A Clockwork Orange Critical Overview
by Anthony Burgess

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

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When A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962, it had twenty-one chapters. Its American edition, however, was published with only twenty chapters a year later, the publisher W. W. Norton having removed the last chapter because they thought it was too sentimental. It was not until 1987 that American editions were published with the last chapter included. Of the controversy, Burgess writes in his essay "A Clockwork Orange Resucked," found in the 1987 edition: "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."

The reviews the novel received were generally favorable and emphasized both its thematic elements and its style. An anonymous reviewer for the New York Times calls the book "brilliant," and writes, "A Clockwork Orange is a tour-de-force in nastiness, an inventive primer in total violence, a savage satire on the distortions of the single and collective minds." The 1987 American edition carries a blurb from Time magazine which states, "Anthony Burgess has written what looks like a nasty little shocker, but is really that rare thing in English letters—a philosophical novel."

The novel has received its share of attention from academic critics as well. John W. Tilton, writing in Cosmic Satire in the Contemporary Novel, praises Burgess's use of Nadsat, saying that Burgess used it "[t]o assure the survival of the novel by creating a slang idiom for Alex that would not grow stale or outmoded as real slang does." In his study of Burgess's novels entitled The Clockwork Universe of Anthony Burgess, critic Richard Mathews writes that "A Clockwork Orange is a masterpiece as both a novel and a film."

Comparing the kind of government in the novel to "a rotten mechanical fruit," Mathews argues that Alex's "disturbed spirit may somewhere awaken our sleeping moral sensibilities." Robert O. Evans, in his essay on Burgess in British Novelists since 1900, considers the work "an expression of disgust and revulsion about what has happened to society in our lifetimes." In her essay, "Linguistics, Mechanics, and Metaphysics: Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange," Esther Petix writes, "The reader is as much a flailing victim of the author as he is a victim of time's finite presence." Petix notes that, like Alex, the reader also comes of age in reading the book, and "is charged with advancement and growth."