The fact that Alex is one of the most menacing figures in all modern fiction does not prevent him from also being one of the most fascinating. Because the story is told completely from his point of view, the reader may tend, if not to sympathize with him, at least to suspend judgment of him. Alex is no ordinary juvenile delinquent, sullen, mindlessly destructive, and uncommunicative. He is, on the contrary, extraordinarily bright, passionately alert, and a master of expression. One of Burgess’ great achievements in A Clockwork Orange is his creation of an imaginary dialect for Alex, a brilliantly contrived amalgam of rhyming slang, Russian root words, and modern teenage rhythms and abbreviations. This language can be self-explanatory—for example, the reader needs no interpreter to understand what a “cut throat britva” is, which Alex wields when he and his “droogs” are out doing battle with other “malchicks”—but even when it is not readily understandable, the reader cannot help but be overwhelmed by Alex’s linguistic vitality. In many places, Alex is not so much a narrator as a jazz performer, and even at its most confusing, his talk is dazzling. Burgess’ inventive wordplay links him with other masters of imaginative prose satire such as Jonathan Swift and James Joyce, but “nadsat” talk is by no means simply a stylistic tour de force: Alex’s playful language frequently distances the reader from a full awareness of the violent acts...
(The entire section is 559 words.)
Alex, the narrator, who speaks in “nadsat” (a teenagers’ slang incorporating elements of Elizabethan English and modern Russian). At fifteen years of age, he is the leader of a gang made up of himself and three “droogs” (droog is Russian for “friend”), each a year or two older than he. Three years later, he will lead three droogs, each younger than he. His pleasures consist of violence—theft, mugging, vandalism, and rape—and classical music, especially that by Mozart and Beethoven. His droogs—Georgie, Pete, and Dim—become disaffected under his leadership and betray him by leaving him to be captured by the police. He spends two years in prison, where he undergoes psychological conditioning (the Ludovico Technique) that leaves him physically incapable of violence and enjoyment of music. Unable to make a moral choice—that is, to choose either good or evil—and capable only of acting in accordance with what society considers good, he is released from prison. He is victimized and abused by society until, restored to his true self at the age of eighteen, he undergoes a transition to responsible maturity.
F. Alexander, the middle-aged author of a sociological work titled A Clockwork Orange, referring to the modern world’s tendency to translate humans into vegetable-like automata. His wife dies after being beaten and raped by Alex and his gang. He takes in and cares for Alex after his release, when Alex has been severely beaten by police thugs: He is unaware at first that Alex is the person who had brutalized his wife. When he learns the truth, he seeks to kill Alex.
The prison chaplain
The prison chaplain, called “charlie” or “charles” in nadsat. He tries to dissuade Alex from accepting the Ludovico Treatment as the price of early release from prison. He and F. Alexander, in their turn, uphold the necessity of moral choice.
Dim, a member of Alex’s first gang. He is slow-witted, huge, and strong. He wields a chain...
(The entire section is 856 words.)