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A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess

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(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, 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...

(The entire section contains 70510 words.)

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Burgess, Anthony (Vol. 8)