlling him.

Major Themes

A major theme of A Clockwork Orange is the ability of the individual to make moral choices. Burgess presents a society that experiments with radical behavior modification techniques on criminals to eliminate socially unwanted behavior; his argument is that it is morally and ethically preferable for the state to allow its citizens the choice between good and evil than it is for the state to destroy the capacity for choice. A side effect of Alex's conditioning is that, because classical music accompanied the films he watched during the Ludovico Treatment, he can no longer listen to Beethoven without getting sick. While this is a negligible by-product from the point of view of the government, it illustrates Burgess's point that destroying the ability to choose evil also destroys the capacity to choose good. The novel also juxtaposes the violence committed by Alex and his gangmembers with the violence committed by the state in the name of justice and security.

Critical Reception

A Clockwork Orange has sparked controversy and debate since it was first published. Much of the critical commentary has focused on the novel's violent content. While some critics view it as titillating and gratuitous, others consider the severity of the violence committed by Alex as a thematic counterbalance to the extreme actions of the State. Debate has also focused on the function and interpretation of Burgess's ending. Some commentators argue that the twenty-first chapter detracts from the moral and ironic power of the novel; others find that the final chapter adds legitimacy to the notion of the novel as a bildungsroman, a story about Alex's moral and psychological growth. Views on the function and effect of the "nadsat" language also differ. Some critics see it as a "distancing" device that insulates the reader from the violence and thus makes it easier to identify with Alex. Others contend that the nadsat language reflects Alex's rebellion against his society's standardized and homogenized culture and see the use of nadsat as both parodic and heroic. Most critics agree, however, that the creation of the language itself is an impressive feat. Geoffrey Aggeler stated: "Both as satire and linguistic tour de force, A Clockwork Orange is one of Burgess' most brilliant achievements."

Stanley Edgar Hyman (review date 7 January 1963)

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SOURCE: "Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Oranges," in The New Leader, Vol. XLVI, No. 1, January 7, 1963, pp. 22-3.

[Hyman was an American critic and educator, long associated with the New Yorker magazine. In the following positive review, he praises Burgess as a satirist and calls A Clockwork Orange "an eloquent and shocking novel that is quite unique."]

Anthony Burgess is one of the newest and most talented of the younger British writers. Although he is 45, he has devoted himself to writing only in the last few years. Before that he was a composer, and a civil servant in Malaya and Brunei. His first novel, The Right to an Answer, was published in England in 1960 and here in 1961. It was followed the next year by Devil of a State, and now by A Clockwork Orange. Burgess seems to me the ablest satirist to appear since Evelyn Waugh, and the word "satire" grows increasingly inadequate to his range.

The Right to an Answer is a terribly funny, terribly bitter smack at English life in a provincial city (apparently the author's birthplace, Manchester). The principal activity of the townspeople seems to be the weekend exchange of wives, and their dispirited slogan is "Bit of fun" (prophetically heard by Mr. Raj, a visiting Ceylonese, as "bitter fun"). The book's ironic message is Love. It ends quoting Raj's unfinished manuscript on race relations: "Love seems inevitable, necessary, as normal and as easy a process as respiration, but unfortunately"—the manuscript breaks off. Raj's love has just led him to kill two people and blow his brains out. One thinks of A Passage to India, several decades more sour.

Devil of a State is less bitter, more like early Waugh. Its comic target is the uranium-rich East African state of Dunia (obviously based on the oil-rich Borneo state of Brunei). In what there is of a plot, the miserable protagonist, Frank Lydgate, a civil servant, struggles with the rival claims of his wife and his native mistress, only to be snatched from both of them by his first wife, a formidable female spider. The humor derives mostly from incongruity: the staple food in Dunia is Chinese spaghetti; the headhunters upriver shrink a Belgian head with eyeglasses and put Brylcreem on its hair.

Neither book at all prepares one for the savagery of Burgess' new novel. A Clockwork Orange is a nightmarish fantasy of a future England where the hoodlums take over after dark. Its subject is the dubious redemption of one such hoodlum, Alex, told by himself. The society is a limp and listless socialism at some future time when men are on the moon. Hardly anyone still reads, although streets are named Amis Avenue and Priestley Place; Jonny Zhivago, a "Russky" pop singer, is a juke-box hit, and the teenage language sounds very Russian; everybody "not a child nor with child nor ill" must work; criminals have to be rehabilitated because all the prison space will soon be needed for politicals; there is an opposition and elections, but they re-elect the Government.

The endless sadistic violence in the book, unimaginably nasty, mindless and mind-hating, is described by Alex with eloquence and joy, at least until it turns on him. In the opening pages, we see 15-year-old Alex and the three other boys in his gang out for an evening of fun: They catch an old man carrying library books on the street, beat and kick him bloody, smash his false teeth and tear up his books; then, wearing masks (of Disraeli, Elvis Presley, Henry VIII and Shelley), they rob a shop, beating the middle-aged proprietor and his wife unconscious and undressing the woman for laughs; then they catch another gang raping a child and fight them, chaining one boy in the eyeballs and kicking him unconscious, carving another's face with a razor; they cap off the evening by stealing a car for the "real kick," "the old surprise visit," which consists of invading the suburban house of a writer, tearing up his manuscript, beating him bloody, holding him while they strip his wife and rape her in turn, then smashing up the furniture and urinating in the fireplace; finally they push the car into a filthy canal and go happily home to bed.

The next day Alex pleads a headache and stays home from school. He goes out, picks up two 10-year-old girls, gets them drunk on whisky, injects himself with dope, puts the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth on the phonograph, and rapes both girls, brutally and perversely. That night he fights two members of his gang for leadership and defeats them by cutting their wrists with his razor. It is his high point. The gang then does a burglary job, at which Alex beats an old lady to death. As he flees, with the police coming, one of the boys whose wrist he had cut blinds Alex by chaining him in the eyeballs, and the police catch him.

A streak of grotesque surrealism runs all through Burgess' books. By A Clockwork Orange it has become truly infernal. As the hoodlums drive to their "surprise visit," they run over a big snarling toothy thing that screams and squelches, and as they drive back they run over "odd squealing things" all the way.

Alex has no interest in women except as objects of violence and rape (the term for the sex act in his vocabulary is characteristically mechanical, "the old in-out-in-out"). No part of the female body is ever mentioned except the size of the breasts (it would also interest a Freudian to know that the hoodlums' drink is doped milk). Alex's only "aesthetic" interest is his passion for symphonic music. He lies naked on his bed, surrounded by his stereo speakers, listening to Mozart or Bach while he daydreams of grinding his boot into the faces of men, or raping ripped screaming girls, and at the music's climax he has an orgasm.

After his capture, Alex is treated as brutally by the police as he treats his victims. In jail, he kicks a cellmate to death, and his reward is being chosen as the first experiment in conditioned reflex rehabilitation. For two weeks he is injected daily with a drug and shown films of sadistic violence even more horrible than his own, accompanied by symphonic music. At the end of that time he is so conditioned that the thought of doing any violence makes him desperately ill, as does the sound of music. In a public display of his cure, he tries to lick the boots of a man hurting him, and he reacts to a beautiful underdressed girl by offering to be her true knight.

It is a moral fable, if a nasty one, and it proceeds with all the patness of moral fable. Eventually Alex tries to kill himself by jumping out a window, and as a result of his new injuries he recovers from the conditioning, and again loves violence and music. He is, he says, "cured."

A running lecture on free will, first from the prison chaplain, then from the writer, strongly suggests that the book's intention is Christian. Deprived of his capacity for moral choice by science, Burgess appears to be saying, Alex is only a "clockwork orange," something mechanical that appears organic. Free to will, even if he wills to sin, Alex is capable of salvation. But perhaps this is to confine Burgess' ironies and ambiguities within simple orthodoxy. Alex always was a clockwork orange, a machine for mechanical violence far below the level of choice, and his dreary socialist England is a giant clockwork orange.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the book is its language. Alex thinks and talks in the "nadsat" (teenage) vocabulary of the future, a remarkable invention by Burgess of several hundred words. It is not quite so hard to decipher as Cretan Linear B, and Alex translates some of it. I found that I could not read the book without compiling a glossary, although some of my translations are approximate. At first the vocabulary seems incomprehensible: "you could peet it with vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom or one or two other veshches." Then the reader discovers that some of it is clear from the context: "to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood." Other words are intelligible after a second context: When Alex kicks an enemy on the "gulliver" it might be any part of the body, but when a glass of beer is served with a gulliver, "gulliver" is "head."

Some of the words are inevitable associations, like "cancer" for "cigarette" or "charlie" for "chapl[a]in," and may even be current English slang. Others are produced simply by schoolboy transformations: "appy polly loggy" (apology), "eggiweg" (egg), "interessovat" (to interest), "skolliwoll" (school). Still others are foreign words slightly distorted: Russian "baboochka" (old woman) and "bolshy" (enormous), Latin "biblio" (library), Chinese "chai" (tea), Italian "gazetta" (newspaper), German "forella" ("trout" as slang for a woman) and "knopka" (button), Yiddish "keeshkas" (guts) and "yahoodies" (Jews), French "sabog" (shoe) and "vaysay" (WC, watercloset).

Other words are onomatopoetic sound imitations: "collocoll" (bell), "razrez" (to tear), "toofles" (slippers). Still others are rhyming slang: "luscious glory" for "hair" (rhyming with "upper story"?) and "pretty polly" for "money" (rhyming with "lolly" of current slang). A few simply distort the word: "banda" (band), "gruppa" (group), "kot" (cat), "minoota" (minute). Others are amputations: "creech" (from "screech"; shout or scream), "domy" (domicile), "guff" (guffaw), "pee and em" (pater and mater), "sarky" (sarcastic), "sinny" (cinema). Some are portmanteau words: "chumble" (chatter-mumble), "mounch" (mouth-munch), "shive" (shiv-shave), "skriking" (scratching-striking).

The best of them are images and metaphors, some quite imaginative and poetic: "glazz" (eye), "horrorshow" (beautiful, beautifully), "lewdies" (squares), "pan-handle" (erection), "rabbit" (to work), "sammy" (generous, from "Uncle Sam"?), "soviet" (an order), "starry" (ancient), "viddy" (to see, from "video"), "yahzick" (tongue, from "say-ah-when-zick").

There are slight inconsistencies, when Burgess (or Alex) forgets his word and invents another or uses our word, but on the whole he handles his amazing vocabulary in a masterly fashion. It has a wonderful sound, particularly in abuse, when "grahzny bratchny" sounds infinitely better than "dirty bastard." Coming to literature by way of music, Burgess has a superb ear, and he shows an interest in the texture of language rare among current novelists. As a most promising writer of the '60s, Anthony Burgess has followed novels that remind us of Forster and Waugh with an eloquent and shocking novel that is quite unique.

Principal Works

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Time for a Tiger (novel) 1956
The Enemy in the Blanket (novel) 1958
English Literature: A Survey for Students [as John Burgess Wilson] (criticism) 1958
Beds in the East (novel) 1959
The Doctor Is Sick (novel) 1960
The Right to an Answer (novel) 1960
Devil of a State (novel) 1961
One Hand Clapping [as Joseph Kell] (novel) 1961
The Worm and the Ring (novel) 1961
A Clockwork Orange (novel) 1962
The Wanting Seed (novel) 1962
Honey for the Bears (novel) 1963
Inside Mr. Enderby [as Joseph Kell] (novel) 1963
The Novel Today (criticism) 1963
The Eve of St. Venus (novel) 1964
Language Made Plain [as John Burgess Wilson] (nonfiction) 1964
Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life (novel) 1964
Here Comes Everybody: An Introduction to James Joyce for the Ordinary Reader (criticism) 1965; also published as Re Joyce, 1965
A Vision of Battlements (novel) 1965
Tremor of Intent (novel) 1966
The Novel Now: A Student's Guide to Contemporary Fiction (criticism) 1967; revised edition, 1971
Enderby Outside (novel) 1968
Urgent Copy: Literary Studies (criticism) 1968
Shakespeare (biography) 1970
MF (novel) 1971
Morning in His Eyes [translator and adaptor; from the drama Oedipus Rex by Sophocles] (drama) 1972
Cyrano [translator and adaptor; from the drama Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand] (drama) 1973
Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce (criticism) 1973
The Clockwork Testament; or, Enderby's End (novel) 1974
Napoleon Symphony (novel) 1974
Beard's Roman Women (novel) 1976
A Long Trip to Teatime (juvenilia) 1976
Moses: A Narrative (poetry) 1976
Abba Abba (novel) 1977
A Christmas Recipe (poetry) 1977
Ernest Hemingway and His World (biography) 1978
1985 (novel) 1978
The Land Where Ice Cream Grows (juvenilia) 1979
Man of Nazareth (novel) 1979
Earthly Powers (novel) 1980
§Quest for Fire [with Gerard Brach and Jean-Jacques Annaud] (screenplay) 1981
The End of the World News (novel) 1983
Enderby's Dark Lady; or, No End to Enderby (novel) 1984
Flame into Being: The Life and Work of D. H. Lawrence (biography) 1985
Homage to QWERT YUIOP: Selected Journalism 1978–1985 (journalism) 1985; also published as But Do Blondes Prefer Gentlemen?, 1986
The Kingdom of the Wicked (novel) 1985
Little Wilson and Big God: Being the First Part of the Confessions of Burgess (autobiography) 1986
The Pianoplayers (novel) 1986
A Clockwork Orange (drama) 1987
Any Old Iron (novel) 1989
The Devil's Mode (short stories) 1989
You've Had Your Time: Being the Second Part of the Confessions of Burgess (autobiography) 1990
Mozart and the Wolf Gang (novel) 1991; also published as On Mozart: A Paean for Wolfgang. Being a Celestial Colloquy, An Opera Libretto, a Film Script, a Schizophrenic Dialogue, a Bewildered Rumination, a Stendahlian Transcription, and a Heartfelt Homage upon the Bicentenary of the Death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1991
A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English (nonfiction) 1992
Chatsky; or, The Importance of Being Stupid [translator; from the drama Gore ot Uma by Alexander Griboyedov] (drama) 1993
A Dead Man in Deptford (novel) 1993

∗These works were published as The Malayan Trilogy in 1964 and as The Long Day Wanes: The Malayan Trilogy in 1965.

†These works were published as Enderby in 1968.

‡This work was published along with Inside Mr. Enderby and Enderby Outside as Enderby in 1982.

§Burgess devised the primitive language used by the characters in this film about prehistoric man.

William H. Pritchard (essay date Summer 1966)

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SOURCE: "The Novels of Anthony Burgess," in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 7, No. 3, Summer, 1966, pp. 525-39.

[Pritchard is an American critic and educator. In the following excerpt, he discusses the effect of Burgess's invented language, "nadsat," on the violent content of A Clockwork Orange.]

A Clockwork Orange, The Wanting Seed, and Honey for the Bears are (at least the first and last) Burgess' most popular books and they ask to be considered together. All of them concern the individual and the modern state; all of them are felt to have a connection with the quality of life in the 1960's, but they approach life obliquely by creating fantasies or fables which appeal to us in odd and disturbing ways. As always with Burgess' work, and now to a splendidly bizarre degree, the creativity is a matter of style, of words combined in strange new shapes. Through the admiration these shapes raise, rather than through communication of specifiable political, philosophical or religious ideas about man or the state, is to be found the distinction of these novels; for this reason it is of limited use to invoke names like Huxley or Orwell as other novelists of imagined futurist societies.

A Clockwork Orange, most patently experimental of the novels, is written in a language created by combining Russian words with teenage argot into a hip croon that sounds both ecstatic and vaguely obscene. The hero, Alex, a teenage thug, takes his breakfast and morning paper this way:

And there was a bolshy big article on Modern Youth (meaning me, so I gave the old bow, grinning like bezoomny) by some very clever bald chelloveck. I read this with care, my brothers, slurping away at the old chai, cup after tass after chasha, crunching my lomticks of black toast dipped in jammiwam and eggiweg. This learned veck said the usual veshches, about no parental discipline, as he called it, and the shortage of real horrorshow teachers who would lambast bloody beggary out of their innocent poops and make them go boohoohoo for mercy. All this was gloopy and made me smeck, but it was nice to go on knowing one was making the news all the time, O my brothers.

Although the American paperback edition provides a glossary, one doesn't need it to get along very well after the first few pages. In fact such translation is a mistake for it short-circuits the unmistakable rhythms of speech by which the sentences almost insensibly assume meaning. Moreover, though the book is filled with the most awful violence—what in our glossary or newspaper would be called murder, assault, rape, perversion—it comes to us through an idiom that, while it does not deny the connection between what happens in the second chapter and what the newspaper calls a "brutal rape," nevertheless makes what happens an object of aesthetic interest in a way no rape can or should be. Life—a dreadful life to be sure—is insistently and joyously deflected into the rhythms of a personal style within which one eats lomticks, not pieces, of toast.

The novel is short and sharply plotted: Alex is betrayed by his fellow "droogs," imprisoned for murder, then by a lobotomizing technique is cured of his urges to violence; whereas music, Beethoven in particular, had inspired him to heights of blood-lusts, he now just feels sick. Caught between the rival parties for state power he tries suicide, but lives to recover his original identity, as listening to the scherzo of the Beethoven Ninth he sees himself "carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva." The book concludes on this happy note, for oddly enough it is a happy note; we share the hero's sense of high relief and possibility, quite a trick for the novelist to have brought off. And without questioning it we have acceded to the book's "message," as radical and intransigent as the style through which it is expressed:

More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines. I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.

Doing what you do because you like to do it is what the Burgess hero—Crabbe, Denham, others—has done and has been punished for doing by his creator. But the hero of A Clockwork Orange is rewarded and endorsed in a way more recognizably human characters in a more "realistic" atmosphere could not possibly be. In the world of creative fantasy we can admire hero and event as they are shaped by language; our response is akin to the old-fashioned "admiration" proper to the heroic poem. By the same token the defense of self, no matter how twisted it may be, and the condemnation of the state, no matter how benevolent it pretends to be, is absolute. Such a simple and radical meaning is not morally complex, but it must be taken as a serious aspect of fantasy. Within its odd but carefully observed limits the book is entirely consistent, successful and even pleasing, Burgess' most eye and ear-catching performance.

Robert K. Morris (essay date 1971)

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SOURCE: "The Bitter Fruits of Freedom," in The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess, University of Missouri Press, 1971, pp. 55-75.

[Morris is an American critic, educator, and biographer. In the following excerpt, he compares the structure and philosophic themes of Burgess's dystopian novels, A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed.]

What followed from Burgess' preoccupation with the transition and ultimate death rattle of colonialism abroad and the atrophy of "self-indulgent" England at home were his two dark visions of dystopia—A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed. Even the parboiled paternalism of the Empire and the synthetic socialism of the welfare state had still apparently left room—though not much—for a dialogue between the individual and society and had kept alive discussions as to what was right and what was wrong with England (The Right to an Answer, for example, presumed some sort of question to begin with). The subsequent stasis—or worse, stagnation—setting in after reconstruction placed the mystery of understanding, as well as the burden of existence, on the individual alone. No longer of import were the questions of how to view, contain, serve, survive, or possibly love a state that clothed, fed, housed, and medicated. Now what had been the issue was exacted from the sensibilities of those who, glutted physically and socially, lived under what amounted to a deadening hedonism. It must have seemed only logical to Burgess, after exploring the dialectics of the single and collective mind, that the problem of the novelist was to probe its metaphysics—to see how the naked needs of his rebel anti-heroes (no longer even privileged to suffer the "consolation of ambiguity") could be met in a mad, lost, loveless, brutal, sterile world.

At first blush, A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed may appear—one because of stylistic shockers, the other for its Gothicism and grand guignol—more like bizarre and fantastic companions to the Burgess canon than parts of it. Like the majority of sci-fi trading on metarealities, the novels risk having the parts dissolve in the whole, the vantage point become lost in the vision. Unless, that is, one grasps from the outset that they are actually extensions of present conditions rather than forecasts of future ones. Such terrors as perpetrated by teenage werewolves like Alex in A Clockwork Orange and the domination of gangs like Hell's Angels are near-mild "happenings" placed cheek by jowl with current youth revolutions. And if the prime target of The Wanting Seed—overpopulation—is not yet, technically, a fait accompli, its proliferating literature, written not by hysterical Cassandras but by sound demographers, attests less to its imminence than, failing a cracking good holocaust, its inevitability.

One, then, must zero in on the contemporaneity of Burgess' issues—something that the ingenious superstructures and novelistic devices often impede. Take as an example the style of both novels. The ferocious and coarse, partly archaic, partly mod, neologic "nadsat" of A Clockwork Orange captures perfectly the violence and pace of incidents, breaking down into standard English only when the hero is being brainwashed and stripped of individuality. Clearly, it is always an amazing feat to have the language of a novel not simply match the action, but be the action. Clearly, too, one quickly wearies of the innovative, especially in matters of an outré style that so dazzles readers as to its form that they are almost eager to overlook its content. The brevity of A Clockwork Orange probably accounts for the success of its linguistic excess. Burgess, at any rate, has more luck in overplaying his hand in language than in standing pat. Though he was undoubtedly after a much different effect in The Wanting Seed, the contrast between the scrupulous impersonality of a Defoelike, third-person narrator and the nightmarish, surrealistic scenes never quite catches the tone of savagery that the satire seems to be striving for.

Again, there is the matter of structure. The triunal division of A Clockwork Orange—Alex damned, Alex purged, Alex resurrected—can be taken, depending on one's predilections at the start, as the falling-rising pattern of comedy or the rising-falling pattern of tragedy. That one may have it either way means, of course, there is a danger in having it neither. If the mode of a novel should say something about its meaning, or at least carry us forward so we may debate it, then we might have wished for a less open-ended conclusion, one that defined as well as disturbed. I find a similar falling off into diffuseness or blurriness in The Wanting Seed, in which Burgess, alternating the lives of Tristram and Beatrice-Joanna Foxe, attempts to match the "Pelagian-Augustinian" phases of ebb and flow that symbolize the arbitrary movement of historic cycles. Yet while the reunion of Tristram and Beatrice has been logically anticipated throughout, the pat, almost cliché ending of husband and wife rejoined, coerced no more by the forces of man and nature but rising above them—transfixed, as it were, in the still point of the ineluctable cycle—strikes me as an alogical apotheosis of the human spirit.

Yet both books conclude on notes of "joy": Alex fondling his "britva" as he anticipates the chorale of Beethoven's Ninth and more throat cutting; the Foxes (Adam and Eve and twin offspring?) standing in their Valéry-like "graveyard by the sea," facing the ocean out of which new life will come (il faut tenter vivre). The individual is thus endowed with regenerative powers never clearly woven into the fabric of the fiction, and Burgess barters even tentative answers for impressive technique. I feel, in short, that his adroit shock tactics with plot and language, expertise with satire, and partiality to apocalypse—all enviable attributes and potential pluses normally—come dangerously close here to outflanking the substantive ideas. Done as these novels are, with immense energy and cleverness, their sheer "physicalness" all but crushes their metaphysics.

That is a loss, for Burgess has much to tell us. However arbitrary the premises of these novels, however suspect their "political science," their speculations on freedom and free will are frighteningly pertinent. Violently opposing the sterile, mechanical life under totalitarianism, they point no less to the degeneration under anarchy and, further, offer no viable alternative. Freedom stifled is no less opprobrious than freedom unlicensed, but the middle ground—what every liberal imagines is the just and workable compromise—is accounted equally suspect. Burgess has given us in the earlier … novels a smug, self-satisfied, socialized England that has run down. Too much freedom creates the mess only stability can correct; of course, stability involves the surrender of freedom. Like those of Orwell and Huxley, Burgess' exaggerated portraits of the confrontation between individual and state will ever mystify—until too late—the addled sensibilities who, drugged by the present moment, will neither care about nor comprehend the moment beyond. Even more frightening, we have since Orwell and Huxley moved closer to the impasse where the problems at last overwhelm the solutions, and what we are left with for solution is perhaps only continual re-examination of the problem. Is it not, therefore, a trifle absurd to ponder tortuous issues of mind and soul when daily it grows impossible to cope with external realities like pollution, famine, and overpopulation? Can we even talk of freedom or free will to states that have written them off as mere philosophical aberrations? Yet what meaning can existence have without the continuing quest to define it?

On the one hand, Burgess answers these paradoxes through the nineteenth-century existentialism of writers like Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard who dealt with freedom and free will, not in historic, but in metaphysical contexts. If revolution and the state initiated a new order of debate on freedom versus authority—from which arose the issue of free will—then the problems were quickly desocialized thereafter. Liberationism became as much the immovable force as necessitarianism the impenetrable object. Indeed, the best synthesis of the weird symbiosis between free will and freedom is still to be found in Ivan Karamazov's poem on the Grand Inquisitor, which, wrenched from its place in the novel, can satisfy radical and reactionary alike. Man, weak and imperfect as he is, can never bear the loneliness of living absolutely by free will and so surrenders the ideal of freedom to the Realpolitik of society. As Dostoyevsky realized all too sadly and well, most of us, lacking the superhuman inner strength necessary to do otherwise, submit our wills to Pilates and Inquisitors, rather than exercise them in an imitation of Christ.

Burgess' approach within this convention explains some of the broader outlines of both novels—especially since his hypothetical states dog the heels of totalitarian regimes. But clearly the Europe of a hundred years ago is not the "global village" of today. The revolutionary spirit abroad in the nineteenth century may have accounted in great part for its philosophy, but the trend of states toward a finer and fiercer repression (with no exit in sight) created an entirely new metaphysics on the older issues. Today, though man has more freedom to discuss his powers of freedom, the ugly fact is that the opportunities for demonstrating it have become more and more narrow. Striking out in acts of violence against the state that usurps freedom only binds our wills more rigorously to the state. Enigmatically, violence is not a display of free will at all, but an echo of historic determinism. For whether we like it or not, we cannot exercise free will in a vacuum; and though we like it less and less, the state is still the "objective correlative" for the freedom we seek. The true problem, in other words, is no longer how one learns to love Big Brother, nor what happens when one does not, but what results from not caring one way or the other about him.

What is chilling about A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed is not so much Burgess' awareness of these philosophic questions, but the dead ends to which the empiricism of his answers leads. He achieves a partial perspective in The Wanting Seed in pirating from the Pelagian-Augustinian tussle over free will in order to superimpose metaphysics on history. His ENSPUN, a future conglomerate of English states, moves by fits and starts according to "theologico-mythical concepts" of two historic cycles that alternately place man in one phase or the other.

"Pelagius [as Tristram Foxe tells his history class] denied the doctrine of Original Sin and said that man was capable of working out his own salvation…. All this suggests human perfectibility. Pelagianism was thus seen to be at the heart of liberalism and its derived doctrines, especially Socialism and Communism…. Augustine, on the other hand, had insisted on man's inherent sinfulness and the need for his redemption through divine grace. This was seen to be at the bottom of Conservatism and other laissezfaire and non-progressive political beliefs…. The opposed thesis, you see…. The whole thing is quite simple, really." [The Wanting Seed]

This exposition comes early on and is "quite simple"—that is, if one contents himself with surfaces. I mentioned above that this philosophic rationale provides the structure for the novel. It also supplies the several antipodal outlooks (the optimistic and pessimistic, borne respectively by Beatrice-Joanna and Tristram) and accounts for the crucial rationalistic and voluntaristic arguments over the individual and the state (the Pelagian would allow man freedom of choice to populate himself out of existence; the Augustinian would stifle his natural instincts and freedom in order to preserve the state). Finally, in the most clever of ways, the rationale parallels the lineal development of the protagonists as their lives crisscross in the alternating historic cycles.

But what is also "quite simple" to ignore are the modern ironies Burgess twists into the debate between the venerable bishop-saint and the heretic monk. Augustine and Pelagius clashed, one may remember, over the most fundamental issues relating to free will: original sin and divine grace. Augustine developed the theory that Adam's sin is transmitted from parents to children throughout all generations through the sexual act (which, inevitably accompanied by lust, is sinful), while Pelagius taught that sin originates in man's following the bad example of Adam and that it is continued in mankind by force of habit. Consequently, Augustine concluded that man's ultimate salvation resided in the divine grace of God alone; Pelagius argued—with something approaching psychological insight—that divine grace is bestowed according to merit and that man, in the exercise of his free and morally responsible will, will take the determining initiative in matters of salvation.

This is very solemn stuff, and I hope the reader will not lose patience with me when I say that much of it is beside Burgess' main point, though very ingeniously tangential to it. As Tristram pedantically remarks, "The theology subsisting in our opposed doctrines of Pelagianism and Augustinianism has no longer any validity. We use these mythical symbols because they are peculiarly suited to our age, an age relying more and more on the perceptual, the pictorial, the pictographic." But translated into modern historic terminology, the theology has an added force, albeit an inverted one. The concept of original sin, the theory, is positively silly and insignificant when placed beside the desperate reality of overpopulation accruing from lust, fornication, and marriage. Birth is accountable for both the theological and historical problem as well as for the metaphysical bind of the protagonists. And, by the same token, one cannot even quixotically imagine that God's grace will clear up the population explosion; it is to God's modern counterpart, the state, that one looks for salvation….

Those skeptical of the chances governments afford us will find A Clockwork Orange sustaining to such skepticism. It is a book focusing on "the chance to be good" and proceeding from a single, significant existential dilemma: Is an evil human being with free choice preferable to a good zombie without it? Indeed, at two points in the novel Burgess spells out the dilemma for us. On one occasion, Alex, about to submit to conditioning, is admonished by the prison chaplain:

"It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good…. Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some ways better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?… A terrible terrible thing to consider. And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good."

And on the other, the unwitting F. Alexander, with whom Alex finds sanctuary temporarily, similarly remarks:

"You've sinned, I suppose, but your punishment has been out of all proportion. They have turned you into something other than a human being. You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable only of good…. But the essential intention is the real sin. A man who cannot choose ceases to be a man."

Yet, were this all Burgess had to say on the matter, the impetus of the dilemma would lose substantially in force. Society at large has never troubled itself with the existential agony (unless to repress some manifestation of it), and judging from the preponderance of sentiment abroad today, it would undoubtedly applaud the conditioning process that champions stability over freedom. But Burgess has found inhering in the central dilemma considerations even more immediate. What distinctions between good and evil are possible in the contemporary world? As absolutes, have such distinctions not been totally perverted or obliterated? And as relative terms, depending for definition on what each negates or excludes, have they not become purely subjective? In a technically perfect society that has sapped our vitality for constructive choice, we are, whether choosing good or evil, zombies of one sort or another: Each of us is a little clockwork orange making up the whole of one great clockwork orange.

I am not suggesting that this spare masterpiece necessarily answers the questions it raises. Even a philosophic novel is fiction before philosophy, a fact too easily lost sight of in the heat of critical exuberance. If anything, Burgess sharpens our sensibilities, shapes our awareness of his main argument, by letting us see the extent to which the human quotient dwindles in the face of philosophic divisions. One must, therefore, reject equally any monistic or dualistic readings of the novel, not because the book, per se, is complex, but because the issues are. It is obviously impossible to resolve syllogistically which is the greater evil perpetrated in A Clockwork Orange: Alex's rape and murder or the state's conditioning of his mind and, as some would have it, soul. Passive goodness and dynamic evil are choices that in themselves may or may not be acceptable or unacceptable, but that in terms of the novel are neither. My own preference is to view the book pluralistically, to see it as a kind of varieties of existential experience, involving at every turn mixtures of both good and evil that move outward through widening concentric circles of choice from the esthetic (ugliness, beauty) to the moral (sin, redemption). And, as with The Wanting Seed, the experiences are empirically stated.

Let me start with the esthetic that is oddly integral to the novel—its language. Vesch and tolchock and smeck and about 250 other nadsat neologisms characterize Alex's era as distinctively as phony and crap do Holden Caulfield's. Whatever sources Burgess drew upon ([the character Dr. Branom describes Alex's language as] "Odd bits of old rhyming slang…. A bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration."), it has generally been the brutality, harshness, distortion, artificiality, and synthetic quality of the coinages that have fascinated those (myself included) who make the direct connection between the way Alex speaks and how he acts. The language is all of this—an "objective correlative" with a vengeance—but it is something more. Burgess is also a musician, and any passage of sustained nadsat reflects certain rhythms and textures and syncopations. As the following:

Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cutthroat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.

In its simplicity and naturalness as well as its wholeness and continuity, this final paragraph of A Clockwork Orange sings to me much as those free-wheeling lapses in Molly Bloom's soliloquy. It is hardly coincidental that Alex's favorite piece of music is Beethoven's Ninth, rich in dissonances that only the professional ear can detect, but filled also with as many untapped, infinite (so it seems) harmonies. In a way it is easy to understand why musical conservatives of Beethoven's time could find the Ninth "ugly" by the then rigorous harmonic standards and why, as a matter of fact, more than one critic fled from the concert hall at the beginning of the "lovely last singing movement." Alex's language is, in its way, ugly, too; but place it alongside the bland and vapid professional or everyday language of the doctors and warders and chaplains and hear how hollow their language rings. Burgess was out to show how sterile and devitalized language could become without a continuing dynamics behind it; how, in fact, the juice had been squeezed from it; and how, contrarily, Alex emerges as something of a poet, singing dithyrambs to violence, but revealing through the terrifying beauty of his speech the naked beauty of an uninhibited psyche.

The choice of an esthetic substantiates the several existential modes without explaining how the maladjustment—itself an indication of social, psychological, and biological "evils"—came about. The causes are naturally grounded in current events, and Burgess has spelled them out in earlier writings. Alex, the gross product of welfare state overkill, is not "depraved because he is deprived" but because he is indulged. "Myself," he notes rather pathetically at the beginning of A Clockwork Orange, "I couldn't help a bit of disappointment at things as they were those days. Nothing to fight against really. Everything as easy as kiss-my-sharries." Alex's utopia is more than the result of suprapermissiveness and self-gratification; it is the consequence of the "original sin" inborn with every offspring of modern organizational leviathans. Having discovered that existence has always meant freedom, but never having been taught "goodness," Alex responds predictably and inevitably to the killing burden of choice.

Socially, he and his "droogs" parody the formless, shadowy, omnipotent political entity that sports with them as they with "lewdies." This Kafkaesque infinite regression is frightening enough, though I find even more so Burgess' repeated inferences that we are all, in some way or another, products of conditioning: tools to be manipulated and clockwork oranges whether we will or no. Alex, not unlike Meursault or K. or—as Burgess more slyly than reasonably lets us imagine—Christ, is the mere scapegoat. He is the one called upon to expiate for the existence of others because he has dared question—or (in this case) has been forced to question—his own.

I don't know that Burgess offers any clear-cut expansion of the psychological and biological evils of modern life, but he does dramatize with vitality the theory that we are by now—depending on our luck—either neurotic or paranoid. Alex's particular routine sado-masochism—nightly orgies of "tolchocking" and the old "in-out in-out," alternating between sabbaticals at the all-too-Freudian Korova Milkbar and withdrawals (onanistic and otherwise) into his multi-speakered stereo womb—may be the healthy neurosis standing between Alex and the paranoia of the populace, though it proves something of a disaster for those elected as outlets for his self-expression. Yet more insidious is the growing feeling one gets in reading A Clockwork Orange of governments encouraging violence in order to whip up and feed the paranoia that will ultimately engender allegiance through fear. Ironically, Alex, on the surface at least, is less psychologically distorted and biologically frustrated in his career of violence than those he terrorizes or those who seek to condition him. And, in a more significant way, his small-scale brutalities reflect no deeper abnormality than those of larger scale perfected by the engineers of power politics.

Alex, of course, does not intellectualize his Non serviam. For one thing, he wouldn't know how to; for another, there is no need to. The evils of intellect—ignorance and error—have brought the state to a point at which only the fruits of escalated intellectual achievement can check and contain (if that is now the sole function left the state!) the robots it has brought into being. Nothing is mystifying about our present disenchantment with intellectuals who, however motivated or why, have skillfully and near totally excised with their finely honed organizations, systems, and machines the last vestiges of our intuition. Burgess makes a case for the Alex-breed being one of the last, though obviously not impregnable, strongholds of intuition. Yet Alex is neither a purely feeling (if ignoble) savage nor a crusader warring against thought. He is a prototype of those who, muddling means and ends by lumping them together, rebel out of a studied defiance to intellect, rather than out of any untutored intuitive urge. Intellect having failed to show them the "truth that shall make men free," intuition alone must sustain the illusion of freedom and itself become accepted as the creative act or be confused with it. Such intuitional virtues seem to account for Alex's successful "dratsing" with Georgie and Dim:

… when we got into the street I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and that the oomny ones use like inspiration and what Bog sends. For now it was lovely music that came to my aid. There was an auto ittying by and it had its radio on, and I could just slooshy a bar or so of Ludwig van (it was the Violin Concerto, last movement), and I viddied right at once what to do.

What Alex does is carve up both of them a bit with his "britva," yet the episode is more significant in retrospect than in context. Alex's natural reflex of elation in the face of violence—inspired here by Beethoven—later becomes a conditioned reflex against violence after his bout with the "Ludovico technique," a name, I imagine, not chosen at random by Burgess. The distortion of intellect and intuition leads to an unresolvable Manicheanism: What are we, where are we when we can be programmed into calling evil what is so clearly the "good and beautiful?" In a clockwork-orange society we may as well surrender any pretense for distinguishing between good and evil; when we call them by the identical name we know we have been brainwashed past hope. In this respect, A Clockwork Orange shows refinements even beyond 1984. Winston Smith, having undergone physical tortures on a par with primitive atrocities and unrelenting mental cruelties predicated on external fears, quite naturally betrays the woman he loves and learns to love Big Brother. But Alex, robbed of his will, reduced to an automaton, taught to be sickened by violence, is made "good" only by killing in him what was already the good.

Both Winston and Alex "die" when they can no longer love. Yet, if 1984 is grimly conclusive in showing the death of a mind and heart at the hands of the state, A Clockwork Orange is equally effective in questioning the finality of the death. Burgess brings in (not for shock tactics alone) one of the original archetypes through which Alex finds salvation: the fall, or in this case, the jump. His attempted suicide is, according to Christian dogma, a transgression against God's will, grace, and judgment, and, existentially, the inexcusable surrender of human freedom. Alex, in other words, has been half-dragged, half-propelled down paths of problematical and actual evil to arrive at the lethal nadir of moral evil: sin. And having plumbed the depths, he can only rise. He is a slave to fate rather than choice (the things that happen to him in the last third of the book recapitulate those he initiated in the first third), a victim (no longer victimizer) without refuge, unsuited for Christ-like martyrdom ("If that veck had stayed I might even have like presented the other cheek"), physically coming apart at the seams and mentally wracked. From this condition, his try at "snuffing it" becomes the last desperate exertion of a murdered will and, paradoxically, the means to its resurrection.

Despite the unanswerable paradoxes and dilemmas of A Clockwork Orange, which remain unaltered in the ambiguity of its conclusion, my own notions as to the book's ultimate intent are perhaps slightly more irreverent than ambivalent. I cannot escape the idea that Burgess has intended Alex's sickness—the nausée lodged in nonchoice—to symbolize a new concept of Angst neatly antithetical to Kierkegaard's "sickness unto death," the "fear and trembling" accruing from the infinite possibilities of choice. And, further, I suspect Alex's jump, the fall by which he is redeemed (the resulting concussion undoes his conditioning), in some way approximates the Kierkegaardian "leap into faith": the intuitive passage from doubt to faith after the cold logic of intellect fails. Alex has done wrong, been evil, sinned, but all as preparation for his redemption. The faith he finds is a specimen of love, joy, freedom. Ironically, he must leave HOME in order to reach it in the same way a man must "lose his life [before] he save it." And his cure is both of the body and soul. "It was," says Alex, "like as though to get better I had to get worse." Burgess seems to be saying that, in a brutal, resigned, mechanical world—a world turned clockwork—love must come from hate, good from evil, peace from violence, and redemption from sin.

How? Unfortunately there are no panaceas for metaphysical or existential ills, and Burgess is not a prescriptive writer anyway. Human problems are inexhaustible so long as there are human beings; eradicate one and you eradicate the other. Short of that, one might find the answer to A Clockwork Orange in The Wanting Seed—and vice versa, but I very much doubt that either solution would serve for long. Give man unlimited choice? He will make a botch of it. Deprive him of all but the "right" choice? He is no longer a man. The seeds and fruits of freedom, both novels tell us, are bitter, but man is now harvesting only what he has sown.

Further Reading

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Coale, Samuel. Anthony Burgess. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981, pp. 209-15.

Listing of secondary sources, including doctoral dissertations on Burgess.

――――――. "Criticism of Anthony Burgess: A Selected Checklist." Modern Fiction Studies 27, No. 3 (Autumn 1981): 533-36.

Listing of secondary sources, including general essays, interviews, and discussions of specific works.


Dix, Carol M. Anthony Burgess. Burnt Mill, Harlow, Essex, England: Longman, 1971, 31 p.

General overview of Burgess' life and works through 1971.

Evans, Robert O. "The Nouveau Roman, Russian Dystopias, and Anthony Burgess." In British Novelists Since 1900, pp. 253-66. New York: AMS Press, 1987.

Discusses the place of Burgess's works within the genre of the dystopian novel.

Hammer, Stephanie Barbé. "Conclusion: Resistance, Metaphysics, and the Aesthetics of Failure in Modern Criminal Literature." In The Sublime Crime: Fascination, Failure, and Form in Literature of the Enlightenment, pp. 154-74. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.

Discusses A Clockwork Orange as an example of "criminal literature."

LeClair, Thomas. "Essential Opposition: The Novels of Anthony Burgess." Critique XII, No. 3 (1971): 77-94.

Argues that there is a "dialectic of opposites" that structures meaning in Burgess's novels.

Nehring, Neil. "The Shifting Relations of Literature and Popular Music in Postwar England." Discourse 12, No. 1 (Fall-Winter 1989–1990): 78-103.

Discussion of literature and music in relation to youth subculture in England.


Coale, Samuel. "An Interview with Anthony Burgess." Modern Fiction Studies 27, No. 3 (Autumn 1981): 429-52.

Discussion of Burgess's personal life and his views on religion and modernism in literature.

Cullinan, John, "Anthony Burgess." The Paris Review 14, No. 56 (Spring 1973): 119-63.

Discussion of Burgess's writing techniques, influences, and his views on music, Catholicism, and politics.

Robert O. Evans (essay date March 1971)

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SOURCE: "Nadsat: The Argot and Its Implications in Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange," in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 1, No. 3, March, 1971, pp. 406-10.

[Evans is an American critic and educator. In the following essay, he discusses the use of the "nadsat" slang in A Clockwork Orange, and its effect upon the novel as a dystopian vision.]

The dustjacket of the Heinemann edition of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1962) promises that "it will take the reader no more than fifteen pages to master and revel in the expressive language of Nadsat." Perhaps that is what it will take to guess most of the meanings from context, but to master the argot of the teenage set with which the novel deals may be somewhat more difficult. It is indeed something like learning Russian vocabulary without the grammar. There are about a dozen words on every page of the novel that are non-English, and these words are almost entirely substantives. At a rough estimate about three per cent of the text is foreign or borrowed. That is a rather large amount of invasion, considering the nature of the non-English words. Were these words entirely symbolic, or imaginative, the novel might be as unintelligible as if it had been written in Esperanto. But in fact the roots are mostly Slavic. What the author has done is to inject a heavy element of Russian vocabulary into the speech of his characters.

There is one clear clue in the novel to the nature of this vocabulary. Somewhere beyond the middle of the book the protagonist, Alex, uses Nadsat words in conversation with two psychiatrists who are treating him. His language, Dr. Brodsky says, is "quaint." Then, he asks his partner, Dr. Branom, if he knows anything about its provenance. "Odd bits of rhyming slang," Dr. Branom answers, with "a bit of gipsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration." All of these remarks quite exact, except perhaps the reference to gypsy talk. While there is plenty of slang, an odd German word or two, I can discover no gypsy words. Russian words are, however, ubiquitous.

Examine the first fifteen pages, that the dustjacket says will provide sufficient clue to meaning to enjoy the rest of the novel. We begin in the company of Alex and his three friends. They are called droogs, the Russian word for friend slightly Anglicized. They are making up their rassodocks (Russian minds) what to do that evening. The times are skorry (sorry). There is no law yet against some of the new vesches (things) they put into moloko (milk) to give one a horrorshow (good) feeling. Their pockets are full of deng (money). They decide to tolchock (push, pound) and old veck (man) in an alley. They viddy (see) him swim in his own blood. They consider doing violence to some starry (old) ptitsas (birds, feminine; women). They go away smecking (laughing) with the contents of a till.

Not all of the Russian words have to be guessed from context, for the author does not wish the novel to be totally unintelligible. Pete had a "rooker (hand, that is)" on the front of his tights. Georgie had a "clown's litso (face, that is)" in the same place. They wore built up shoulders "pletchoes we called them," as indeed every Russian calls them.

They met some devotchkas (girls)—the number of words for girls is remarkable—who wore little silver medals bearing the names of boys they had gone with (euphemism?) before they were fourteen on the groody (bosomy) part of their dresses. They considered spending the evening with a bit of pol (sex) but decided against it. There were only four devotchkas, which would mean kuppeting (buying) one of the unwholesome four enough to drink to keep him busy while the others enjoyed themselves.

The chelloveck (man) sitting next to them was already far gone on the drug. His glazzies (eyes) were glazed—a rather apparent pun. His slovos (words) were slurred. All this time in the background you can hear the goloss (voice) of the singer, crooning a real starry (old) oldie, You Blister My Paint, a more sophisticated play on words here. If we hadn't already guessed, the author would show us by such repetitions that here at least he was pulling our legs.

They go out into the winter nochy (night), searching for a malenky (small, petty) jest. They meet an old man, or at least an adult, coming from the Public Library. Pete holds his rookers (arms), while Dim yanks out his false zoobies (teeth). He makes chumbling (dirty) shooms (noises), so that George stops holding his goobers (lips) apart—exactly what he was doing is not especially clear even after translation. They pull off his platties (trousers) and read his private letters, which they consider to be filled with chepooka (nonsense). Their violence is punctuated with disgusting gestures. After a sentimental passage in a letter one of the four pretends to wipe his yahma (hole) with it.

They decide on a bit of shop-crasting (stealing), set up an alibi with three or four old baboochkas (women) in a bar, where the waiter has on a grazzy (dirty) apron, and spend all the money in their carmans (pockets). Dim is quiet for fear of being considered gloopy (stupid). They take pains to avoid the millicents (policemen) and rozz patrols. I take rozz to be a clipped reference to the Russian for criminal investigation department. Many of the English words in the novel, especially slang words, are clipped forms, and there is reason to believe the author employs the same practice with Russian words. For example, Pete keeps chasso (sentry—clipped) while they rob a smoke shop.

Before they get down to violence in the robbery, they are momentarily attracted by an advertisement for cancers (English coinage for cigarettes) in the form of a pretty girl showing off her groodies (breasts). The old woman in the shop is "all nuking" (smelling) of scent. After the robbery and violence they go back to the bar and ring the collocoll (bell) for the waiter. The rozzes (let us say, cops) come in wearing their shlemmies (helmets). But the cops have nothing on the young criminals. "Everything [was] as easy as kiss-my-sharries" (balls).

In the beginning of the next chapter they run into a "burbling old pyahnitsa" (drunk) whose words interest Alex. He likes to slooshy (hear) what some of these old decreps (clipped, decrepit ones, one supposes) have to say. An odd blurp rises from his keeshkas (perhaps Russian clipped for intestines, guts). Then they run across Billyboy and his five droogs (friends). Now there will be gang war. This is not the mean violence they commit on shopkeepers, drunks, and little girls but rather serious business with the nozh (knife), the oozy (this one escapes me), and the britva (razor). So the story progresses, but that takes us through the first fifteen pages which the dustjacket behooves us to master. The Russian vocabulary continues, but the introduction of new words is cut down—and many of those we subsequently meet are reasonably familiar, such as chai (tea) or gavoreet (speak). There is then some truth to the promise that if we master the first fifteen pages we can read the rest of the novel with little difficulty.

The fifty odd Russian borrowings we have been examining constitute a fair sampling of the vocabulary of the first fifteen pages of the novel, but they by no means exhaust the subject. There are a few borrowings from other languages; for example, tashtook for handkerchief (German) and kartoffel for potato. There are English coinages, some of them purely imaginative, as vellocet, synthemesc, drencom for LSD-type additives to the evil milk the boys drink, which puts knives in your stomach. Money can be polly or cutter as well as deng, and potatoes are also spuds. Heads are gullivers, and women are sometimes sharps or lighters, as well as ptitsas, cheenas, baboochkas, and devotchkas. Smokes are cancers, and a drink of whisky is a Large Scotchman. On the whole the language is as unusual and versatile as anyone might wish.

The novel is not, however, filled with linguistic pyrotechnics in the same way that Joyce's Finnegans Wake is. Joyce is attempting, however successfully, to delve beneath the conscious levels of speech; Burgess is playing with ordinary speech conventions. It is as if he were testing our ability to read. As we know, to read Shakespeare, say, requires coming to terms with the vocabulary, some of which is slang, some of which is simply out-of-date. To read A Clockwork Orange is to go through the same process artificially. Indeed it is even more difficult, for there is no apparatus with footnotes, and most readers will have too little Russian to provide the necessary clues.

It is fair to ask what is the purpose of this linguistic innovation? That is, what has the author accomplished with his unusual vocabulary? To do so is not quite the same as inquiring what the author intended by all this verbiage—clearly there are times when the words ran away with him and his intention, so far as one can ascertain, was simply to amuse the reader in the way that puns or nonsense verse amuse us. But A Clockwork Orange is not nonsense, nor is it simply "horror comedy," or sick humor, as the writer for Heinemann implies on the dustjacket. And it is certainly not "a fable of good and evil" demonstrating "the importance of human choice," the alternative suggested by the publisher.

It is, to begin with, a distopia related to the genre of Eugene Zamiatin's We, Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984, Golding's Lord of the Flies, or even Edmund Wilson's unsuccessful play, A Little Blue Light. Like We and Brave New World and 1984 it presents a vision of society as it has developed at some future time, a vision that is not only unpleasant but is almost entirely unbearable. Unlike Zamiatin, Huxley, and Orwell (and there are of course others in the same category), Burgess holds no shred of hope for society. There are no important characters in A Clockwork Orange capable of seeing through the foibles and evils of the society created. There is no sign of hope for the future.

Like the characters in Golding's Lord of the Flies, those in A Clockwork Orange are all children—indeed the book is entirely the autobiography of Alex. The others hardly matter except as participants in events that illustrate Alex's total lack of moral values. But unlike Golding's novel this one is not about youngsters in order to clarify its moral purpose. Golding is discussing original sin; in order to do so without clouding the issues with sexual matters he makes all of his characters children below the age of puberty. Burgess's characters—or character—are not below the age of sexual experience. Indeed vicious rape is one of the attendant pleasures they enjoy as early as the second chapter of the novel.

That is not to say that the author is totally unconcerned with moral values. No doubt he deplores the actions of Alex as much as we do. What he is doing is creating a hopeless vision of a society taken over by youth. The youth do not share the values of their elders, nor do they admit any sort of normal associations with them. Parents are not to be obeyed, nor do they set examples. The best that can be hoped for in the world of Burgess is that the young will eventually grow up into copies of their parents. Physical and mental attrition will set in—it does for some of the gang. Dim and Billyboy, for example, end up as millicents (policemen).

But what has this to do with the special argot of youth, which incidentally—like the uniforms they wear—will inevitably change as new youths replace those who have passed into the ossifying adult world? Why should three per cent, or so, of the words be Anglicized Russian words instead of, say, Arabic or French? If most readers have to arrive at meaning from contextual repetition, Arabic would do for them quite as well. If the writer is merely trying to amuse with sounds and still wishes to communicate a large percentage of what his words say at once, surely French would better serve English and American readers. It is interesting to speculate on what such a story might sound like written in Franglais. But in fact neither French nor Arabic would do. There is a real sense in the novel in which, to borrow Marshall McLuhan's terminology, the medium becomes the message. For the Anglo-American reader the Slavic words connote communist dictatorship, the society of Darkness at Noon, without moral value and without hope. How the young people in the novel learn the argot is never explained. It seems to come to them through the air somehow. Their parents, the police, the psychiatrists know about it, but they cannot speak it.

The writer is of course describing a common enough linguistic phenomenon. Those of us in our forties may understand "Cool it, man," but we cannot speak Beat. Where our children learned the argot, we do not know, nor do they. But Burgess is exaggerating beyond all reasonable bounds this sort of linguistic process. And he makes the argot Russian, as if to warn his readers of what society may become if it communizes itself along Soviet lines. The medium becomes the message in A Clockwork Orange with a vengeance, and the message is similar to that in other distopias that deal in visions of society in the future after it has become static, completely controlled, amoral, and heartless. The difference between A Clockwork Orange and, say, We or Brave New World lies in the fact that complete submission and total control in the latter novels, products of an earlier generation, lead to inaction or submission most of the time; whereas in Burgess the same destruction of moral values leads to absolute anarchy. The message is the same, but the specific warning of events to come is quite different.

Much of the appeal of works like We, Brave New World, Lord of the Flies, Darkness at Noon rests on what we consider to be the authenticity of the vision. It is on that count that Edmund Wilson's play, A Little Blue Light, particularly fails. Wilson was unable to convince us that his vision was clear, in the sense that Huxley's or Golding's is supposed to be. The test, after all, will come only with time. The problem, artistically speaking, is how the author goes about creating authenticity—in short the problem with works of this genre is the old one of verisimilitude.

On this score, I believe, A Clockwork Orange fails. Alex, the protagonist, is a totally amoral person—a thief, an arsonist, a rapist, though there are one or two qualities that tend to detract from Burgess's total version of a teenage fiend incarnate. For one thing, Alex likes serious music, though he uses it to encourage his nefarious escapades. When he is finally captured and incarcerated, he is given a chance to receive pardon and his freedom by submitting to a psychiatric experiment. Doubtless the author has his tongue in his cheek about psychiatrists while he describes this process. Alex is drugged, tied down, and subjected to very heavy doses of violence on film. It is suggested that by this method of vicarious participation in an extraordinary amount of violence, the violent part of his mind can be changed—or, more simply, the subject can be conditioned so that even the thought of violence can make him physically ill. It is as if he underwent a psychic frontal lobotomy, which altered his entire personality—not forever in the novel, however.

What Burgess suggests is that the spectacle of brutality can be used as a deterrent. Authors are not the only ones to think up such things. As Marshall McLuhan points out, the Santa Monica police offered (in 1962) a five dollar reduction in traffic fines to persons willing to watch the Ohio State Police movie Signal 30. But he also argues that the spectacle of brutality can itself brutalize. "Numbness," he says, "is the result of prolonged terror … The price of eternal vigilance is indifference." Whether a hot film, as McLuhan calls it, would cool off hot behavior is a psychologically moot point. Whether we accept media distinctions such as McLuhan makes does not really matter in attempting to weigh the success in terms of verisimilitude of the events depicted in a novel like A Clockwork Orange. We know, rationally and intuitively, if not from experience, that a hot book will not cool sexual ardor—or there would be no market for pornography. In short there is enough in question about the events of Burgess's novel to make its solution seem improbable rather than probable. If I am correct in that impression, the novel then is less than successful despite the attention it has attracted—that is, it is less than successful artistically. It breaks on the crux of verisimilitude. It fails to convince us because we do not believe in, as Mr. Branom called it, this kind of subliminal penetration. If that is so, it is certainly no moral fable of the importance of good and evil and human choice. It is a nightmare rather than a social satire.

There is admittedly always the possibility that the author intended to create a nightmare. Whether he wished to or not does not really matter, for we are left with what he gave us. The use of Nadsat as a device makes of the novel a sort of tour-de-force, and tour-de-force rates high with the English reading public these days. Witness Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One or Muriel Spark's Memento Mori. In that sense we have a literary work worthy of our attention. Beyond that, beyond the fire of the words, as a humanistic document and a vision of the future to make us sit back and think how we can mend ourselves to prevent its coming true—A Clockwork Orange is a failure, on artistic grounds probably and surely on moral grounds.

A. A. DeVitis (essay date 1972)

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SOURCE: "England, Education, and the Future," in Anthony Burgess, Twayne, 1972, pp. 96-118.

[DeVitis is an American critic and educator. In the following excerpt, he interprets A Clockwork Orange as a black comedy which illustrates the "horror of life without choice."]

In a chapter entitled "Utopias and Dystopias" in The Novel Now, Anthony Burgess appraises the influence of H. G. Wells on the modern utopian novel:

Many novelists set themselves the task—before and after the war—of exposing Wells's optimistic scientific liberalism as a sham. Science and education, said Wells, would outlaw war, poverty, squalor. All of us carry an image of the Wellsian future—rational buildings of steel and glass, rational tunics, clean air, a diet of scientifically balanced vitamin-capsules, clean trips to the moon, perpetual world peace. It was a fine dream, and what nation could better realise it than the Germans? After all, their scientific and educational achievements seemed to put them in the vanguard of Utopia-builders. What, though, did they give to the world? A new dark age, a decade of misery.

After dreaming of a new race, Wells, as Burgess points out, died a disappointed liberal.

In 1962 Burgess himself published two "dystopian" novels, A Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed, both conceived and executed from the same philosophical orientation but quite different in content and development. Both are in many ways reminiscent of Aldous Huxley's and George Orwell's utopian novels, but both are, more importantly, advancements of the utopian genre and highly representative of the ideas and patterns that inform the majority of Burgess's works. A Clockwork Orange, written in the first half of 1961, is set in the near-future and, in many ways, borrows from Orwell's 1984;The Wanting Seed, written between August and October, 1960, more elaborate and less polemical, is set in a further-distanced future and reminds the reader of 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Golding's Lord of the Flies, and Rex Warner's The Wild Goose Chase and The Aerodrome.

In terms of the loosely applied criteria of "black comedy,"… Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange concerns itself with a religious problem: the nature of human will and the importance of individual choice in a socialized and dehumanized world. A drunken prison chaplain says to Alex, the fifteen-year-old protagonist, before he is subjected to the Ludovico process which will force him to choose good at all times:

It may not be nice to be good, little 6655321. It may be horrible to be good. And when I say that to you I realise how self-contradictory that sounds. I know that I shall have many sleepless nights about this. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than the man who has the good imposed upon him. Deep and hard questions….

Alex, the leader of a hoodlum gang and precocious in the ways of evil, can nevertheless appreciate the nature of the choice he makes for evil over good. Together with Georgie, Dim, and Pete, his "droogs," Alex's activities incorporate beatings, robberies, gang wars, rape, and finally murder. Betrayed by his gang after he has forced his way into the home of an old woman who cares for scores of cats and has killed her, Alex is placed in a progressive prison where his education in evil is advanced. His "brainwashing" and his subsequent return to society form the basic plot of the novel and afford Burgess the opportunity to comment hilariously and bitterly about the condition of man in a mechanized world.

Peculiar to the gangs that invade the London nights in the socialized state that Burgess fashions is the use of Nadsat (perhaps an anagram of "satan'd," for Burgess, like Joyce, is fond of puns and whimsies), which is described as "the language of the tribe": "odd bits of rhyming slang…. A bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration." A combination of Russian words and descriptive phrases, odd Cockney expressions, biblical locutions, and schoolboy humor talk, all of which suggest ironic overtones, Nadsat at first appears to the reader as a barrier to communication; but it actually becomes a device that enhances the narrative. The activities of Alex and his "droogs" become more terrifying, while, ironically, the language becomes more poetical. Phrases like "Being sore athirst, my brothers," "They know not what they do or say," and "mom gave me a tired little smech, to thee fruit of my womb my only son sort of," by their very incongruity with the activities being described, lend a note of poetic intensity to the narrative that contrasts with the nightmare horror of the action.

When Alex and his "droogs" speak Nadsat, the reader finds himself carried to the meaning by the very cadences of the words; and shortly he is conversant not only with the denotative meaning of the words but also with the witty, ironic connotations they convey. Conversely, when Alex speaks the conventional idiom, which he must do from time to time, his cadences are flat and unconvincing. By the end of the first chapter of the novel, the reader is intrigued by the language; and he is as conversant before long with Nadsat as Alex's "droogs" are. Burgess does not hesitate to play wittily with words as often as possible to suit his purpose. One needs to look only at such words as "lewdies" for people, "dama" for woman, "malchick" for boy, "horrorshow" for good, "slovo" for word, "Bog" for God, "bezoomy" for mad to appreciate the variety as well as the possibilities of Nadsat. What at first seems a device that calls more attention to itself than to the development of the novel's theme appears, upon reflection, more correctly a means to render the action more meaningful as it emphasizes the characterization and maintains the illusion of a dehumanized world at the same time.

Alex's world is not one of Roman Catholic good and evil, as is Graham Greene's Brighton. Yet there are both good and evil in Alex's cosmos, and freedom to choose evil over good becomes the chief consideration of the book. In Alex's words:

If lewdies are good that's because they like it, and I wouldn't ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.

Alex's England is a socialized nightmare. People are forced by the government to live regimented lives in blocks of regimented apartments, all the same, all without individuality:

In the hallway was the good old municipal painting on the walls—vecks and ptitsas very well developed, stern in the dignity of labour, at workbench and machine with not one stitch of platties on their well-developed plotts. But of course some of the malchicks living in 18 A had, as was to be expected, embellished and decorated the said big painting with handy pencil and ballpoint, adding hair and stiff rods and dirty ballooning slovos out of the dignified rots of these nagoy (bare, that is) cheenas and vecks.

Alex's only salvation is music, to which he responds emotionally, ecstatically. To Alex music is "gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh;" and his reaction to it at first appears mystical in its intensity as well as in its implications, eliciting as it does imagery of a religious nature. But, ironically, the music fails to raise the spirit; for Alex can react only in a physical way to the sounds of the orchestra. For Alex, a creation of the society in which he lives, there are no such things as love, affection, or duty; for only mechanical sex, compliance with the strong, and a display of power mean anything. In other words, Alex is the "clockwork orange" of the title: he is produced by a system, and he exemplifies in his actions the implications of it. He is punished by that same system when his individuality, his love of music, can no longer be ignored by it. Alex is separated from the community not for his evil but because his individuality threatens the status quo. The references to music are introduced to lend a comic as well as ironic perspective to the theme and to afford a unifying factor to the book.

Although Alex's taste in music seems eclectic—he admires modern composers (whose names are invented by Burgess for comic effect) and classical composers as well—it is Beethoven whom he most cherishes, and the Ninth Symphony is his favorite composition:

Then I pulled the lovely Ninth out of its sleeve, so that Ludwig Van was not nagoy too, and I set the needle hissing on to the last movement, which was all bliss. There it was then, the bass strings like govoreeting away from under my bed at the rest of the orchestra, and then the male human goloss coming in and telling them all to be joyful, and the lovely blissful tune all about Joy being a glorious spark like of heaven, and then I felt the old tigers leap in me….

Music arouses Alex sexually. At one point he goes into the street, into a record shop, picks up two little girls, gets them drunk on "moloko" (doped milk), and then rapes them, the old "in-out in-out." "Beast and hateful animal. Filthy horror," screams one of the children as she runs from Alex's room. His tigers no longer leaping in him, Alex falls asleep, "with the old Joy Joy Joy crashing and howling away."

In the funniest scene in the novel, Alex and his "droogs" attempt to terrorize the old woman who lives with scores of cats. As he lowers himself from a window into the room, Alex finds himself amidst the cats, their milk saucers, and the terrified old woman. To save himself, Alex, as he listens to the screeching symphony of cats and the solo of the old woman, grasps a statue of Beethoven.

Soon after this scene, deserted by his "droogs," Alex finds himself in prison for having caused the death of the "ptitsa." In order to remain near to music, the only relief that Alex has in his prison routine, Alex becomes assistant to the drunken chaplain; and his chief duty is to select and play the recordings used during religious services. When Alex finds himself confronted by evil in the form of a homosexual attack, Alex and his cellmates unite to destroy the pervert; Alex is blamed for the murder.

As a defensive measure designed to check the evil that is threatening the government and causing unrest in the state, Dr. Brodsky and the minister of the interior, or "Inferior" as Alex refers to him, have devised and sanctioned a process of conditioning human responses closely modeled on Pavlov's experiments with dogs. Alex volunteers for the brainwashing process, feeling that nothing worse can happen to him; but he is mistaken. The process of conditioning, referred to as the "Ludovico process," reminds the reader, of course, of Alex's passion for old Ludwig Van himself. The rehabilitation involves the showing of atrocity films and films of violence, horror, and terror of all kinds. A drug, injected into Alex's system immediately before he witnesses the films, induces nausea; and Alex soon begs to be released from the torment of witnessing the films. His pain becomes so intense that Alex soon discovers that he will do anything to avoid it—indeed, the evil that once had given him such passionate pleasure makes him ill. To do good, even to think good, is the only remedy for the discomfort that has been built into him by the Ludovico process.

Along with the conditioning films that Alex is forced to watch and "appreciate" there are, unfortunately, musical accompaniments; and frequently the music is Beethoven's. Thus the one factor that had set Alex apart from his "droogs," Dim and Georgie and Pete, becomes for him a new measure of pain. If before Alex was a "clockwork orange," subliminally conditioned by his society, now the irony is twofold. Before his brainwashing Alex had chosen, consciously as he thought, the evil action. As a result of his reintegration into a conventionalized society by means of Ludovico processing, Alex is denied choice itself. But, not fully comprehending the extent to which his psyche has been programmed, Alex seeks after his release the ecstasy of a musical binge. Pain and nausea result. To forestall the anguish that results from any confrontation with violence or terror, Alex, who had once reveled in evil, finds himself begging and pleading for everyone's pardon; he has become one of the meek. But the earth is not his to inherit.

At this point the devices of melodrama serve Burgess well, for coincidence and chance unify the activities of the plot. Those very "lewdies" that Alex and his "droogs" had terrorized return to haunt and torment Alex in his newly discovered world of good action. A man who had been attacked while returning home with library books on crystallography sees Alex in the library where he has gone to escape the excruciating torment of piped-in music and exacts his measure of vengeance. When Alex begs for love and forgiveness, he receives instead a terrible beating. Rescued by the police, among whom is Dim, a former "droog," Alex is beaten and is left, covered with blood and half alive, in the country.

Perhaps the most obvious aspect of the melodramatic plotting concerns F. Alexander, the author of a novel entitled A Clockwork Orange. During an evening's escapade, Alex and his "droogs," wearing plastic masks, had forced their way into F. Alexander's house, a place significantly called "Home," where Alex had remarked the similarity of names. The gang had raped F. Alexander's wife, who had later died as a result of the outrage. It is to the house called "Home" that Alex once again finds his way. Left by the police, he finds himself befriended by F. Alexander himself. Aware of the irony, Alex for a time forestalls the author's awareness that he, Alex, now a famous personage because of his Ludovico processing, is the same Alex who had invaded the Alexander home earlier on.

Through F. Alexander, Alex is put in communication with the political party attempting to unseat the party that had determined that goodness could be forced upon people. Alex—who becomes a cause, then an issue, in the new political campaign—discovers that once again he is being used; for neither party is at all concerned with his moral emasculation. To serve party interests, Alex is programmed to commit suicide. Rather than endure the constant playing of music mysteriously coming into the locked apartment where he has been placed for his own "safety," Alex jumps from a window. "Friend," says one of the politicians who had coerced Alex, "friend, little friend, the people are on fire with indignation. You have killed those horrible villains' chances of reelection. They will go and will go for ever and ever. You have served Liberty well." But Alex is aware that he has been used; he also realizes that, had he died as a result of the jump, he would have served even better the cause of political expediency.

Either as a result of Alex's fall or as a result of reverse Ludovico processing—the point is never clarified—Alex returns to his old terror-loving, "bolshy" music ways. His final action in the American edition is to return to his "pee" and "em's" house, from which he had been dispossessed by an ersatz son, and to the music of Ludwig Van's Ninth Symphony: "Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum," writes Alex at the novel's end. "When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cutthroat britva. And there was the slow movement and the last lovely singing movement still to come. I was cured all right."

The William Heinemann 1962 edition of A Clockwork Orange includes a chapter wisely omitted from the American editions. The last section of the English edition emphasizes a time perspective on the activities that Alex narrates to his "brothers" in the body of the novel, by pointing out quite simply that Alex had reached the ripe old age of nineteen. His luscious glory has been sacrificed to the current fashion of shaved heads, and Alex now wears wide trousers, a black leather belt, and shiny black leather jerkins. Only the heavy boots, fine for kicking, remain. Employed by the National Grasmodic Archives "on the music side," Alex earns good money; and he cherishes a desire "to keep all my pretty polly to myself." He also finds himself reluctant to participate in the horror-show activities he plans for his new gang of "droogs," preferring to listen to lieder and to study the picture of a baby "gurgling goo goo goo" which he has cut out of a newspaper. Alex is, indeed, bored; the only thoughts that interest him are of wife, son, and God. And these thoughts suggest a possible salvation for the antiheroic monster of the greater part of the novel; and the idea of possible salvation contradicts the rationale that animates the novel.

The final paragraphs of the 1962 edition attempt to reestablish the rationale but fail, for the idea of Alex as a father concerned with the future of the earth does not fulfill the characterization so brilliantly developed in the greater part of the novel:

And so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round, like some bolshy gigantic like chelloveck, like old Bog himself … turning and turning a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers…. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lip music brrrrrr. And they can kiss my sharries. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.

In the course of A Clockwork Orange's activities Burgess comments in "black comic" fashion on the horror of life without choice, whether for evil or for good. It is better, he says, to choose evil rather than to be denied the right of choice. Although the direct expression of an orthodox religious code does not figure dominantly within the narrative, the point that moral action and ethical rightness are essential to life in an ordered community is cogently made. Indeed, the final impression that the novel makes is that it is a parable. The point that is left undeveloped concerns the nature of government and the nature of individual responsibility. Burgess forces his reader to come to some logical conclusion, through his "creeching horror-show" scenes, about the choice for right and good action in a civilized community. Frighteningly enough, to choose evil is a privilege that cannot be denied the individual; for, when his choice for evil has been curtailed, his choice of or for good becomes meaningless.

That Alex is as much a "clockwork orange" before as after the Ludovico treatment is ironically and comically portrayed. The sociological implications of the theme are constantly emphasized; and the reader, mystified by the manner and seduced by the virtuosity of the language, at first fails to appreciate the simple homily that man is responsible to himself and to his fellow man.

Burgess, then, in A Clockwork Orange, succeeds in garbing a simple thesis in a startlingly telling and darkly humorous disguise. The violence and brutality—the slashing and rapings of the hoodlum gangs, the pack-hunting, the wanton killings—all that Alex represents, all can be found described in today's newspapers. The ultimate terror that Burgess suggests, and what best represents his concern for human beings is that what Alex and his "droogs" symbolize, governments too are involved in, and that depersonalization of family and community life produces "clockwork oranges," that regimentation of human animals into mechanized and orderly units of productive enterprise produces a world without meaning, a world without hope. Symbolically, the world that Alex lives in is one devoid of light and sun; and the majority of scenes take place at night. The people that he lives among are clearly "clock-work oranges," despite the fact that they have not been submitted directly to Ludovico processing.

Anthony Burgess (essay date 17 February 1972)

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SOURCE: "Clockwork Marmalade," in The Listener, Vol. 87, No. 2238, February 17, 1972, pp. 197-99.

[In the following essay, Burgess discusses the violence in A Clockwork Orange and reacts to criticism that both the novel and Stanley Kubrick's 1972 film version of it are gratuitous in their depictions of such content.]

I went to see Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange in New York, fighting to get in like everybody else. It was worth the fight, I thought—very much a Kubrick movie, technically brilliant, thoughtful, relevant, poetic, mind-opening. It was possible for me to see the work as a radical remaking of my own novel, not as a mere interpretation, and this—the feeling that it was no impertinence to blazon it as Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange—is the best tribute I can pay to the Kubrickian mastery. The fact remains, however, that the film sprang out of a book, and some of the controversy which has begun to attach to the film is controversy in which I, inevitably, feel myself involved. In terms of philosophy and even theology, the Kubrick Orange is a fruit from my tree.

I wrote A Clockwork Orange in 1961, which is a very remote year, and I experience some difficulty in empathising with that long-gone writer who, concerned with making a living, wrote as many as five novels in 14 months. The title is the least difficult thing to explain. In 1945, back from the army, I heard an 80-year-old Cockney in a London pub say that somebody was 'as queer as a clockwork orange'. The 'queer' did not mean homosexual: it meant mad. The phrase intrigued me with its unlikely fusion of demotic and surrealistic. For nearly twenty years I wanted to use it as the title of something. During those twenty years I heard it several times more—in Underground stations, in pubs, in television plays—but always from aged Cockneys, never from the young. It was a traditional trope, and it asked to entitle a work which combined a concern with tradition and a bizarre technique. The opportunity to use it came when I conceived the notion of writing a novel about brainwashing. Joyce's Stephen Dedalus (in Ulysses) refers to the world as an 'oblate orange'; man is a microcosm or little world; he is a growth as organic as a fruit, capable of colour, fragrance and sweetness; to meddle with him, condition him, is to turn him into a mechanical creation.

There had been some talk in the British press about the problems of growing criminality. The youth of the late Fifties were restless and naughty, dissatisfied with the postwar world, violent and destructive, and they—being more conspicuous than mere old-time crooks and hoods—were what many people meant when they talked about growing criminality. Looking back from a peak of violence, we can see that the British teddy-boys and mods and rockers were mere tyros in the craft of anti-social aggression: nevertheless, they were a portent, and the man in the street was right to be scared. How to deal with them? Prison or reform school made them worse: why not save the taxpayer's money by subjecting them to an easy course in conditioning, some kind of aversion therapy which should make them associate the act of violence with discomfort, nausea, or even intimations of mortality? Many heads nodded at this proposal (not, at the time, a governmental proposal, but one put out by private though influential theoreticians). Heads still nod at it. On The Frost Show it was suggested to me that it might have been a good thing if Adolf Hitler had been forced to undergo aversion therapy, so that the very thought of a new putsch or pogrom would make him sick up his cream cakes.

Hitler was, unfortunately, a human being, and if we could have countenanced the conditioning of one human being we would have to accept it for all. Hitler was a great nuisance, but history has known others disruptive enough to make the state's fingers itch—Christ, Luther, Bruno, even D. H. Lawrence. One has to be genuinely philosophical about this, however much one has suffered. I don't know how much free will man really possesses (Wagner's Hans Sachs said: Wir sind ein wenig frei—'we are a little free'), but I do know that what little he seems to have is too precious to encroach on, however good the intentions of the encroacher may be.

A Clockwork Orange was intended to be a sort of tract, even a sermon, on the importance of the power of choice. My hero or anti-hero, Alex, is very vicious, perhaps even impossibly so, but his viciousness is not the product of genetic or social conditioning: it is his own thing, embarked on in full awareness. Alex is evil, not merely misguided, and in a properly run society such evil as he enacts must be checked and punished. But his evil is a human evil, and we recognise in his deeds of aggression potentialities of our own—worked out for the non-criminal citizen in war, sectional injustice, domestic unkindness, armchair dreams. In three ways Alex is an exemplar of humanity: he is aggressive, he loves beauty, he is a language-user. Ironically, his name can be taken to mean 'wordless', though he has plenty of words of his own—invented, group-dialect. He has, though, no word to say in the running of his community or the managing of the state: he is, to the state, a mere object, something 'out there' like the Moon, though not so passive.

Theologically, evil is not quantifiable. Yet I posit the notion that one act of evil may be greater than another, and that perhaps the ultimate act of evil is dehumanisation, the killing of the soul—which is as much as to say the capacity to choose between good and evil acts. Impose on an individual the capacity to be good and only good, and you kill his soul for, presumably, the sake of social stability. What my, and Kubrick's, parable tries to state is that it is preferable to have a world of violence undertaken in full awareness—violence chosen as an act of will—than a world conditioned to be good or harmless. I recognise that the lesson is already becoming an old-fashioned one. B. F. Skinner, with his ability to believe that there is something beyond freedom and dignity, wants to see the death of autonomous man. He may or may not be right, but in terms of the Judaeo-Christian ethic that A Clockwork Orange tries to express, he is perpetrating a gross heresy. It seems to me in accordance with the tradition that Western man is not yet ready to jettison, that the area in which human choice is a possibility should be extended, even if one comes up against new angels with swords and banners emblazoned No. The wish to diminish free will is, I should think, the sin against the Holy Ghost.

In both film and book, the evil that the state performs in brainwashing Alex is seen spectacularly in its own lack of self-awareness as regards non-ethical values. Alex is fond of Beethoven, and he has used the Ninth Symphony as a stimulus to dreams of violence. This has been his choice, but there has been nothing to prevent his choosing to use that music as a mere solace or image of divine order. That, by the time his conditioning starts, he has not yet made the better choice does not mean that he will never do it. But, with an aversion therapy which associates Beethoven and violence, that choice is taken away from him for ever. It is an unlooked-for punishment and it is tantamount to robbing a man—stupidly, casually—of his right to enjoy the divine vision. For there is a good beyond mere ethical good, which is always existential: there is the essential good, that aspect of God which we can prefigure more in the taste of an apple or the sound of music than in mere right action or even charity.

What hurts me, as also Kubrick, is the allegation made by some viewers and readers of A Clockwork Orange that there is a gratuitous indulgence in violence which turns an intended homiletic work into a pornographic one. It was certainly no pleasure to me to describe acts of violence when writing the novel: I indulged in excess, in caricature, even in an invented dialect with the purpose of making the violence more symbolic than realistic, and Kubrick found remarkable cinematic equivalents for my own literary devices. It would have been pleasanter, and would have made more friends, if there had been no violence at all, but the story of Alex's reclamation would have lost force if we weren't permitted to see what he was being reclaimed from. For my own part, the depiction of violence was intended as both an act of catharsis and an act of charity, since my own wife was the subject of vicious and mindless violence in blacked-out London in 1942, when she was robbed and beaten by three GI deserters. Readers of my book may remember that the author whose wife is raped is the author of a work called A Clockwork Orange.

Viewers of the film have been disturbed by the fact that Alex, despite his viciousness, is quite likeable. It has required a deliberate self-administered act of aversion therapy on the part of some to dislike him, and to let righteous indignation get in the way of human charity. The point is that, if we are going to love mankind, we will have to love Alex as a not unrepresentative member of it. The place where Alex and his mirror-image F. Alexander are most guilty of hate and violence is called HOME, and it is here, we are told, that charity ought to begin. But towards that mechanism, the state, which, first, is concerned with self-perpetuation and, second, is happiest when human beings are predictable and controllable, we have no duty at all, certainly no duty of charity.

I have a final point to make, and this will not interest many who like to think of Kubrick's Orange rather than Burgess's. The language of both movie and book (called Nadsat—the Russian 'teen' suffix as in pyatnadsat, meaning fifteen) is no mere decoration, nor is it a sinister indication of the subliminal power that a Communist super-state may already be exerting on the young. It was meant to turn A Clockwork Orange into, among other things, a brainwashing primer. You read the book or see the film, and at the end you should find yourself in possession of a minimal Russian vocabulary—without effort, with surprise. This is the way brainwashing works. I chose Russian words because they blend better into English than those of French or even German (which is already a kind of English, not exotic enough). But the lesson of the Orange has nothing to do with the ideology or repressive techniques of Soviet Russia: it is wholly concerned with what can happen to any of us in the West, if we do not keep on our guard. If Orange, like 1984, takes its place as one of the salutary literary warnings—or cinematic warnings—against flabbiness, sloppy thinking, and overmuch trust in the state, then it will have done something of value. For my part, I do not like the book as much as others I have written: I have kept it, till recently, in an unopened jar—marmalade, a preserve on a shelf, rather than an orange on a dish. What I would really like to see is a film of one of my other novels, all of which are singularly unaggressive, but I fear that this is too much to hope for. It looks as though I must go through life as the fountain and origin of a great film, and as a man who has to insist, against all opposition, that he is the most unviolent creature alive. Just like Stanley Kubrick.

Anthony Burgess with Carol Dix (interview date Spring-Summer 1972)

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SOURCE: An interview with Anthony Burgess, in Transatlantic Review, Nos. 42 and 43, Spring-Summer, 1972, pp. 183-91.

[In the following excerpt, Burgess discusses the novel and film versions of A Clockwork Orange.]

Anthony Burgess is one of England's most talented, scholarly and entertaining contemporary writers. He is 54 now, and has been writing for only twelve years. In that time he has published eighteen novels, six critical works, and one language primer; as well as a mountain of freelance journalism, reviewing, lecturing, TV scripting and screen playwrighting. In 1965, he left England to live in Malta, disgusted with tax laws that made it impossible for a writer to live by his trade.

Maybe something to do with the constant flow of his writing, but he has never become very popular in England (in fact it's impossible to find all his books in any one library and only two or three are in print in the bookshops). But in January, Stanley Kubrick's film of Burgess's novel A Clockwork Orange opened in London with an enormous amount of publicity, which may well bring Burgess into the universities and bookshops in England as he is in the States.

I met Burgess and his wife at Claridges, where they were staying in unaccustomed luxury at Warner Brothers' expense. His presence hardly caused a ripple in the tidal wave of publicity going on around A Clockwork Orange and its strange dialect 'Nadsat' which Burgess invented for the novel. He is not very impressed with public opinion in his own country, nor, as he sees it, their anti-intellectualism.

[Dix]: Are you surprised that A Clockwork Orange is the first of all your novels to have been filmed?

[Burgess]: No. The English have never liked it, but it has always been popular in America. It started off in the underground there, along with Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and has now been taken up in the universities. Things go like that. What begins in the underground ends up in the high school. They study it in literature courses along with Catcher in the Rye. A Wanting Seed is also popular in America; they often include that in sociology courses. Yet I went into a bookshop in London yesterday and I couldn't even buy a copy of Clockwork Orange for myself to read. It's even an underground book in Russia, you know. It's printed there on underground presses.

You went to Russia in 1961. Did this have any connection with A Clockwork Orange? Did it influence the dialect at all? People have seen traces of Romany, rhyming slang and Russian in it.

Ten years ago, I was writing it in England and trying to find the sort of dialect to use. It wasn't viable to use the existing dialect as it would soon be out of date. Then I went to Leningrad to gather material for Honey for the Bears, and I found they were having problems with teen-agers too. So I combined the dialects.

What about Kubrick's film version? How do you feel about it?

I think it's a good film, and it's not often an author says that about an adaptation. Kubrick loves British authors and books. Look at the films he has done—Dr. Strangelove and Red Alert—by British authors. He is immensely well read and a great chess player and interested in codes. He has a capacity for creating relationships without knowing it—like in 2001, where the name of HAL was associated with IBM. He was totally unaware of it.

Do you feel it's catching the public imagination now because teenage violence is becoming more commonplace?

I was shocked last night when I read it again (the first time for ten years), to realise that when I wrote it in 1961, how very different the world was. Not even pop groups existed then. Top of the Pops for August 1961 was Lonnie Donnegan's My Old Man's a Dustman. There are some horrible prophecies in the book, but England was already on the way to becoming a police state. Youth violence isn't only a thing of today, you know, we'd already had the Teddy Boys in 1953, and the Mods and Rockers existed in 1961. The Beatles hadn't even come onto the scene though.

Is that what the book is about, violence, its causes and effects?

The violence in the book is really more to show what the State can do with it. I'm more scared of the possibility of the individual being cured under the State; of people being made to be good; of evil being rationalised out of existence.

"You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts: a little machine capable only of good"—as they say to Alex?


Do you realise that Alex and his 'droogs' are very similar to today's skinheads? Is this direct prophecy on your part?

In as much as Kubrick sticks to their manner of dress from the book, yes. But the film could be said to be a bit libellous in that sense, because it has been set in London today. It wasn't written like that, just something in the future. The policemen, for instance, look a bit too much like Belfast policemen, I think.

Why does the film stop short and leave out the last chapter of the novel?

That's because the American edition of the book is different from the British edition, which has the extra chapter. Now the new British edition also has the last chapter omitted. When I wrote it, originally, I put in a chapter at the end where Alex was maturing; he was growing up and seeing violence as part of adolescence. He wanted to be a married man and have a child. He sees the world going round like an orange. But when they were going to publish it in America, they said 'we're tougher over here' and thought the ending too soft for their readers. If it was me now, faced with the decision I'd say no. I still believe in my ending.

Do you think the film will bring you the popular success in England that you've always missed out on as a writer?

I doubt it. England is the funniest country in the world. It's a philistine country; the only country where a man of letters is actively looked down on; where it's a matter of pride that the Royal family love only horses and money. Still the stupidity of the English as a whole, has [been] and will be, I suppose, their salvation.

John Cullinan (essay date June 1972)

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SOURCE: "Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange: Two Versions," in English Language Notes, Vol. IX, No. 4, June, 1972, pp. 287-92.

[In the following essay, Cullinan discusses the effect of the final, twenty-first, chapter of A Clockwork Orange, which was left out of the original American editions.]

American readers of A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess' best-known novel, are reading a truncated version of which the author does not approve. The Norton and Ballantine editions published in this country both omit the concluding twenty-first chapter which the English Heinemann edition contains. According to Mr. Burgess the discrepancy arose as a result of his negotiations with Norton for an American edition. Although he had published nine books in England by 1962, only Devil of a State and The Right to an Answer were available in American editions; and he was not well-known here. Evidently Norton insisted that the final chapter, in which the narrator-protagonist Alex shows signs of growing out of his adolescent viciousness, be excised, and that this lively rapist-murderer be left unregenerate at the end. Such insistence on a more bitterly ironic conclusion is the modern converse of Victorian periodical practice, whereby Thomas Hardy, for example, was forced to marry Angel Clare off to Tess Durbeyfield's sister to placate his readers for the heroine's death.

For Anthony Burgess the alteration has helped give an air of notoriety to A Clockwork Orange, a violent book he wishes readers would emphasize less than such later novels as Tremor of Intent, Enderby, and MF. The problem is intensified by the existence of a film version, directed by Stanley Kubrick and based on the shortened text. Burgess fears that the English edition may be shortened to conform to the American versions, though the fact that Heinemann reprinted the original edition as recently as 1970 seems to lessen the chances of that. He is also unhappy about the "Glossary of Nadsat Language"—the strange teenage slang in which the tale is told—appended to the Ballantine paperback edition by the late Stanley Edgar Hyman; this undercuts his purpose of teaching the reader a dialect by having him adjust to the context of each unfamiliar word or phrase. Such a glossary, as one critic has remarked, also allows the reader to avoid coming to grips actively with the novel's language [Christine Brooke-Rose, "Le Roman Experimentale en Angleterre," in Les Langues Moderns, March-April, 1969, pp. 158-68]. But Burgess seems to feel that nothing can be done about either distortion.

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel of the near future in which an England of strongly socialist tendency is terrorized by teenage gangs dressed in the fashion of London's "Teddy boys" of the early 1960's. Alex, a gang leader of fifteen, delights in purely gratuitous acts of violence; when peer pressure drives him from the normalcy of assault, rape, and robbery to the rashness of murder, he is caught and sent to prison. Involved in the death of another convict, he is transferred to the new "State Institute for Reclamation of Criminal Types," where he is deprived of free-will—and thus, suggests Burgess, his humanity—through the application of drugs and electrical shocks while he watches atrocity films. Not only is Alex's taste for violence purged, but also his ability to defend himself from former victims and rivals seeking revenge after his release. Worse, his deep love for classical music has also been destroyed; for he has always associated Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven with the violence which now sickens him. Despair and the pressure of events drive Alex to attempt suicide; as a result, the therapeutic process is reversed by the authorities. The twentieth and concluding chapter of the American editions leaves Alex enjoying the scherzo movement of the Beethoven Ninth while dreaming of cutting the world's collective throat. "And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement to come," he adds. "I was cured all right."

This ending reinforces one's sense of A Clockwork Orange as a dark, witty parable in which Alex's extreme license is opposed to the state's extreme tyranny, with no choice in between. As Bernard Bergonzi has noted, Burgess makes the problematical assumption with T. S. Eliot and Graham Greene that "it is better actively to do evil than to be spiritually dead" [New York Review of Books, May 20, 1965, p. 16]. One can assert freedom by willing the bad; but, as Alex says, the government and the schools "cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self." He adds unsentimentally, "But what I do I do because I like to do." Dreaming of violence at the end of this chapter, Alex is where he was at the start; yet he has not come full circle. A typical rogue-hero, Alex has survived a series of adventures; but he has not developed. What was done at the Institute destroyed him by eliminating his free will; his return to normalcy is a grotesque form of rebirth, and the reader is left shuddering at or delighting in his Augustinian incorrigibility.

The last chapter in the English edition presents Alex in a somewhat different light. Now eighteen and attired as a "Skinhead" with a new gang, he seems as ready for a night of violence as before; yet he is curiously bored by the prospect, and a baby's photograph he carries in his wallet indicates the onset of paternal feeling. With a flimsy excuse he goes off on his own, and a chance meeting with a former crony and his wife now safely ensconsced in minor office jobs makes him think of marriage. Alex reflects that youth resembles a mechanical wind-up toy, such as a clockwork orange, that moves "in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing." This he will tell his unborn son, though aware he can't prevent the next generation's undergoing a similar adolescent phase. He concludes, "all it was was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brothers, I am not young, not no longer, oh no. Alex like groweth up, oh yes."

Burgess has said that he wrote the twenty-first chapter partly to symbolize the age of reason toward which Alex is moving; he is only eighteen at the end, so his insight is clearly only a first halting step toward maturity. [In a footnote, the critic adds: "This additional chapter, the seventh of Part Three in the Heinemann edition, also adds symmetry, since the first two parts are of seven chapters each. The American editions have section of seven, seven, and six chapters respectively."] Alex's development at this point also changes the emphasis of Burgess' fable, which emerges more clearly as a parodic Bildungsroman when one considers as well the many ironic references to the power of education which A Clockwork Orange contains. The author has no love for youth and its culture, as the devastating portrait of the rock singer Yod Crewsy in Enderby shows; and he was appalled to discover the slang in A Clockwork Orange picked up by London teenagers. What Burgess has said about small children applies as well to his general view of youth: "I don't see why I should be charmed by their slow lumbering along the road to rationality. It's the finished state I want; there's no substitute for adulthood" [Spectator, September 6, 1968, p. 322]. He has an avowed horror of violence as well, and he resents the implication of the American editions that the mixture of the violent and the musical which characterizes Alex is to be approved. Such reservations are understandable in view of Burgess' early career as composer and performer. As Dr. Brodsky, the Reclamation Institute's Director, remarks, "The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence." Anthony Burgess has a strong interest in the general conjunction of the daemonic and the aesthetic which stems in large measure from his reading of Mann's Doctor Faustus, as does the syphilitic Shakespeare he conjures up in Nothing Like the Sun.

One early reviewer was disturbed by the twenty-first chapter, which allegedly destroyed whatever credibility the rest of the novel contained by suggesting that Alex sheds his delinquency; since Alex is not Penrod it is nonsensical to treat his crimes as "adolescent awkwardnesses to be grown out of" [Diana Josselson, Kenyon Review, Summer, 1963, pp. 559-60]. This critique misses two fundamental points about the novel made in the final chapter. Burgess is indicating not simply that Alex has been a child, whose childish things must now be put aside, but also that the human propensity for violence is perversely childish—a form of the original sin that haunts most of Burgess' protagonists in a traditional Catholic way. Alex's extraordinary criminal history makes the swift onset of his paternal urges in the final chapter rather a jolt for the reader, however; the author is open to the charge of sentimentality at this point. In his defense one can say that Alex is not presented as morally "cured" at the end; the light has simply begun to dawn.

More important still is the cyclical view of history which this last chapter reveals; a classically pessimistic sense of recurrence is much stronger in A Clockwork Orange than the tentatively progressive moral sense Alex is beginning to acquire at novel's end. The last chapter begins in exactly the same way as the first; Alex is at the Korova Milkbar with his current gang, and there are many recurrent phrases, e. g., the evening is "a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry." Apparently unchanged, Alex is seen to be bored with his role; and after reflecting briefly on youth and paternity, he realizes that he will be unable to persuade his own son to avoid the violence which has swallowed up his own life: "And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers. And so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round … like old Bog Himself … turning and turning and turning a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers." This picture of a malevolent or indifferent God playing with mankind as with mechanical toys or clockwork oranges is hardly sentimental, nor is Alex's perception that he is powerless to expunge violence from the future. In naming the Reclamation Treatment "Ludovico's Technique," Burgess, a noted Joyce scholar, seems to indicate that he is playing with the Viconian notion of cyclical recurrence, so central to Finnegans Wake, which figures prominently in The Wanting Seed as well.

The longer version of A Clockwork Orange thus makes clear Anthony Burgess' reservations about his protagonist, brings to the fore the idea of the cyclical nature of history, and outlines Alex's possibilities for growth. In the twenty-first chapter the theme of education emerges more fully as well, but one cannot draw utopian conclusions about the society for which Alex is to be educated. The young married couple Pete and Georgina whom he meets at the last are the type of petit bourgeois whose lives Burgess depicts as futile in The Right to an Answer and One Hand Clapping; besides, they live in a world moving rapidly toward brutal state tyranny. A Clockwork Orange thus contains its own critique of the author's essentially conservative assumption that it is society which makes the young savage civilized. A new complete edition would make these implications clear to Mr. Burgess' American readers.

Wayne C. Connelly (essay date December 1972)

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SOURCE: "Optimism in Burgess's A Clockwork Orange," in Extrapolation, Vol. 14, No. 1, December, 1972, pp. 25-9.

[In the following essay, Connelly argues that the untruncated version of A Clockwork Orange is a story of "life's movement, of growing up and of renewal."]

Some ten years after its publication Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange is finally beginning to receive justly deserved popular attention. It is unfortunate, however, that this attention is being given to a misleading and inferior version of the original novel. In both its British hardcover edition published by William Heinemann and its Pan paperback, the novel concludes with a seventh chapter to part three. This chapter is missing from the American Ballantine version as well as the recent Penguin edition. Furthermore, it is this incomplete version which Stanley Kubrick has so diligently followed in his successful film-script. Why the original ending should be absent is a question best answered, of course, by Burgess; nonetheless, it seems safe to suggest that the consequences of its absence are regrettable. Without this concluding chapter A Clockwork Orange becomes totally distorted; the novel assumes the appearance of a satire lacking a moral centre, an unsatisfying shriek of violence remaining horrifyingly neutral.

In its longer form A Clockwork Orange is a tale of adolescence. It is a story of life's movement, of growing up and of renewal. Alex's literary "brothers" are truly Huck Finn and Holden Caufield, and like them he, too, must confront sinning humanity and emerge with a kind of loving. Before going on, though, it might be wise to give a brief account of the missing chapter.

The first significant point to note is that the opening of this final chapter parallels the novel's very beginning:

'What's it going to be then, eh?'

There was me, Your Humble Narrator, and my three droogs, that is Len, Rick, and Bully, Bully being called Bully because of his bolshy big neck and very gromky goloss which was just like some bolshy great bull bellowing auuuuuuugh. We were sitting in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry … but I've told you all this before.

As Alex himself suggests, we have come full circle. He is once more the leader of a gang of droogs "tolchecking starry vecks" and buying "Scotchmen for baboochkas." Even the change in "nadsat" style is but a variation—"at this time it was the height of fashion to use the old britva on the gulliver, so that most of the gulliver was like bald and there was only hair on the sides."

Yet there is one remarkable difference. Alex himself is not the same. He is no longer "little Alex." In the preceding chapter, the ending for the American version and the Kubrick film, he had just returned to his old recidivist self, "slooshying the lovely music of the glorious Ninth" and dreaming of "carving the whole litso of the creeching world." In this chapter, however, his outlook and attitudes have undergone yet another dramatic change; only this time it has nothing to do with the Ludovico Technique. For example, he experiences ennui:

But somehow, my brothers, I felt bored and a bit hopeless, and I had been feeling that a lot these days.

He has wholly un-nadsat feelings about money:

There had come into my gulliver a like desire to keep all my pretty polly to myself, to like hoard it up for some reason.

Above all, though, his taste in music has altered. He is becoming sentimental:

I was slooshying more like romantic songs, what they call Lieder, just a goloss and a piano, very quiet and like yearny.

In fact, Alex is no longer a schoolboy. He has a regular "lewdie" job with the National Gramodisc Archives.

Alex's new droogs are naturally quite shocked by this talk of not wanting to spend "hard earned pretty polly," but what truly bewilders them is a newspaper clipping that Alex accidentally lets drop from his wallet. It is a photograph:

… of a baby gurgly goo goo goo with all like moloko dribbling from its rot and looking up and like smecking at everything, and it was all nagoy and its flesh was like in all folds with being a very fat baby.

Alex has no explanation for the picture, either for himself or for his droogs. He can only explain his odd behaviour as the effect of "a temporary illness."

Finally, unable to get into the mood for "a bit of the old dirty twenty-to-one," he leaves his new droogs to manage for themselves for the one night, and without knowing why, wanders into "a tea-and-coffee mesto full of dull lewdies." It is here that this final chapter achieves its ironic climax. For Alex encounters Pete, one of his former droogs, now dressed and talking like a lewdie and, worse, he has with him a "devotchka":

'Wife?' I like gaped. 'Wife wife wife?

Ah no, that cannot be. Too young art thou to be married, old droog. Impossible impossible.'

Alex's astonishment does not last long, however. In a moment, rather like an epiphany, he recognizes that Pete is old enough—and so indeed is he:

Perhaps that was it, I kept thinking. Perhaps I was getting old for the sort of jeezny I had been leading, brothers. I was eighteen now, just gone. Eighteen was not a young age.

The final chapter of Burgess's novel ends, consequently, with Alex realizing that the time has arrived for him to begin looking for a wife, some devotchka to be the mother of his son. As he puts it, "a new chapter was beginning."

A Clockwork Orange is thus a story of adolescence. Without this final chapter, though, Alex never does grow up, and Burgess's statement remains grotesquely incomplete. Earlier, it was suggested that Alex's "brothers" were to be found in Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye, both classic tales of youth and coming-of-age. The narrative technique and style are unquestionably the same. That is, all three novels are presented ostensibly as first person vernacular narratives—or naive autobiographies. Compare, for example, these openings with that of the Burgess novel:

You don't know me without you read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom's Aunt Polly, she is—, and Mary, and the Widow Douglass is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers as I said before. [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884]

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. [Catcher in the Rye, 1951]

In each instance, the narrator is an adolescent male; he appears to admit his readers to a special intimacy; and he addresses them in a peculiar spoken idiom. Alex's "nadsat" is simply a teenage slang, a patois or dialect not so unlike Huck's "Pike County" or Holden's "New York 1950's." Its real achievement and distinction lie in its being an altogether artificial construction. Fixed indefinitely in the future and based primarily on a mongrelizing of Russian and American, "nadsat" is able to suggest both the generality and the insularity of adolescence. It bridges those adult distinctions, time and place, and creates a private world of its own.

The humour of A Clockwork Orange, a somewhat surprising aspect of its art, likewise resembles the humour of Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye. It is a deceptively harmless surfacing that serves to undercut the pessimism. Even so, Alex's world often seems funny and always childishly pitiable precisely because it reflects, as do the worlds of Huck Finn and Holden Caufield, the condition which existentialists have described as "the Absurd." That is to say, there exists in all three novels a disparity between reality and the protagonist's vision.

It is the accommodation of reality and private vision, moreover, which constitutes the movement of the coming-of-age novel. Alex's nightmare world is a portrait of a dystopian future, but the world of "twenty-to-one" and "the old in-out-in-out" is equally an adolescent fantasy—a youthful male living in his own private reality, a reality that only begins after dark, consisting exclusively of taverns and streets, of other youths and girls, and, of course—on the outside—of lewdies. When he determines it is time to grow up, Alex looks back on his old self and sees the limits of the "nadsat" vision:

Yes yes yes, there it was. Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. No, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a soring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being one of these malenky machines.

Nevertheless, Alex has no illusions about growing up. He knows that his own son will have to go through the same process—"yes perhaps even killing some poor forella surrounded with mewing kots and koshkas." Almost beyond-instinct in its determinism, Burgess's adolescence must be endured, not learnt from. Thus the ending of the novel does not arise from the preceding chapters; it is a new beginning.

In The Wanting Seed, another novel written in the same year and also having a future setting, Burgess describes human history as a cycle of Augustinian and Pelagian phases. It appears that in the individual movement of life, adolescence is correspondingly a period of inherent sinfulness, as well as a period of mechanism and anti-life. Accordingly, A Clockwork Orange can be characterized as Alex's personal "Augustinian night." Throughout all but the last chapter he shares in the existentialist pleasure in viewing life as innately evil. Still, for Burgess, Augustinian night is inevitably followed by Pelagian day. And so there exists in A Clockwork Orange, as in The Wanting Seed, a cosmic grace, a "mystery," that somehow moves Alex into his Pelagian phase, his own period of choice and life. Beatrice-Joanna decides for her "gurgling wooly rosy twins," and Alex, too, chooses the "gurgly goo goo goo" son of his news-clipping.

A Clockwork Orange is, finally, not a novel of paroxysm but of paradox, not of chaos but of dichotomy. There is a bright as well as a dark vision. However, without this last chapter the continuum of life (Burgess's moral centre) is absent, and we do not see the coming of day:

… and so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round, like some bolshy gigantic like chelloveck, like old Bog Himself turning and turning a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers.

Samuel McCracken (essay date 1973)

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SOURCE: "Novel into Film; Novelist into Critic: A Clockwork Orange … Again," in The Antioch Review, Vol. 32, No. 3, 1973, pp. 427-36.

[McCracken is an American critic and educator. In the following essay, he argues against interpreting A Clockwork Orange as a didactic novel concerning free will, taking issue specifically with Burgess's stated intentions for the book. He also notes some of the significant differences between the novel and the film.]

Although A Clockwork Orange had a respectable little reputation before its visual enshrinement by Stanley Kubrick, it was not upon its publication widely or intensely reviewed. One of its champions, the late Stanley Edgar Hyman (whose discussion has recently been reprinted in a new edition of the novel), saw the work as a tract about free will, showing the unacceptable nature of the method by which the thug-hero Alex is turned from a free agent, however vicious still capable of salvation, into a state-produced "clockwork orange," however incapable of evil incapable also of good. Anthony Burgess himself, responding to recent criticism of both the novel and the film, has now told us that this is indeed what he (and Kubrick) had in mind [see The Listener, 17 February 1972]. While this interpretation is plausible enough as a schema for the film, for the novel it simply will not do.

Life in a post-intentional fallacy universe ought to have prepared us for a novelist who is a deficient critic of his own work; but since a careful reading of the novel leads to an interpretation very nearly opposite to that which he now provides, Burgess seems unusually unsure of what he was about. The essay in which he gives his analysis is an odd one, beginning as it does with an apparent plea of repentant hackery: "… I now experience some difficulty in empathizing with that long-gone writer who, concerned with making a living, wrote as many as five novels in fourteen months." Dropping the suggestion that the novel may be a bit of a potboiler, he proceeds to call it a tract, or sermon, the text of which is presumably somewhere in the Epistle to the Galatians. There is no chance of salvation without the choice of sin, and the brutal State, by brainwashing (Burgess' own word) Alex has deprived him of the choice and hence the chance. This is itself a serious sin, indeed: "The wish to diminish free will is, I should think, the sin against the Holy Ghost."

The belief that Alex has indeed been brainwashed and deprived of free will is possible only with the help of a careless reading of the crucial passage, during which he is subjected to what the State is pleased to call Reclamation Treatment; that this treatment is the sin against the Holy Ghost can be believed only by taking at face value the opinions of two characters, the writer F. Alexander (along with his late wife, one of Alex's principal victims), and the prison chaplain, the charlie, who has been trying his own more orthodox version of Reclamation Treatment. But as a careful reading of the novel will make quite clear, Alex is not deprived of free will and F. Alexander and the charlie are in any event consistently undercut as defenders of the view that he should not be deprived of what he has been, free choice.

Thus, The Treatment consists of no more than an unusually efficacious form of aversion therapy: Alex is exposed to films of great violence and violent sex, to a background of the Beethoven which is his only love, while being kept in a state of extreme nausea. As a result, he can no longer wreak violence, experience sex, or hear Beethoven's Ninth, without getting very sick to his stomach. His new condition is demonstrated to an audience of those his regenerators wish to convince of his regeneration: taunted and knocked about by a bully, he falls to his knees and licks the bully's boots; confronted with a luscious girl, he can do no more than impotently worship her in the accents of amour-courtois. During this demonstration, an argument breaks out between Dr. Brodsky and the charlie. Brodsky describes the treatment:

"Our subject, you see, is impelled towards the good by, paradoxically, being impelled towards evil. The intention to act violently is accompanied by strong feelings of physical distress. To counter these the subject has to switch to a diametrically opposed attitude. Any questions?"

"Choice," rumbled a rich deep goloss. I viddied it belonged to the prison charlie. "He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice."

"These are subtleties," like smiled Dr. Brodsky. "We are not concerned with motive, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime…."

At the very end of the demonstration Brodsky characterizes the new Alex: "… your true Christian." "Dr. Brodsky was creeching out, 'ready ever to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than to crucify, sick to the very heart even of killing a fly.'… 'Reclamation,' he creeched, 'Joy before the Angels of God.'

"'The point is,' this Minister of the Inferior was saying real gromky, 'that it works.'

"'Oh,' the prison charlie said, like sighing, 'it works all right, God help the lot of us.'"

Somewhat earlier, the charlie had put it this way to Alex, as he warned him against the Treatment: "You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321. Never again will you have the desire to commit acts of violence, or to offend in any way against the State's peace."

This characterization of what is done to Alex—common, so it seems, to F. Alexander, the charlie, and Burgess the critic, but not shared by Brodsky—is grotesquely inaccurate. First of all, it is not brainwashing as the term is commonly used. In life, the experience of certain Korean War prisoners shows what the process entails: they were provided with a new set of opinions and values by a relentless program of indoctrination masquerading as political education. One of the most famous fictional victims of the process, Raymond in The Manchurian Candidate, is turned into a puppet-gunman through processes he no longer remembers, becoming finally no more than an intermediate linkage between the finger of his masters and the trigger of the gun they have provided him.

Alex, in contrast, is not provided with new values. At no time after his conditioning, when he is offered an occasion of sin, is his reaction other than what it had been. During the demonstration, his first thought is that of the convict who tries to knife a cellmate before the guard can intervene: Alex wants to get his knife into his tormentor before the nausea can overwhelm him. What he is provided with, in supplement to his old drives, is a sort of internal injunction, the nausea which is always quicker than the knife. This resident injunctive power, far from depriving him of choice, merely offers him one: between eschewing violence and getting sick. And given the choice, he opts for the former. It is noteworthy that it is, as it were, a power of injunction and not of arrest. The latter could easily have been arranged by a technique which would paralyze him whenever the murderous rages well up. Scene: Alex, wired to the nausea-inducer, but free to move about; enter a tormenter; as long as Alex is absolutely motionless, neither nausea nor torment; as soon as he does, both. One might have thought that a novelist as inventive as Burgess should have had no difficulty in devising incidents thus more appropriate to his sermon.

Nor is Alex the victim of subliminal, even subtle, conditioning. He freely signs a release in order to undergo treatment, he is entirely conscious during the conditioning process, his memories of it are acute, and the mechanism itself, once installed, is entirely perceptible. In contrast, his restoration to his earlier state is accomplished through hypnopedia while he recovers from his suicide attempt; it is only those who wish him free to pursue the violent tenor of his ways who are willing, behind his back, to play about thus with his mind.

When the charlie early on warned Alex that he would never again have any desire to be bad, he was in error as to the fact, for Alex continues to have such desires. And when, later on, the charlie changes his tune, and argues the insincerity of the conversion, saying that Alex has no "real" choice, driven as he is by self-interest, he is in error as to the theory, for he equates freedom of choice with freedom simpliciter, believing that if society says Boo, it is repressive and fascist. One is almost embarrassed to draw so hackneyed a distinction, but the charlie has confused freedom and license. One can almost hear him saying: "But the law against murder, with its horrid penalties, deprives him of freedom. The insincerity of his not murdering is obvious, motivated by self-interest. He has no real choice." Real choice = absolute license.

The charlie is not the only commentator to be mistaken on this head. Burgess himself, it will be remembered, has described the State's treatment of Alex as having diminished his free will, an action he thinks to be no less than the sin against the Holy Ghost. However, he may see the matter these days, when he wrote the novel he made it abundantly clear that the Treatment left intact Alex's will towards the dreadful. What has been diminished is that which he enjoyed at the start of the narrative, uninhibited freedom for carrying out his will. Now, the State perennially tries to interfere with such freedom; the fact that it failed to do so with Alex is a serious reproach of its competence. But it normally tries to bias the choice between behavior tolerable and that intolerable by entailing the latter with undesirable consequence. The charlie himself is part of a system of control which restricted Alex's choices, in the form of scope for action, far more narrowly than the Treatment. But neither the Treatment nor the prison diminish free will; this can be done only by a brainwashing which makes the having of certain desires either impossible or compulsory, a process to which Alex patently is not subjected. But free choice is diminished for everyone, by everyone; it is diminished whenever the State makes a law; whenever one man says No to another; whenever one man's desires outrun his own competence. None of which has anything to do with free will or salvation. If it did, the inhabitants of totalitarian societies, their capacity for evil made smaller by their limited opportunity to break the law (totalitarian law forbids much that is desirable to forbid, as well as much that is not) would attain an easier salvation than others. Burgess can hardly believe this, any more than he can believe that Alex is any less sinful because of the chains in which Brodsky binds him. The testimony of the novel is that Burgess once understood this all very well, for what he now says is the argument of the novel is presented there by two highly dubious spokesmen. The writer F. Alexander, himself the author of a flatulent treatise called A Clockwork Orange ("to attempt to impose upon man, a creature capable of growth and capable of sweetness … to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen….") has enough sophistication to regard the reclaimed Alex, from the likes of whom he has suffered, as a pitiful victim. But when he finally realizes that he has suffered from Alex himself, his benevolence collapses into primitive feelings of revenge, and he must be put away in order to make the streets safe for Alex. For he will allow Alex free choice only on the condition that Alex foreswear the option of beating F. Alexander and raping his wife.

The charlie is never exposed to such a test of his benevolence. Living as he does in a fortress full of guards, one of the few places in the world he can live with Alex in safety, he can effort to luxuriate, arguing free choice. His Christianity (which Alex aptly calls 'Prison Religion') is protected by its maximum security environment, blurred by a continuous haze of alcohol. He is as much deluded by his safety and his drink as F. Alexander is by his prose and Alex by his slang.

Language And Action

In this connection, commentators hitherto have been so dazzled by the cleverness of the language with which Burgess equips Alex that they have hardly wondered why he has done so. Burgess has recently provided an explanation which is more than a little difficult to take seriously: when the reader has finished the novel, he will have penetrated the vocabulary of the Russian-based Nadsat, and hence will have gotten, willy-nilly, a basic Russian lexicon. He will thus understand a little of what it means to be brainwashed. Although the process as Burgess describes it is perhaps more akin to brainwashing than anything which happens to Alex before his final "cure," it is so much like programmed instruction as to leave us in doubt just how seriously Burgess has violated our integrity. If we believe that this be the sin against the Holy Ghost, we will believe anything.

The more obvious effect of the Nadsat Burgess himself has pointed out: the reader, seeing the violence by means of a language he is yet learning, is insulated from it, and it becomes, as Burgess observes, largely symbolic. Symbolic certainly for the reader, but for Alex? Burgess describes his relation to language as a paradox: his name might be taken to mean wordless, yet he has plenty of words, and that he uses language is one of the criteria which mark him as a human being. But he uses it in a curious way. It seems clear that he thinks in Nadsat, and consequently he organizes reality by means of what is his second language. Whether or not he does this through choice (there are dark hints of subliminal penetration from the East) is beside the point. When describing the horrors which fill up his existence, he does so in something other than his mother tongue, in a jargon of limited, and (compared to English) syllabose, vocabulary. As we all know, for the practice of calling nasty things by other than their right names there is a perfectly good term. Whether or not we end up considering Alex's use of Nadsat as euphemistic, we must recognize that between reality and his perception of it he draws the veil of jargon. One is tempted to parody Orwell's famous metaphor: "the soft Slav roots fall upon the images like snow, gently blurring the outlines."

Thus the self-deluded members of the Free-Choice Party. In contrast is the cool, bureaucratic professionalism of its principal opponent. Although Brodsky carelessly and redundantly conditions Alex against sex, when a proper aversion to violence would have kept him from all rape but the statutory, and callously deprives him of his music, these are errors of technique, not of principle. What he does not do, as the charlie charges, is to try to make him good. Not only are all of Alex's bad intentions left untouched, but the extent of the areas in which he is enjoined from action is fairly modest. He is not provided with an aversion for theft, for bad language, for laying about idly, or any number of other behaviors which any sensible social engineer would wish to modify. Scene: Alex hooked up to the orgasm-inducer; on the screen, a time-clock; with every punch…. No, all that he desires to do is to keep Alex from committing a limited inventory of viciously antisocial acts by the simple expedient of a little deterrent in the form of nausea. It is no more than that will-o'-the wisp of law enforcement, the certain deterrent, levelled against the desire to act, rather than the act itself. No one would consider a law which prescribed thirty minutes' vomiting as the punishment for a life of murder and rape to have much deterrent effect. But when such a consequence is made absolutely certain, Brodsky shows us, that is all it takes.

Although Burgess seems to have the easy contempt for the State so familiar these days ("towards that mechanism, the State, which, first, is concerned with self-perpetuation, and second, is happiest when human beings are predictable and controllable, we have no duty at all, certainly no duty of charity") Brodsky and the Minister of the Inferior, understanding that the State after all is responsible for maintaining society, realize that Alex, a creature who inflicts insensate violence on anything which gets in his way, cannot be allowed to run loose. The alternatives, life imprisonment or death, are restrictions on free choice far more severe than the Reclamation Treatment. Given the Alexes, who appear to be very numerous, perhaps all the teen-age males in England, and given the desire to maintain something a little better than the Hobbesian state of nature, the Treatment is the procedure of choice. The State's choice, and Alex's. Although Burgess the critic says that "such evil as Alex enacts must be checked and punished," in the novel this position is maintained only by the Prison Governor, who puts it in terms discordant with the Christianity which is supposed to inform the work: "An eye for an eye, I say. If someone hits you, you hit back, do you not? Why then should not the State, very severely hit by you brutal hooligans, not hit back also?" But Brodsky and the State, Alex concurring, reject the doctrine of punishment and opt for a combination of crude rehabilitation and deterrence.

F. Alexander and the charlie reject the positions of the Governor and the State alike, making a fatal substitution of theology for politics, quite as if Alex's free choice could never be exercised to the detriment of another's. Indeed, as the novel ends, the government, under pressure from the opposition party for which F. Alexander is a propagandist, coolly relieves Alex of his aversions and is about to turn him loose, a media-hero with a sinecure into the bargain. As the charlie said, God help us all. This appalling turn of events, most immediately the result of political expediency, has for its ideological justification thinking which confuses sin and crime so thoroughly as to treat all crimes as sins and leave their punishment to God, omitting any interest in preventing them as crimes; Brodsky, at least, does not make the symmetrical error of taking crimes for sins and punishing them, arrogating thus the function of God. He is entirely willing to concern himself, in his measured way, with a few of Alex's least permissible works, and to leave his faith to the charlies of the world; like Elizabeth I, he will not make windows into men's souls, willing as he may be to follow them about with an eternal process-server.

Now as it happens, I find social control by such a process-server nearly as repugnant as does Burgess the critic, if not for the same reasons. For one thing, Brodsky's real-life equivalents would never be so restrained. Scene: a group of six-year-olds attached to the nausea-inducer; on the screen, an angry mob chants "Down with the government!" And ever after, the slightest desire to criticize the State will put them into a state they will be at great pains to avoid. And the Reclamation Treatment has certain affinities with that regeneration through chemistry preached by the Learies and the Reiches, who tell us that certain drugs destroy the will to certain evils. But the Treatment is repellent most of all because it symbolizes the bankruptcy of a society which having bred an Alex cannot, try as it may, come up with any better solution to his problem than chaining him thus. But given the world of the novel, the State has pretty clearly opted for the best choice open to it; such is the most reasonable interpretation, and if I am to avoid instructing Burgess as to what his intentions were, I must accept his statement of them but reply that he has so spectacularly betrayed them as to have ended up on the side of his demons.

Director and Directions

Those intentions are much better served by Kubrick's screenplay, which (although superficially faithful to the source) contrives through a complex shift of emphasis to present a considerably nicer Alex in a considerably nastier society.

Nothing very obvious has been done to the plot: little is excised, and nothing of importance, with the possible exception of an hallucinogenized milk-barfly of whom Alex sharply disapproves. The only interpolations of any duration are the long comic scene showing Alex's reception into prison, and the shorter one in which he unsuccessfully attempts to let pass his lips the drugged chalice offered him by F. Alexander. These do little beyond contributing a comedy of situation totally missing in the source.

But the minor alterations in plot and character are very much more important. Alex is given a pet snake, suggesting a capacity for affection entirely absent in his original. What is in the novel a particularly brutal rape of two teeny-boppers begins in the film as the invited seduction of two rather older girls, and ends, Marx Brothers-like as a real laff riot combining superspeeded action with the William Tell overture. In the novel, Alex's parents having had no warning of his reclamation and imminent return, their rejection is of someone they still assume to be a criminal lunatic; in the film, since they know about his treatment, their rejection reflects society's general unwillingness to begin afresh with Alex, an attitude which will keep him from living as one truly reclaimed. The cat-woman of the novel is a harmless eccentric, whose response to Alex's assault is a feeble blow with a stick; in the film, transformed into the proprietrix of a trendily erotic health-farm, she attempts to brain Alex with a bust of Ludwig van himself, in a scene in which Alex kills her as much in self-defense as by premeditation. The charlie of the novel is so utterly protected from the consequence of free choice by others that prisoners interrupting his sermon are beaten and hauled off to their cells; in the novel, such behavior warrants no more than a bellow from the guard. In the film, we see the Minister of the Inferior inspect Alex's cell and notice his Beethoviana, making less excusable the careless deprivation of his music. The Treatment itself is more brutal in the film, Brodsky telling us that earlier patients have compared it to Hell itself. The scene in which Alex demonstrates his reclamation is touched up with a number of small strikes: Brodsky is put in the background, many of his lines being given to the Minister, whose motivations are a good deal more self-serving than Brodsky's. Confronted by the girl, Alex in the novel overcomes his nausea by playing courtly lover, thus developing a sort of sexual relation; in the film, he simply falls away retching. Most striking of all is the alteration of the final image: in the film, we know Alex has been "cured" when hearing Beethoven evokes a genteelly erotic scene in which two girls grapple in the dust as Edwardian toffs look on. This comparatively innocent entertainment replaces something vastly more sinister in the novel:

… I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva.

Even when sticking to the source, Kubrick goes easy on Alex. Violence done by him to others we see only through a tasteful veil of technique: it is shadowed, choreographed, speeded up, slowed down. But violence done by others to Alex is handled quite clinically, even emphasized: in the novel, he explicitly refuses to dwell on the details of the beating he gets from his former droogs, but the camera shows no such restraint. All this may be justified on the grounds that it shows us that Alex feels his own pain, but not that of others; even if we needed to be told this so clearly, the consequence is still that it is easier for us to feel his pain than that of others. The first time I saw the film, there was laughter during the raid on F. Alexander's home, but none as the droogs nearly drown Alex.

The larger effect of all these changes is to make it very much easier to see Alex as the victim of a vicious society; in the novel, it is hard to find anyone more cruel than Alex, in the film, very much less so. The shift in attitude is too detailed and consistent to be an inadvertence of translation from another medium; speculation into the rationale requires one to arraign the director's motives, something I am unsure to be in the proper province of criticism. But for one thing, the novel ends with Alex not only restored to his old brutal self, but with the State's protection; the millicents, we may be sure, will not bother little Alex again. If an audience is to accept this state of affairs as preferable to having Alex an unhappy, but harmless, clockwork orange, it will need to be more devoted to the principle of free choice than it is reasonable to expect. Hence, perhaps, the final vision of the film: sex a bit kinky, perhaps, but purged of the violence with which it up to this point has been invariably associated. More important, it seems likely enough that Kubrick recognized the Alex of the novel as a monster without a soul, no more suitable as the subject of a Christian parable than Richard III as a tragic protagonist. This recognized, I suspect he proceeded to give us not Richard, but Macbeth.

There is probably material here for a critical parable, on some such head as this: whenever a novelist presumes to tell the critic what his work is all about, he will offer the latter a troublesome choice. For if the critic finds himself differing with the novelist's interpretation, he is led to the impolite conclusion that the novelist must be insincere or incompetent as novelist or critic, possibly as both. This latter is unlikely, considering the high statistical association of ability in criticism with inability in fiction; of two things, then, probably one. Come to think of it (agreeing as I do with Pope that bad critics outnumber bad writers ten to one, and with Burgess that you pays your money and you takes your choice), the choice is not really so troublesome after all.

Esther Petix (essay date 1976)

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SOURCE: "Linguistics, Mechanics, and Metaphysics: Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1962)," in Critical Essays on Anthony Burgess, edited by Geoffrey Aggeler, G. K. Hall, 1986, pp. 121-31.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1976, Petix discusses the philosophical underpinnings of Burgess's fiction and examines the ways in which they are manifested in A Clockwork Orange.]

The second half of the twentieth century has passively acknowledged the emergence of its most controversial gadfly, John Anthony Burgess Wilson: philosopher, critic, theologian, linguist, musician, academician, and author. Yet the seemingly facile task of the Burgess critic is not so much a matter of ascribing priorities within Burgess's various spheres of expertise, but rather (and amazingly) in shouldering the onus of redressing the dearth of any critical attention. Serious and exhaustive research reveals that Burgess's tremendous energy and soaring imagination have netted only moderate acclaim, a modicum of intellectual authority, and a quasi-reputation as one of the century's comic artists. For too long Burgess's literary precision and satire have been obscured beneath labels of precocious, light wit. While his contemporaries moved to the heights of fame and fortune, garnering critical attention, esteem, and aggrandizement, the wealth of Burgess's knowledge and ingenuity within the form of the novel remained ignored.

Most certainly Burgess has his following, but his disciples' enthusiasm (at times almost hysteria) has not diverted attention to his themes, nor has it acquainted large numbers with the universality of his traditionalism and messages. Perhaps, then, he is in need of one fewer disciple and one more evangelist. For as any devotee of Burgess knows, this is an era that enjoys the dramatic sweep of technocracy. Today one must introduce status (of any sort) from the point of volume rather than quality or essence, and by contemporary standards, shibboleths, and axioms, Burgess's work is not established. In terms of sheer physical output, Burgess ranks high. Compared with the popularity of contemporaries, however, Burgess's sales offer only tepid comparison.

That Burgess is not a top seller has many implications. First, and obviously, there are distinct implications for Burgess himself. As a professional author, he is certainly aware of market returns to his own purse; aware, too, that what and how much he sells has a material effect upon his own life-style, if not his raison d'être. Unyieldingly, however, he tends toward remoteness and obscurity, holding out in effect for principle over capital. Ideally, Burgess's stand is consistent with his philosophy.

The implications for the reading public are another matter. Why, for example, is Burgess considered intellectually obscure? Why, after nearly thirty books, must one still introduce him as "the author of A Clockwork Orange," and that reference only recognizable because of the barely recognizable film version (call it rather, perversion) of the novel? An obvious problem exists when an author who has so much to say and is possessed of such profundities is not widely read; is, in fact, dismissed as a perpetrator of violence or as a comic. But then, Burgess criticism is at best confused. It is further obfuscated by the fact that he holds sway over a devoted following (which includes some first-rate critics), yet does not hold commensurate stature among scholars. It is my contention that the major force of Burgess has been siphoned off into static frenetics rather than into direct qualitative evaluation. That a clouding of Burgess's fiction has occurred is patent; how and why it has occurred requires a deeper analysis of Burgess's fiction and mind, both of which are labyrinthine. The labyrinth, a symbol often invoked by Burgess himself, is charted with the aid of various threads and clues running through his fiction. And pursuing these leads, these seeming difficulties, these ambiguities, these strata and substrata brings the reader to the inner core of Burgess's central satire: the Minotaur's Cave.

As a maze-maker, Burgess challenges not only Dedalus in the manner of construction, but God in the act of creation—a device and theory he learned from Joyce. Yet such creations and constructs demand a more formal system, and often an elusive one. Like the protagonist, the reader is drawn through threads of the literal plot into the maze, formed often as not below the author's own hilarious crust of ego. Yet, concurrently, Burgess as readily hides himself in the center of his creation, sequestered and insulated by its vastness as well as its intricacies. Readers thus are invited, nay dared, to master the maze, to pick up the various threads and wander the labyrinth; but the same reader always comes to the mystical center—volitionally, and only after much effort.

Imperfectly read, Burgess is necessarily open to charges of philosophical bantering; misread he is often missed entirely. It remains, then, to follow those distinct, definitive threads designed by the architect himself which lead to the mind of the maze-builder, the "God-rival." For at the center the reader may discover an entire universe in which the author attempts to contain the human colony. As with all artists who attempt to match wits with God, Burgess provides only a scale model. Yet it is a model unique in many vital, identifiable ways. Stated as a more classical apostrophe, Burgess constructs his cosmogony to explain—there is no longer in the modern world any need to justify or vindicate—the ways of man to man: to see hope through failure; to set a course while adrift; to seek certainty in ambiguity. In following the threads leading into the center of the labyrinth, we are able to spin from Burgess's fictions something of our own identities.

Midway in Burgess's decade of authorship, and bleakest within his fictional cosmogony, are the years of the early sixties. It is a period marked by excessive concern with death (his own seeming imminent) and with protagonists only thinly disguised as alter-egos. Added to a medical diagnosis of (suspected) brain tumor were England's failures through socialism, her displacement as a world power in the aftermath of World War II, and her lack of character among the modern nations. All this greeted Burgess upon his return home from the Far East. In facing his own death, he also faced the demise of England. And the twofold bitterness is reflected in a twin-bladed satire so lacerating and abrasive that it goes beyond satire into black comedy.

In 1962 Burgess published his two dystopian novels, The Wanting Seed and A Clockwork Orange. Both are horrible visions of the future, predicated upon the present. In essence what Burgess does in the two novels is to project socialism and the excesses of the Welfare State (A Clockwork Orange) and historical behaviorism (The Wanting Seed) into a future that is at once nebulous and contemporary. Through such an extension in time he contends that socialism leads to a loss of the will and behaviorism leads to a loss of the soul. These companion novels consider the impact of original sin, abortion, cannibalism, violence, and free will on human beings who daily grow more will-less and more soulless.

However bleak the authorial outlook, however black the comedy, Burgess in his dystopian mood is Burgess at his most lucid. No longer are the protagonists culled from Establishment posts: Ennis of A Vision of Battlements was a soldier; Crabbe of "the Malayan Trilogy" was a civil servant; Howarth, of The Worm and the Ring, was a school-teacher. Now the anti-hero of Burgess has become a fullblown rebel, and the quiescent, or slightly recalcitrant Minotaur is savage and obvious. One must keep this in mind in turning to A Clockwork Orange, for it is not only Burgess's best-known novel; it is Burgess at his most exposed, and perhaps most vulnerable.

The central thematic and structural interrogative of the novel comes when the prison "charlie" (chaplain) laments: "Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?" Such a question, while it affords the concision necessary to a reviewer, is totally insufficient to the critic. For there is something at once delightful and horrible, dogged and elusive in A Clockwork Orange that even so profound a rhetorical question cannot contain. There is something about the novel so frightening that it demanded a new language, and something so immanent in the message of the novel that it refused to be separated from the language. Linguistics and metaphysics—the how and what of A Clockwork Orange—are the disparate, yet connected threads leading to the Minotaur.

A Clockwork Orangeis in part a clockwork, not merely titularly, but essentially. Its cadence and regularity are a masterpiece of grotesque precision. The reader is as much a flailing victim of the author as he is a victim of time's finite presence. He is hurtled into a futuristic book of twenty-one chapters and comes to acknowledge that he, as well as the protagonist-narrator, Alex, is coming of age; that he, too, is charged with advancement and growth. This "initiation" aspect of the novel is not gratuitous—of course. For the novel is further divided into three parts, reminiscent of the three ages of man; and each of these three parts begins with the question scanning the infinite and the indefinite: "What's it going to be then, eh?" Added to both of these devices is the haunting and vaguely familiar setting of the novel that teases the reader into an absurdly disquieting sense of regularity—as numbers have a way of doing—all the more unnerving because such regularity conveys a sense of rhythm about to be destroyed.

The novel's tempo, and its overwhelming linguistic accomplishment is to a great degree based upon the language Nadsat, coined for the book: the language of the droogs and of the night. It is the jargon of rape, plunder, and murder veiled in unfamiliarity, and as such it works highly successfully. Anthony De Vitis asserts that Nadsat may be an anagram for Satan'd [Anthony Burgess, 1972], but Burgess insists on the literal Russian translation of the word for "teen." The novel makes a fleeting reference to the origins of the language. "Odd bits of old rhyming slang … a bit of gipsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration."

Close examination of the language reveals a variety of neologisms applied in countless ways. First, there is the overwhelming impact of a Russianate vocabulary that is concurrently soothing and unnerving to the reader. It most certainly softens the atrocities of the book. It is far simpler, for example, to read about a "krovvy-covered plot" or "tolchocking an old veck" than it is to settle into two hundred pages of "blood-covered bodies" or "beatings of old men." The author keeps his audience absorbed in the prolonged violence through the screen of another language. But the Russian has a cruelty of its own; and there are disquieting political undercurrents in Burgess's imposition of Slavic upon English, at least for the tutored ear.

Nadsat, like all of Burgess's conventional writing, harbors a number of skillful puns. People are referred to as "lewdies"; the "charlie/charles" is a chaplain; "cancers" are cigarettes, and the "sinny" is the cinema. There is, to be sure, little room for laughter in a novel as sobering as this, and Burgess's usual authorial grin is only suggested in this very bitter glimpse of tomorrow. Still, there is no absence of satire. In many ways Alex is still a youth, and the reader is repeatedly shocked by a profusion of infantilisms starkly juxtaposed with violence. Burgess flecks his dialogue of evil with endearing traces of childhood in words like "appy polly loggies," "skolliwoll," "purplewurple," "baddiwad," or "eggiwegg" for "apologies," "school," "purple," "bad," and "egg." It is necessary for Burgess to achieve an empathic response to Alex, and these infantilisms within Nadsat are reminiscent of Dickensian innocence—serving well as buffer zones (or are they iron curtains?) between the "good" reader and the "evil" protagonist.

Other clues to this grim future world are Burgess's truncated and mechanized synechdoches: The "sarky guff" is a "sarcastic guffaw." "Pee and em" are Alex's parents; the "old in-out-in-out" is sexual intercourse (generally rape!); a "twenty-to-one" (the number is scarcely fortuitous) is a gang beating; "6655321" is Alex's prison name, and "StaJa 84" (State Jail 84) is his prison address.

Closely linked with the mechanical hybrids used in Nadsat are certain words conspicuous by their absence. There are no words, for example, that give positive feelings of warmth or caring or love. When Alex wants to refer to goodness he has to do so by opting out of Nadsat and for English, or by calling evil "the other shop."

Yet the total effect of Nadsat is greater than the sum of its various parts. Alex, in the capacity of "Your Humble Narrator," uses the language to extrapolate a future both vague and too familiar. He sings of a time when all adults work, when very few read, and when society is middle class, middle-aged, and middle-bound. We are told only that 1960 is already history and that men are on the moon. The reader is offered no other assurances. And as the linguistic impact of Nadsat becomes more comprehensible, one is left to wonder if the world of clockwork oranges is so safely distant after all.

When one has truly and carefully followed the linguistic threads of Burgess's novel, the Minotaur guide can be heard arguing a matter deeply tragic in implications. By definition language, like its human author, man, has an essential right to reflect the fits and starts of a time-honed, familiar friend. There ought to be an ordered sense of choice, a spirit of chorus and harmony and solo. Jabberwocky is for fun; Nadsat is a very different construct and far more fearful. Though at times it can be beautiful, there is the lonely wail of tomorrow wrenched from the desperate sighs of today. In Nadsat one finds the Platonic form of mechanism: the cadence of a metronome and the ticking-tocking ramifications of humanity without its essence.

The deep and hard questions of A Clockwork Orange, however, are not veiled by the mechanical language. And standing richer when reviewed in light of the balance of Burgess's cosmogony, they stand even more specifically poignant when played against the panorama of all Burgess's writing. Through a reflective stage-setting, the reader is far more able to cope with the labyrinthine mind behind the dystopian clockwork.

Burgess is fond of envisioning himself as an exile. He has voluntarily absented himself from many situations with the voice of a vociferous (not a whimsical) outcast. He has politically removed his allegiances from Britain. He has removed himself from the aegis of the Catholic Church, voicing preference for a variety of heretical or mystical theologies. Burgess is truly a man of isolation, alone with his own thoughts and his fiction to espouse his maverick philosophy. The exclusive position that Burgess assumes lends his writing a metaphysically unique, if not philosophically original dimension.

Locked within that mind—that mental labyrinth—is a most clever approach to serious metaphysical questions. Burgess has fashioned and shaped a dualist system of eclectic, authentic origin and pitted it against the world of the past, the present, and the future. Burgess's theological contentions are amazingly astute from the point of authenticity, universality, and relevance.

Much of his metaphysics is genuine philosophy given a fresh approach. He has drawn upon Eastern and Western philosophies, concocting a novel brew of Eastern dualism, heretical Manichaeanism, Pelagian/Augustinianism, the cultural mythologies of ancient civilizations, the philosophy of Heraclitus, the implicit teachings of the Taoists, the Hegelian dialectic. The impact of Burgess's metaphysics, however, is not so much the clever jigsaw effect of a master eclectic; rather, it is that out of this syncretism Burgess has presented a serious allegory of the contemporary malaise, which has been diagnosed by all recent Existential and nihilistic thinking. He is answering through his writing the central paradoxes of life posed in Sartre's "nausea," Heidegger's "dread," and Kierkegaard's Angst and "fear and trembling."

Basically, twentieth-century man has come to live under the onerous speculations of recent philosophers. He has, in a sense, become a captive of his own (or what he used to feel was his own) universe. Ancient philosophers and artists were dedicated to the simple contention that the universe was a friendly home, divinely designed for mortal existence, and not incidentally mortal happiness. In varying degrees, yesterday's thinkers attempted to explain, rationalize, even challenge man's primacy upon earth; they seldom, however, questioned his right to be here or his natural relationship with the world in which he lived.

The last one hundred years saw the growing disaffiliation from the traditional acceptance of the world as benign. After thousands of years of philosophy dedicated to man's concentric sphere within the universe, nihilists and existentialists were now challenging not only man's place in the system but the entirety of the system itself. No longer was logic, or spirit, or mind, or even God the central force of the universe—these became only alternatives. The center of the universe was now existence; man's solitary life was enough just in being. Shockingly, this new paramount position of man left him not the conqueror of the universe but its victim. He was swamped by the very paradox that made his existence supreme. For in accepting and even reveling in the uniqueness of his own individuality, man was forced to accept that he was totally unnecessary. Adrift from the former Divine, or logical, or even scientific plan, adrift from Hegelian systems, humanity was presented with a position of supreme importance and, simultaneously, with the concept of its own total annihilation.

As the world more fully accepted that it was enough just to be, it became aware, too, that an individual existence, while central to that individual, was as nothing in the universe. With World War II and the prospect of total annihilation (not thousands, but millions of deaths and the promise of even greater debacle), the "nausea," "dread," and "fear" that had haunted the ivory towers of philosophers became a part of every living being.

Into this anxiety-ridden arena came the literature that chronicled, prescribed, and diagnosed a series of ways in which man could come to live with relative peace within himself. Yet always the paradox remained: each individual was a unique and single existence that had never been before and would never be again. Yet that same individual existence was nothing. It would die, never return, and the world would go on as before.

Burgess, for good or ill, has generally refused to enter the arena. Indeed, he has steered clear of the mainstream of the philosophical split alluded to above. He has removed himself as thoroughly and totally from this particular dialogue as he has from church and country. He is to be sure a chronicler of paradox. He, too, speaks and writes of polarity, ambiguity, juxtaposition. He does not, however, revile them; on the contrary—and this is perhaps what makes him unique among writers today—he seems to glory in them. Burgess's writing is dedicated to exposing the totality of the paradox and offering humanity an alternative to "fear and trembling." In a single shibboleth, Burgess demands that man first become aware of the paradoxes of life and then accept them. The injunction is neither so simplistic nor so naive as it may at first appear.

Burgess offers his readers a cosmogony spinning in exact parallel to their own world. Yet, rather than trembling in the face of paradox, Burgess's cosmogony is energized by it. One is not at all surprised to find living side by side in The Wanting Seed "Mr. Live Dog" and "Evil God." "God" and "Not God" thrive in Tremor of Intent, and the following references from A Clockwork Orange show how energetic such dualisms can become:

Hell and blast you all, if all you bastards are on the side of the Good, then I'm glad I belong to the other shop.

But, brothers, this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don't go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? If lewdies are good that's because they like it, and I wouldn't ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop.

Burgess advocates a pure dualism, reflected variously on earth as "X and Y," "left and right," "black and white," or "lewdies good and lewdies not good." The names and terms change with each novel, but the concepts are serious, unswerving, and consistent—head-to-head combat between equal but opposite deities who are the forces behind creation.

Although Burgess does not shout innuendos from the novel's lectern, he does posit dualism as a means for explaining the unexplainable. Garnered from fiction itself—for Burgess has never formally outlined his philosophy—the dualistic system works something like this:

Each of the two divinities created a sphere. The "Good God" created an ascendant, ethereal sphere. It became a world of light, and summer, and warmth. Contrarily, the "Evil God" set his stage. His was a descendant sphere of darkness and winter and cold. Thus the spinning universe contained the dual divinity and a massive panoramic background. One, the "Bog of the Good," all "gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh," gave to man a spirit, while the "God of the other shop" gave man his flesh—again, juxtaposition, ambiguity, paradox, and the need to choose.

The first and primary symbols of the Burgess cosmogony are the sun and moon. They are the mystical, mythical avatars that preside over the choosing upon the earth. Their qualities, both natural and allegorical, are the parameters of Burgess's fiction. Certain secondary symbols are, however, equally important for directing the protagonists' literal, as well as spiritual movement. From the partial list below, one can discern the two opposing spheres that directly relate to Burgess's dualistic universe, and the limbo sphere between them.

White ("Good God") Gray ("Man") Black ("Evil God")
sun earth moon
day dawn/dusk night
birth life death
creation existence destruction
grace ambivalence sin
past present future
soul mind body
summer spring/fall winter

Burgess uses this highly Manichaean and dualistic world for most of his principal settings. His protagonists are allowed to live out their lives until the moment they are embodied in the novels. That moment becomes the moment of choice, and Burgess forces them to exercise the dualistic option. This aspect of choosing and "the choice" mark every plot and direct protagonists from A Vision of Battlements to Napoleon Symphony. A novel like MF is (if one might forgive Burgess's own pun) riddled with choices. A Clockwork Orange, however, is unique of aspect in that Burgess is not working on a multiplicity of levels but concentrating on the nature of choice which, by definition, must be free. To underscore his message, Burgess is far more translucent about his symbolism in A Clockwork Orange than in most of his other novels.

The moon and the night and the winter are Alex's arena. Burgess has always attached allegorical significance to the night and never more heavily than here: "The day was very different from the night. The night belonged to me and my droogs and all the rest of the nadsats, and the starry bourgeois lurked indoors drinking in the gloopy worldcasts; but the day was for the starry ones and there always seemed to be more rozzes or millicents about during the day."

Scattered throughout the first section of the novel are innumerable references to the night as the time of evil. ("The Luna was up" and "it was winter trees and dark.") On Alex's final night raid that ends in death, treachery, and incarceration, Burgess is continually outlining in black and white: "So we came nice and quiet to this domy called the Manse, and there were globe lights outside on iron stalks … and there was a light like dim on in one of the rooms on the ground level, and we went to a nice patch of street dark…. They [the droogs] nodded in the dark…. Then we waited again in darkness." Burgess continues the imagery—the black of the evening, the light from the windows, the white old woman, the pouring of white milk, the theft of a white statue of Beethoven. Nearly blinded by the most stupid of his droogs (significantly named Dim), Alex is captured by the police, brought through the black night to the white of the police station: "They dragged me into this very bright-lit whitewashed cantora…."

Throughout the remainder of the novel Burgess employs a seemingly confused pattern of white and black. The white-jacketed doctors are evil, and as extreme versions of B. F. Skinner's behaviorists and advocates of "the Ludovico technique," understandably so. In their hands (or rather in their mechanical toils), Alex will become a clockwork orange: a piece of pulpless, juiceless flesh that acts upon command and not out of will. Conversely, the chaplain is a drunk garbed in black, yet he is the only character within the novel who honestly questions the morality of this application of behavioral science.

The white of the doctors, the black of the prison cell, the white of the technicians, the black of the chaplain, the white of the interrogation room, the black of Alex's reentry into society—all are carefully balanced inversions. The reader has often to unravel such inversions—to work, that is, in and out of the maze—particularly within scenes with institutional settings. The same sorts of inversion occur in The Doctor Is Sick and in the hospital scenes from Honey for the Bears. Burgess generally inverts his black-white imagery in situations where the morality and ethics are prescribed and not chosen. Schools, prisons, military installations, and hospitals—all places calling for Burgess's use of color imagery—underscore, through studied inversion, his perception of a morally inverted, indeed perverted world.

In A Clockwork Orange Burgess has crafted a childmachine, placed him in the pit of tomorrow, and "voiced" him with the lament of a world so mesmerized by technocracy that it has lost its essence. Alex chooses to sin and the world cannot live with his choice. Dystopia takes away neither his sin nor his existence, but does take away his right to choose, and thereby his soul: "Badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines?" Alex does what he wants to do, so the world takes away his freedom to choose. He becomes a programmed good machine and no longer a person. Yet there has to be room for freedom, for by design this is a world of man. We are all "malenky selves on our oddy knockies" and the price of freedom runs high. We are a medial element, both desperate and sublime, with our only distinction being our right to choose. The paradox is one of enormity, for the stakes are enormous; the only alternative is a mechanized hell.

Oddly enough, Burgess, as man and as writer, is caught in the same paradox he espouses. The mind does not journey far from the body; the medial element, the victimized chooser of Burgess's fictions, is really Burgess himself. The spirit as well as the body yearns for a place, a time to belong. The Far East, England, Malta, are all bridges he has burned behind him. Burgess has, through his fiction, his journalism, his determined stand, cut himself off in principle and in fact from much that he intellectually abhors yet emotionally loves. His church and his country go on, despite his verbal assaults. Like Gulliver, he might indeed be genuinely amazed that his satire of the human condition has not brought about immediate improvement of it. But then, like Swift—who, too, looks down to observe human nature, rather than around—he has been forced to pay for his olympian vision.

And, unfortunately, for his prophetic vision as well. Burgess's fiction is more alive today than even in the times it was written. One reads with amazement, if not indeed horror, that Burgess's prophesy has become fact. Zoroaster and Manes are dust now. Dualism is little more than an Eastern etiquette, permeating the life-style of Asia. Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre are classics, venerable promulgators of the Angst and nausée that all of us have subliminally absorbed. But the dualistic paradox still continues to unwind itself, and we still throb in our gray cocoons, daring ourselves to opt for emergence into the day or into the night. Burgess would draw us out of ourselves and make us choose, would make us commit ourself to choice for choice's sake. Like Alex, we may become mere mechanism, or all will, incarnated in flesh and blood: a clock-work, or an orange. The responsibility is of course ours, and Burgess brilliantly instructs us how to shoulder the responsibility.

Julie Carson (essay date Spring 1976)

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SOURCE: "Pronominalization in A Clockwork Orange," in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring, 1976, pp. 200-05.

[In the following essay, Carson argues that pronoun usage in A Clockwork Orange is indicative of the power relationships between Alex and the other characters.]

What discussion there has been of the language of A Clockwork Orange has dealt mainly with the gypsy talk of Alec, "nadsat," a hybrid of Russian and onomatopoetic words. Virtually no critic, however, has investigated a linguistic technique certainly as obvious as the nadsat lexicon: Alec's system of pronominalization. It is with the thou/you pronoun distinction, and not the nadsat vocabulary, that Burgess indicates the significant changes in the central character in the novel.

In "The Pronouns of Power and Solidarity," Roger Brown and Albert Gilman propose a "connection between social structure, group ideology, and the semantics of the pronoun." They base their conclusions on data from sixteen countries, whose native languages make distinction between familiar and formal pronouns [see Style in Language, edited by Thomas A. Sebeok, 1960]. Their findings are especially applicable to A Clockwork Orange, for Alec is the only character who deviates from the standard pronoun system. Burgess sets him off in two ways: from general society by giving him the nadsat vocabulary, and from his own group, with the pronoun distinction. The use of an argot to set a group apart is common enough. But a deviation from, yet within, an argot carries greater implications, revealing Alec's position of power relative to both society and to his droogs. Concerning power and pronouns, Brown and Gilman observe that "power is a relationship between at least two persons, and it is nonreciprocal in the sense that both cannot have power in the same area of behavior. The power semantic is similarly nonreciprocal; the superior says T and receives V." [In a footnote, Carson explains: "Gilman and Brown use the symbols T and V (from the Latin tu and vos) to designate familiar and polite pronouns in any language."]

Alec uses the formal "thou" in situations in which he is clearly in control, as in his dialogue with Dim, the least competent of his droogs: "'Come, gloopy bastard as thou art. Think not on them.'" Later when his droogs are in rebellion, Alec draws a fine line in his respect among his droogs; Dim he continues to address "thou," but to the other two droogs he uses the conventional pronoun: "'Oh now, don't, both of you malchicks. Droogs, aren't we?'" His droogs are not mollified, despite Alec's addressing them as "you," his equals, and they press their revolt. Alec then gets "more razdaz inside," frightened by the impending violence, and capitulates his position of power. After he agrees to go "bedways," in his acquiescent stance, Alec addresses Dim, the former object of physical abuse, as an equal: "'You understand about that tolchock on the not, Dim. It was the music see.'"

There are three other important examples of the thou/you distinction early in the novel. One occurs when Alec and his droogs break into F. Alexander's HOME. As the bizarre scene begins to unfold, in the only line which calls for pronoun usage, Alec uses "thou"; "'Never fear. If fear thou hast in thy heart, O brother, pray banish it forth-with." In the entire episode of destruction and rape, Alec dominates the situation. By telling Alexander not to fear, he clearly mocks Alexander, who indeed has a great deal to fear. Later in the novel, Alec uses "thou" when he deceives his father and asserts his ability to control situations: "'Never worry about thine only son and heir, O my father,' I said. 'Fear not. He canst taketh care of himself, verily.'" The third significant use of "thou" occurs when Alec is verbally and then physically assaulting Billyboy: "'Well, if it isn't fat stinking billygoat Billyboy in poison. How art thou, thou globby bottle of cheap stinking chipoil? Come and get one in the yarbles, if you have any yarbles, you eunuch jelly, thou.'" In the last example what appears to be ambivalence (the use of both pronoun forms) might be explained in either of two ways: first, the power relationship between Alec and Billyboy is not clear. They are rivals and peers. But in this scene, Alec is on the attack, not to Dim or to Alexander or to his father, whom he considers his subordinates-victims, but to a person he must hold in derision, yet whose power he respects. Billyboy is not so weak an adversary that he can be dismissed with the "thou" form; in fact, Alec does not win the encounter. It is broken up by police sirens. Interestingly, as the sirens wail, and the threat of a higher authority looms, Alec reverts to conventional usage: "'Get you soon, fear not,' I called, 'stinking billygoat. I'll have your yarbles off lovely.'" The dialogue with Billyboy seems to reflect, then, what Brown and Gilman suggest: "the superior says T and receives V" in nonreciprocal power relationships.

When Alec and his droogs break into Alexander's HOME, the power relationship is clear: Alec is plainly in control. But in the next major crime they commit, a curious thing happens: although Alec seems to be dominating the situation (he has, afterall, only an old woman as his adversary) he uses the conventional pronoun form: "'Hi hi hi. At last we meet. Our brief govoreet through the letter-hole was not, shall we say, satisfactory, yes? Let us admit not, oh verily not, you stinking starry old sharp.'" In no comparable situation had Alec lapsed into the conventional form "you"; Burgess offers here a linguistic clue to the imminent power change. Alec, of course, is caught in this crime and imprisoned. Perhaps most interesting of all is that from this episode until he is "cured" of the Ludovico technique, with one exception, Alec never says "thou" to anyone, no matter what his estimation of them. Clearly Burgess exploited the rare and subtle use of "thou" to indicate Alec's power position, thus affirming Brown and Gilman's observation that "a man's consistent pronoun style gives away his class status."

Alec perceives each of his relationships correctly: he knows, in other words, when he may use the "thou" form. As Brown and Gilman explain, "The general meaning of an unexpected pronoun choice is simply that the speaker, for the moment, views the relationship that calls for the pronoun used." Likewise, Alec knows when to use "you", as when the police brutally interrogate him and Deltoid spits in his face. Alec replies: "'Thank you, sir, thank you very much, sir, that was very kind of you sir, thank you.'" With one exception Alec never uses any other second person pronominal form during his arrest, imprisonment, or hospitalization. [In a footnote, Carson elaborates: "The one time Alec does use 'thou' is to the hospital staff aide wheeling him back to his room after the first Ludovico session. The aide is described by Alec as an 'under-veck'; he is interpreted, in other words, as an inferior person. Alec's sensibilities (and therefore, his wrath) may have been especially aroused because the 'under-veck' was singing a 'hound and horny popsong.' Alec, with his sophisticated taste in music would have found then even greater reason to hold the aide in disdain."]

The Ludovico technique evokes a number of reactions in Alec: he becomes nonaggressive, nonviolent, and respectful to established societal codes. Accordingly, he also ceases to use "thou" in his dialogues. Perhaps the most significant example of the change effected in him occurs shortly after his release from the hospital. When he meets Dim, his pronominal style has altered considerably, revealing his apprehension of his new role in the power structure: "'Read to you,' I said, a malenky bit nasty. 'You still too dim to read for yourself, O brother.'" After the beating that Dim and Billboy inflict on him, Alec ironically seeks help at Alexander's HOME, where he has earlier used the "thou" pronominal code. When he returns to seek help from Alexander (admittedly a subordinate position) he uses conventional pronouns, but later in the conversation after reading an attack on the government Alexander had written in his name, Alec comments: "'Very good…. Real horrorshow. Written well thou hast, O sir.' And then he looked at me very narrow and said: 'What?' It was like he had not slooshied me before. 'Oh that,' I said, 'is what we call nadsat talk. All the teens use that, sir.'" Alexander's sudden close attention to Alec's speech could not have been evoked only by the obvious lexical deviance, "horrorshow." Earlier in their conversation Alec had defined "ptitsa" and "the charlie" for Alexander, or had used nadsat words which Alexander let pass by without questioning: "polly," "slooshy" and "jeezny." But after Alec revealed himself with the use of "thou" Alexander's suspicions about his identity were aroused.

There is some ambivalence in Alec's pronominal code in this episode at HOME. But it reflects Alec's uncertainty of his role there. The use of "thou" is an obvious slip on Alec's part. But later, when he asserts himself "I did not like that crack about zombyish, brothers, and so I said: 'What goes on, bratties? What dost thou in mind for thy little droog have?'" Alec allows himself to slip into the total nadsat argot of lexicon, syntax, and morphology because of his great fear. He is suddenly aware that Alexander and his group are acting in their own interests and not in his. He assesses the situation quickly and adopts nearly the proper linguistic posture for his power position, but he cannot restrain himself entirely; his language, after all, has been his greatest means of self-identification and self-assertion. Alexander's final torture of Alec consists of playing Beethoven, inducing him to commit suicide. As Alec prepares to jump to his death, he cries: "'Goodbye, goodbye, my Bog forgive you for a ruined life.'" Again, in what appears to be his final role as victim, Alec uses the pronoun "you" appropriate to the situation, rather than the inappropriate power semantic "thou." Alec's suicide attempt is of course abortive, and his fall causes much of the Ludovico technique to be ineffective. Although Alec does not linguistically revert to his former self, as the story line might suggest, if one interprets only the action of the story during Alec's final hospitalization, it appears that he is indeed his former self. He relies heavily on the nadsat vocabulary; he exhibits his former usual extraordinary lust; he treats his parents with great disdain; he threatens physical violence to those who contradict him; and he insults the most overt symbol of the established order, the Minister of the Interior. But he does all these things with pronominal ambivalence. He addresses the nurse: "'What gives, O my little sister? Come thou and have a nice laydown with your malenky droog in this bed'"; his parents: "'Well well well well well, what gives? What makes you think you are like welcome?'"; the Minister of the Interior: "'Bolshy great yarblockos to thee and thine.'" To three of the four persons he speaks to in his final hospitalization, after he has been apparently cured of the Ludovico technique, he readopts his special pronominal code. He has reasserted himself to everyone but his parents, for their leaving him was on a tentative basis: "'You'll have to make up your mind,' I said, 'who's to be boss.'" In Alec's final confrontation with the Minister of the Interior, he uses "thou" exclusively—"'Bolshy great yarblockos to thee and thine'"—for he consistently interprets the Minister as inferior: "And in he came, and of course it was none other than the Minister of the Interior or Inferior…." Other epithets he uses to refer to the Minister explicitly call attention to the inferior role he attributes to him: "int Inf Min" and "intinfmin."

Anthony Burgess thus draws subtle distinctions by developing a pronominal code within the nadsat argot which, in turn, gives explicit linguistic clues to the power structures in A Clockwork Orange. He reflects current findings of linguistic research which suggests that there is a power semantic which is clearly revealed in nonreciprocal power relationships. He has developed a linguistic technique both subtle and sophisticated and one that enhances the brilliance of A Clockwork Orange.

Rubin Rabinovitz (essay date Winter 1978–1979)

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SOURCE: "Mechanism vs. Organism: Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 24, No. 4, Winter, 1978–1979, pp. 538-41.

[Rabinovitz is an American critic and educator. In the following essay, he argues that the twenty-first chapter of A Clockwork Orange reveals a thematic synthesis of free will and determinism.]

In his most famous novel, A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess explores a number of interesting issues such as free will, the meaning of violence, and a cyclical theory of history. Resolving these issues, however, is complicated by an extraneous factor; the American editions of the novel lack Burgess' original conclusion and end with what is the penultimate chapter of the first English edition.

A good summary of the deleted section is provided by Burgess himself:

In the final chapter of the British edition, Alex is already growing up. He has a new gang, but he's tired of leading it; what he really wants is to have a son of his own—the libido is being tamed and turned social—and the first thing he now has to do is to find a mate, which means sexual love, not the old in-and-out. [Rolling Stone, June 8, 1972]

The hero's abrupt decision to turn away from his old pattern of violence has caused some unrest among Burgess' critics. Shirley Chew, writing in Encounter, feels that with Alex's fantasy of domestic life "the novel loses its integrity and falls into the sentimental." The ending, Chew says, makes it appear that Burgess condones and even shares the hero's taste for violence [Encounter, June, 1972]. And A. A. DeVitis, author of a recent study of Burgess' fiction, says that the last chapter was "wisely omitted from the American edition" [Anthony Burgess, 1972].

The American publisher, like Shirley Chew, felt that the last chapter was too sentimental; but Burgess has defended the original conclusion:

When they were going to publish it in America, they said "we're tougher over here" and thought the ending too soft for their readers. If it was me now, faced with the decision I'd say no. I still believe in my ending [Anthony Burgess with Carol Dix, Transatlantic Review, Spring-Summer, 1972]

On the face of it, publisher and critics seem right: the novel did enjoy better sales in America than in England, and Stanley Kubrick chose to use the shortened American edition for his film version of the book. But the original ending is not as sentimental as it first appears; there is truth, even poetic justice, in the idea of yesterday's reprobate changing diapers for his own neophyte reprobate.

If Alex remains violent, as he does in the American version, the reader's attitude towards him is mainly one of condemnation; but Burgess' inquiry into the origins of violence requires a hero who cannot be so easily condemned and dismissed. The original version in a sense provides the less sentimental ending if Alex is transformed from a monster into an ordinary human being with whom the reader can identify. Obdurate Alex is a threat to safety; Alex reformed threatens moral complacency, by suggesting that a love of violence is universal.

Regardless of which ending one prefers, Burgess wrote his novel assuming that it would appear intact, and it deserves to be considered in the complete version. As it turns out, many of his ideas are clarified when the last chapter is restored. An example is Burgess' treatment of the theme of freedom and determinism. Burgess appears in A Clockwork Orange to disapprove of the Ludovico technique (a scientific process for forcing criminals to reform); the loss of free will seems to be too great a price to pay. But if this is true, and if Burgess shares the point of view of the Chaplain and F. Alexander who oppose the Ludovico technique for similar reasons, it is unclear why Burgess portrays these characters in a sardonic fashion.

The novel's final statement about free will comes in the deleted chapter, when Alex says that in his youth he had not been free but determined. In his violent phase, he says, he had been

like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking. O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of these malenky machines.

The young are like clockwork men; their proclivity towards violence is built into them. His son, Alex says, will also go through a violent phase, and Alex "would not be able to really stop him. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers."

Alex concludes that there is a cycle of recurring phases in which each young man undergoes a period of existence as a violent, mechanical man; then he matures, gets greater freedom of choice, and his violence subsides. The cycle, says Alex, will go on forever: "and so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round…." The circularity of the repeating pattern leads Alex to compare the progress of generations to an image of God turning a dirty, smelly orange in his hands, "old Bog Himself (by courtesy of Korova Milkbar) turning and turning and turning a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers." The determined progress of the clockwork man, who must move in a straight line, is thus contrasted with the circular shape and movement of God's orange, symbol of life and organic growth. The "vonny grahzny" orange is also like the world, which on the same page is called "grahzny vonny." For Alex, life has aspects both of determinism and free will, line and circle, clockwork and orange.

Burgess used similar line-circle imagery in The Wanting Seed, which was published in the same year as A Clockwork Orange. In both novels, determinism and mechanical progress are associated with lines, while freedom and organic growth are associated with circles. Reality for Burgess often emerges from the interaction of contrary principles like these; in A Clockwork Orange Alex's linear, determined youth is contrasted with his freedom in maturity when he decides to marry, have a child, and give up his violence. But the cycle continues, and paradoxically Alex's freedom will lead him to have a child who once more will be subjected to the deterministic phase of the process.

By the end of the novel, Alex is mature enough to deal with this paradox. Troubled as he is by the idea that his son will be violent, he remains resolute in his desire to have children. The growth of Burgess' heroes is often indicated by their willingness to accept life and the mixed bag of contradictory values it offers.

The sense that Alex has accepted life is enforced when he finally answers the question which introduces each part of the novel and which is repeated eleven times: "What's it going to be then, eh?" Initially the question seems only to be about what sort of drink to order, but as it recurs it acquires existential overtones. The answer finally comes towards the end of the deleted chapter:

But first of all, brothers, there was this vesch of finding some devotchka or other who would be a mother to this son. I would have to start on that tomorrow, I kept thinking. That was something like new to do. That was something I would have to get started on, a new like chapter beginning.

That's what it's going to be then, brothers….

The question is answered just after Alex sees himself as a participant in the historical cycle and his life as a microcosmic version of the cycle. He has understood that history grows out of the struggle of opposing forces and has accepted a similar clash of contradictory urges in his own personality.

Alex's ideas suggest that Burgess has been influenced by Hegel's theory of history; and some of the characters in his other novels (like the history teacher who is the protagonist of The Long Day Wanes) actually discuss Hegel's theory. Burgess' system, however, differs in a number of respects from Hegel's. In the Hegelian dialectic, the opposition of thesis and antithesis produces a synthesis which resembles the stages that preceded it, but which is also different in some ways from these stages. The new element in the synthesis leads to the idea—very important in Hegelian thought—that progress comes with the dialectical historical cycle.

Burgess' theory denies this idea of progress. His system posits two antithetical, alternating stages; the third stage is actually only a repetition of the first. In this system, innovations are never permanent; the changes in one era are undone by a regressive process in the next, so there can be no true historical progress.

The idea that history repeats itself and the pessimistic outlook which it engenders may come from Toynbee or Spengler, whose cyclical theories of history were in vogue when Burgess was a student. Vico, whom Burgess mentions in his Joyce criticism, may also be a source. Burgess calls himself a Manichean, and he often takes a dualistic Manichean view of contending moral forces.

Another important source of Burgess' theory is the opposition of yin and yang principles in Chinese philosophy. Burgess refers to the yin-yang in his autobiographical first novel, A Vision of Battlements, and in a number of essays. According to Robert Morris, the yin-yang principles help to explain the historical dilemma of Crabbe, the hero of The Long Day Wanes:

The East, as Burgess sees it, is both active and passive, containing the principles of yin-yang, humming at both poles of the dialectic at once. It is a phenomenon alien to the West, which, nurtured on Hegelian propositions, submits to the certainty of either cyclical or lineal progression. [The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess, 1971]

Morris' comment is useful for understanding how yin and yang are related to dichotomies in A Clockwork Orange such as line and circle, organism and mechanism, and determinism and free will.

Burgess feels that it is his work as an artist to portray conflicting elements which eventually blend into a single confluent entity. In Urgent Copy, a collection of reviews and essays, he gives an example: impressed by the juxtaposition of Spanish and British cultures in Gibralter, he composed a symphony in which disparate themes relating to these cultures clash initially but ultimately harmonize. The symphony was written before any of his novels, and this process of juxtaposing conflicting values provided him with a method he later used in his writing. A good discussion of how this principle works elsewhere in Burgess' oeuvre may be found in Thomas LeClair's study of his fiction [in Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, Vol. 12, 1971, pp. 77-94].

Burgess, then, follows the yin-yang principles in understanding change as a clash and interaction of opposed values which can lead either to chaos or to harmony. In the concluding essay of Urgent Copy, he explains that, though one would like to live by a single set of values, reality is most often apprehended in sets of opposing values like good and evil, white and black, rich and poor. Politicians and theologians, who claim they can find unity in merging these values, actually offer either promises (a classless society, for example) or intangibles (God, metaphysical ideas). Only a work of art, says Burgess, can achieve a synthesis of opposites which presents an immediate vision of unity. Obviously, A Clockwork Orange is meant to serve as an example of the sort of work that can truly reconcile opposing values.

Rubin Rabinovitz (essay date Spring 1979)

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SOURCE: "Ethical Values in Anthony Burgess's Clockwork Orange," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XI, No. 1, Spring, 1979, pp. 43-50.

[In the following essay, Rabinovitz comments on Burgess's presentation in A Clockwork Orange of the notion of "social history as a cyclical alternation" of diametrically opposed views of human nature and morality.]

In Anthony Burgess's most famous novel, A Clockwork Orange [1962 British edition, which includes the final, twenty-first chapter], the most obvious clash of values is between the lawless hero and a society that hopes to control him. This struggle obscures another conflict which is nevertheless very important: the opposing views of libertarians and authoritarians on how best to provide social controls. The theme of libertarian-authoritarian opposition recurs throughout Burgess's novels, often as a conflict between points of view Burgess has called Pelagian and Augustinian. The best exposition of this idea is given by Tristram Foxe, the protagonist of Burgess's novel The Wanting Seed.

Foxe (who is a history teacher) explains that Pelagianism is named for Pelagius, a monk whose teachings were condemned by the church. Pelagius argued against the doctrine of original sin and advocated the idea of human perfectibility; hence he is the patron of libertarian societies. St. Augustine, a contemporary of Pelagius, reaffirmed the doctrine of original sin; human perfectibility, he said, was possible only with God's grace. Because grace is not universally granted, there must always be sin, war, crime, and hence the need for social controls. Augustine therefore emerges as patron of the authoritarians.

Burgess often presents social history as a cyclical alternation of Pelagian and Augustinian parties which oppose one another like yin and yang. With the Augustinians in power there is a period of social stability which comes as the result of a rigidly enforced authoritarian moral code. Such controls make it appear that the populace is inherently ethical and encourage a growing faith in human perfectibility; eventually the strictness of the Augustinians seems superfluous. The populace begins to demand more freedom, libertarian arguments gain credibility, and finally there is a transition to a Pelagian form of government.

The Pelagians fare no better. Their libertarianism gives way to permissiveness and then to an anarchic period of crime, strikes, and deteriorating public services. After a transitional phase, the popular outcry for more law and order heralds the rise of a new Augustinian party and the beginning of another cycle.

This issue comes up in The Clockwork Testament, one of Burgess's more recent novels. Enderby, the hero, is obsessed with Augustine and Pelagius and decides to write about them. He finishes a dozen pages of a film script (included in Burgess's novel) which culminate in a debate between the two, Augustine arguing in favor of the doctrine of original sin and Pelagius disagreeing. The script is never completed and, fittingly, the dispute is never settled.

In A Clockwork Orange, the anarchic quality of the society portrayed early in the novel indicates that Pelagian liberals are in power. Upon Alex's release from prison he finds that a broken elevator has been repaired and that the police force has been enlarged; these are signs that a more authoritarian party has taken over. But the new regime is not as strong in its authoritarianism as, for example, the Augustinian society in The Wanting Seed. It avoids the extremes of Augustinianism—wars and religious fanaticism—because Burgess in portraying libertarian and authoritarian parties in a society committed to an underlying Pelagian dogma is satirizing the Labor and Conservative Parties of the English Welfare State.

The new government in A Clockwork Orange therefore is only in a subdued way Augustinian. Its leaders, however, do indicate their lack of faith in human perfectibility by utilizing the Ludovico technique and by getting their jails ready for great numbers of political offenders. The characters in the novel who most oppose this government are naturally those who are extreme libertarians.

A principal spokesman for the libertarians is the writer F. Alexander. His book proclaims his belief in human perfectibility and free will, but Alexander's histrionic prose style makes his Pelagian sentiments somewhat suspect. When a friend ascertains that it was young Alex who raped his wife, Alexander gives up his liberalism and agrees to collaborate in a plan to drive Alex to suicide. Another Pelagian character is P.R. Deltoid, Alex's rehabilitation officer. He epitomizes the libertarian belief that criminals should be reeducated and not punished; but despite Deltoid's efforts Alex remains incorrigible. "Is it some devil that crawls inside you?" Deltoid asks hardly the sort of question one would expect from a Pelagian. After learning that Alex has killed an old woman, Deltoid spits in his face: like F. Alexander, he has been reduced to a betrayal of his principles.

These failures of Pelagianism make it appear that Burgess, as some critics have maintained, favors an Augustinian point of view. But in The Wanting Seed, where he gives his most vivid portrayal of each type of society, Burgess seems to take the side of the Pelagians. In that novel the Pelagians undermine family life and encourage homosexuality as a form of population control; the Augustinians solve the population problem by staging pseudowars in which the participants are decimated and their flesh canned for human consumption. Even at their moral nadir, the Pelagians seem restrained when compared to the cannibalistic Augustinians.

In Tremor of Intent Burgess again seems to favor the Augustinian side when the views of a Pelagian scientist are satirized. Burgess's unsympathetic presentation of the scientist's views may, however, have another explanation. In The Novel Now he is critical of writers like H. G. Wells whose enthusiasm for technology leads them to rhapsodize over scientifically organized utopian societies. For Burgess, science deals only with external factors: it may improve living conditions, but it cannot alter the human condition. In Tremor of Intent, the shallowness of the scientist's arguments may be as much related to his profession as to his Pelagian beliefs.

It seems imprecise, then, to assume that Burgess consistently favors either an Augustinian or a Pelagian point of view. Similarly, those of Burgess's characters who are strongly committed to a single side in the Pelagian-Augustinian cycle fare badly. During one phase they are frustrated because they are out of power; during the next they are disappointed when their social theory fails to live up to its promise. Many of Burgess's heroes learn to change; like Alex, they begin to see how their old unilateral views fit into a cycle of interacting polar opposites. In Tremor of Intent, for example, the hero achieves this kind of understanding when he says, "Knowing God means also knowing his opposite. You can't get away from the great opposition."

An interaction of polar opposites in A Clockwork Orange emerges from Burgess's juxtaposition of the Augustinian views of Alex and the Pelagian views of F. Alexander. Many of Alex's characteristics are Augustinian: his dictatorial domination of his friends, his brutality, and his belief that criminals deserve punishment and not rehabilitation. Alex thinks that the world is wicked and does not believe in human perfectibility; F. Alexander, on the other hand, writes that man is "a creature of growth and capable of sweetness." Alexander's arguments in favor of free will indicate his Pelagianism; the connection Alex makes between evil and determined behavior recalls St. Augustine's concept of predestinarian grace. Like St. Augustine himself, Alex is redeemed after a sinful youth and, as an author, favors the confessional mode.

Many of the characteristics of Alex and F. Alexander may be resolved into examples of extremes that follow the pattern of polar antitheses: predator and victim; uncontrolled libido (rapist) and controlled libido (husband); youth and adult; man of action and man of ideas; destroyer and creator; conservative and liberal; alienated man and integrated man. The similarity of the names Alex and Alexander indicates an underlying kinship between the two which emerges if their opposing values are seen as the polar extremes of the same cycles. Alex (who comments on the similarity of the names) refers to his antagonist as "the great F. Alexander"; he himself is often called "little Alex."

The relativism resulting from this evenhanded treatment of contrasting values, however, sometimes leaves Burgess open to a charge of moral ambiguity. Burgess seems to be aware of this possibility, and in Tremor of Intent he tries to show that a belief in his cyclical system need not lead to a weakened moral stance. Here, an important ethical criterion is the degree of commitment to the cyclical system itself. Life and reality are expressed in polar oppositions which alternate cyclically; a commitment to the cyclical system, then, is tantamount to a commitment to life and reality. For Hillier, the hero of Tremor of Intent, an involvement with the cyclical system is the beginning of moral behavior. Those who ignore the cyclical system or attempt to disengage themselves from it—Hillier calls them "neutrals"—are guilty of immoral behavior which may be extremely destructive because, deceptively, it seems innocuous.

Hillier concludes that the neutrals are morally inferior to evildoers: the wicked are at least morally committed, albeit to a polar extreme which Hillier (recently ordained a priest) opposes. "If we're going to save the world," he says, "we shall have to use unorthodox methods. Don't you think we'd all rather see devil-worship than bland neutrality?"

The superiority of evildoers to neutrals is perhaps a reason for Alex's redemption in the original version of A Clockwork Orange. Alex is firmly committed to evil: he enjoys a sadistic fantasy in which he helps to crucify Christ, and, in a discussion of goodness, calls himself a patron of "the other shop." The neutrals are the scientists who destroy Alex's freedom of choice by administering the Ludovico technique. Dr. Brodsky, for example, cares little about the ethical questions raised by the treatment: "We are not concerned with motive, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime." Alex—one would think he had little right to throw stones—calls Brodsky and his fellow scientists "an evil lot of bastards," and complains that their use of Beethoven's music in the treatment is "a filthy unforgivable sin."

Burgess apparently feels that science lends itself easily to the neutrality he detests; though Alex is often beaten in the novel and once driven to attempt suicide, this is the only place where he moralizes about his oppressors.

There are a number of reasons why Burgess considers the scientists who rob a man of his capacity for ethical choice morally inferior to the criminals they treat. In Christian terms, Alex as a sinner must be permitted to enhance the possibilities for his salvation by choosing good over evil. A man rendered incapable of moral choice can never attain salvation; but a sinner may choose to repent and win redemption.

In terms of Burgess's cyclical system, Alex in his youth may be predestined to do evil; but with maturity comes freedom, when his determined phase is transformed into its polar opposite. The Ludovico treatment, invented by ethical neutrals, forces its victims to become neutral; it removes them from the cyclical process and prevents their transition into a mature phase. The neutralizing treatment turns Alex into a perpetual victim whose weakness provokes violence in those who encounter him. But when Alex's ability to choose is restored he finally grows tired of violence, and reforms.

Burgess's moral point of view, however, still seems ambiguous. The neutrals, both in Tremor of Intent and in A Clockwork Orange, are given rather small roles; and in his zeal to condemn the neutrals Burgess seems to be condoning criminal behavior. It was perhaps with this problem in mind that Burgess made the following comment in an article entitled, appropriately enough, "The Manicheans":

The novelist's need to be adventurous, to pose problems, to shock into attention, is bound to lead him to ground perilous for the faithful. And there is something in the novelist's vocation which predisposes him to a kind of a Manicheeism. What the religious novelist often seems to be saying is that evil is a kind of good, since it is an aspect of Ultimate Reality; though what he is really saying is that evil is more interesting to write about than good. [Times Literary Supplement, March 3, 1966]

It may be that Burgess is speaking of himself; like Milton writing Paradise Lost, Burgess may occasionally be distracted by aesthetically interesting wickedness. But this hardly explains Hillier's enthusiasm for devil-worship, an endorsement which perhaps makes him unique among even the most liberal of modern clergymen. [In a footnote, Rabinovitz elaborates: "A friend of Hillier's says that his Manichean views are most unorthodox for a priest. It is then that Hillier makes his devil-worship remark (Tremor of Intent). But one of the original Manicheans would have been horrified by an implication that his religion tolerated devil-worship. The motivation for Manichean sexual abstinence and vegetarianism emerged from the religion's opposition to evil."]

The apparent inconsistencies in Burgess's dualistic moral views are sometimes seen as the result of his utilization of the Eastern yin-yang principles. Yin and yang may be expressed in morally relevant categories like good and evil, or in categories like hot and cold which have no moral connotations: such a view can lead to moral relativism. The Christian idea of an omnipotent, benevolent God, on the other hand, implies a belief in the superiority of good over evil and leads to moral absolutism.

In an attempt to make use of the Eastern yin-yang idea as well as elements of Christian belief from his background, Burgess has turned to Manicheeism, an eclectic religion which flourished both in the Orient and in the West. Manicheeism incorporates a number of Christian doctrines; moreover, one of its central ideas is a dualistic opposition both in nature (light and darkness) and in ethics (good and evil) which in some ways resembles the opposition of yin and yang. Very often, Burgess's use of Manichean dualism does work to reconcile differences in Eastern and Western thought; but problems arise when a choice must be made between relativism and absolutism. In Eastern terms, where a thing may be seen as both itself and its opposite, such a choice may not be necessary; but to a Westerner, part-time absolutism is self-contradictory. Absolutism seems to demand absolute fidelity, and in this sense Burgess's moral point of view appears ambiguous or inconsistent.

In places Burgess seems to be an absolutist; in others, a relativist. A Clockwork Orange, for example, seems to be dominated by moral relativism when one examines the values of Alex and F. Alexander in the light of the yin-yang principles. But this apparent inconsistency is at times explained by another conflict, a struggle between the individual and the state. Here Burgess makes no attempt to maintain the balance of the yin-yang principles: he is vehemently on the side of the individual.

An emphasis on individualism becomes apparent after a series of symmetrical events in which many of the characters who have been abused by Alex find him helpless and avenge themselves. The revenge is no harsher than the act which provoked it, but an important difference does emerge: though the state condemns Alex's brutal crimes, it sanctions and encourages the avengers' brutality—even though it has already exacted its own vengeance in the form of a prison term. For Burgess, society's brutality is more threatening than the individual's; its power is inhuman, enormous, and unrestrained. Burgess, commenting on A Clockwork Orange, has indicated that he meant to encourage a comparison between Alex's brutality and society's: "The violence in the book is really more to show what the State can do with it." [Anthony Burgess with Carol Dix, Transatlantic Review, Spring-Summer, 1972].

Alex is an enemy of the state and, as he predicts early on, the state will attempt to destroy not only what is evil in him but also his individuality: "The not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines?" Unlike Alex, whose violence is subdued when he outgrows the role of clockwork man, the state remains a machine, always inhuman and conscienceless in its violence.

The hero of The Wanting Seed, like Alex, learns that it is unwise to trust the state: "he that saw whatever government was in power he would always be against it." And Burgess himself takes the same stand: "My political views are mainly negative: I lean towards anarchy: I hate the State. I loathe and abominate that costly, crass, intolerant, inefficient, eventually tyrannical machine which seeks more and more to supplant the individual" [Hudson Review, Autumn, 1967]. Like Alex, Burgess sees the state as an evil mechanism against which individual humans must defend themselves.

It becomes clear, then, that Burgess's moral values are far less ambiguous than they first appear. When he is speaking in his own voice, Burgess reacts to youthful violence with a conventional sense of dismay. If this tone had been introduced in A Clockwork Orange, the novel could easily have become polemical. Without redeeming qualities, the morally repulsive Alex would be a cardboard villain; and similarly the ethically attractive qualities of F. Alexander must be balanced by a personality which is, like his prose style, devoid of grace. Nor is the effect of these characterizations unrealistic; a charming psychopath usually makes a better impression than a righteous neurotic. In this fashion Burgess's system leads to the creation of characters who are round in E.M. Forster's sense.

Burgess's cyclical system works best when it is applied to the subject which concerns him the most, human individuality. Here it becomes a useful metaphor for portraying psychological complexity, for delineating the unpredictability of human beings responding to conflicting urges.

Burgess has indicated that he feels these conflicts within himself just as he observes them in others. One might make a comparison between Burgess the young composer and Alex the music-lover, or between Burgess the middle-aged novelist and the writer F. Alexander. Like Anthony Burgess, F. Alexander has written a book called A Clockwork Orange; and Alex, who tells his own story, is in a sense also the author of a book with the same title. Burgess is hinting that he detects within his own personality elements of both characters, that they form a yin-yang opposition which he sees within himself. But if he indicts himself, Burgess also invites the reader to examine his own capacity for playing the roles of both Alex and F. Alexander.

Philip E. Ray (essay date Autumn 1981)

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SOURCE: "Alex Before and After: A New Approach to Burgess' A Clockwork Orange," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, Autumn, 1981, pp. 479-87.

[In the following essay, Ray argues that the structure of A Clockwork Orange reflects the theme of inevitable human growth.]

Most interpreters of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange have tended to follow the lead of such early commentators as Bernard Bergonzi, A. A. DeVitis, Carol M. Dix, and Robert K. Morris in defining the theme of the novel as the conflict between the natural and untainted Individual and the artificial and corrupt State. Bergonzi's observation that "in its emphasis on the nature of human freedom in a totalitarian society the book has philosophical as well as literary importance" is typical of the thinking that shaped the framework in which subsequent critical discussion has taken place. And this tendency has recently achieved a fitting culmination in the account of the novel that Burgess himself has published, an account which concludes with this dictum: "we may not be able to trust man—meaning ourselves—very far, but we must trust the State far less" [1985, 1978].

This essay attempts to present a different approach to both the content and the form of A Clockwork Orange, an approach which complements rather than contradicts the other. This essay will, however, focus on the relations of Alex, Burgess' hero and narrator, with characters frequently neglected or overlooked by the critics: the owner of the cottage named "HOME"; his wife; and the unnamed and unborn male child whom Alex mentions only in the final chapter. In other words, characters who are the willing or unwilling agents of the State—for example, the prison chaplain, the prison governor, Dr. Brodsky, the Minister of the Interior—will receive less attention than they sometimes do. The specific thesis that this essay will argue for is twofold: that Burgess has the owner of HOME represent the person Alex will become, his future self, and the boy who does not yet exist represent the person he has already been, his past self, in order to express the view that human growth is inevitable; and that the tripartite structure of the novel directly mirrors this chronological sequence of Alex's identities.

The three parts of A Clockwork Orange are of equal length, each having seven chapters, but they otherwise fall into an ABA pattern. [In a footnote Ray explains: "To some readers, ABA may seem to be an abbreviation for 'Anthony Burgess Author.' Others, who are more familiar with Burgess' rapidly increasing canon, will recall the fact that the title of his 1977 novel ABBA ABBA refers to the rhyme scheme of the octave of the Petrarchan sonnet. But, as I will attempt to demonstrate below, the primary significance lies elsewhere."] Parts One and Three are set in the city streets and country lanes of a future England so paralyzed by violent crime that it has surrendered them to the very teenagers who commit the crimes. Part Two is set in a prison—"Staja (State Jail, that is) Number 84F"—where the government is attempting to regain the upper hand by checking within the mind of the particular criminal the impulse toward violence. Alex, who has his own gang despite his mere fifteen years, is sent to jail for murder at the close of Part One; in Part Two he successfully undergoes the State's experimental Reclamation Treatment only to reenter, in Part Three, a world that is unchanged. Thus Burgess has Alex's adventures in Part Three—especially his return to his parents' flat, his encounters with "the crystal veck" and with Dim and Billy-boy, and his visit to the cottage named HOME—duplicate or parallel those in Part One with this significant difference: whereas he earlier victimized others in committing robbery, burglary, assault, rape, and even murder, he himself is now the victim. With his natural instincts and drives artificially blocked. Alex is the "clockwork orange" of the title. [In a footnote Ray elaborates: "It is important to realize that Alex does come to think of himself as 'a clockwork orange.' Significantly enough, when the State puts him on display, Alex protests to the audience: '"Am I like just some animal or dog?… Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?"' Thus Alex perceives that he has become something lower than an 'animal or dog' because part of him, and a crucial part at that, is now mechanical. On the phrase itself, Burgess again comments helpfully in 1985: 'The book was called A Clockwork Orange for various reasons. I had always loved the Cockney phrase "queer as a clockwork orange," that being the queerest thing imaginable, and I had saved up the expression for years, hoping some day to use it as a title. When I began to write the book, I saw that this title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian, or mechanical, laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of colour and sweetness. But I had also served in Malaya, where the word for a human being is orang.'"] One part of the moral that Burgess wishes the reader to draw here is that, in attempting to transform the violent tough into the peaceful citizen, the State has succeeded in rendering Alex incapable of self-defense.

The other part of the moral is that the State has also rendered Alex incapable of enjoying the music of his adored "Ludwig van." To quote once again from Burgess' own account of the novel,

I imagined an experimental institution in which a generic young delinquent, guilty of every crime from rape to murder, was given aversion therapy and rendered incapable of contemplating, let alone perpetrating, an antisocial act without a sensation of profound nausea…. A lover of music, he has responded to the music, used as a heightener of emotion, which has accompanied the violent films he has been made to see. A chemical substance injected into his blood induces nausea while he is watching the films, but the nausea is also associated with the music. It was not the intention of his State manipulators to induce this bonus or malus: it is purely an accident that, from now on, he will automatically react to Mozart or Beethoven as he will to rape or murder. The State has succeeded in its primary aim: to deny Alex free moral choice, which, to the State, means choice of evil. But it has added an unforeseen punishment: the gates of heaven are closed to the boy, since music is a figure of celestial bliss. The State has committed a double sin: it has destroyed a human being, since humanity is defined by freedom or moral choice; it has also destroyed an angel.

Thus the State has meddled destructively not only in the mundane area of morals but also in the higher realm of art.

But consider for a moment the notion that in figurative terms music is "celestial bliss" and Alex an angel. If this is so, then it is certainly logical to regard all of his utterances, the entire narrative related by him to the reader, as musical: if Alex is, in some sense, an angel, his story is, in that same sense, a song. And the question of what sort of song redirects our discussion to the matter of the novel's structure, for the ABA pattern in music is universally recognized as the distinguishing characteristic of the da capo aria in eighteenth-century Italian opera, a kind of aria which "consists of two sections followed by a repetition of the first, resulting in a tripartite structure ABA" [The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 1969]. [In a footnote, Ray comments: "The fact that Burgess first wanted to be a musician and continues to compose music is, I believe, so frequently mentioned as not to require documentation here. But a word is in order about Burgess' most ambitious and explicit use to date of musical structure in his literary work, the symphonic or four-part organization of his 1974 novel, Napoleon Symphony. The genesis of the novel he describes in a doggerel 'Epistle to the Reader,' which he appends to it:

      I was brought up on music and compose
      Bad music still, but ever since I chose
      The novelist's metier one mad idea
      Has haunted me, and I fulfill it here
      Or try to—it is this: somehow to give
      Symphonic shape to verbal narrative,
      Impose on life, though nerves scream and resist,
      The abstract patterns of the symphonist.

It is possible to argue, then, that A Clockwork Orange anticipates Napoleon Symphony because, as he composed it, Burgess attempted to give the 'shape,' the 'abstract patterns' of the aria, to the narrative of Alex, whose single viewpoint stands in the same relation to the many viewpoints of Napoleon Symphony as the single voice of the aria singer to the many voices of the symphonic orchestra."] And it is perhaps no accident, then, that at one point in the story Alex listens with powerful emotion to what Burgess makes quite clear is an operatic aria:

One of these devotchkas … suddenly came with a burst of singing, only a bar and a half and as though she was like giving an example of something they'd all been govoreeting about, and it was like for a moment, O my brothers, some great bird had flown into the milkbar, and I felt all the little malenky hairs on my plott standing endwise and the shivers crawling up like slow malenky lizards and then down again. Because I knew what she sang. It was from an opera by Friedrich Gitterfenster called Das Bettzeug, and it was the bit where she's snuffing it with her throat cut, and the slovos are "Better like this maybe." Anyway, I shivered.

One wishes that Burgess had provided more information about his imaginary composer of operas: when he lived, what kinds of operas he wrote, and so on. But he does provide enough so that certain parallels can be drawn later between Alex and the wretched heroine whose aria he now hears.

To return to the actual workings of the ABA pattern in the novel. Burgess reinforces the reader's sense of the pattern by opening each of the three parts with the question "'What's it going to be then, eh?'" and by having Alex ask it in Parts One and Three and the prison chaplain ask it in Part Two. Thus, in the A Parts Alex is free to pose the question for himself, whereas in Part B someone else, significantly an employee of the State, must pose it for him. Similarly, the hero's name, which (as one would expect) remains constant in Parts One and Three, is replaced by a prison identification number in Part Two: "6655321." [In a footnote, the critic explains: "Burgess provides an illuminating gloss on the name in 1985: 'The name of the antihero is Alex, short for Alexander, which means "defender of men." Alex has other connotations—a lex: a law (unto himself); a lex(is): a vocabulary (of his own); a (Greek) lex: without a law. Novelists tend to give close attention to the names they attach to their characters. Alex is a rich and noble name, and I intended its possessor to be sympathetic, pitiable, and insidiously identifiable with us, as opposed to them.'"] In the A Parts Alex can call himself by whatever name he chooses (it is surely important that he never once uses his surname); in Part B he is called by a number, not even a name, chosen by the State. As Alex describes the change, "I was 6655321 and not your little droog Alex not no longer."

Alex's name is significant in another, even more essential way because it provides the chief clue to the thematic function of the owner of the cottage called HOME. When in Part One Alex and his "droogs" break into the cottage, they not only vandalize it but also beat the owner and rape his wife, who later dies as a result. When in Part Three Alex returns, he does so alone and, having just been beaten himself, stands utterly defenseless before the man he has wronged. The latter fails, however, to recognize Alex (primarily because he was wearing a mask on the night of the break-in) and provides him with aid and shelter instead of punishment or revenge. The owner of HOME even manages, in thinking aloud about his dead wife, to identify Alex with her when he says to Alex, "'Poor poor boy, you must have had a terrible time. A victim of the modern age, just as she was. Poor poor poor girl.'" Alex, of course, does recognize the owner and, wishing to learn his name, searches for a copy of the book that he was writing, and that Alex read from, on that fateful night:

It struck me that I ought to get to know the name of this kind protecting and like motherly veck, so I had a pad round in my nagoy nogas looking for A Clockwork Orange, which would be bound to have his eemya in, he being the author…. On the back of the book, like on the spine, was the author's eemya—F. Alexander. Good Bog, I thought, He is another Alex.

Having just been let out of prison, Alex has now ceased to be 6655321. He finds, however, that not only is he Alex again (with the addition of the "clockwork") but that someone else is Alex, too. He has somehow managed to encounter a second version of himself.

What, then, do Alex and F. Alexander have in common besides their names? Both, oddly enough, are authors of books entitled A Clockwork Orange. (Burgess keeps the reader aware of Alex's authorial role by having him frequently address his audience by means of the curious formula "O my brothers" and refer to himself as "Your Humble Narrator.") One important difference between the two authors is, of course, that, while F. Alexander is writing his book on the night of Alex's first visit to HOME and has a bound copy of it on his shelves during the second visit, Alex has not yet begun to write his. In the reader's eternal present, Alex is writing it now. But, precisely because he has already done what Alex will someday do, F. Alexander is being defined here as a future version of Alex's self.

At this point in the story, the second visit to HOME, Burgess hints at the theme of the inevitability of human growth, to which he returns in the final chapter. There he sounds it loudly by having Alex answer the oft-repeated question "'What's it going to be then, eh?'" with the idea of getting married and having a son. As Alex himself puts it, "there was this veshch of finding some devotchka or other who would be a mother to this son…. That's what it's going to be then, brothers, as I come to the like end of this tale." Once he has found and wed his "devotchka," Alex will, of course, have come to resemble F. Alexander in his role as a married man. But here it is not yet apparent whether growth, which will be inevitable for everyone else, will be so for him. Having "clockwork" in his heart and brain may mean that Alex will be the same forever.

There is, however, one other obstacle in the way of Alex's growing up to possess a future, and that obstacle is, ironically enough, F. Alexander himself. When he learns that Alex is one of those responsible for the death of his wife, he tries to force Alex to commit suicide. The attempt fails when Alex, having thrown himself out of an upper-story window, receives medical care that not only saves his life but also reverses the effects of the Reclamation Treatment. Thus Burgess underscores his irony by having F. Alexander insure that Alex will possess a future through the former's effort to deny the latter a present. Trying to murder Alex has the indirect result of bringing him back to human life, for F. Alexander manages to kill only the "clock-work" inside his head.

F. Alexander is clearly, in some sense, a father to Alex, albeit a murderous one. Before the attempt on his life, Alex sees F. Alexander as treating him in a parental manner, although he gets the gender wrong: he calls his host and comforter "this kind protecting and like motherly veck." And perhaps, when he discovered the name on the back of the book, he ought to have considered the first initial as carefully as the surname. If, as seems almost certain, it stands for "Father," then Burgess has arranged this reunion as one between Son Alex and Father Alexander.

There is further evidence for this view of F. Alexander in the facts that he is the owner of HOME (that significantly named dwelling) to which Alex as a latter-day Prodigal Son returns and is not punished but rather welcomed and feasted; that, unlike Alex's actual father (whom Alex would never think of striking and to whom he always refers contemptuously as "pee"), F. Alexander arouses powerful feelings in Alex; and that he is married to the most important woman in the story and in Alex's life so far. Burgess follows here the Freudian model of family relations by placing the father and the son in competition for the mother and by having the son's path to manhood lead directly through the father's defeat or death. Alex the son succeeds not only in possessing the mother but also in taking her away from the father, an event which intensifies the latter's natural desire to triumph over his rival into a rage for murder and revenge. But, of course, that act of violence brings about the more rapid displacement of the father by the son when Alex finds that his suicidal leap has resulted in the removal of the "clockwork" and in no permanent injury to himself.

The actual fate of F. Alexander, Burgess leaves obscure until Alex's conversation with the Minister of the Interior in the novel's penultimate chapter. Visiting Alex in the hospital to assure him that all is now well and to exploit the favorable political publicity, the Minister informs him that

"There is a man … called F. Alexander, a writer of subversive literature, who has been howling for your blood. He has been mad with desire to stick a knife in you. But you're safe from him now. We put him away."

The State now regards F. Alexander as it once regarded Alex. Certain phrases used by the Minister—"howling for your blood," "mad with desire"—would appear to be more appropriate if applied to a person both more animal-like and more physically violent than F. Alexander. But, in any case, he has been declared "a menace" just as though he were roaming the streets at night with a band of "droogs." Therefore F. Alexander gets, at the end of Part Three, precisely what Alex got at the end of Part One: imprisonment in a State Jail. This fate also makes sense, because he is Alex's double as well as his symbolic or mythic father: thus the career of F. Alexander not only anticipates but also repeats the career of Alex.

But this relationship also contributes to the working out of the ABA structure. In the first A section Alex is simply Alex; in the B section he becomes both 6655321 and the "clockwork" man; and in the second A section he resumes his public identity as Alex but is not truly or fully Alex because he still has the "clockwork" within him. When, however, he meets again the owner of HOME, he encounters a father figure, an older and wiser Alex, a future version of the self, who unwittingly assists him in the task of removing the "clockwork" and becoming himself once more. The ill effects of his prison stay cannot, in other words, be overcome until our hero wrestles with and defeats his own image invested with Age and Authority, until the son replaces the father. What could provide a more striking illustration of the process of human growth?

If the vision of his future granted him in the final chapter holds true, Alex will accomplish something in life that F. Alexander did not: the begetting and raising of a son. He describes his prophetic moment in the following passage:

I kept viddying like visions, like these cartoons in the gazettas. There was Your Humble Narrator Alex coming home from work to a good hot plate of dinner, and there was this ptitsa all welcoming and greeting like loving…. I had this sudden very strong idea that if I walked into the room next to this room where the fire was burning away and my hot dinner laid on the table, there I should find what I really wanted…. For in that other room in a cot was laying gurgling goo goo goo my son. Yes yes yes, brothers, my son.

The place Alex describes is obviously an idealized version of home, which means that he has just paid, although in "vision," his third and final visit to HOME. The fire and the dinner are the comforts that Alex destroyed on his first visit but will soon require for himself; the "ptitsa all welcoming and greeting like loving" is the mother transformed into a wife who will in no way resist his advances; and the father, who earlier attempted to block his path, is now absent. To complete the circle, however, there is the baby boy, who, like F. Alexander, will be "another Alex" and bear Alex's other name, whatever that may be. This son will be F. Alexander's opposite in that he will represent Alex's past, whereas F. Alexander represented Alex's future. Alex perceives this even now, as he concedes in advance that he will be unable to prevent his son from making the very same mistakes that he made:

My son, my son. When I had my son I would explain all that to him when he was starry enough to like understand. But then I knew he would not understand or would not want to understand at all and would do all the veshches I had done … and I would not be able to really stop him.

Knowing the "veshches" or things his son will do, Alex also knows that he will be unable to prevent him from doing them, both the good and the evil. As his son grows up, Alex will behold his past being repeated, just as F. Alexander beheld his. Everything human is inevitable, Burgess seems to say, both the good and the evil.

But Alex's tale is still a story of liberation: he has escaped from not only the literal prison of Staja 84F but also the figurative prisons of adolescent boyhood and "clockwork" humanity. And the reader who recalls that "music is a figure of celestial bliss" will want to translate "liberation" as "salvation." But it is the individual capable of growth—the "'creature of growth and capable of sweetness,'" as F. Alexander puts it in his typescript—that has been liberated or saved, not the group, the tribe, or the species. When he is born, Alex's son will not be free or blissful. He will be doomed, rather, to live through the error of his father's ways. Here, then, is that final flowering of the logic of the novel's structure: after A, B; after B, A again. After the freedom of the mature Alex, the imprisonment of his son. Could Alex somehow liberate his son, the structure of A Clockwork Orange would surely have to be ABC, which would signify progress without repetition.

The da capo aria itself, if the reader chooses to think of either Alex or the heroine of Das Bettzeug as performing this sort of aria, represents the same lack of freedom: having sung A and B, the performer must sing A again. And it is precisely here that the meaning of this imaginary opera comes into clear focus. The surname of the composer, "Gitterfenster," is a German word best translated as "barred window," that is, the window of a prison. The heroine has sought presumably to escape this prison, whether literal or figurative, but, realizing that she can succeed only through suicide, has now taken that step: hence Alex's description, "it was the bit where she's snuffing it with her throat cut, and the slovos are 'Better like this maybe.'" She is, therefore, in the very same situation as Alex when F. Alexander's friends leave him in their locked flat with the music turned on: "I viddied what I had to do … and that was to do myself in, to snuff it." The window in this prison is not barred, however, because F. Alexander and his friends want Alex to jump: "the window in the room where I laid down was open." And they have even left behind a helpful hint in the form of a "malenky booklet which had an open window on the cover," proclaiming: "'Open the window to fresh air, fresh ideas, a new way of living.'" So Alex, saying in effect what the heroine said, goes to the window and jumps. And he succeeds, just as she may have, in achieving personal liberation—not through death, but rather through the return to life, or, to put the matter somewhat more accurately, by the return to normal life after the nonhuman existence of a "clockwork" man, which is merely another formulation of the sequence "freedom"-"imprisonment"-"freedom"; that is, ABA.

Robert Bowie (essay date December 1981)

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SOURCE: "Freedom and Art in A Clockwork Orange: Anthony Burgess and the Christian Premises of Dostoevsky," in Thought, Vol. LVI, No. 223, December, 1981, pp. 402-16.

[In the following essay, Bowie compares the thematic treatment of freedom and beauty in A Clockwork Orange and in works by Fyodor Dostoevsky.]

In 1961 Anthony Burgess interrupted his work on A Clockwork Orange and made a trip to the Soviet Union. Later he wrote a different novel, Honey for the Bears, based in part on his experiences in Leningrad, a novel that surely would never have been written if he had not made the trip. But there is also reason for asserting that without his knowledge of Russian language and literature Burgess would not have written A Clockwork Orange in the form it appeared. What comes to mind immediately is the "nadsat" language, based largely on Russian. But in this novel Burgess also develops a Christian theme that recalls one of the most important of nineteenth-century Russian philosophical writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Even certain scenes appear to be taken directly from Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov. Burgess does not choose to play upon Dostoevsky's style or attempt to draw exact parallels with numerous events in his works; but he does treat one of Dostoevsky's favorite themes, the theme of free choice, and he does use episodes that mirror important episodes in the great novels of the famous Russian. Burgess often suggests different answers to profound philosophical questions. While agreeing with Dostoevksy's Christian view of free choice, he seems also to be asking, "What is the standing of the Judaeo-Christian tradition in the modern world?" Indeed, Burgess has taken Dostoevksy's conclusions about the revolutionary possibilities of Christian doctrines and has submitted these conclusions to the test in a contemporary (or soon to be contemporary) society. My article attempts to explain Burgess' position on important moral, philosophical, and aesthetic issues by discussing what is simultaneously his agreement and disagreement with the most prominent Christian artist of nineteenth-century Russia.

                  I. Freedom

God is precisely because there is evil and suffering on earth; the existence of evil is proof that God exists. If the world were exclusively good and beneficent, then God would not be necessary, the world itself would already be god. God is because evil is. That means that God is because freedom is.

                           —Nikolai Berdyaev

The Weltanschauung of Dostoevsky

Anthony Burgess has written that "ultimately, it is very doubtful whether any novel, however trivial, can possess any vitality without an implied set of values derived from religion" [Times Literary Supplement, March 3, 1966]. Although the author apparently has abandoned some of the beliefs of his Catholic upbringing, there is no doubt that at least one of the religious messages expressed in A Clockwork Orange is Christian, expressly the Christian insistence that if man is to retain his humanity, he must be allowed to choose good or evil:

… the central theme is one that is very important, to me anyway. The idea of free will. This is not just half-baked existentialism, it's an old Catholic theme. Choice, choice is all that matters, and to impose the good is evil, to act evil is better than to have good imposed. [Anthony Burgess with Thomas Churchill, The Malahat Review, Vol. XVII, 1971].

Perhaps no writer in world literature has given a broader and more profound treatment to free will and its implications in regard to religion, crime, and social reform than Fyodor Dostoevsky. Beginning with Notes from the Underground and continuing throughout the famous novels of his mature period (Crime and Punishment, The Devils, The Adolescent, The Idiot, The Brothers Karamazov), he repeatedly emphasizes the necessity of choice. His argument refutes the most popular philosophical conceptions of his time (for the most part, ideas that still dominate our twentieth-century world)—positivism, utilitarianism, materialism, socialism. He argues with conviction that reliance on the scientific method leads nowhere since science depends on reason and people are perversely irrational creatures. He insists that the imposition of a supposedly rational order in which all men are to be made equal and to be brothers (socialism) is doomed to failure (because man will rebel against any artificial order that he has no choice in establishing) and is, in fact, the incarnation of the evil principle (since forcing man to be good rather than allowing him to choose good or evil leads to dehumanization). Above all, Dostoevsky sees the duality of the human spirit, the disturbing truth that man is good and evil simultaneously; he often dwells upon human perversity and irrationality:

… just what can one expect from man, a creature endowed with such strange qualities?… It's precisely his fantastical dreams, his horribly vulgar stupidity that he wishes to retain, simply to affirm to his very own self (as if that were so necessary) that people are still people, and not piano keys…. [Notes from the Underground, 1961; in a footnote, Bowie adds: "I have revised the MacAndrew translation based on examination of the Russian original."]

An examination of Burgess' philosophical position (as expressed in interviews, articles, works) reveals that his opinions are often identical to Dostoevsky's. Dostoevsky sees socialism and (rather unfairly, it seems) the Catholic Church as the greatest enemies of freedom—his Grand Inquisitor is a Catholic socialist. [In a footnote, Bowie adds: "Dostoevsky's hatred of Roman Catholicism is a complex issue, closely related to his nationalism, his veneration of Russian Orthodox Christianity, and his hatred and distrust of Western ideas. Attracted to ideals of utopian socialism in his youth, he rejected socialism completely after his prison experience; the great works of his mature years (beginning with Notes from the Underground) are full of vehement ridicule of all socialist principles."] While defending, in part, the spirit of Catholicism, Burgess suggests that the ancient heresy of Pelagius is the source of both gross materialism (represented by America) and a dehumanizing collectivism (represented by the Soviet Union). [In a footnote, Bowie elaborates: "The polemic carried on by St. Augustine against Pelagianism is at the heart of Burgess' literary art. It is an issue that he returns to almost obsessively in his treatment of human duality, free choice, and aesthetics."] The "ant-hill" or "Crystal Palace" (see Notes from the Underground) of socialism, so feared by Dostoevsky, is much closer to realization in the twentieth century. In his Clockwork Orange Burgess reveals that in the twenty-first century (or is it the late twentieth?) this ant-hill has spread to encompass all of the world. The only trace of the great Russian humanist tradition, of which Dostoevsky was a part, appears in the names of pop singers like "Jonny Zhivago" and "Goggly Gogol." The ideas against which much of Burgess' novel is aimed are, for the most part, the same ideas that Dostoevsky vehemently opposed a century ago. But perhaps the viewpoint expressed by the following question is even more pronounced in our time:

Is it not … a trifle absurd to ponder tortuous issues of mind and soul when daily it grows impossible to cope with external realities like pollution, famine, and overpopulation? Can we even talk of freedom or free will to states that have written them off as mere philosophical aberrations? [Robert Morris, The Consolations of Ambiguity, 1971]

The critic who wrote the above concludes that we must, nonetheless, continue to speak of freedom and free will, but many behavioral psychologists think not. B. F. Skinner has stated convincingly that it is about time we started doing something about saving our world, and that since this means changing the behavior of human beings, it's about time we started changing it. Burgess disagrees:

I recognize that the lesson is already becoming an old-fashioned one. B. F. Skinner, with his ability to believe that there is something beyond freedom and dignity, wants to see the death of autonomous man. He may or may not be right, but in terms of the Judaeo-Christian ethic that A Clockwork Orange tries to express, he is perpetrating a gross heresy. It seems to me in accordance with the tradition that Western man is not yet ready to jettison, that the area in which human choice is a possibility should be extended, even if one comes up against new angels with swords and banners emblazoned No. The wish to diminish free will is, I should think, the sin against the Holy Ghost. [The Listener, February 17, 1972]

Note the equivocation in the admission that Skinner "may or may not be right." In Burgess' Clockwork Testament (Ch. 7), however, all equivocation is absent in the portrayal of a behaviorist professor who is a travesty of Skinner. Here Burgess stands arms akimbo and spits in Skinner's direction (as Dostoevsky's Underground Man stands and spits in the direction of the Man of Reason). Just as the Underground Man compares man without free will to a piano key or organ stop, so Anthony Burgess considers man without free will a clockwork mechanism. But despite similarities in the viewpoints of Dostoevsky and Burgess, their conclusions are by no means identical; it is possible to interpret Clockwork Orange not only as a polemic with Skinner, but also as a polemic with Dostoevsky himself. As N. Berdyaev has written, there are two types of freedom for Dostoevsky, initial freedom and ultimate freedom; this conception of libertas minor and libertas major was posited by St. Augustine in his struggle against Pelagianism. The lower order of freedom involves man's freedom of choice on earth; the higher is a freedom in God that is not irrational like the lower order of freedom—it represents the ultimate rational freedom that transcends earthly irrationality [Nikolai Berdyaev, Mirosozertsanie Dostoevskogo, 1923]. The difference seems to be that while Dostoevsky believes this ultimate freedom may be attained through Christ, Burgess has his doubts. Both men are aware of a split in the human psyche, but Dostoevsky believes man's duality may be overcome through Christianity. Burgess, on the other hand, has professed a kind of Manichaeism, a belief that the world is temporarily controlled by "the wrong god," who prohibits man from resolving his duality. In The Wanting Seed he posits a cyclic theory of history; Pelagianism alternates with Augustinism. But probably what is most important is that both the "Pelphase" and the "Gusphase" are Manichean—the basic split remains, and no matter which phase is ascendant in The Wanting Seed, people are still being killed and eaten.

What is most difficult for Burgess to accept in Dostoevsky is the conviction that Christianity is the answer to problems that Burgess sees as having no ultimate earthly answer. Since the issue of free will and crime is treated most extensively in Crime and Punishment, Burgess has written a crime novel that in many ways is a modern retelling of that novel; he adds touches from other Dostoevsky works and treats ideas that run through all of Dostoevsky's mature literary production. Throughout A Clockwork Orange subtle hints of Dostoevsky are provided. [In a footnote, Bowie adds: "There are similar hints in the book that is a kind of companion work or introduction to Clockwork Orange, Honey for the Bears. In this novel one of Burgess' Russian characters remarks: 'As for Crime and Punishment, it was a crime to write it and it is a punishment to read it.'"] For example, the Russian word for criminal (prestupnik) is used several times (spelled "prestoopnik" in "nadsat" language); this recalls the Russian title of Crime and Punishment (Prestuplenie i nakazanie). The title is also suggested in a phrase mouthed by the Minister of the Interior, a phrase that alludes to what is about to be done to Alex (the brainwashing): "crime in the midst of punishment." Alex meets his "Marmeladov" ("a burbling old pyahnitsa or drunkie") in Part I, Ch. 2 just as Raskolnikov comes upon the original Marmeladov in Part I, Ch. 2 of Crime and Punishment, but the old drunk in Burgess' novel has none of the faith in God and the radiant vision of Christ's forgiveness that the original Marmeladov preaches. Note also that Sonya, the glorious symbol of true Christianity, Raskolnikov's guardian angel and salvation, has no counterpart in Clockwork Orange (but one of the girls whom Alex rapes in Part I is called Sonietta). The heroes' responses to their Marmeladovs are also instructive. Guided by the idealistic, compassionate side of his split personality, Raskolnikov helps out a man in distress, while Alex responds to his "Marmeladov" in the same way that he responds to many of his earthly "brothers"—with malicious violence.

The murder of the old woman also suggests a famous scene from Crime and Punishment. Raskolnikov, who feels as if he is on the way to his own execution as he walks toward the scene of the crime, must ascend a long staircase before reaching the apartment of his victim. Paradoxically, his crime comes immediately after a kind of ascent since it is the first step in his long struggle for salvation (the decisive step is taken when he finally repents at the end of the novel). Alex, on the other hand, descends a staircase to reach his victim, possibly since the murder he commits represents the decisive step in his descent toward loss of free will. On the way downstairs he sees a painting of Christ, who for him is simply "the holy bearded veck all nagoy hanging on a cross." Christ means nothing to Alex, whose most important idol, Beethoven ("Ludvig van"), is represented by a bust in the old woman's room below. The murder weapon is not an ax, as in Dostoevsky's novel, but a small statue of a thin girl. [In a footnote, Bowie adds: "One could conjecture that this statue, like Dostoevsky's Sonya, represents a kind of eternal feminine divine principle; it, like the bust of Beethoven, is related to the theme of art and beauty in connection with baseness and perversity."] Of central importance is the reaction of each protagonist to the crime he has committed, a reaction predictable from the character of each. Raskolnikov is always good and bad simultaneously—one side of his inner nature (reinforced by Sonya) is always drawing him toward Christ and repentance; his other side (represented by Svidrigailov) draws him toward pride and willful self-assertion, which represents a kind of death-in-life for Dostoevsky. One must keep in mind that Crime and Punishment, above all, is a novel about crime and contrition—Raskolnikov seems to have begun repenting even before he has committed the murder (see the famous dream about the mare being beaten to death in Part I, Ch. 5), and the "punishment" of the title is primarily the result of his guilt, a punishment from within. Alex, however, is most notable in that he is absolutely without guilt—in his contemporary retelling of the famous work Burgess has chosen a Svidrigailov for his hero, a perverted human being who is almost inhuman since he is incapable of feeling pity for anyone but himself. In a way Clockwork Orange is a book about crime without punishment, at least without the kind of inner moral suffering that Dostoevsky considers a prerequisite for salvation.

Like Dostoevsky, Burgess criticizes (obliquely) some of the most fashionable sociological ideas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Like Dostoevsky he believes that evil (and crime) is not the result of environment, of faulty social or political systems. Evil comes from within human beings, and blaming evil on society or on the inadequacies of politics simply furnishes rationalizations for criminals like Alex:

"… it was the adult world that could take the responsibility for this with their wars and bombs and nonsense … So we young innocent malchicks could take no blame. Right right right."

Dostoevsky would agree with Burgess that "the self," the essential humanity of man contains both good and evil and that the self must not be destroyed by social engineering in an attempt to program out the evil. As Alex says:

"… badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty."

Burgess' disagreement with Dostoevsky develops out of his belief that badness is inseparable from self—Dostoevsky spent his whole life forcing himself to believe that badness could be separated from self if human beings achieved libertas major through Christianity.

The triumph of evil is only potential in Dostoevsky since there are always characters like Sonya who demonstrate that people are capable of resisting evil. Dostoevsky sees reason as a delusion and advocates abandoning one's reason, as does Sonya, to accept the irrational truth of Christ. A century later Burgess reveals the triumph of evil in a world where human reason has been developed to such a degree that it has put men on the moon. Reason is ascendant but the human psyche is ruled by the beast, and Christianity no longer even seems relevant. A recurrent theme in Dostoevsky is what he saw as possibly life's most horrible perversity: torture of children, including sexual abuse of little girls. In Clockwork Orange this theme is given explicit treatment. Billyboy and his gang are raping a little girl when Alex appears, and Alex himself rapes two girls who "couldn't have been more than ten." Even more horrifying is the implication that episodes like these appear to be an everyday occurrence in the world of this novel. Christ might never have appeared on earth for all the evidence of his teachings in A Clockwork Orange. Raskolnikov ends up believing in Christ, but Alex's "Bog" is the God of wrath who appears, e.g., in the Old Testament book of Joshua. Raskolnikov finally accepts Christ; little Alex says he would have liked to have been in on the crucifixion ("I said I would like to have the old hammer and nails"). Nor is there any evidence of a Christian anywhere else in the book. Nearly everyone seems to live by the Old Testament aphorism "An eye for an eye" (the prison governor even quotes this aphorism). "You've made others suffer" [says Joe, the surrogate son, to Alex]. "It's only right you should suffer proper." The police are hardly distinguishable from criminals—they believe above all in punishment and vengeance, as do Alex's victims ("old Jack" and his consort, F. Alexander). No one turns the other cheek.

The principal spokesman for the Christian message of freedom is the prison chaplain ("charlie"):

"Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man."

"What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him? Deep and hard questions, little 6655321."

But as the humor of the above passages suggests (i. e., the use of a number as the vocative for Alex), this is no Father Zossima of The Brothers Karamazov, no spiritual guide who leads his young disciple toward heavenly salvation. The prison charlie, who is usually under the influence of alcohol, says he would protest against the reclamation treatment "were it expedient" and rationalizes what is about to happen: "And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good." Other "defenders of freedom" (F. Alexander and his political allies) do not even pretend to uphold Judaeo-Christian ethics. They resemble the atheistic revolutionaries of Dostoevsky's Devils in that they are willing to crush freedom in the name of freedom. F. Alexander goes from lofty thoughts on liberty to repression of the individual in one paragraph:

"There are great traditions of liberty to defend. I am no partisan man. Where I see the infamy I seek to erase it. Party names mean nothing. The tradition of liberty means all. The common people will let it go, oh yes. They will sell liberty for a quieter life. That is why they must be prodded, prodded—"

There is a pun here in the word "prod," which means "sell" in nadsat (from Russ. prodat'). The common people will sell liberty, but what F. Alexander is really doing is selling out the common man in the name of an abstract political freedom. Note that many different nationalities and ethnic groups seem to be represented in his political circle: Z. Dolin (Russian?), Something Something Rubenstein (Jewish?), D. B. da Silva (Italian or Portuguese?). This suggests that the suppression of real freedom in the name of freedom is in common practice throughout Western civilization.

The idea that most people will sell liberty for a quieter life recalls Ivan Karamazov's tale of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov (Part II, Book 5, Ch. 5). The Grand Inquisitor has decided to correct the work of Christ, to relieve the masses of their freedom since most men cannot bear the responsibility that goes with freedom. Christ, who craved faith freely given, refused to attract believers through miracle, mystery, and authority, but the Grand Inquisitor asserts that the great majority of people are too weak and base to live by the horribly difficult teachings of Christ. They are glad to sell their freedom since it means so much suffering. All they really want is to be led like sheep. The Grand Inquisitor reveals that in correcting Christ's work he is working for Satan but that this is justified since he has relieved the great majority of people of the unbearable responsibility Christ's teachings entail and has brought them earthly happiness. F. Alexander, that "defender of men," is a kind of Grand Inquisitor himself. [In a footnote, Bowie notes that "'Alexander' comes from the Greek alexandros—'defender of men,'" and adds: "The only defender of human freedom in A Clockwork Orange is, paradoxically, the perverted little Alex."] The other figure who may be based on Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor is the brainwasher Dr. Brodsky. Each of these men is interested in "correcting" the work of Christ in the name of the greater good for society. Therefore, neither the party of the government in power (for whom Brodsky works) nor the party of the opposition (for whom Alexander works) has any interest in preserving human freedom of choice, which Burgess and Dostoevsky consider paramount.

There are no true defenders of freedom or of Judaeo-Christian ethics in Clockwork Orange, and Burgess sometimes seems to be suggesting that there are few among the readers of his book. In his article on the film version Burgess challenges real Christians to observe the teachings of Christ by loving Alex, who is a human being like us all:

… his evil is a human evil, and we recognise in his deeds of aggression potentialities of our own—worked out for the noncriminal citizen in war, sectional injustice, domestic unkindness, armchair dreams. In three ways Alex is an exemplar of humanity: he is aggressive, he loves beauty, he is a language-user…. The point is that, if we are going to love mankind, we will have to love Alex as a not unrepresentative member of it. [The Listener, February 17, 1972]

If one assumes (as does S. E. Hyman) that "Alex always was a clockwork orange, a machine for mechanical violence far below the level of choice," one makes quite a strong argument but underemphasizes the Judaeo-Christian message of the book. [Stanley Edgar Hyman, "Afterword," to A Clockwork Orange, 1963; in a footnote, Bowie adds: "Hyman's argument is strong especially since a subtle conditioning is demonstrated in the behavior of Alex and nearly everyone else in his society even before he becomes totally conditioned by the 'reclamation treatment.' Behind all of Burgess' insistence on allowing free choice there lurks constantly the question: How much free choice do we really have?"] Burgess would say that the true believer in the Judaeo-Christian tradition must love even Dim. [In a footnote, Bowie explains: "There are hints that even the beastly Dim retains traces of humanity. See, e.g., his attitude of wonder as he contemplates the stars and universe."] But how many of us are capable of loving and forgiving Alex and Dim? If we assume, in accord with Judaeo-Christian principles, that Alex is not below the level of choice, how many of us would prefer to leave him with his free choice when we know that there is a good possibility he would freely choose to smash our skulls? "Deep and hard questions," as the prison charlie would say. Burgess makes it much more difficult for us than Dostoevsky, who at least shows the possibility of a solution to the problem. Burgess presents the dilemma and says we must accept it if human beings are to remain human. If we deny Alex's humanity, we deny the humanity of all persons. Alex is our brother, as his incessant "O my brothers" (addressed to the readers of the book) implies.

But then there is the question of just how much free choice man really has. One cannot help noticing how events occur with almost a predetermined inevitability in a book emphasizing free will. In the second and third parts of the novel Alex is fated to repeat nearly all of the events of the first part (but as victim rather than victimizer). Even the rape at "HOME" is mirrored by the symbolic rape of Alex through the reclamation treatment. (Note that Alex says "Bog help us all" just before the rape, and the prison charlie says "God help us all" just before the treatment begins.) There is another replay of the rape scene (with Alex on the receiving end) in this forced inoculation:

"What they did was to get four or five real bolshy white-coated bastards of under-vecks to hold me down on the bed, tolchocking me with grinny litsos close to mine, and then this nurse ptitsa said: 'You wicked naughty little devil, you,' while she jabbed my rooker with another syringe and squirted this stuff in real brutal and nasty."

Alex is beaten by the police and vomits just as earlier his "Marmeladov" had been beaten and vomited. "Old Jack" and his friends at the liberty take their vengeance upon him, and almost inevitably he returns HOME near the end of the book. The same discrepancy is there in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. Even before his crime it seems that Raskolnikov is almost destined to commit it and to escape so that he can spend the rest of the book on an inevitable path toward confession and redemption. (Note how one circumstance after another seems to be provided precisely so as to allow him to commit the murder and escape, despite a series of blunders that would normally mean the downfall of a criminal.) It seems paradoxical that God Himself could have a hand in murder, but events are arranged so as to suggest that the Spirit of the Universe leads Raskolnikov to commit the act as the first step toward suffering and eventual salvation. It is inevitable that the "free" Raskolnikov will confess—some transcendental force is guiding him in the right direction as he suffers through to expiation. It also seems as if Alex is destined to suffer the same pain that he has inflicted upon others—but his suffering, unlike Raskolnikov's, does not lead to contrition. It never occurs to Alex that perhaps he deserves what he is getting. Suffering does not lead to salvation; but maybe the charlie was right after all in his banal rationalization just before Alex's treatment began: "All may be well, who knows? God works in a mysterious way." It appears that the Deity may love little Alex in spite of his sins. At the height of his misery Alex calls out, "Oh, Bog in Heaven help me," and soon after this he recovers his ability to choose right or wrong. As God guides Raskolnikov to salvation so He guides little Alex back to free will.

If the artistic pattern of both these novels suggests an order that is too consistent to be anything but predetermined, where does this leave free will? Burgess would probably say that it leaves a free will that is limited, nonetheless extant. He is fond of quoting Hans Sachs from Wagner's Die Meistersinger: "Wir sind ein wenig frei" ("We are a little free"). Despite the difficulty of the whole question of free will vs. determinism, one must take a stand somewhere. Burgess decides that even if it is impossible to say exactly how much free will man possesses, "what little he seems to have is too precious to encroach on, however good the intentions of the encroacher may be" [The Listener, February 17, 1972]. Surely Dostoevsky would agree.

                  II. Beauty

The notion of beauty not only does not coincide with goodness, but rather is contrary to it; for the good most often coincides with victory over the passions, while beauty is at the root of our passions.

                                   —L. Tolstoy

What Is Art?

And what of the other god of Alex's life, "Ludvig van"? Is Burgess suggesting that the quandary resulting from free choice may be transcended by an apotheosis of the beautiful, of art? He is, but the transcendence cannot be overrated since beauty as perceived by man is ultimately dualistic. In suggesting this apotheosis of art Burgess is arguing against a viewpoint long held in Western culture, against the idea that virtue and beauty can be equated, that upon contact with the beautiful (art) one is imbued with the proper ethical attitudes. A comparison with Dostoevsky's Christian views on aesthetic experience is instructive. [In a footnote, Bowie comments: "I do not mean to imply that treatment of this issue in Clockwork Orange amounts to a direct polemic with Dostoevsky. It is an issue long debated in Western culture (e.g., in the Germanic tradition of Schiller, Kant, Goethe, Mann), but treatment of all the sources for the philosophic debate lies beyond the scope of my article."] Dostoevsky is well aware of the profound implications that a dualistic view of beauty holds, but, unlike Burgess, he prefers to seek a solution to the problem by narrowing his own definition of beauty while letting a character such as Dmitry Karamazov express the dualistic view. In a famous passage from The Brothers Karamazov Dmitry says:

"Beauty! I cannot bear the thought that a man who possesses even loftiness of spirit and great intelligence begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends up with the ideal of Sodom. What's still more terrible is that one with the ideal of Sodom already in his soul does not deny the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart is aflame with that ideal, verily, verily aflame, as in that time when he was young and innocent. No, man is broad, even too broad; I'd have him narrower. The devil himself doesn't even know what to make of it! What the mind sees as shameful is sheer beauty to the heart. Is it in Sodom that beauty is found? Believe me, Sodom is where it is found for the immense majority of people—did you know that secret or not? It's horrible that beauty is not only a terrible but also a mysterious thing. Satan and God are battling there and the field of battle is the hearts of men." [The Brothers Karamazov; in a footnote, Bowie notes that he has "revised the translation somewhat."]

In Dostoevsky's view the fact that man finds a kind of beauty in the ideal of Sodom (which is the ideal of sensuality) points to the tragic division between man's spiritual and carnal nature. For Dostoevsky there is only one true beauty, the absolute beauty of an ideal harmony to be found in acceptance of Christ: "to Dostoevsky it is not beauty that is ambivalent, but man who experiences two kinds of beauty"—not only the true, higher beauty, but also a low order of aesthetic sensation ('beauty in Sodom') which he calls beauty. Dostoevsky once viewed Hans Holbein's painting of the dead Christ and declared it devoid of beauty since it depicts an all-too-human corpse that looks as if it has already begun decomposing. Not only is it ugly, but it does not produce the right feelings in one who views it. "One's faith could be smashed by such a picture," he told his wife, but she also reports that the painting "so deeply impressed Fedya [Dostoevsky] that he pronounced Holbein a remarkable artist and poet" and was filled with "ecstasy" as he gazed at the painting [R. L. Jackson, Dostoevsky's Quest for Form, 1966]. Surely the artist in Dostoevsky knew intuitively that the question of whether there could be beauty in ugliness, in the evil and the monstrous, could not be answered so easily. But he preferred to make art and beauty a concomitant to ethics as do most other Russian (and not only Russian) writers. While agreeing with Dostoevsky that it is not beauty (art) itself that is ambivalent, but the very nature of man, Burgess, in A Clockwork Orange, takes the issue farther.

Brahms is said to have remarked in regard to Alex's god "Ludvig van": "Beethoven would have been a master criminal had he not possessed his genius for composing." This calls into question the view that art has an inherent connection with lofty civilizing principles. Indeed, little Alex demolishes the argument of art as civilizer:

"I had to have a smeck, though, thinking of what I've viddied once in one of these like articles on Modern Youth, about how Modern Youth would be better off if A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be like encouraged. Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles. Music always sort of sharpened me up, O my brothers, and made me like feel like old Bog himself, ready to make with the old donner and blitzen and have vecks and ptitsas creeching away in my ha ha power."

Alex, a great lover of classical music, has nothing but contempt for the trashy pop music enjoyed by most of his peers. But the joy that beautiful music arouses in him is akin not to any lofty joy connected with love and brotherhood; it is the animal joy of primal chaos connected with mindless sensuality and violence. Alex uses Beethoven's Ninth as an accompaniment to rape; in a state of ecstasy inspired by music he has visions of "vecks and ptitsas, both young and starry, lying on the ground screaming for mercy" as he grinds his boot in their faces. Music is all "gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh," and surely that is the key word—"flesh." For in Burgess' Manichean vision our world is a world in which the beautiful is inextricably bound to the fleshy, the sensual, to the animal side of human nature. As interpreted by human beings, the very essence of music is linked to sensuality and violence, and as long as man's nature is dual it must remain so linked. As Dr. Brodsky says: "Delimitation is always difficult. The world is one, life is one. The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence—the act of love, for instance; music, for instance." Dostoevsky would say that "delimitation" is excruciatingly difficult, but possible if human beings choose the way of Christ.

Can there be art and grace in violence itself? Alex loves the beauty of flowing blood (not his own, of course, but that of others) and sees his razor almost as an object of art: "… I for my own part had a fine starry horrorshow cutthroat britva which, at that time, I could flash and shine artistic." Dostoevsky would hold that this is a perversion of true beauty, but Burgess takes the always dangerous step of divorcing beauty from ethics. Although he would not agree with Skinner that there is something of value "beyond freedom and dignity," he seems close to agreeing with Nietzsche that there is something of value "beyond good and evil." Here is his Enderby's commentary on ethical and aesthetic good.

"Well, there are some stupid bastards who can't understand how the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp could go home after torturing Jews all day and then weep tears of joy at a Schubert symphony on the radio. They say: here's a man dedicated to evil capable of enjoying the good. But what the imbecilic sods don't realize is that there are two kinds of good—one is neutral, outside ethics, purely aesthetic. You get it in music or in a sunset if you like that sort of thing or in a grilled steak or in an apple. If God's good, if God exists that is, God's probably good in that way." [The Clockwork Testament]

Like the Nazi commandant little Alex seems to have experienced that higher, aesthetic good while simultaneously violating moral law. This is a controversial position for an author to take, not any more likely to be accepted by most people than the implication that little Alex must be left with his free will despite the likelihood that he will freely choose to subject his society to mayhem. Burgess makes an amoral divinity of art itself since art can provide "the rarest and most desirable of all human experiences," "the sense of direct contact with God, or the Ground of All Being, or whatever we wish to call Ultimate Reality" [Times Literary Supplement, March 3, 1966]. He goes on to say in the article containing this quotation that "if we require some foretaste of Ultimate Reality, and if we are neither specially favoured of God nor given to asceticism or narcotics, we had better see what we can get out of art." These views are related to Burgess' Manichean premise, his idea of life's discordant concord, with good and evil inextricably intertwined:

… there is something in the novelist's vocation which predisposes him to a kind of Manicheeism. What the religious novelist often seems to be saying is that evil is a kind of good, since it is an aspect of Ultimate Reality; though what he is really saying is that evil is more interesting to write about than good.

If one sees Alex's ecstasy through music as a prevision of Ultimate Reality, then the dubious triumph with which the American edition of the book ends is a double triumph—Alex is cured of the cure; he has regained not only his free will but also his ability to experience Ultimate Reality through art. But what about ethics? "Beethoven just wrote music," says Alex. "He did no harm to anyone." It is instructive to compare this statement to several lines from Burgess' "Epistle to the Reader," which concludes Napoleon Symphony. Alex, like Napoleon, "robs and rapes and lies and kills in fun," but the next line surely must be taken as grimly ironic: "And does no lasting harm to anyone." Behind both Alex and Napoleon "Another, bigger, hero is implied, Not comic and not tragic but divine,…" In both works the bigger hero is Beethoven, who represents a kind of artistic divinity, art as god. But does not his music do lasting harm if it inspires the violence of little Alex? Surely the sound similarity in the words "Ludvig van" and "Ludovico's Technique" is not coincidental—it suggests that Beethoven's music, which embodies lofty beauty, may also be the source of cruelty and suppression of freedom. Art, therefore, is dangerous; it inspires anti-social behavior and the most horrible perversity; it should be suppressed. Burgess answers this argument by burlesquing it in The Clockwork Testament. His Enderby denies obstreperously that art is to blame for any reprehensible human conduct. Original sin is the culprit, man's own duality. "You never take art for what it is," fulminates Enderby—"beauty, ultimate meaning, form for its own sake, self-subsisting, oh no. It's always got to be either sneered at or attacked as evil." It is difficult to argue with Enderby's position; but here, as in many of the controversial philosophical issues that Burgess treats, there seems to be some room for argument. Surely art is not to blame for evil, but if one begins by accepting original sin, by assuming that evil is inherent in at least one side of human nature, would it not be wise to suppress materials that stimulate the evil side? Of course the question is: After the suppression starts, where does it stop? Enderby is right in saying that once one assumes art leads to crime, nothing is safe. "Not even Shakespeare. Not even the Bible. Though the Bible's a lot of bloodthirsty balder-dash that ought to be kept out of people's hands." With the humorous contradiction of the last line the matter becomes somewhat clouded again, and we are left with a dilemma.

This dilemma is, in fact, characteristic since the essence of Burgess' art consists of contradiction, dissonance. Like Nietzsche, whose re-evaluation of values and morals seems to have influenced his treatment of beauty, Burgess asks, What is man if not "an incarnation of dissonance"? [Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872]. The dissonance is there again in the profound contradiction between philosophical ideas expressed in A Clockwork Orange. What appears to be a novel based on Christian premises (the defense of free will) simultaneously is a novel that (in its treatment of beauty) is thoroughly anti-Christian. When Beethoven is returned to Alex he not only begins enjoying once more his vision of Ultimate Reality—he also returns to his violent ways. Nothing is resolved. Unlike Dostoevsky, Burgess concludes that an irresolvable duality pervades human perception of the beautiful (art), but that, nonetheless, art, since it affords the only possible glimpse of Ultimate Reality, transcends earthly moral issues. The taint associated both with man's free choice and with his perception of the beautiful must be tolerated if we are to remain human and if we are to continue to seek ultimate answers. [In a final footnote, Bowie adds: "In this article I have confined myself to discussion of the American edition of A Clockwork Orange. The first British edition contains an extra chapter, never printed in any American edition. I prefer the book without this extra chapter, but a discussion of how the chapter changes the main focus of the novel would be the subject of a separate article."]

Anthony Burgess (essay date 26 March 1987)

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SOURCE: "Introduction: A Clockwork Orange Resucked," in Rolling Stone, No. 496, March 26, 1987, pp. 74, 76.

[In the following essay, which appeared as an introduction to the first publication of the last chapter of A Clockwork Orange in America, Burgess discusses the publication history of the twenty-first chapter and how its inclusion changes the meaning of the novel.]

I first published the novella A Clockwork Orange in 1962, which ought to be far enough in the past for it to be erased from the world's literary memory. It refuses to be erased, however, and for this the film version of the book, made by Stanley Kubrick, may be held chiefly responsible. I should myself be glad to disown it for various reasons, but this is not permitted. I receive mail from students who try to write theses about it and requests from Japanese dramaturges to turn it into a sort of no play. It seems likely to survive while other works of mine that I value more bite the dust. This is not an unusual experience for an artist. Rachmaninoff used to groan because he was known mainly for his Prelude in C-sharp Minor, which he wrote as a boy, while the works of his maturity never got into the programs. Kids cut their pianistic teeth on a minuet in G that Beethoven composed only so that he could detest it. I have to go on living with A Clockwork Orange, and this means I have a sort of authorial duty to it. I have a very special duty to it in the United States, and I had better now explain what this duty is.

Let me put the situation baldly. A Clockwork Orange has never been published entire in America. The book I wrote is divided into three sections of seven chapters each. Take out your pocket computer and you will find that these add up to a total of twenty-one chapters. The number twenty-one is the symbol of human maturity, or used to be, since at twenty-one you got the vote and assumed adult responsibility. Whatever its symbology, twenty-one was the number I started out with. Novelists of my stamp are interested in what is called arithmology, meaning that when they use a number, it has to mean something in human terms. The number of chapters is never entirely arbitrary. Just as a musical composer starts off with a vague image of bulk and duration, so a novelist beings with an image of length, and this image is expressed in the number of sections and the number of chapters into which the work will be disposed. Those twenty-one chapters were important to me.

But they were not important to my New York publisher. The book he brought out had only twenty chapters. He insisted on cutting out the twenty-first. I could, of course, have demurred at this and taken my book elsewhere, but it was considered that he was being charitable in accepting the work at all, and that all other New York, or Boston, publishers would kick out the manuscript on its dogear. I needed money back in 1961, even the pittance I was being offered as an advance, and if the condition of the book's acceptance was also its truncation—well, so be it. So there is a profound difference between A Clockwork Orange as Great Britain knows it and the somewhat slimmer volume that bears the same name in the United States of America.

Let us go further. The rest of the world was sold the book out of Great Britain, and so most versions—certainly the French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Russian, Hebrew, Rumanian and German translations—have the original twenty-one chapters. Now when Stanley Kubrick made his film—though he made it in England—he followed the American version and, so it seemed to his audiences outside America, ended the story somewhat prematurely. Audiences did not exactly clamor for their money back, but they wondered why Kubrick left out the denouement. People wrote to me about this—indeed much of my later life has been expended on Xeroxing statements of intention and the frustration of intention—while both Kubrick and my New York publisher coolly bask in the rewards of their misdemeanor. Life is, of course, terrible.

What happens in that twenty-first chapter? You now have the chance to find out. Briefly, my thuggish young protagonist grows up. He grows bored with violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive. Its dynamism has to find an outlet in smashing telephone kiosks, derailing trains, stealing cars and smashing them and, of course, in the much more satisfactory activity of destroying human beings. There comes a time, however, when violence is seen as juvenile and boring. It is the repartee of the stupid and ignorant. My young hoodlum comes to the revelation of the need to get something done in life: to marry, to beget children, to keep the orange of the world turning in the rookers of Bog, or hands of God, and perhaps even create something—music, say. After all, Mozart and Mendelssohn were composing deathless music in their teens, or nadsats, and all my hero was doing was razrezzing and giving the old in-out. It is with a kind of shame that this growing youth looks back on his devastating past. He wants a different kind of future.

There is no hint of this change of intention in the twentieth chapter. The boy is conditioned, then deconditioned, and he foresees with glee a resumption of the operation of free and violent will. "I was cured all right," he says, and so the American book ends. So the film ends too. The twenty-first chapter gives the novel the quality of genuine fiction, an art founded on the principle that human beings change. There is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters. Even trashy best sellers show people changing. When a fictional work fails to show change, when it merely indicates that human character is set, stony, unregenerable, then you are out of the field of the novel and into that of the fable or the allegory. The American or Kubrickian Orange is a fable; the British or international one is a novel.

But my New York publisher believed that my twenty-first chapter was a sellout. It was veddy veddy British, don't you know. It was bland and it showed a Pelagian unwillingness to accept that a human being could be a model of unregenerable evil. The Americans, he said in effect, were tougher than the British and could face up to reality. Soon they would be facing up to it in Vietnam. My book was Kennedyan and accepted the notion of moral progress. What was really wanted was a Nixonian book with no shred of optimism in it. Let us have evil prancing on the page and, up to the very last line, sneering in the face of all the inherited beliefs, Jewish, Christian, Moslem and Holy Roller, about people being able to make themselves better. Such a book would be sensational, and so it is. But I do not think it is a fair picture of human life.

I do not think so because, by definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State. It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil. The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate. Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities. This is what the television news is all about. Unfortunately there is so much original sin in us all that we find evil rather attractive. To devastate is easier and more spectacular than to create. We like to have the pants scared off us by visions of cosmic destruction. To sit down in a dull room and compose the Missa Solemnis or The Anatomy of Melancholy does not make headlines or news flashes. Unfortunately, my little squib of a book was found attractive to many because it was as odorous as a crateful of bad eggs with the miasma of original sin.

It seems priggish or Pollyannaish to deny that my intention in writing the work was to titillate the nastier propensities of my readers. My own healthy inheritance of original sin comes out in the book, and I enjoyed raping and ripping by proxy. It is the novelist's innate cowardice that makes him depute to imaginary personalities the sins that he is too cautious to commit for himself. But the book does also have a moral lesson, and it is the weary traditional one of the fundamental importance of moral choice. It is because this lesson sticks out like a sore thumb that I tend to disparage A Clockwork Orange as a work too didactic to be artistic. It is not the novelist's job to preach; it is his duty to show. I have shown enough, though the curtain of an invented lingo gets in the way—another aspect of my cowardice. Nadsat, a Russified version of English, was meant to muffle the raw response we expect from pornography. It turns the book into a linguistic adventure. People prefer the film because they are scared, rightly, of language.

I don't think I have to remind readers what the title means. Clockwork oranges don't exist, except in the speech of old Londoners. The image was a bizarre one, always used for a bizarre thing. "He's as queer as a clockwork orange" meant he was queer to the limit of queerness. It did not primarily denote homosexuality, though queer was the term used for a member of the inverted fraternity. Europeans who translated the title as Arancia a Orologeria, or Orange Mécanique could not understand its Cockney resonance, and they assumed that it meant a hand grenade, a cheaper kind of explosive pineapple. I mean it to stand for the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness.

Readers of the twenty-first chapter must decide for themselves whether it enhances the book they presumably know or is really a discardable limb. I meant the book to end in this way, but my aesthetic judgment may have been faulty. Writers are rarely their own best critics, nor are critics. "Quod scripsi scripsi," said Pontius Pilate when he made Jesus Christ the king of the Jews. "What I have written I have written." We can destroy what we have written but we cannot unwrite it. With what Dr. Johnson called frigid tranquillity, I leave what I wrote to the judgment of that .00000001 of the American population that cares about such things. Eat this sweetish segment or spit it out. You are free.

Anthony Burgess (essay date 31 May 1987)

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SOURCE: "Alex on Today's Youth: Creeching Golosses and Filthy Toofles!," in The New York Times Book Review, May 31, 1987, pp. 7, 18.

[In the following essay, which takes the form of an interview conducted by Burgess with Alex, the main character of A Clockwork Orange, Burgess examines Alex's personality by having him critique contemporary youth culture.]

This month W. W. Norton & Company published a new edition of A Clockwork Orange, including the 21st chapter, which had appeared in the British edition in 1962 but was dropped from the first American version. In that chapter, the teen-age thug Alex, who is the narrator, tires of violence and resolves to turn to a new way of life. Anthony Burgess has had a running argument with the publisher ever since about that chapter, and has expressed strong feelings about Stanley Kubrick's film, which followed the American version of the book. Now, to mark the 25th anniversary of the novel's publication, The Book Review asked Mr. Burgess to interview the mature Alex about today's youth. The author has always insisted that a reader of the novel will quickly comprehend Alex's peculiar language, which includes a number of words adapted from Russian. Since the interview is rather brief, however, a small glossary is provided here of terms the meaning of which might not be obvious from the context in which they are first used.

applesins oranges
bezoomny crazy
britva razor
chelloveck man
doomat think
dratsing fighting
drencrom a narcotic
golosses noises
govoreet talk
gromky loud
jeezny life
kneeg book
koopat buy
krovvy blood
malchick boy
mekansky mechanical
mir peace or the world
nagoy naked, stripped
nogas feet
nozh knife
platties clothes
plott body
pomnit understand
rookers arms
sdach change
sinny movie
skaz say
slooshy hear
slovar dictionary
slovo word
smeck laugh, ridicule
toofles sneakers
vellocet a narcotic
veshch thing
voina war
yahzick tongue, language

[Burgess]: Alex—if I may call you that—there's always been some doubt about your surname.

[Alex]: Never gave it, brother, to no manner of chelloveck. The gloopy shoot that put me in the sinny—Lubric or Public or some such like naz—he gave me like two, Alex Burgess and Alex Delarge. That's because of me govoreeting about being Alexander the Big. Then he forgets. Bad like editing. Call me Alex.

In 1962, when the book about you was published, you were a nadsat, teen-ager that is. Now you must be about 42 or 3 or 4. Settled down, finished with the ultraviolence. Raising a family. Pillar of society.

For you, little bratty, I am what I was. I am in a book and I do not sdacha. Fixed like, ah yes, forever and never, allmen.


Pick up the old slovar some time, my brother. Shonary, Angleruss.

Fixed forever and never, allmen, as you skaz. Eternal type of molodoy aggression. And yet there are changes. The youth, or molodoy, of the space age is not what it was in 1962.

That old kneeg was in the space age. In it there are chellovecks on the old Luna. It was like pathetic.


And pathetic too. The jeezny of all chellovecks is like pathetic and very pathetic. Because they are always the same. Because they are mekansky applesins. That being the Russ like naz of the kneeg written by Burgess or F. Alexander or whatever his naz is or was. And you would know what?

To put it plain, your opinion of youth today.

They are not like what I was. No, verily not. Because they have not one veshch in their gullivers. To Ludwig van and his like they give shooms of lipmusic prrrr. It is all with them guitars and creeching golosses. And their platties. It is all jeans and filthy toofles. And tisshuts.

What are tisshuts?

They are like worn on the upper plott and there is writing on them like HARVARD and CALIFORNIA and GIVE IT ME I WANT IT. Very gloopy. And they do not have one missal in their gullivers.

Meaning not one thought in their heads?

That is what I skazzed.

But they have many. They are against war and all for universal peace and banning nuclear missiles. They speak of love and human equality.

What they want they will not get. There will always be voina and no mir, like old Lion Trotsky or it may be Tolstoy was always govoreeting about. Chellovecks are all like very aggressive and do not sdach. The Russkies have a slovo for it, two really, and it is prirozhdyonnuiy grekh.

Let me consult my ah Angleruss slovar. Odna minuta—it says here original sin.

Real dobby. Original sin is good and very good.

The young say their elders have ruined the world, and when they are not trying to rebuild that ruined world with love and fellowship they withdraw from it with hallucinogens.

That is a hard slovo, O my brother.

I mean that they take drugs and are transported to heavenly regions of the inner mind.

Meaning that they are in touch with Bog and all his holy angels and the other veshches?

Not God, in whom most no longer believe. Though some of them follow the one you would call the bearded nagoy chelloveck who died on the Cross. Indeed, they grow beards and try to look like Him.

What I skaz is that these veshches, like drencrom and vellocet, are not good for a malchick. To doomat about Bog and to itty off into the land and burble about lubbilubbing every chelloveck has to sap all the goodness and strength out of a malchick.

Do you consider the youth of today to be more violent than the generation to which you belong?

Not more. Those that want deng or cutter to koopat their teeny malenky sniffs and snorts and jabs in the rooker must use the old ultraviolence to take and like grab. But such are not seelny, strong that is. The ultraviolence is less now of the molodoy than of terror by air and land, O my brother. Bombs and guns, they were not ever my own veshch. Very cowardly, for it is ultraviolence from a long long long like way off. Dratsing is not what it was. It was better in what they call like the Dark Ages before they put on the like lights. The old britva and the nozh. Rooker to rooker. Your own red red krovvy as well as the krovvy of the chelloveck you are dratsing. And then there was another veshch I do not pomnit the slovo of all that good.

Style, you mean style?

Style and again style. Style we had. And the red krovvy did not get onto your platties if you had style. For it was style of the nogas and the rookers and the plott, as it might be tansivatting.


That is the slovo that would not like come into my gulliver. The yahzick of the kvadrats I could never get my yahzick round.

Kvadrat means quadratic, doesn't it? And that means square. By using such terminology you give away your age. But let us return to this business of the music preferred by the young.

It is not music. It is gromky and bezoomny and like for little children. There is no music like Ludwig van and Benjy Britt and Felix M. and Wolfgang Amadeus. And what the molodoy of now slooshy is not music. And the slovos are like pathetic. What I say to these molodoy chellovecks is that they must like grow up. They must not smeck at what is gone behind. Because that is all we have.

You seem to me to be ah govoreeting about the preservation of the past. You seem to me also to be ah skazzing that artistic creation is a great good. And yet you ah jeezny was dedicated to destruction.

It was the bolshy great force of the jeezny that was in myself. I was molodoy, and none had taught me to make. So break was the veshch I had to do. But I get over it.

You get over it? Meaning you grow up?

There is no kneeg about me growing up. That is not writ by no matter of writing chelloveck. They viddy me as a very ultraviolent malchick and not more, ah no. To be young is to be nothing. That is why I skaz to the molodoy of now that they must not be as they are. What they have to do is to like grow up.

Can you transport yourself to the future, or rather your part in the future—which has not been written about and, I speak with some authority, never will be—and deliver a final message to the world?

In the yahzick of the mir at like large?

Yesli bi mozhno.

Your Russian is deplorable, but I take it you mean "if possible." Very well. I speak as a taxpaying adult. And I say that the only thing that counts is the human capacity for moral choice. No, I will not speak. I will sing. I will take Beethoven's setting of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in the final movement of the glorious Ninth, and I will put my own slovos, I mean words, to it:

        Being young's sort of sickness,
        Measles, mumps or chicken pox.
        Gather all your toys together,
        Lock them in a wooden box.
        That means tolchocks, crasting and dratsing,
        All of the things that suit a boy.
        When you build instead of busting,
        You can start your Ode to Joy.

Thank you, Mr. ah—

Bog blast you, I haven't finished.

       Do not be a clockwork orange,
       Freedom has a lovely voice.
       Here is good and there is badness,
       Look on both, then take your choice.
       Sweet in juice and hue and aroma,
       Let's not be changed to fruit machines.
       Choice is free but seldom easy—
       That's what human freedom means.

Gloopy sort of slovos, really. Grahzny sort of world. May I now, O my brother, return to the pages of my book?

You never left them.

Jean-Pierre Barricelli (essay date 1988)

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SOURCE: "Beethovenian Overlays by Carpentier and Burgess: The Ninth in Grotesque Juxtapositions," in Melopoiesis: Approaches to the Study of Literature and Music, New York University Press, 1988, pp. 140-54.

[Barricelli is an American fiction writer, critic, and educator. In the following excerpt, he argues that the use of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in A Clockwork Orange is arbitrary and inappropriate, "overlay[ing] with negative associations one of the supreme compositions in the musical repertory."]

[The] Ninth Symphony, with its lofty reputation, is not ipso facto always an object of celebration, and it continues to appear in grotesque contexts. With the author of A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, it is once more demythicized and overlayed with negative associations. Here again, the Ninth is treated, not as a work of art, but as a device in the novel whose dystopian vision centers around politics (the authoritarian socialism of future society), the media (thought control through technology), and morality (actually the immorality of the curtailment of freedom of choice). Carpentier's narrator thought he had found goodness in the jungle; Burgess, who replaces contrast with irony and seeming allegory with whimsical reality, sticks to the urban setting. At the end of The Wanting Seed, the question is asked: "Do you think people are fundamentally good?" The reply is grim: "Well … they now have a chance to ge good"—grim in light of A Clockwork Orange, where a conditioning process assures stability by eliminating freedom, and where the impossibility of distinguishing good from evil anymore in a totally mechanical environment results in "good" human zombies assembled like a clockwork. Like Carpentier, Burgess critiques the West, though less for its spiritual bankruptcy than for its idealistic faith in natural goodness. Free choice provokes anarchy, conditioning establishes control.

Carpentier's intellectually sophisticated language gives way to what has been called a Technico-Russo-Anglo "slanguage" called Nadsat, replete with neologisms to fit the society portrayed but also pleasantly rhythmical, indeed musical. The narrator Alex, after all, is a hoodlum who loves classical music, especially Beethoven, and his jargoned idiom, where neologisms act as dissonances, betrays a musical affinity. In the words of one critic, "It is hardly coincidental that Alex's favorite piece of music is Beethoven's Ninth, rich in dissonances that only the professional ear can detect, but filled also with as many untapped, infinite (so it seems) harmonies" [Robert K. Morris, The Consolations of Ambiguity, 1971]. As an example, I might single out one passage; after a successful "drasting" with his buddies, Alex writes:

When we got into the street I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and that the oomny ones use like inspiration and what Bog sends. For now it was lovely music that came to my aid. There was an auto ittying by and it had its radio on, and I could just slooshy a bar or so of Ludwig van (it was the Violin Concerto, last movement), and I viddied at once what to do.

Alex, a lad of fifteen, is "ultra-violent," and the music he loves primarily is German, a preference that combines artistic greatness with the naked horrors of two world wars. Carpentier would agree. His motto is antiestablishmentarian: Non serviam, or "Kiss-my-sharries." He and his gang of three masked "droogs" commit all kinds of atrocities, "drasting" and "tolchocking": more than robbery and theft, they beat up an old professor and a drunkard to a pulp, attack another gang with razors and chains, savagely kick a pair of lovers, invade a writer's "HOME" and rape his wife. After breaking into an elderly, cat-loving woman's house and knocking her unconscious, Alex is arrested; sent to jail, where he is number 6655321 and accidentally kills a homosexual inmate; and is turned over to Dr. Brodsky for a reclamation treatment called Ludovico's Technique: brainwashing through films and drug injections that cause Alex to become violently ill the moment he starts experiencing pleasure at violent thoughts. The chaplain has reservations about the treatment: "The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man…. It may be horrible to be good." But Alex sees this as the only way out of prison. He undergoes the cure and is declared cured, "ready to be crucified rather than crucify," by the doctors and state officials. Released, he is rejected by his parents; attacked by the old professor; rescued by his former "droogs" (now policemen), who beat him mercilessly for having previously beat up one of them during an argument; revisits "HOME", where the writer, a liberal out to "dislodge this overbearing government," at first recognizes him as a victim of that freedom-choking Ludovico Technique, later as the rapist who violated his wife—at which point he metes such excruciating punishment on the narrator through music that Alex attempts suicide by jumping out of a window. In the hospital he is restored to his former "ultra-violent" sex-maniacal self (the state is under pressure over its methods) and the Minister of the Interior makes a deal for his support in order to discredit the writer's political party. In one version of the novel, a final chapter (Chapter 21) [in an endnote about the significance of this number, Barricelli adds that Burgess places "Symbolic meaning in the number 7—the seven days of creation—… through his narrator's three sections, each of seven days"] has him mature to realize that "ultraviolence is a bit of a bore, and it's time he had a wife and a malensky googoogooing malchickiwick to call him dadada" [Anthony Burgess, quoted in Richard Matthews, The Clockwork Universe of Anthony Burgess, 1978].

In this gruesome fantasy, Beethoven plays a telling role, with a helping hand from Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel. For Alex, music is a salvation, "gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh," producing "a cage of silk around my bed," resembling "silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now": "Great Music … and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down to make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles. Music always sort of sharpened me up, O my brothers, and made me feel like old Bog himself." Therefore Alex, who strikes his friend for simply ridiculing a woman singing opera at the Korova Milkbar, retires to his room afterward and masturbates while listening to Beethoven. After beating and bloodying the writer's wife, and with feelings of violence racing through him in bed, he again experiences an orgasm listening to classical music:

I wanted something starry and strong and very firm, so it was J. S. Bach I had, the Brandenburg Concerto…. Listening to the Bach, I began to pony better what that meant now, and I thought, slooshying away to the brown gorgeousness of the starry German master, that I would like to have tolchoked them both harder and ripped them to ribbons on their own floor.

And in prison he is allowed to listen to the "holy music by J. S. Bach and G. F. Handel," even while reading the Bible: "While the stereo played bits of lovely Bach I closed my glazzies and viddied myself helping in and even taking charge of the tolchocking and the nailing in" [In an endnote, the critic adds: "The allusion is to Christ. Critics have brought out the sin-penance-resurrection analogy relating to the three parts of this complex novel"]. But his favorite composition is Beethoven's Ninth. He picks up two ten-year-old girls at the bar and rapes them, incited by the symphony:

Then I pulled the lovely Ninth out of its sleeve, so that Ludwig van was not nagoy too, and I set the needle hissing on to the last movement, which was all bliss. There it was then, the bass strings like govoreeting away from under my bed at the rest of the orchestra, and then the male human goloss coming in and telling them all to be joyful, and the lovely blissful tune all about Joy being a glorious spark like of heaven, and then I felt the old tigers leap in me and then I leapt on these two young ptitsas.

Alone later he falls asleep "with the old Joy Joy Joy crashing and howling away." Indeed, there is black humor as well as grotesque irony attached to this type of Beethovenian overlay, like that of the cat-loving woman who tries to protect herself against the invader wielding a bust of the master from Bonn, or like that of the dream he has of Beethoven, during which he hears a violence-ridden parody of the ode:

        Boy, thou uproarious shark of heaven,
          Slaughter of Elysium,
        Hearts on fire, aroused, enraptured,
          We will tolchock you on the rot and kick
            your grahzny vonny bum.

It dawns upon us at one point that in the name "Ludovico's Technique" Ludovico is really Ludwig, "Ludwig van" in Alex's parlance. When the narrator is subjected to the horrid state-sponsored rehabilitation process, complete with wires, drug, and film ("a very good like professional piece of sinny"), the background music turns out to be Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, which then produces such an abhorrence for this music which up to now has aroused his sexual violence (the old "in-out in-out"), that the revengeful writer conceives of locking him up in a room and having symphonic music piped in, a diabolical punishment of hypercruelty. Even Alex, now sixteen, begins to realize the degrading nature of what is taking place:

I don't mind about the ultra-violence and all that cal. I can put up with that. But it's not fair on the music. It's not fair I should feel ill when I'm slooshying lovely Ludwig van and G. F. Handel and others. All that shows you're an evil lot of bastards and I shall never forgive you, sods.

At the end, as part of the deal with the Minister of the "Inferior" and to make sure he has been returned to his original self with his "bloshy" musical ways, he asks to hear the Ninth Symphony (end of Chapter 20), and he is convinced in a manner Beethoven might not have appreciated:

Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cutthroat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.

As in Carpentier, this network of musical references may well provide a unifying factor in the novel, identifying the protagonist's individuality throughout, an individuality that in A Clockwork Orange threatens and in Los pasos perdidos opposes the status quo. But here, too, one must wonder about the suggestion, in the former work, that the mathematical music of Bach or, more pervasively, the lyrical and jubilant music of Beethoven, sparks even more violence than the hoodlum had in him originally. Similarly, one must wonder about the appropriateness, in the latter work, of associating the Ninth Symphony with violence after a token tribute to childhood memories. It is not enough to say that we are merely dealing with a whimsical selection, a convenient image, or an interesting device. For some reason, something about Beethoven—his titanic stature or what he represents in the cultural patrimony of the West—activates a devil's advocate's adrenalin in the authors of Los pasos perdidos and A Clockwork Orange. Grass reacted similarly toward St. Paul. To be sure, other works by Carpentier and Burgess, like El acoso and Napoleon Symphony, pay homage to the master, at least to the extent of their structural transpositions of the Third Symphony. But then again, look in passing at Richard Ennis in Burgess's A Vision of Battlements, who incites an antiaircraft unit to combative violence with words about this same master: "Beethoven was a musician…. He had absolutely no respect for authority…. He was independent, fearless, alone, no base crawler." We cannot overlook Dr. Brodsky's remark, either: the "sweetness and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence—… music, for instance." Hence Alex's unwittingly profound observation: "It was like as though to get better I had to get worse." Is it that in a clockwork, mechanical world good derives from bad like peace from violence—a restatement of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du mal or Giovanni Papini's Un uomo finito? Or that man has reached a hopeless impasse in his savage quest for improvement? But the existential messages of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoievsky, Pirandello, and Kafka have already been recorded. Carpentier's narrator hurts spiritually under authority; Burgess's challenges it physically. One feels like a Prometheus for a moment in the jungle but knows he is too weak to be one and that he will get worse before getting better; the other feels like a "fruit" who ultimately is that clockwork orange and that, if he has been made better for society, it is actually worse for society. Thus, we are left with paradoxes in the throes of a Manichaean dialectic: the Apollonian or the Dionysian, freedom of choice or submissive choicelessness, the authentic or the synthetic? More troublesome still, is either side of the equation possible today? If the culture of the Western city has not found fulfillment, is the alternative the primitive jungle? And if the promise of social governance has not matured, is lawless instinct the only avenue left? Answers to these questions are never clearly suggested. The ends of both novels are open-ended—indeed, unhealthy in light of their inconclusiveness. And it is the Ninth Symphony, incongruously, that shapes the contexts.

Yet the language of Beethoven's composition rings too lucidly with vitality and conviction to provide backdrops for such ambiguities and paradoxical modes. The overlays obfuscate the truth. As one critic has commented, "if the mode of a novel should say something about its meaning, or at least carry us forward so we may debate it, then we might have wished for a less open-ended conclusion, one that defined as well as disturbed" [Morris]. Without the definition, Beethoven is merely "used." In "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and the King Cobra," the poet Edgar Lee Masters sounds more convincing:

      Beethoven's soul stepped from darkness to brilliant light,
      From despair to the rapture of strength
      Overcoming the world.

John J. Stinson (essay date 1991)

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SOURCE: "Dystopias and Cacotopias," in Anthony Burgess Revisited, Twayne, 1991, pp. 47-63.

[Stinson is an educator and critic specializing in modern British literature who has spent many years studying the work of Burgess. In the following excerpt, he discusses themes and stylistic aspects of A Clockwork Orange, and comments on the history of the major critical issues involved with the novel.]

Any reasonably informed discussion of utopian and antiutopian fiction in our own century must soon involve the names of H. G. Wells and George Orwell. Wells, the cheerful apostle of rationalism, scientism, and technology, believed that the world's people, all basically benevolent by innate disposition, could, at some sufficient point of general enlightenment, produce a New Jerusalem on this earth. Wells believed, as Burgess writes in The Novel Now, that "there was no such thing as Original Sin; man was born free to build good—not to earn it or inherit it by divine grace. Wells believed that a Utopia was possible; he called himself a Utopiographer" [The Novel Now, 1967]. Burgess, of course, would call him a Pelagian. Burgess notes, correctly it would seem, that Wells "died a disappointed liberal." When we think of Orwell, we are apt to think of him as the exact antithesis of Wells: we remember the starkly brutal admonitory parable that is Nineteen Eighty-four. But Burgess is right again when, in an essay titled "After Ford," he notes that "Orwell exhibits the sickness of a disillusioned liberal." [But Do Blondes Prefer Gentleman?, 1986]. In The Novel Now, Burgess gravely delivers his own oft-repeated warning: "Liberalism breeds disappointment … Accept that man is imperfect, that good and evil exist, and you will not, like Wells, expect too much from him."…

The sheer memorability of A Clockwork Orange points to its successful achievement of the mythic dimension. Burgess, however, has frequently expressed slight chagrin that this is his best-known book, indicating his feeling that it is a didactic little book, and, elsewhere, that it "was very much a jeu de spleen when I wrote it" [Anthony Burgess with Thomas Churchill, Malahat Review, January, 1971]. He has grown wearied, and become annoyed, by questioners who, having in mind mostly the near notorious film version of Stanley Kubrick, seek to elicit his thoughts on the pornography of violence and his own presumed abdication of the artist's social responsibility. Discussions of the comparative merits of the British and American versions (the latter appearing, until 1987, without the last chapter) have also long ceased to hold any real interest for him. Burgess's ostensible disinterest (which is perhaps, genuine embarrassment) occurs despite, or maybe because of, the fact that this is the book that altered his career and profoundly affected his life.

The British (or, possibly, North American) society to which the reader is introduced at the beginning of the novel is dull, grey, and oppressive. Although the terms Pelagianism/Augustinianism are not used, it is apparent, employing Foxe's lesson in The Wanting Seed, that the society depicted is in a late Pelagian phase, like the one in the opening of that novel. All citizens not children, nor with child, nor ill, are compelled by state law to work. People live in "municipal flatblocks"; this night they have been instructed to tune into a "worldcast" on their tellies. The sought-after homogeneity of this engineered, perhaps one-world society, is thwarted only by the presence of teenage rebels who rule the night streets. The protagonist and our "humble narrator," fifteen-year-old Alex, is the foremost rebel of those we meet. The nadsat (teenage) language of Alex and his droogs (gang members) is one sharp indicator of their effort (a product, it would seem, of both instinct and will) to resist mindless standardization. In nadsat, in fact, "to rabbit" is to work, to do as Alex's pee and em (father and mother) do every day because they are like timid animals who run in circles and live in hutches, or, noting the probable Slavic (here Czech) etymology, they are robots. Animals or automatons, they are in either case dehumanized. Alex, seemingly depraved, is very human. On the axis of paradoxes like this, the novel turns.

Alex, killer, rapist, sadist, and maker of general mayhem at age fifteen, is, in fact, one of the mouthpieces for Burgess's own ideas. Addressing the reader about people's shocked dismay when confronted with manifestations of evil, he expresses a rather amazingly sophisticated anti-Pelagian view:

this biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don't go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? If lewdies are good that's because they like it, and I wouldn't ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history my brothers, the story of brave malensky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.

Burgess insists that Alex's actions, atrocious assaults and all, proceed from deliberate choices of his own free will. The question, "What's it going to be then, eh?," which opens all three parts of the novel and the last chapter as well, reinforces the idea that people are free to choose their own actions. Some readers have felt that Burgess has to shout this point at them because it goes against the evidence. Alex is, in their view, something very much like a robot programmed for violence, or if not quite that, a young man who acts out in disturbed fashion a universal need to assert life and independence in a tyrannously dull society. Their point is that whether he likes it or not, Alex's life has been heavily molded by his environment. If the environment were not so oppressively constrictive, Alex would not have the need to act out his rebellion so outrageously. Thus, environment has made Alex what he is, and it is the job of the behavioral psychologist to prescribe the means whereby emotional imbalances may be redressed. In insisting that Alex acts out of free choice, these readers maintain, Burgess has disregarded his own evidence. These are the readers, then, more inclined to accept the claims of Drs. Brodski, Branom, and cohorts to the effect that they are not doing something that goes against nature by conditioning Alex toward the good; rather, they are removing the "error" of some past conditioning that inclined Alex so heavily toward "the old ultra-violence." Actually, the freewill/determinism conflict in the work of Burgess, as in that of most writers, takes the reader down a dark, tricky, winding road.

Thematically, the behaviorists in the novel are portrayed as not particularly intelligent villains. Burgess's antibehaviorist stance in the novel is so pronounced that the print media have felt that Burgess cast himself as the béte noir of B. F. Skinner, thus virtually announcing himself as available on call to refute any proclamations of the renowned behaviorist about necessary abridgments of freedom and dignity. Burgess very unfairly stacks the deck against the behaviorists, say many who regard A Clockwork Orange as a thesis or philosophical novel. In the novel the behaviorists are pliant tools of a totalitarian state. They employ Ludovico's technique on Alex because the authorities need to get his type out of the prisons to accommodate hordes of political prisoners (the Interphase obviously having begun, liberal belief in basic goodness has apparently given way to sore disappointment because of the likes of Alex). The behavioral psychologists are seen as two-dimensional, uncultured shrinkers of the soul, clumsy in the application of procedures they themselves have devised. Dr. Brodsky says of music, "I know nothing about it myself. It's a useful emotional heightener, that's all I know." He is unconcerned that the radical aversive conditioning process—Ludovico's technique—has destroyed Alex's enjoyment of Beethoven along with his ability to carry out violence.

Burgess's short novel inclines toward the fable, and it is unreasonable to expect that its sociophilosophical ideas are argued with the concentrated weight and scrupulous fairness with which they would be argued in an academic treatise. Burgess's novel did, though, so memorably strike some decidedly contemporary chords that it provided a ready reference point for certain social issues that were seriously, and heatedly, debated in the real world. By the mid-1970s aversive conditioning was making headway in the U.S. penal system: some inmates were given shots of apomorphine, inducing violent vomiting and dry retching; others were given Anectine, which produces agonizing sensations of suffocation and drowning; sex offenders were given electric shocks to the groin. Such practices were generally successfully opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups as "cruel and unusual punishment"; A Clockwork Orange was almost always at least mentioned in media reports about litigation connected with this troubling but ethically complex issue.

A Clockwork Orange stayed in the news because of the currency and vigor of its ideas, but it is a significant work of literature for other reasons. Burgess employs black humor and the grotesque—two highly favored forms of the late sixties—more integrally, and therefore more successfully, than any other writer of the period with the possible exceptions of Joseph Heller and Günter Grass. What might be referred to as the "violent grotesque" is employed at the very outset as the demonically engaging Alex recounts for us, his "brothers," with relish and a delicious savoring of detail, how he and his "droogies" (gangmates) perpetrated various nightly horrors: an old man returning from the library is insulted and assaulted; his false teeth are ripped from his mouth and crunched by the stomps of the teens' heavy boots; heavy-ringed knuckles slam into the old man's bared gums until his mouth is a riot of red; he is stripped and kicked for good measure. This is only the very beginning of violence that exceeds that of de Sade in intensity if not imaginativeness. Storekeepers, husband and wife, are brutally beaten and robbed; a writer's wife (Mrs. F. Alexander) is savagely gang raped in her home and her husband is forced to watch helplessly; two barely pubescent girls of ten are raped; an old woman (the Cat Lady), a well-to-do recluse, meets her death trying to defend herself and her valuables during a robbery. All this—and more—is accomplished by Alex, Dim, Pete, and George on the two consecutive days that comprise part 1, eighty-four pages of the novel.

The high level of Burgess's black comic craft is testified to by his ability to make us approach the vicious assault of an old lady with something very much like mirth and excitement. Burgess writes in his introduction to the New American Edition that his "intention in writing the work was to titillate the nastier propensities of my readers." He might be thought almost to prove his theological (Augustinian) point by the success with which he carries out his intention. Readers come to have ambivalent feelings only when their moral reactions, linguistically stupefied into unwatchfulness, suddenly rouse themselves and come panting up indignantly. By the near-miracle of his craft, particularly by his linguistic inventiveness, Burgess has succeeded in temporarily making his readers one with the wantonly brutal young assaulters:

He [the old man returning from the library] looked a malenky bit poogly when he viddied the four of us … coming up so quiet and polite and smiling, but he said: "Yes? What is it?" in a very loud teacher-type goloss, as if he was trying to show us he wasn't poogly…. "You naughty old veck, you," I said, and then we began to filly about with him. Pete held his rookers and George sort of hooked his rot open for him and Dim yanked out his false zoobies, upper and lower. He threw these down on the pavement and then I treated them to the old boot-crush, though they were hard bastards like, being made of some new horrorshow plastic stuff. The old veck began to make sort of shumbling shooms—"wuf waf wof"—so Georgie let go of holding his goobers apart and just let him have one in the toothless rot with his ringy fist, and that made the old veck start moaning a lot then, then out comes the blood, my brothers, real beautiful. So all we did then was to pull his outer platties off, stripping him down to his vest and long underpants (very starry; Dim smecked his lead off near), and then Pete kicks him lovely in his pot, and we let him go.

What forestalls reader revulsion at this basically realistic scene of violence is distancing through the use of invented language. "It is as if we were trying to read about violence in a foreign language and finding its near-incomprehensibility getting in the way of a clear image," Burgess says in a New York Times piece [April 20, 1975]. The distinct teenage language serves also to reawaken the reader's awareness of the anarchic impulse of the teenager and the instinct to be one with the herd, to regard other groups just as "other," utterly alien, in no way like the self. The original (British; now "New American") ending emphasizes that Alex and his droogs should be seen first as teenagers before they are seen as all men. These teenagers have their own language, nadsat (the Russian word for teen), a language that the reader, seeing the words repeatedly in context, will soon assimilate. In the novel Dr. Branom explains to Dr. Brodsky its provenance: "Odd bits of rhyming slang …, a bit of gipsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration." Actually, gypsy elements are virtually indiscernible; Cockney influences are quite noticeable, but not too important; words of Russian origin are heavily present and Burgess adapts them, with marvelous felicity, to various purposes. A few of the Burgess words convey a sharp sensory vividness through onomatopoeic effect. For example, in gang warfare, Dim's most skillfully employed weapon is his "oozy," his "real horrorshow length of chain," twice round about his waist. As Geoffrey Aggeler remarks, a "bicycle chain …, its shiny coils shaken out along a sidewalk or whizzing through the night air, is so much more like an 'oozy' than a 'chain'" [Anthony Burgess: The Artist as Novelist, 1979]. Or, we might take the word "horrorshow" from the same sentence. A believable anglicization of the Russian word khorosho (good, well, excellent), it conforms to Alex's propensities exactly, for to him nothing is more excellent than "a bit of the old ultra-violence," his personally choreographed "horror shows" that he puts on nearly every night. The most important function of the language is the softening of the otherwise unbearably repulsive violence, but the violence itself is thematically integral. Not at all pornographic, the grotesque violence is the means by which Burgess attacks the failures of rationalism. While it has proved difficult to define the grotesque precisely, many commentators seem to agree that it frequently involves the sudden subversion of the apparent world of order and form by the shocking appearance of the absurd, purely irrational, or primally chaotic. Naïve liberals and rationalists willfully shut their eyes to primal discords, but they are forced open by the "horror shows" staged by a Hitler or an Alex. Frequently used as a means of exposing the naïveté of excessive rationalism, the grotesque is associated with Conrad's Kurtz, the liberal humanist who, in quick descent, comes to preside over "unspeakable rites"; and Golding's Piggy, the bespectacled emissary of rationalism whose precious brain is spilled grotesquely out on a rock. Alex is a producer of the grotesque, but Alex is in all of us, which is the point that Burgess most cleverly gets across as he disorients his readers just enough by the language to cause them vicariously to share the thrill of cruelty.

Alex (his name seemingly suggesting "without law") is more an extraordinary teenage rebel than he is Satan or even Dionysus (as Burgess's own ending makes clear), but he has a winsome effect on the reader because, in a world of pale neutrals, he has energy and commitment. (By contrast, Alex's parents "rabbit" every day at mindless jobs, stare vacuously each evening at insipid programs on the telly, and retire to bed, sleeping pills in their bloodstreams, lest they be awakened by the blast of Alex's stereo.) From the beginning we sympathize with Alex because he is, in his own words, "our faithful narrator" and "brother." This is an old novelistic trick, readers tending to sympathize with anyone, save a total monster, who continually tells them about his life and makes them vicariously share it. Then, too, Alex has wit, some intelligence, a love of classical music, his gift of pungent language, and a kind of artistry in his violence. We react with sympathy and pathos when Alex falls into the clutches of the state, particularly when it attempts "rehabilitation" by reducing him to a "clockwork orange." This term is explained by F. Alexander, Burgess's mock double and another ironic mouthpiece, a pompous sort who has just completed a flatulently styled tome titled A Clockwork Orange: "The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen."

Alex does become a clockwork orange temporarily when, in order to gain a much speedier release from prison, he assents to Ludovico's technique. The "therapy" consists of showing Alex atrocity films after he has been given a drug to induce pain and nausea. The association of violence and nausea incapacitates Alex from further violent action, any attempt instantaneously provoking literal wretchedness. Released, Alex finds himself quickly at the mercy of all those whom he had previously victimized. In a schematic plot framework almost parodically designed to show retributive justice in action, each of these victims pays back the now defenseless Alex. One of those who gets the satisfaction of a payback is F. Alexander, reputedly—and, in his own mind—an idealist and bastion of liberal values. His view of man had gone untested, however. An unsuspected part of himself powerfully leaps out when he discovers that Alex was one of the rapists responsible for his wife's death. Very much human, he is not above the philosophy of an eye for an eye. This is one of Burgess's "proofs" that evil is endemic in man, that it has always been there and always will be. Another proof is found in Alex's prison reading: the "big book," the Bible, in which he "read of these starry yahoodies tolchocking each other and then peeting their Hebrew vino and getting on to the bed with their wives' like handmaidens, real horrorshow."

Alex suffers greatly—emotionally, mentally, and even physically—as a result of the Ludovico "therapy." Burgess's point is clear, since, in fact, it is presented somewhat didactically through a third spokesman in the novel, the prison Charlie; but Burgess's expression of it outside the novel is even clearer: "What my and Kubrick's parable tries to state is that it is preferable to have a world of violence undertaken in full awareness—violence chosen as an act of will—than a world conditioned to be good or harmless" [New York Review of Books, April 16, 1972]. Not to be able to choose is not to be human. If evil were somehow to be eradicated, its opposite—goodness—would, having no meaning, cease to exist. "Life is sustained by the grinding opposition of moral entities," Burgess writes in the introduction to the New American Edition. In most discussions that the book has generated this prime thematic point has generally been agreed with. The expostulations of B. F. Skinner have, though, given some listeners serious pause. Basically (most notably in Beyond Freedom and Dignity), Skinner argues that the very survival of the race depends upon the surrender of some freedom, as that term has been historically understood. No Augustinian, Skinner also pleads that we examine carefully the operant conditioning that underlies people's choices to behave poorly. He has made clear that his strong preference is always for positive reinforcement rather than aversive techniques to correct maladaptive behavior. Burgess likes to make the point that evil exists, and must exist, as a part of the human self; he is fond of pointing out that "live" is "evil" spelled backwards.

The novel's ending has always been problematic. Burgess's last chapter, the twenty-first, was deleted from the first American edition (Norton, 1963) and all subsequent American editions until 1987, although this chapter appeared in the British (Heinemann) edition and most foreign translations from the very first (1962). Burgess maintains that Norton insisted on the excision; Norton maintains it was only suggested as an artistic improvement. Kubrick's boldly imaginative film version (1971), which spiralled the novel to far greater fame, ended as the American version did. Persuasive arguments can be made for the superiority of either version. The twentieth chapter (chapter 6 of part 3) ends as the government authorities, under strong pressure from politically aroused public opinion, reverse the effects of the aversive therapy by deep "hypnopaedia," restoring Alex to his old self—he "viddies" himself "carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva." Chapter 21—the famous deleted chapter—presents a mellowing, increasingly reflective, eighteen-year-old Alex who is coming to see that this previous violent behavior was childishly perverse. He thinks of marriage, stability, and the son he one day hopes to have. He contemplates explaining to his son all his own past crimes as an admonition, but then thinks that he "would not really be able to stop him [prevent his son from enacting similar crimes]. And nor would he be able to stop his own son."

The truncated ending, which leaves the reader with a stark presentation of unregenerate evil, surely carries more impact. Burgess's own ending, besides having just a whiff of sentimentality about it, is easily exposed to ridicule. Detractors might say that it reduces the novel to a spectacular but largely meaningless comment on those oh-so-difficult teenagers and their problems of adjustment. Burgess prefers his own ending, with his own worldview, his own "theology." The truncated version, closing with a view of unregenerate human evil, would be a more fitting conclusion for a William Golding novel. With his own ending, Burgess implies a more nearly equal tug from the Pelagian and Augustinian poles, proving once again that he is not quite an Augustinian, and that he is a believer in eternally recurrent cycles. He writes that the Norton editors believed in 1962 that the last chapter "was bland" and "showed a Pelagian unwillingness to accept that a human being could be a model of unregenerable evil." The truncated ("Augustinian") version, he says was "sensational," but not a "fair picture of human life." No matter what the reader's perspective, A Clockwork Orange provides a picture that remains painted on the walls of the mind near the place where the conscious and subconscious meet.

William Hutchings (essay date March 1991)

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SOURCE: "'What's It Going to Be Then, Eh?': The Stage Odyssey of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange," in Modern Drama, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, March, 1991, pp. 35-48.

[In the following essay, Hutchings discusses the stage adaptations of A Clockwork Orange, focusing on the two written by Burgess.]

Since its publication in 1962, A Clockwork Orange has remained Anthony Burgess's best-known and most controversial work, distinguished not only by his stylistic virtuosity in creating the polyglot, pun-riddled teenage slang in which the novel is written but also by the vividness of the violence-wracked dystopian society within which Alex, the book's narrator and protagonist, thrives. Yet even within the tradition of disaffected adolescent narrator/protagonist/anti-heroes—ranging from Huckleberry Finn to Holden Caulfield to Smith in Alan Sillitoe's The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner—Alex is decidedly an extreme and appalling case: the leader of a teenage gang, he is a thief, a mugger, a convicted murderer and rapist, who frankly and unrepentently describes even his most heinous deeds and dares to assert the essential humanity that he shares with the readers, whom he addresses repeatedly as "my brothers." Rife with theological implications about the Christian doctrine of free will, filled with anti-authoritarian and anti-behaviorist satire, and prophetically accurate about the urban violence that would ever-increasingly characterize subsequent decades, Burgess's novel is among the most prescient works of the postmodern era—and one of its most outrageous. With its clear agons, its moral conundrums, and the added advantage of its numerous and notorious scenes of sex and violence—which would particularly help to assure its box-office appeal—A Clockwork Orange was soon recognized as eminently adaptable for the screen and/or for the stage. Controversy has accompanied every version of the work that has been presented, and the various strategies used in the course of its transformations from page to screen to stage raise issues that are germane to all studies of such adaptations.


Anthony Burgess has long been dissatisfied with the truncated text of A Clockwork Orange that was published in the United States, which omitted the novel's final chapter and added an unauthorized and unnecessary glossary; the untruncated text remained unavailable in the United States until 1987. Stanley Kubrick's much-acclaimed 1971 film (with which Burgess was also highly displeased) was based on the American edition of the novel; Burgess did not write the screenplay, which was also separately published in 1971. Several years earlier, however, a quite different film of the novel had been planned, for which he was to prepare the script, as he recently disclosed:

… In … 1965 … the rock-group known as the Rolling Stones expressed an interest in the buying of the property and acting participation in a film version which I myself should write. There was not much money in the project, because the permissive age in which crude sex and cruder violence could be frankly presented had not yet begun…. The film … was not made. [A Clockwork Orange: A Play with Music, 1987]

Surely, Mick Jagger's portrayal of Alex with the other band members as the droogs must rank alongside the Beatles's unproduced film of Up Against It (from the script written by Joe Orton) as one of the most intriguing unmade films of the 1960s.

The first known stage adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was created by John Godber, produced at the Edinburgh Festival in 1980, and revived in "pub theatre" productions in 1982 and 1984; since Godber's unauthorized version has not been published, however, details of his adaptation must be gleaned from reviews. His most startling innovation is the use of a wheelchair-bound narrator, identified as Alex II, who observes the action from atop a black-box set of walls and raked floors, while another actor, playing Alex I, reenacts events from his earlier, violent life—though these were, in reviewer Christopher Hudson's view, "mimed too discreetly to be threatening" [Evening Standard, March 2, 1984]. At the end of the play, Alex II leaves his wheelchair, becoming an even more menacing presence; as reviewer Barney Bardsley remarks, "he swishes his truncheon in idle remembrance of those bruising, battering days"—an indication that Godber's adaptation, like Kubrick's, presented the truncated "American" ending of the novel rather than Burgess's own. "My unease with this production, [which is] so beautifully directed and executed," continued Bardsley, "is that it made of Alex not a despicable little shit—which he surely is—but a rather appealing folk hero" [City Lights, March 9, 1984].

In order to "stem the flow of amateur adaptations that [he had] heard about but never seen" (Play), Burgess completely reworked the novel into his own "authorized" dramatization, first published in 1987 as A Clockwork Orange: A Play With Music. While retaining many of the book's now-famous scenes and its invented "nadsat" teenage slang, Burgess's adaptation is surely no less controversial than Kubrick's own, since it not only restores the novel's "original" ending but adds a surprising final confrontation between Alex and a character resembling Kubrick himself. Designed as "a little play which any group may perform," Burgess's stage version requires only minimal props and offers few specifics about costume design; "this is not grand opera," he wryly remarked in its preface (Play).

In February 1990, a second, greatly expanded, and radically different "authorized" adaptation, known as A Clockwork Orange 2004, was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre in London; although Burgess is credited as the sole author in the published version, in a prefatory note he acknowledges that the play's director, Ron Daniels, gave "invaluable help with the adaptation" and may be presumed to have been responsible for many of the changes made between the two versions. With music provided by Bono and the Edge, A Clockwork Orange became—if not "grand opera"—at least what reviewer John Heilpern termed "a crypto-musical designed as a commercial blockbuster" [Vogue, June, 1990, p. 132], as the English-language adaptation of Les Misérables had become since its production by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985. It was, however, far less enthusiastically received.


Since the novel is divided into three parts containing seven chapters each, A Clockwork Orange would seem to be readily adaptable into a three-act play—depicting, respectively, Alex's experiences before, during, and after the prison incarceration during which he is subjected to the "Ludovico Technique," the behavioristic therapy that is designed to inculcate in him a pathological aversion to violence and/or evil. However, in each of Burgess's stage versions there are only two acts; the first ends with Alex's initial subjection to the mind-altering regimen, and the second begins as he completes his final session under the doctors' supervision. By thus eliding most of Alex's treatment, both stage versions avoid subjecting the audience to prolonged, basically repetitive depiction of the treatment whereby Alex is exposed to what one of his doctors describes as "a real show of horrors" (2004); at the director's discretion, a montage of scenes (or stills) from the brutal films that Alex is forced to watch may or may not be projected for viewing by the audience as they are described aloud by his doctors. Although their methodology is amply demonstrated in the first such session, and although the change in Alex's personality is apparent at the beginning of Act Two, the dramatic elision of his treatment by placing it between the acts may unintentionally undercut the fact that it constitutes no less a form of violence than the heinous acts that Alex perpetrates before being apprehended. Indeed, in terms of the novel's thematic structure, the acts of violence that are sanctioned, sponsored, and administered by the collective power of the state are inherently more ominous than Alex's individual acts of violence; the former are also no less dehumanizing for their victim, and, when considered dispassionately and objectively, no less horrifying.

The portrayal of the book's more violent scenes has long been a central issue in all adaptations of A Clockwork Orange, since an on-stage or on-screen enactment of a beating, murder, or rape is inherently different from its novelistic description in language, particularly Alex's "nadsat" slang which provides a certain distancing (and often comic) effect in the book. Stung by criticism that the book's violence is excessive and might incite such behavior among impressionable readers—fears that were even more widely (and loudly) voiced after the release of Kubrick's film—Burgess sought to minimalize the violence in his initial stage adaptation, wherein stage directions are reduced to a minimum. Thus, for example, in the confrontation between Alex's droogs and the rival gang headed by Billy-boy, the stage direction indicates only that

The knives and bicycle chains come out…. There is now a fight, very exactly choreographed to music. DIM is the most vigorous but least stylish of the four droogs. The gang of BILLYBOY limps off, slashed, bloody. (Play)

With appropriate choreography, such a scene could easily become as balletic as that between the Sharks and the Jets in West Side Story (1957), on which it may in fact have been modeled; although much is left to the director's discretion, the scene's stylization and the presence of the music (as in the film) mitigate its realism. In the 1990 version, however, the music is removed, the stage directions are more specific, and the violence is more graphic:

The knives and bicycle chains come out…. There is now a fight…. DIM is the most vigorous but least stylish of the four droogs. Dancing about with his razor, ALEX slashes. Blood pours down either side of BILLYBOY'S face, while LEO, his number one, blinded by DIM's chain, howls and crawls about like an animal. Police sirens are heard. The droogs scatter. (2004)

Even when portrayed this directly, however, such violence seems tame in comparison to that in other contemporary plays (e.g., those of Edward Bond) or in modern productions of Macbeth or Titus Andronicus (among many others), and in countless films that have been marketed primarily on the basis of their state-of-the-art special effects and ever-more-graphic mayhem, cruelty, mutilation, and gore.

Whereas such depictions of violence have long since surpassed anything in any version of A Clockwork Orange, the film's notorious scene in which the writer F. Alexander is accosted, beaten, bound, and forced to watch while his wife is raped has retained its notoriety as a landmark in cinematic sadism; in the film, notoriously, the scene is choreographed to the tune of "Singin' in the Rain." Each of the three stage adaptations adopts a different strategy in depicting this crucial scene, however. In Godber's work, presumably, it was among the incidents from Alex's past that were (however unconvincingly) mimed; in Burgess's 1987 version, the scene was moved off-stage entirely, and the initial assault occurred in the street rather than in their home (where it takes place in the novel, the film, and the subsequently revised version). With surprising coyness, Burgess demurs even at using the word "rape" in his stage directions in his 1987 text and intends to have the action conveyed solely through music: after "having their mouths stuffed by the balled-up manuscript … the man is left for near-dead on the ground while the wife is, God help her, prepared for—" [sic], an act so unspeakable that its name is unspoken even in the playwright's stage directions. The "preparation" (the nature of which is also unspecified) is to be accompanied by "the melody of the second movement of Beethoven's Sonata Pathétique" as the droogs sing about loving "the old in-out"; as "the lights dim as they take the struggling girl off," the music becomes more "manic" before it post-coitally "dies away" (Play). Yet, however much Kubrick's rendition of the scene exploits its violence and prurience (particularly in its use of close-ups as Alex cuts to shreds the woman's red jumpsuit before the rape itself occurs), Burgess's 1987 version seems too drastic in its remedy, undercutting the incident's inherent horror by reducing it to an unseen act in an unspecified off-stage elsewhere. Although ample precedents for off-stage violence abound from classical times onward, and although musical alarums can denote scenes of struggle of whatever kind, the omission of such scenes from A Clockwork Orange would seem inevitably to mitigate a work to which violence is literally (and physically) integral.

Accordingly, in the 1990 version, the rape scene was returned both to the stage and to the home of F. Alexander, where it occurred in the novel. Wearing a Disraeli mask (while his droogs sport masks of P.B. Shelley, Elvis Presley, and Henry VIII), Alex orders Dim to "grab hold of this veck here [F. Alexander] so that he can viddy all"; then, following a gratuitous "Bog [God] help us all," Alex/Disraeli "untrusses and plunges" as F. Alexander "howls in rage." However, the stage directions then specify that, "suddenly unmasking," Alex resumes his role as on-stage narrator, directly addressing the audience:

Then after me it was right old Dim should have his turn, then Pete and Georgie had theirs. Then there was like quiet, and we were full of like hate, so we smashed what there was left to be smashed. The writer veck and his zheena were not really there, bloody and torn and making noises. But they'd live. (2004)

In "suddenly" removing the mask and resuming his role as narrator (surely a unique redefinition of coitus interruptus), Alex in effect distances himself from the action by mediating it through language, reliably but briefly reporting events that remain unseen, though their nature has been unmistakably demonstrated on stage. In so doing, he maintains the distinction between the minacious, antisocial Alex-who-acts (Alex I in Godber's version) and the forthright, confiding, post-reformation Alex-who-narrates (Godber's Alex II).

The fact that Alex's narrative voice pervades the novel provides an inevitable problem for all of the various adapters of A Clockwork Orange—and one that they have attempted to resolve in a variety of ways. Because it is immediately recognizable with its pervasive nadsat slang, it is perhaps the most distinctive "voice-print" in modern literature—the unique and idiosyncratic product of his particular sensibility, cunning but confiding, minacious but oddly meliorative, inherently asking the reader to understand if not condone; he addresses the reader repeatedly as "brother," with the fervor and insidiously affective intent of a reformed sinner at a religious revival meeting, while remaining wholly and sincerely unrepentent. Paradoxically, it creates within the novel a sort of "alienation effect," distancing the reader from even his most horrific exploits, rendering them less "alienating" than a realistic (i.e., ostensibly objective) third-person description of the same events would be. Most importantly, however, it is both adolescent and postadolescent at the same time. Alex's bravado and brio epitomize the hormone-charged sensibility of many fifteen-year-old males: aggressive, heedless, headstrong, and combative but occasionally physically awkward in the presence of his elders (slipping and sliding in saucers of milk while assaulting the cat-owning elderly lady), unconcerned about the consequences and implications of his rash but immediately gratifying actions, and insensitive to whatever discomfort he causes others, whether inadvertently or by design. Yet, notwithstanding its narrative immediacy, Alex's apologia pro vita sua is in fact a retrospective account of events; it is recounted by a postcorrective, reconditioned and deconditioned Alex who uses the past tense throughout in describing his former self (or, more precisely, selves). In the twenty-first chapter, he has not only assumed all the postadolescent respectability that lawfully gained income from a worthwhile job can convey, but he also looks forward to assuming the domestic (and ostensibly domesticating) responsibilities of a home, a wife, and a child. The dual narrative perspective of adolescent and postadolescent sensibilities, both of which are integral to the novel, has been notoriously difficult for the various adapters to sustain.

Whereas Godber presented Alex-who-acts and Alex-who-narrates as two separate characters, with the latter being inexplicably wheelchair-bound, and whereas Kubrick utilized a voiceover in the film, Burgess attempted to dispense with Alex's narrative function almost entirely in the 1987 version of the play. Apart from a song in which the phrase "my brothers" may be addressed either to the audience or his droogs (Play), Alex speaks directly to the audience only twice in this adaptation: immediately before jumping out the window in his suicide attempt ("Goodbye. May Bog forgive you for a ruined jeezny" [Play]) and at the very end of the play, in a speech that is taken from the novel's final paragraph. The remainder of Alex's lines are skillfully reworked into dialogue with other characters, though this version of the play reduces the novel to a too-small number of vignettes. The number of scenes from the novel has been greatly increased in the 1990 version, however, and Alex's narrative function has been restored, beginning with the play's opening lines. Whereas Burgess's previous adaptation had begun with a droog's aria "freely adapting the Scherzo of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony" (Play), the later stage version omits the novel's famous opening line, "'What's it going to be then, eh?'" and begins instead with the book's second sentence, "That ['There' in the novel] was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim …" (2004). While the 1990 version is thus the most faithful to the book in sustaining Alex's narrative tone and function, its retention led the critic for Sight and Sound to charge that the book had been "incompletely dramatised" [Philip French, Spring, 1990].

Another significant change between the 1987 and 1990 stage adaptations involves the play's use of the theatrical space, which is more flexible in the earlier version—particularly as it is suddenly redefined in the scene in which the Chaplain's sermon is addressed directly to the audience, "which we must imagine is a group of prisoners in the prison chapel" as wardens watch carefully over them, occasionally "shout[ing] threats and objurgations into the audience" (Play). In the 1990 version, however, the sermon is presented to an on-stage audience of prisoners and not directed at the theatregoers (2004).

A more remarkable change between the two stage adaptations involves the on-stage depiction of a second murder for which Alex gets blamed—the death of one of his prison cellmates. Given the name Pedofil in the play, he is one of the unnamed characters referred to in the novel as "two like queer ones who both took a fancy to me, and one of them made a jump on to my back, and I had a real nasty bit of drasting with him," though he is not murdered as Pedofil is in both of Burgess's stage adaptations. Surprisingly, however, in the 1987 version Alex is almost an innocent bystander: during the fatal beating that Pedofil receives, Alex is "comparatively unviolent," according to the stage directions (Play), though the other inmates subsequently blame him rather than the actual perpetrator, Jojohn. In the 1990 version, however, as in the novel, Alex is in fact guilty, reacting violently against being sexually assaulted by his fellow prisoner in the middle of the night; the stage directions indicate that he "joyously cracks at" Pedofil, "fists him all over," and "gives him a final kick" (2004)—all of which, of course, Alex's own victim was prevented from doing when he raped her. Nevertheless, Burgess's purpose in twice reworking this relatively brief and minor scene from the novel and increasingly developing this second murder remains unclear; whether or not Alex is an active participant, the violent deeds that he has already perpetrated have surely established those aspects of his personality, and the scene (which Kubrick omitted from the film) seems not only expendable but stereotypical, even if it does provide a certain role reversal in which Alex the sexual victimizer is himself victimized (though he seems to learn nothing from the new perspective). The stereotyping is particularly evident in Burgess's depiction of a character identified only as "the Big Jew," a lisping felon whom Pedofil refers to as "yid" and whose dialect—e.g., "Yeth, yeth, boyth, that'th fair" (2004)—pointlessly resurrects the sort of deplorable caricatures whose popularity should presumably have waned several generations ago.

A particular problem in devising the stage adaptations has been how to create the visual images of a future dystopian state without reduplicating the images from the film that Burgess deplores—images that are among the most widely known and readily recognizable in modern cinema. Probably as a result of budgetary constraints and the circumstances of its production in pub theatres, Godber's version used a minimalist black set, allowing the audience members' imaginations to fill in the details however they liked; similarly, Burgess's 1987 adaptation gives few details about the set. Thus, like both the novel and the film, Burgess's play opens in the Korova Milk Bar—though its interior is as undescribed in his script as it is in the novel. Only a neon-lit window-sign, featuring the word MOLOKO written backwards in Cyrillic letters, designates the locale in the play. The startling decor that Kubrick devised for the film—with its nude female bodies contorted into tables and adapted into mechanical beverage dispensers with drug-laden milk squirting from their nipples on demand—is conspicuously absent from the stage, if not from the viewers' minds. For the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, designer Richard Hudson created a basic set that the reviewer for Plays and Players described as "similar to a red-painted interior of a gasometer" which, in the Korova Milk Bar scene, was

augmented by a huge white milk bottle protruding through the wall, and adorned with various frenetic dancers and glazed weirdos stoned on spiked milk…. The milk bottle is the first of a series of outsize white objects, somehow clinical as well as phallic, which project through the main set. They act as symbols for the brutality of this future world and also the unremitting male focus of the play. [Nick Curtis, April, 1990]

Other familiar scenes from the film and the novel have been similarly modified in Burgess's adaptations for the stage. The scene in which Alex intrudes into the home of the woman whom he inadvertently murders lacks the enormous phallic objet d'art that he wields against her in the film, and the cats (missing in the 1987 version) were restored to the scene in 1990. In the earlier adaptation, P.R. Deltoid, Alex's probation officer, encounters and counsels him in the Milk Bar rather than in the home of his parents, and there is none of the gratuitous homosexual groping that was added in the film. Even the costume design in the play countervenes that of the film; Alex and the droogs dress primarily in black in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, whereas they wear white jumpsuits in the film. [In an endnote, Hutchings comments: "Although Burgess clearly wishes to distance himself as much as possible from Kubrick's film, the publishers of his stage adaptations clearly have no such interest; the virtually identical graphic design used on the covers of both books is clearly derived from the film logo. Each features a drawing of a rather sinister face that is remarkably like Malcolm McDowell's [Kubrick's Alex], adorned with one false eyelash (a detail from the film that is not mentioned in the novel). The plays' covers show Alex's face within a white triangle with its point downward; in the film logo McDowell is seen within (or emerging from) a black triangle with its point upward."]

Alex's self-justification in the stage version includes a plea that his misbehavior is an expression of a Blakean Orc-like adolescent energy that is allowed no other means of release in the society of his day:

        Energy's something built into a boy,
        But neither the church nor the state
        Has taught us how to create,
        So we've got to use energy to destroy.
        Destruction's our ode to joy.
                                           (Play; 2004)

Emphatically, Burgess asserts in the 1987 preface that "Alex the hero speaks for me when he says in effect that destruction is a substitute for creation, and that the energy of youth has to be expressed through aggression because it has not yet been able to subdue itself through creation" (Play).

As the second act begins, Alex is in the final stages of his treatment, still strapped into the chair but screaming in protest against the desecration of Beethoven's music, which is to the scientists "a convenient heightener of emotion, no more" (Play). As in Kubrick's film, the extent of Alex's rehabilitation is demonstrated in a series of confrontations, first with a comedian whose boots he is made to lick, and then with "a most beautiful GIRL, near nude"—toward whom his lust is so suppressed that he can offer only the worship of a "true knight" seeking to be her "helper and protector from the wicked like world" (Play), to which he is himself subsequently returned. Repudiated by his parents, displaced in their affections by Joe the lodger, Alex is left alone and unable to commit suicide, the impulse towards which sickens him as yet another violent act. He soon encounters his former droogs, finding that all three have become policemen who beat him "balletically, to the Scherzo of [Beethoven's] Ninth," though "the lights dim before we can see the worst of it" (Play)—unlike the film's brutally explicit scene at an outdoor water trough. The lights rise on the interior of the writer F. Alexander's apartment where, on the morning after an initially cordial welcome, Alex is tormented from his sleep by the music of the Ninth Symphony and leaps out the window. In the next scene, as Alex sleeps in a hospital bed, a doctor discloses that the physical trauma of the fall may have undone his earlier conditioning—a fact that is soon confirmed through psychological free-association tests. His cure is announced by the government's Minister of the Interior, who presents him with a large stereo system—and Alex agrees that, in the last words of the final chapter of the truncated American edition of the novel, he is "cured all right" (Play, 2004).

"The scene ends, but not the play," Burgess remarks at this point in the stage directions of the 1987 version (Play); there follows a scene which recapitulates the final chapter of the novel in its British edition, made available in the U.S. for the first time in Rolling Stone in March 1987 and subsequently in an unexpurgated edition of the novel for the American audience. In this final scene and chapter, a "visibly older" Alex finds the company of his three new droogs unsatisfying, his taste for the old ultraviolence having simply been outgrown. More conservatively dressed, rather than at the height of nadsat fashion that he wore before (and, in the novel, sentimentally carrying a newspaper photo of an infant in his wallet), Alex takes a job at the State Music Archives cataloguing recordings of classical music. He looks forward to marriage, a happy home life, and a son of his own—a prototypical respectability that is carried even further in the novel when he encounters Pete, one of his former droogs, who has recently married and settled down to a life of "little parties … mostly wine-cup[s] and word-games … very nice, very pleasant," becoming in effect a protoyuppie in a work written two decades before the word was coined. Alex's former life of "crasting and tolchocking" was, it seems, simply to be outgrown, since "Being young's a sort of sickness/[Like] Measles, mumps or chicken pox" (Play).

The 1987 version also contains a surprisingly personal coda that was cut from the 1990 adaptation. In Burgess's initial script, he specifies that at the end of the play the entire cast should reassemble on stage, "friendly as at a party while ALEX comes downstage and speaks to the audience" before joining the entire company in delivering the blatantly (and banally) didactic moral-to-the-story, sung to the tune of the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth:

        Do not be a clockwork orange,
        Freedom has a lovely voice,
        Here is good, and there is evil—
        Look on both, then take your choice.

The stage directions specify that during this song the cast is to be joined by "a man bearded like Stanley Kubrick [who] comes on playing, in exquisite counterpoint, 'Singin' in the Rain' on a trumpet. He is kicked off the stage" as the play ends (Play). Apart from its final fillip of violence, this scene exactly recapitulates the closing moments of Lindsay Anderson's film O Lucky Man! (1973)—which, like Kubrick's version of A Clockwork Orange, starred Malcolm McDowell. In Anderson's final sequence, the entire cast is shown joyously dancing at the cast party, joined in celebration by Anderson himself. Burgess's final scene is not only a final rebuke to Kubrick but a deft homage, perhaps, to Anderson's densely intertextual film, which was based on an original idea by Malcolm McDowell and is partly autobiographical. In the most obvious of the scenes that allude to A Clockwork Orange, an "old drunk tramp" and his derelict cohorts (i.e., geriatric droogs) take revenge on McDowell's character Mick Travis when he is himself "down and out" in London and attempts to appeal to the downtrodden using Alex's favorite term, "brothers." [In an endnote, Hutchings continues: "In The Clockwork Testament, Or Enderby's End (1974) Burgess makes similarly intertextual allusions in assessing the problems—and the disastrous consequences—of adapting a linguistically innovative text into cinematic form; obviously, he is satirizing the problems by which he found himself beset after the release of Kubrick's film. In this novel, the dyspeptic writer Enderby finds himself beleaguered by members of the public who were outraged over a film version of Gerard Manley Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland which he had once suggested to a Hollywood producer but for which he did not write the final script. Apart from the title, very little of Hopkins's work survived after having been given the typical 'Hollywood treatment': its religious and intellectual content was decimated (since such arcane concerns lack appeal to the 'mass' audience), its historical period was changed for more 'historical relevance,' and the dramatic action of the shipwreck was 'enhanced' with a number of erotic flashbacks, in one of which the nuns were raped by a gang of four teenaged Nazi storm troopers—a scene which has supposedly prompted viewers to commit a series of such attacks on actual nuns, for all of which the film-maker and (especially) Enderby himself receive the blame. Yet, as outrageous as Burgess's comic invention of this filmed travesty is, it is also a deftly satirical confluence of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Ken Russell's The Devils, both of which were released in 1971. The latter, which was based on John Whiting's 1961 stage adaptation of Aldous Huxley's 1936 The Devils of Loudun, featured several then-shocking scenes of convent carnality. Such a film, like the one based on his own novel, is a product of what Burgess has more recently termed 'the dawn of the age of candid pornography that enabled Stanley Kubrick to exploit, to a serious artistic end, those elements of the story that were meant to shock morally rather than merely titillate' (Play)."]

Although the concluding scene of the play—and the now-restored concluding chapter of the novel—clearly establishes the author's intent, he concedes in the introduction to the chapter as published in Rolling Stone that "my aesthetic judgment may have been faulty." As his American editors contended from the outset, Burgess's still vigorously defended preference for an ending showing "the capacity of regeneration in even the most depraved soul" (Play) does indeed seem to undermine the effectiveness of the work, particularly by undercutting its theological complexity. Though Burgess cites an intended epigraph from The Winter's Tale in which the shepherd remarks that "I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting," the necessity of the choice between good and evil is not simply to be outgrown with adolescence, as the author's preferred final scene and chapter so strongly contend. In effect, such a facile solution—like the astonishingly trite verse that expresses it—reduces the complex moral issues of free choice and personal responsibility to the uncomplicated moral strictures of James Russell Lowell's "The Present Crisis" of 1844 (whose cadence makes it no less suitable than Burgess's banal lyric to be sung to the "Ode to Joy"): "Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide/In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side." In the modern (or postmodern) world, however, the choice of Truth and "the good … side" is infinitely more complex, far more ambiguous, and much less certain than Lowell would so reassuringly have us believe: the "decision" seldom if ever comes but "once," clearly drawn in black-and-white absolutes—and it is certainly not to be "outgrown" with adolescence.

During an interview with Samuel Coale in 1981, Burgess remarked that it had become "a damn nuisance" to have become associated so much with only A Clockwork Orange, and he added that

I'm not particularly proud of A Clockwork Orange, because it has all the faults which I rail against in fiction. It's didactic. It tends toward pornography. It's tricky. It's gimmicky…. The damn book … is not all that interesting or important. It's had a mythical impact of some kind. [Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 27, No 3, 1981]

Yet, in providing still more versions of the story, Burgess has assured the continuation of both the controversy and the choice that have surrounded the novel since its appearance over a quarter of a century ago; indeed, on the opening night of the Royal Shakespeare Company's production, he reportedly denounced the play's rock score as "Neo-wallpaper"; it replaced unpublished music that Burgess himself had composed for the 1987 version (subtitled A Play with Music), so yet another controversy has begun. In effect, those who want to see and/or read A Clockwork Orange now have more choices than ever before: two different versions of the novel (one with twenty chapters, one with twenty-one), Kubrick's film, his published screenplay, and two Burgess stage adaptations are now available, with no two versions being the same. The story of Alex and his droogs has, in fact, taken on an essential mythic quality, as Joseph Campbell defined it—the ability to be transformed variously through time, while retaining much of its underlying, valuable, and original content.

Deanna Madden (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: "Women In Dystopia: Misogyny in Brave New World, 1984, and A Clockwork Orange," in Misogyny in Literature: An Essay Collection, edited by Katherine Anne Ackley, Garland Publishing, 1992, pp. 289-313.

[In the following excerpt, Madden discusses elements of misogyny in A Clockwork Orange.]

The future society of A Clockwork Orange is a violent world in which the weak are at the mercy of the strong. Like Brave New World and 1984, A Clockwork Orange portrays a patriarchal culture in which women are subordinated and peripheral. Women are perceived through the male gaze, in this case that of a fifteen-year-old delinquent, Alex. While Alex's views may reflect his immaturity, they are also a reflection of the culture in which he lives. In the Russianized teenage slang, or "nadsat," there are many words for females: "devotchka" (girl), "sharp," "cheena," "ptitsa" (a vulgar-sounding word which seems to stress their bodies, or "tits"), "baboochka," "lighter," and "forella" (the last three used only for old women). To Alex females are sexual objects perceived mainly in terms of their "groodies" (breasts). The three girls at the Milkbar in the first chapter are typical teenaged females of their society: the silver badges they wear announcing the names of boys they have slept with before age fourteen suggest their promiscuity. It is a society in which females are initiated into sexuality at a tender age and often violently: the two girls whom Alex picks up at the "disc bootick" and then rapes are only ten years old, as is the girl menaced by Billyboy and his droogs.

Alex regards females primarily as objects to rape. His attitude toward women is one aspect of his violent rebellion against society. Destructive and anti-social, he is a criminal who robs, assaults, and rapes, a sociopath who takes pleasure in venting his aggression and inflicting pain. Women are vulnerable to the violence Alex represents because he is stronger and they weaker. He demonstrates these violent sexual politics when he and his droogs rob a convenience store by assaulting the owner's wife and ripping her clothes. Later the same evening, still seeking thrills, they break into a house and brutally gang rape another woman as the culmination of their night of violence.

Old women, doubly vulnerable because of age and gender, are also victims in the novel. Alex's mother is a passive woman who tries not to aggravate her dangerous son. He perceives her as one of the "pitiable" old. She is powerless to influence him: to make him attend school, to keep him from his street violence, or even to persuade him to turn down the volume of his loud music. The old women at the Duke of New York pub are also intimidated by Alex. They are easily bullied and bribed by Alex's gang to provide the young delinquents with alibis during their crime sprees. An old woman who lives alone with a houseful of cats is Alex's last female victim. Although he is apprehended by the police during this break-in, he manages first to kill the old woman with a fatal blow.

Alex's violence toward women (and the elderly) in the early chapters of the novel make of him a sort of monster from whom the reader tends to recoil. [In an endnote Madden adds: "The technique of first person narrative plus the distancing effect of the inventive language tend to mitigate this impression, as many critics have observed. A female reader may recoil more than a male since she will find it difficult to identify with Alex's male violence directed against females and probably identify to a certain extent with the female victims."] However, when Alex becomes in turn the victim of the police, who brutally beat him, and of Dr. Brodsky and Dr. Branom, who make him the guinea pig in their diabolic experiment with the Ludovico technique (behavior modification designed to turn him into a model citizen), Alex becomes a more sympathetic character. Forced to watch horrifying films of rape, assaults, and war crimes, he is made nauseous with injections until he comes to associate violence with nausea. Alex begins to seem like a naif compared to the corrupt State which has him at its mercy. Burgess suggests that, compared to the State's crimes, Alex's crimes are small. Burgess is more alarmed by the power of the State to eradicate the individual's free choice and turn him into a machine. By using the Ludovico technique, the State plays God and interferes with the most important aspect of man—his free will. Worse yet, if the State can control Alex with this behavior modification technique, it can control others and by this means become all-powerful.

Thus, Burgess wishes the reader to view the violence which Alex and his droogs have committed as a form of choice. The reader is expected to perform the mental gymnastics of seeing that, viewed from a certain angle, violence is good, that Alex the rapist is preferable to Alex the clockwork orange. When the conditioning is reversed and Alex is returned to his old violent self, it is a victory for free will.

While this message is difficult for many readers to accept since it appears to condone violence and in particular violence against women, another disturbing aspect of the novel is its tendency to equate rape and eroticism. Throughout most of the novel Alex's first and only impulse toward women is to rape them. He appears unable to relate to them in any other way or to feel sexually attracted without the urge to be violent. The result is to offer only two extremes of male sexual behavior. This becomes clear in Alex's appearance before a live audience after he has successfully undergone the Ludovico technique. When a nubile young woman is presented to him, he must suppress his urge to rape her to avoid the nausea it triggers. Instead he responds to her platonically, as if he is the knight and she the damsel on the pedestal. The ridiculousness of this response is made clear by the titters of laughter it elicits from the audience. Dr. Brodsky also suggests there is an obvious connection between violence and eroticism: "The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence—the act of love, for instance; music, for instance." Curing Alex's aggression amounts to emasculation. After his cure, he cannot defend himself, enjoy Beethoven (the violent classical music he prefers), or experience erotic desire. Released from prison, he is a mere shell, anxious to lose himself in drugs, depressed, and suicidal.

When A Clockwork Orange was first published in the United States in 1963, it omitted a final chapter that had appeared in the British edition. The difference in endings makes a considerable difference in the impression left with the reader by the novel, as Burgess notes in his Introduction to the revised American edition (1988), which includes the missing chapter. The first ending leaves the impression that Burgess endorses the violence of the clockwork orange society, for Alex's return to his old violent self is a victory for the individual. He has won out against the State which would control him. Burgess explains that he wanted instead to show that his "young thuggish protagonist grows up. He grows bored with violence and recognizes that human energy is better expended on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth…."

In the restored final chapter Alex, now age eighteen, feels vaguely dissatisfied with his life. The teenaged girls at the Milkbar no longer attract him. In his wallet he carries a picture of a baby clipped from a newspaper. When he encounters his old droog Pete, now married to a pretty young woman, he is envious and begins to fantasize, in Burgess's words, "a different kind of future." In his fantasy he imagines "coming home from work to a good hot plate of dinner" prepared by a "ptitsa all welcoming and greeting like loving." But in his vision this "ptitsa" is vague, a faceless female whose main attributes are her ability to cook a hot meal, to have a fire burning on the hearth, and to welcome him home with open arms. She is less important than the child she will bear him—the baby in the next room. In true patriarchal fashion, Alex envisions the baby as a boy. The idea that he might father a daughter apparently never occurs to him. At this point in his reverie he forgets the woman, as if once she has borne his son, she is no longer important, and contemplates at length his relationship with his imaginary future son. But obviously there will be no son until first there is a mate, so he tells himself that what he must do next is find "some devotchka or other who would be a mother to this son." She is, it seems, just a necessary next step in achieving his ultimate goal—an heir. Thus, while the final chapter shows Alex turning away from rape and violence, his image of women merely changes from targets of rape to useful breeders. He never sees them as human beings equal to himself.

It might be argued that Alex's attitude toward women reflects his own warped mentality and the violence of his clockwork orange culture, not Burgess's views, but the salient feature of violence remains, especially violence against women. Then there is the disturbing linking of eroticism and rape. Alex's final attitude toward women as breeders of sons also calls into consideration Burgess's own attitudes toward women, since this is where he ultimately wishes to lead the reader. The focus is not only on a male protagonist who has failed to figure out any way of relating to females except to rape them, beat them, impregnate them, or, as in the case of his mother and his future wife, to be served by them, but on a male who ultimately only relates to another male, his mirror image, his son.

Critics have suggested that the misogyny to be found in Burgess's work may have its roots in his personal life. His mother died when he was two years old, his stepmother did not love him, and his first wife, to whom he was married for twenty-six years, was repeatedly unfaithful to him. In his autobiography Little Wilson and Big God, Burgess describes this marriage as marked by many infidelities on both sides. The curiously neutral manner in which he relates his wife's infidelities conceals how he felt about them, but the reader infers he must have been hurt by her refusal from the beginning of their relationship to be exclusive. Burgess implies that since she chose to be unfaithful, he saw no reason why he too should not be. In spite of the adulteries, he claims to have loved her. The issue of female promiscuity arises in A Clockwork Orange in the form of the devotchkas in the Milkbar with their silver medals and the ten-year-old girls who wear padded bras and lipstick.

Another influence on Burgess's attitude toward women was no doubt his Roman Catholicism. While Burgess now considers himself a lapsed Catholic, his work is permeated by ideas drawn from the Catholic Church, such as the doctrine of original sin. Burgess is a highly moral writer, interested in man's spiritual dimension and his relation to God (or "Bog" in A Clockwork Orange). According to his autobiography, the early influence of Catholicism caused him to regard sex as sinful and instilled in him feelings of guilt.

One of the most brutal scenes involving a female in A Clockwork Orange is the gang rape of F. Alexander's wife. Burgess has confessed that this incident had its origins in an assault on his wife in 1944 by four men. While the assault was brutal (Burgess's wife Lynne was kicked unconscious and subsequently suffered a miscarriage), it was not a rape. Burgess, who was stationed in Gibraltar at the time, felt anger at the American GI deserters who had attacked her and at his commanding officers for refusing him leave to rush to her. Both in his wife's promiscuity and in her assault, Burgess must have felt a lack of control over her body. By rewriting the incident as a rape which the husband is forced to watch helplessly, he includes his own feelings of anger, frustration, and guilt.

Elsewhere Burgess's comments on the subject of rape, however, must strike a female reader as remarkably callous. He admits in his Introduction to A Clockwork Orange that in writing the novel he "enjoyed raping and ripping by proxy." These are not emotions that the typical female reader would share. When he dismisses Alex's acts of violence, including rape, as a sort of phase that Alex will outgrow, the female reader may balk. Does Burgess really expect us to agree that "senseless violence is a prerogative of youth"? Is it simply a part of growing up that young males should rape? And when Alex observes that his son will probably do all the things he has done, should we feel no shiver of horror?

Kate Millett in Sexual Politics points out that the threat of rape in a patriarchal society can be an "instrument of intimidation." It is a way of keeping women subordinate. She also notes that "patriarchal societies typically link feelings of cruelty with sexuality, the latter often equated with evil and power." Perhaps this helps to explain why rape is linked to eroticism in Burgess's novel. But clearly rape is an act of aggression in which the chief motive is to inflict hurt and thereby assert the rapist's power. As Millett explains, "In rape, the emotions of aggression, hatred, contempt, and the desire to break or violate personality take a form consummately appropriate to sexual politics."

The world of A Clockwork Orange is a distorted mirror world of London in the early 1960's and also of Russia. [In an endnote, the critic comments that "Burgess travelled to Russia shortly before writing A Clockwork Orange and noted the phenomenon of youth gangs there."] Many of its images are identifiable reflections of a contemporary society which regards young women as sex objects and exploits them. In the convenience store which Alex and his droogs rob stands "a big cut-out showing a sharp [female] with all her zoobies [teeth] going flash at the customers and her groodies [breasts] near hanging out to advertise some new brand of cancers [cigarettes]." The novel also reflects contemporary society's devaluation of the older woman, who having lost her youth and attractiveness, finds herself powerless and despised.


Burgess, Anthony (Vol. 8)