Monday, August 15, 2016

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess
Published 1962

This dystopian novella is set in futuristic England.  Before you begin to figure out the plot, you will learn the slang of this world; it will happen as you read.  The teenaged-protagonist, Alex, is the leader of his lawless gang of friends who spend their nights drugging, fighting, robbing, and raping. 

Before long,  Alex's bad choices catch up with him, and he is arrested during a home invasion, in which the homeowner dies as a result.  Alex is sentenced to 14 years in prison (which is too short, in my opinion; but I'm mean). 

In prison, he is selected for an experimental behavior modification program provided by the State, and released back into the community after he completes the program. But some have objections to the experiment because it removes free will and control from individuals. Would you want to live in a world where human behavior is controlled, like little pre-programmed robots, but where people are good and the world is always safe; or would you rather have free will to choose your behavior, even if it means living with evil wickedness, violence, and crime?

Burgess wants to show his reader that to forcibly or artificially change behavior, as the State tries to do with Alex, destroys his humanness altogether, and this is a very bad idea.  Do they even know what they are doing?  Is it successful?  You have to decide if you agree or not.  Of course, I agree with Burgess because I am totally against the State doing anything other than what it was intended to do, and according to Scripture, the only job of the government is to reward good and punish evil.  God does not give government the responsibility of controlling citizens or altering their behavior by force.  If God wanted us to be robots, He would have preprogrammed us Himself.  

In the end, there has been much discussion about the 21st chapter, which was left off at the time of publication for the American audience.  But today that final chapter is included, and many people do not like it.  My guess is that it feels unnatural to read about Alex the Monster for twenty chapters, and then suddenly in chapter 21 he appears as a different person.  It does not transition smoothly.

As usual, I am in not in the majority.  I am grateful for the final chapter because it absolutely shows Alex's humanness, which is what I longed for the entire story.  He is losing interest in his foolish, wicked desires; he shows thoughtfulness and maturity; he realizes he is growing up; and he is considering how his behavior may affect his own children.  He certainly does not want his son to be like him, but he understands that he may not be able to stop him if he chooses a life of crime.  Alex is realistic about human behavior.  

Yeah, I get that: people can change!  And that is exactly what I wanted Alex to do.


Jean said...

Oh wow, you read the whole thing?? I tried and lasted about 10 pages, even though the slang was easy for me to understand (I took Russian in college). They were so horrible I couldn't take it. I take my hat off to you!

Carol said...

I have a soft spot for dystopian books. Haven't read this one though. Great review.

Ruth said...

It was dreadfully horrible! I'm so thankful for that final chapter. It changed my overall feeling. I don't understand why people want to leave it at 20 chapters because it is a train wreck all the way through. Well, don't feel bad - I'm sure you don't - you didn't miss a lot. The questions the author has you consider are fairly obvious. You don't need to read this to get it.

Ruth said...

Me, too. I'm a sucker for dystopian stories. This one is a challenge b/c of the language, but you'll pick it up quickly. Also, if you read it through to the end, I'll be curious what you think.

Joseph said...

I understand your reasons for liking the final chapter. For me though, I disliked it as it nearly dismissed Alex' former life as a youthful indiscretion. Either way, a powerful book. Not at all pleasant to read...but it does force you to make some philosophical choices. Nice review.

Ruth said...

If you are suggesting that you would have liked to see Alex more accountable for his wicked behavior, I would agree.

Joseph said...

No, that's not really what I mean, though I'd certainly agree with that. I didn't feel there was sufficient impetus for Alex to suddenly change. To me it sort of implied that he just finally decided to grow up and not be a despicable human being anymore. People can indeed change, but I think it is rare that it happens without one behavioral psychologist calls "a significant emotional event." But no worries. You have my permission :) to like the extra chapter for the reasons you stated. I'd have found the novel more poignant without it.

Ruth said...

Yes, this is true. That would have transformed the novella into a novel because you would have needed this major event that would have been even more compelling than the despicable and exhausting life he had lived for 20 chapters. So I wanted the end result, but what is missing (besides his accountability) is the purpose for his change.