The cover of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange


A fifteen year old boy with a love for classical music, our narrator is a gang leader prone to rape and ultraviolent acts. Occasionally attenting school during the day, he joins up with his gang during the night for a bloody orgy of pointless violence and stealing.

The least intelligent of the gang, Dim is a brute, and later ends up joining the police in order to fufill his lust for violence.

An ambitious boy, Georgie challenges Alex's leadership very early on, only to be viciously put back in his place. He is much more interested in violence for finiancial gain, unlike Alex.

A more mild-mannered individual, Pete shows up again in the 21st chapter with his wife, prompting Alex to think about settling down.


Part One
The main character, Alex, who often refers to himself as Your Humble Narrator, doesn’t leave a very good first impression on most (sane) readers. Within the first fifteen pages, he and his droogs (friends), Pete, Georgie, and Dim, have managed to rob a store, as well as assault and heavily injure three people. Quite an achievement for a young boy of only fifteen.
After reestablishing his authority over his gang members, he leads them to a rich neighborhood, where he breaks into an old cat-loving woman’s house while the others wait outside for him to unlock the door. However, he decides to show them how much of a leader he really is, and attempts to clean out the house on his own. This decision costs him dearly, for after a chaotic struggle with the old woman, he gets betrayed by his gang members while trying to escape the scene before the police arrive.
Part Two
So begins Alex’s prison career. No longer given a name, he is referred to by his prisoner number, 6655321. By sucking up to the prison chaplain, he manages to get the job of working the stereo during Sunday Mass. He soon discovers the Bible to be immensely entertaining with its sex and violence, and is even allowed to listen to his favorite composers on the stereo while reading it.
Things go on like this for around two years. However, when a new prisoner is moved into Alex’s already overcrowded cell, things start to change rapidly. Quickly pissing off all occupants of the cell, the newcomer causes tensions to rise until Alex wakes up in the middle of the night to find him lying in bed with him, touching him. At this point, everyone gangs up on the new guy, and he (unintentionally) gets beaten to death. The next morning, Alex gets blamed by his cellmates for the murder, which he compares to his previous betrayal by his former gang.
Through this, he is brought to the attention of the Minister of the Interior, who has him signed up for the Ludovico Treatment. Alex is delighted, as he will be free again after only two weeks of aforementioned treatment, but he has no idea of what horrors await him. His only warning of what is in store for him comes from the chaplain, who is fully opposed to the treatment, claiming it robs people of their humanity.
Part Three
After his horrific ordeals in the Ludovico treatment, Alex is released into the world. Heading back to his parents apartment, he notes how things have changed since he last saw them. He enters the flat, only to discover a strange man eating with his parents. The man, named Joe, has been renting Alex's room for quite some time, and views himself as a foster son to Alex's parents. Furthermore, all of Alex's beloved stereo equipment and records have been sold to pay for the cats of the woman he killed. With nowhere to stay, he leaves, wishing he was still in prison.
After wandering over the the Milk Bar, he ends up at the conclusion that he no longer has any reason to live. He decides to go to the library to find out how to end his life. After breaking down in tears while there, an old man named Jack recognizes him from years back. At the beginning of the novel, Alex and his gang brutally assaulted Jack and destroyed library property. Soon a mob of angry old men start beating Alex up, and he finds himself begging a library worker to call the police. When the police arrive, things only get worse. After beating the old men off Alex, they too recognize him. His saviors are none other than Dim, as well as his former rival gang leader, Billyboy. They throw him into their police car, and drive him out into the country, where they take turns beating him senseless, and leave him to die by the road.
He manages to find his way to a small house before passing out, and is taken care of by a man named F. Alexander. Met earlier in the novel, Alex and his gang beat and raped his wife while Alexander watched, traumatizing him and leading to her death. Although it takes him time to realize who he is caring for, F. Alexander and his radicalist friends attempt to use Alex as a poster-child against the evils of the government. When he finally realizes who Alex is, they leave him in a 2nd floor bedroom and lock the doors, while classical music is blaring in the house. Driven to insanity, he attempts to kill himself by jumping from the window.
When he wakes up, he is in the hospital, and discovers that the Ludovico treatment has been undone by the government scientists. F. Alexander has been put into a mental faculity by the government, and they are offering him a nice job with high pay if he plays their game. Listening to classical music on his brand new stereo (provided by the government), Alex contemplates what random acts of ultraviolence he'll commit next. And so the American version ends.

About the Author
Anthony Burgess

Anthony Burgess was born in Manchester, England on 25 February, 1917. He attended Xaverian College, as well as the University of Manchester, graduating in 1940 with a degree in English Literature.(2) Aside from being an accomplished literary critic and writer, he also composed over 250 musical pieces.

Works by Anthony Burgess


  • Humanity and Free Will- The entire premise of the Ludovico Treatment is to prevent unwanted behavior, therefore impairing free will. The prison chaplain brings up a vital point in the latter half of the novel: If you no longer have the ability to choose good over evil, are you still human? Free will is what defines us, in my opinion, and therefore I agree with the chaplain. Throughout the second half of the book, when does Alex ever have free will? He is manipulated by F. Alexander as well as the government multiple times, while seemingly unaware of his role in their plans. He cares only about himself, which is all too human in itself. The Ludovico treatment creates a sort of instant negative karma system, but what it fails to do is provide any sort of reward other than the absence of punishment.
"When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man." Prison Chaplain, Page 93

  • Dualism- Throughout the book, we see many examples of dualism, in the form of good versus evil, dark versus light, Bog versus God, Nadsat versus proper English, F. Alexander versus the government. This is also where much of the book's symbolism stems from.

I think that I'll let Alex summarize for me, as I couldn't begin to do a better job than him.

“Badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines?”


The majority of the book is written in Nadsat, the fictional teenage slang of Alex’s time. Nadsat, from the Russian word for teen, is described as being “odd bits of rhyming slang” with “a bit of gypsy talk, too,” with most of its roots being Russian. Burgess intended it to be a sort of language experiment, as he wanted to have people learn a language without knowing they were being taught.
It is worth pointing out that there is no real way to say anything positive in Nadsat. It's all sex and violence. No Nadsat words give voice to feelings of love, warmth, or compassion. (3)
However, what Nadsat functions as is a sort of buffering wall from the full-blown horrific nature of the novel. Nadsat turns the most horrifically brutal scenes into a less blunt and more poetic format. It also gives us the ability to sympathize with Alex. Without it's childlike words like eggiweg and baddiwad, we would forget that Alex is merely a child, despite his disturbing actions.

The Ludovico Treatment
The Ludovico Treatment is a pivotal subject in A Clockwork Orange. A form of aversion therapy, it is designed to prevent the patient from thinking about or doing any violent actions. This is achieved by forcing the patient to watch a series of horrifically violent videos while unknowingly under the effects of a drug which induces unbearable sensations similar to a near death experience. Through repeated exposure to these conditions, the patient associates violence with discomfort, similar to shock therapy.
The question becomes one of humanity. If you have the ability to choose good over evil taken away from you, you no longer are capable of being human. The government just wants people to behave, and they certainly will have achieved such. But at what cost? They have, as Alex exclaims, turned him into a clockwork orange. He looks like a living being, but has no ability to choose. He is a piece of clockwork, trapped in a human body. In Player Piano we have man versus machine, but Burgess takes that to a different level. It is not jobs being replaced, it is the people themselves.
During these films, classical music was played. Since the treatment is an associative treatment, Alex can not lo
Due to classical music accompanying the films, Alex received the unfortunate side effect of experiencing the same near death sensations as he does when presented with violence.

Unlike other dystopias, the main characters in A Clockwork Orange seem quite fine with their position in the society. It is only when the Ludovico treatment is introduced that things start getting severly dystopic for our humble narrator. The way he sees the world throughout the first half of the book is, while disturbing to us, completely normal and acceptable to him. The interesting stuff begins during the second half, when almost everything he did before gets parodied. He used to love music, but now he can't stand it. He and his gang beat up Jack the book-toting man in their territory, and then Jack and his friends beat up Alex in the library. The dystopic nature of things in his eyes comes not from the obviously disturbing ultraviolent society, but from the mocking of everything he once stood for. The dualistic society he lived in has turned the tables, and he finds himself trapped in a nightmarish world where danger lurks everywhere.
The fact that our protagonist is an ultraviolent gang leader that we somehow manage to sympathize with is quite the accomplishment.Only by revealing snippets of how young and ignorant he really is are we able to see past his horrific actions and find sympathy for him. Where once Alex was in control of things, bossing his gang around, skipping school whenever, and more or less ignoring his parents, after his treatment, he becomes a mere pawn to whoever can influence him. First he is used by the government as a guinea pig for the Ludovico treatment, then as a martyr by F. Alexander. In the end, after his failed suicide attempt, the government sucks up to him, easily bribing him to be portrayed as a victim that they graciously saved. In this way, he manages to create a sort of innocence that we can sympathize with, as his ignorance is extraordinarily childlike.

The conclusion provided by the twenty-first chapter is a highly unsettling one. Watching our humble narrator turn from a vicious criminal to a more civilized young adult in a matter of INSERT PAGE COUNT pages creates a highly artificial feeling to the story. I don't approve of the way it was done, as it ruins the circular feel of the book.

Popular Opinion

The book has gained quite the following, ranging from Nadsat-speaking communities to people writing entire thesis on it. Oddly enough, Anthony Burgess is highly disturbed by its fame, saying,
"I'm not particularly proud of A Clockwork Orange, because it has all the faults which I rail against in fiction. It's didactic. It tends to pornography. ... I do object strongly to these theses that are written on the damn book. The book is not all that interesting or important." (1)

The twenty-first chapter was originally omitted in the American edition, due to the publisher, who insisted that the chapter be dropped. Burgess, thinking that he was lucky to even find someone to publish the book in the first place, reluctantly agreed. As a result of this, the 1971 movie adaptation ends with Alex coming full circle, with the last words being, “I was cured all right.”

There is much controversy over the elusive final chapter, as it is a radical shift in the novels tone. Alex, our ultraviolence-loving humble narrator, decides to settle down and find a wife, and have a normal life. This seemingly bipolar change takes readers by shock, and many are highly unhappy with his sudden epiphany. Nonetheless, Burgess insists that the final chapter is as much a part of the story as the previous twenty, saying that the incomplete version was "badly flawed."

Stanley Kubrick's Film Version
Released in 1971,
Although banned in Britain due to several rapes and murders around the time of its release, the film version of A Clockwork Orange quickly gained a cult following. However, it's graphic depictions of violence disturbed many audiences.


  • "I find it difficult to accept the contention that being young is like being a clockwork toy"-Julian Mitchell (4)
  • One cannot condemn a novel of 150 pages for failing to answer some of the most difficult and puzzling questions of human existence, but one can praise it for raising them in a peculiarly profound manner and forcing us to think about them. (Theodore Dalrymple, City Journal, 2006)
  • “It is a moral fable, if a nasty one, and it proceeds with all the patness of moral fable.” Stanley Edgar Hymen (5)
  • “Clearly it is always an amazing feat to have the language of a novel not simply match the action, but be the action.” -Robert K. Morris

(1) Anthony Burgess with Samuel Coale, in an interview in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, Autumn, 1981, p. 448
(3)"Linguistics, Mechanics, and Metaphysics: Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (1962),” in Critical Essays on Anthony Burgess, edited by Geoffrey Aggeler, G. K. Hall, 1986, pp. 121-31
(4) "Horrorshow on Amis Avenue," in The Spectator, Vol. 95, No. 6986, May 18, 1962, pp. 661-61
(5) "Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Oranges," in The New Leader, Vol. XLVI, No. 1, January 7, 1963, pp. 22-3
(6) "The Bitter Fruits of Freedom," in The Consolations of Ambiguity: An Essay on the Novels of Anthony Burgess, University of Missouri Press, 1971, pp. 55-75