A Clockwork Orange Essays and Criticism
by Anthony Burgess

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Burgess's Narrative Technique.

(Novels for Students)

When we tell stories or listen to them, there is always a teller, someone describing the situation and relating the action, often commenting on it. When the person telling the story is also involved in the story, the teller is called a first-person narrator. When novelists use such narrators, they must choose between a first-person central narrator and a first-person peripheral narrator. Both use the first-person pronoun "I," but the latter involves a narrator who, although telling the story from his or her point of view, is a minor player in the events described, often an observer of things happening to others. A first-person central narrator, on the other hand, also involves a narrator who tells the story from his or her point of view, but who is a major player in them—that is, the narrator describes events directly related to him or her. In A Clockwork Orange, Burgess uses a first-person central narrator, Alex, who details his violent antisocial crimes in an often humorous and intimate manner. In so doing, Burgess creates sympathy for a character who in most ways is abominable.

Alex refers to himself as "your humble narrator" or "handsome young narrator," calling attention to the reader's role, as well as his own. Often Alex addresses readers, "Oh brother," or "Oh, my brothers," asking them to share in his own reaction to events as he recalls them. This technique draws readers into the story, lessening the emotional distance between themselves and Alex. In "A Clockwork Orange Resucked," Burgess's introduction to the 1987 American edition of the novel, Burgess writes that he wanted to "titillate the nastier propensities of my readers." He certainly succeeds, as readers are positioned as voyeurs to the lurid and violent acts detailed. In this way, they are both shocked and intrigued by Alex's brutality. This is the same kind of fascination that readers have when reading confessions of a serial killer, or other first-person true crime stories. But Alex's story is no confession; he does not seek forgiveness. Rather, he revels in his exploits and celebrates them, and if anything, is nostalgic at the end of the novel for his violent past and diminishing violent desires. He wants readers to share this sense of loss with him, hence his appeal to them throughout the book. Readers are "brothers" because Alex assumes that at some level they share his fascination with evil and their dark side, just as he does his own. Alex's apparent scrupulous honesty in relating his tale also appeals to readers, especially in comparison to other characters such as the Minister of the Interior and P. R. Deltoid, both of whom Alex represents as manipulative, deceitful, and oppressive. Alex appears to be honest because he relates things about himself that most people would feel uncomfortable or embarrassed doing.

Readers also sympathize with Alex when he returns home from prison only to be rejected by his parents, and when he is beaten by Dim and Billyboy and cannot defend himself because of his conditioned aversion to violence. Alex's honesty, his willingness to share the details of his crimes and his thinking surrounding those crimes, his emotional vulnerability, and his role as a victim of governmental oppression, however, do not make him a hero. Rather, he is a kind of antihero. In contrast to heroes—who, according to Aristotle, are of noble birth and intentions but have a tragic flaw— antiheroes are defined by their status as outsiders who often exist in an absurd or incomprehensible universe and feel defeated and trapped in their lives. Antiheroes live on the fringes of society and often come from poor or working-class backgrounds. Readers typically feel superior towards them. Oddly, the cartoon character Charlie Brown is a kind of antihero, as he is unloved and unwanted by his "friends," and dogged by bad luck. Arthur Miller's character Willy Loman, of Death of a Salesman , is another antihero, in that he lives an absurd existence and can find no...

(The entire section is 6,211 words.)