A Clockwork Orange (and today we’re discussing the book, since I’m naughty and STILL haven’t seen the film adaptation), by Anthony Burgess delves into the concept of free will, and what constitutes a ‘good person’.

Set in a dystopian future (aren’t they always?), A Clockwork Orange consists of three parts and centres around sociopathic teen, Alex.  In the first third we’re introduced to Alex and his gang of ‘droogs’ (Nadsat for friends, a language that we become all too familiar with by the end of the novel), in what appears to be an ordinary night for them; getting drunk on drug-laced milk (can you imagine how disgusting that would be?  And the HANGOVER?  Priorities really), beating up unsuspecting town folk and pillaging a shop or two.  Ordinary, ordinary.  Oh wait, they also rape and main a woman that leads to her subsequent death.  Whoopsie.  Out one night though, poor Alex becomes the target of a hostile take-over from right-hand man, Pete, and as a result, gets arrested for the gang’s killing of an elderly woman.

Part Two.  Alex is in jail.  Jail is a pain, and Alex, well he just doesn’t like that.  Instead of becoming meek and quiet as a mouse he continues his crime-filled ways.  Can’t get any worse when you’re already in jail, eh?  Oh wait.  What’s that?  Alex becomes a test subject for The Ludovico Technique, who uses nausea-inducing injections combined with traumatic conditioning so that Alex doesn’t like to kill people anymore.

Lovely.  Except now, thanks to the conditioning, he also can’t bear to listen to his favourite composer, “Lovely Ludwig Van”.  Oh well.  Bad luck.

Part Three.  All would be well and good in the world if we could condition all the baddies into not being bad, right?  Only problem is, the world is full of bad guys.  And when you can’t defend yourself against these bad guys, you’re in a spot of trouble.  This is where Alex becomes stuck in the third part of the book.

 

When A Clockwork Orange came out there was public outcry, a surge to have it banned, a belief that it encouraged blatant excessive violence.

I don’t know who these people are, and why they continue to act this way because history shows that A) They’re a pain in the arse (see any story from Today Tonight or A Current Affair) and B) If you tell someone not to do something, as a general rule, they’re going to do it.

But, what really, REALLY annoys me about this way of thinking is that they’ve taken what is one of the most influential books of the 2oth century and whittled it down to its most literal form.  Yes, Alex rapes and steals and kills.  But he also ends up in jail and has his mind controlled.  But most important, while a great deal of things do occur in the novel, it’s more about the message on society that Burgess is trying to send.

What constitutes a good person?  Someone who is a good member of society, helps the poor, volunteers their time etc etc and so forth?  Or does someone have to be a good person only if they ENJOY doing these things?  Personally, I think it’s a mixture of the two.  Societal rules stipulate us to behave in a certain way; sure everyone’s probably considers doing a nudie run, or not paying their bills, or punching someone in the face that really, really annoys them (or is that just me?)  But we don’t do it.  Why?  Well, partially because a nudie run will always lead to regret in the future, but mostly because we’re expected to do behave according to societal norms.

I get that.  However, the concept of The Ludovico Technique that Burgess creates takes this idea to a new level.  Does Alex become a good person when he, quite literally, is unable to do harm?  Are we expected to like him now that he has no urge to rape and plunder?  Or is he just as bad a person as he always was, except now he’s a baddie who doesn’t have free will?

What else is so good about this book?  For me, there were two stand outs in the writing style.  Firstly, the use of the fictional language, Nadsat, that Alex and his chums use.  This is good for two reasons.  Firstly, it acts as an eventual plot twist, but more importantly, it encourages readers to emphasise with Alex.  Under normal circumstances we would want nothing to do with a twisted individual like him, yet when we force ourselves to read and learn and understand the way he talks we become a part of his world, and we begin to understand how he thinks and acts.

Secondly, I like the way that the story is divided into three parts in an A B A format, which is similar to the ternary form used in many well-known musical pieces, including Beethoven’s 5th Symphony that Alex enjoys listening to.  This style is unusual for a book, with the first and last sections mirroring each other in certain aspects, but I thought it was a fantastic way to emphasise the differences between Alex before and after his mind conditioning.

As you can tell, I really love this book.  What do you think?  Have you read or seen A Clockwork Orange? Do you think it encourages violence?  Let me know!

a clockwork orange by anthony burgess

Delicious drug-laced milk. Ew-(image taken from http://www.bcfreviews.wordpress.com)

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