Mini classic review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A vicious fifteen-year-old droog is the central character of this 1963 classic. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. And when the state undertakes to reform Alex to “redeem” him, the novel asks, “At what cost?”

“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”

I don’t know what it is about classic dystopian books that make it difficult for me to parse if I liked or disliked them, but it’s certainly becoming a theme. And that is, once again, the case for A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange follows a young man named Alex at three points of his life: the first when he is 15 and he and his friends terrorise the streets by fighting, raping and stealing; the second part when he is 17 and has spent two years in prison to correct his behaviour via conditioning torture; and the third part when is is released into society as an adult.

The book is heavily interested in the idea of whether or not people can choose their morality, and can someone truly choose to be evil or good. When Alex is in prison, this choice is taken from him as he is conditioned to become sick each time he thinks of doing an ‘evil’ deed. Alex is a horrible character, and seems irremediable as he relishes in raping people and committing other awful crimes, however the torture he experiences can be seen as equally horrific. Alex becomes a shell of the person he was: he is entirely pitiful.

I think it’s great that the novel doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions, even as they made me uncomfortable. I have yet to see the movie, but I definitely intend to, so it will be interesting to see how such a violent book is adapted.

And yet, I can’t say I enjoyed A Clockwork Orange. I quite disliked the ending, but aside from that, I really couldn’t connect with the writing or the characters. However, I understand that is absolutely the point as well.

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