A Clockwork Orange

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A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, is a dystopian novel set in the not-too-distant future, where teenage crime dominates the night life. The novel follows a rebellious and dominating teenager named Alex, who assembles a cast of droogies to wreak havoc at night. Prevalent throughout the novel is Burgess' invented language, nadsat, which incorporates Russian, gypsy talk, and other influences.

The novel was released in 1962 as two different versions: the UK version included the 21st chapter, and the United States version had that chapter cut out due to a conflict of interest with the publisher. The book was later adapted into a movie by Stanley Kubrick, which was widely seen as too violent and explicit.

Plot Summary--WARNING, Spoilers!

A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, follows the life of what some would call a nadsat, what others would call a hoodlum, and what we would call a teenager; Alex. Alex goes to school during the day, and during the night, or nochy, he participates in various exploits with his crew, or droogies, Dim, Georgie, and Pete. His night would begin at the Korova Milkbar where he and his droogies, unable to buy alcohol, would buy milk spiked, or peeted, with various other things, or vesches. The most prominent of drinks in this novel is milk peeted with knives which would "sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one". After the drinks, he and his crew would go out into the streets (which, at that day and age, were dominated by nadsats such as himself) and commit vicious crimes against innocent civilians--elders in particular. Alex and his crew first encounter a "starry schoolmaster type veck", and since it was very rare to spot such a man out so late, they decided harass him, destroying the books that he was carrying--most notably a book on crystallography--and then physically destroying him. That was followed up by physically beating a singing drunkard and engaging in a fight with his rival and enemy teenager, Billy Boy, who was in the act of rape before being interrupted. After hospitalizing a few of his crew, they ran away from the cops, or millicents, and stole a Durango 95 to go joyriding.

Thus, taking them to their most barbarous act yet. Breaking into the house of a moderately aged couple, labelled "Home", the masked villains first cripple the husband and then rape the wife, all the while making the husband watch. To finish the night, the group goes back to the Korova Milkbar where Alex punches Dim because Dim was being disrespectful to a woman who was singing a song notable to Alex, who has a taste for music. This is the first sign in the novel that the droogies are beginning to question Alex being their leader. The next day Alex fakes a pain in his gulliver (head) and skips out on school. While sleeping in, he dreams that Georgie is now the one in charge and Dim is his muscle instead of Alex's, who wakes up to find that the droogies really have been questioning his leadership. Thus to once again restore the balance of power, Alex challenged Georgie first to a fight, and then Dim. Seemingly a coherent group once more, they proceed on another night's exploits. This time, as suggested by Georgie, they break in and attempt to loot the house of a lonely old woman living with cats. Alex breaks into the house and tells his droogies that he will go unlock the door, however still coping with his power struggle he decides to do it all himself, and come out with the loot to show who's truly boss. Unfortunately for him, he goes in to find out that the lady had already called the cops, thus after brutally hurting her he attempts to flee the home and encounters Dim at the front door who knocks him out.

The millicents take him and he stays in a traditional jail for two years, notorious to the other prisoners for sucking up to the Prison Chaplain because he finds that music and the bible are a good way to cope with his predicament (note: the bible isn't the same type of coping method for him, he finds enjoyment in reading about the sins committed in the bible, often times imagining that it is he who is committing the violent crimes). After asking the Chaplain to be involved in an experimental cure for prisoners, called Ludovico's Technique, he receives his dream when he kills a cell mate. During this treatment he is given a drug and subject to watching various films of violent crimes. The drug he is given causes him to feel unbearably sick, thus after a fortnight of this torture he is taught to associate violence, sex, and indirectly music to that sick feeling preventing him from partaking in these activities.

After being "cured", he goes back into the free world to find himself miserable, and eventually wishes to snuff, or kill, himself. He is kicked out of his own home by a lodger named Joe; he is beat up by elders in the library when the old man he beat up in the beginning of the novel recalls that Alex destroyed the rare book on crystollagraphy; he is then found by Dim and Billyboy, now millicents, and taken to the woods where he is once again beat. Thus, tattered and hurt, he looks for a place he can call home, and finds just that at "Home". Once inside he meets the old man, husband of the wife he had raped earlier in the novel, who recognizes his face from the newspapers discussing his "cure" and nurtures him back to health. He treats him with extreme kindness, realizing that Alex is an invaluable weapon to destroy the government, and writes an article about his case. However, when he realizes who Alex really is, he is uncontrollably angry thus his associates take him away into a room. Locked in this room, they play music realizing that it would cause him extreme pain, and the only way to escape the music is to jump out of the window, which once again works towards the story of government torture, twisting this into a suicide attempt.

But, failing to kill himself, he is hospitalized where first he meets the people responsible for his jumping out of the window, who thank him for helping their cause to prevent the re-election of the government. He then meets with the Minister of the Interior or Inferior, the very person that put him on the Ludovico's Technique, who has the State doctors restore him to his previous mental state and manipulates him to endorse the government. In the end, we are right back where we started, and Alex is back in the Korova Milkbar with a new crew, drinking milk peeted with knives so that he is sharp enough for the old twenty-to-one. But, strangely, he isn't up to it this time, and leaves for some hot chai at a tea-and-coffee mesto. There he encounters Pete, who is now happily married, and realizes that he no longer wants to pursue the life of a nadsat, but rather he wishes to grow up. The novel concludes with thoughts of his future son, and his plans to find a bearer for his child.

About the Author

John Burgess Wilson, was born on February 25, 1917, in Manchester, England. In his early age, he exhibited talent as a writer, artist, and musician. A violinist and a self-taught pianist, he regarded himself as a failure when it came to composing although he created pieces for television, film and theater as well as choral works, concertos, and operas. Raised in an Irish Catholic family he attended the Bishop Bilsborrow School and Xaverian College. He recieved a degree in literature from Manchester University in 1940, and then joined the Army Education Corps. In 1954 he joined the Colonial service to lecture in Malaya, where his writing career kicked off as a result of witnessing the politically and socially complex cultures. His first published novels; Time for a Tiger (1956), Enemy in the Blanket (1958) and Beds in the East (1959) are all set in Malaya. He then changed his name to Anthony Burgess because he was afraid that his superiors would disapprove of his writing fiction.

Burgess fell ill and returned to England in 1959 where he was misdiagnosed with brain cancer and told that he only had a year to live. With his perceived death approaching, he turned into a full-time writer and completed The Doctor is Sick, Inside Mr. Enderby, The Wanting Seed and One Hand Clapping during his "terminal year". However his most popular, though not his personal favorite, was A Clockwork Orange (1962) which was adapted into a movie. This novel haunted him throughout the rest of his career because the publisher, W.W. Norton, replaced the final chapter where Alex remained reformed from the Ludovico Technique with Alex's return to a nightlife of crime. His first novel hadn't come until the age of 39, however in his entire career he was able to write over 25 novels in addition to numerous biographies, plays, screenplays, criticisms and articles. Burgess died on November 25, 1993 from cancer.

Burgess' writing was significantly influenced by his experiences, particularly in the diverse places such as Rome, Lenengrad, Malta and Monaco, so much that his novels later became a source for his memoirs. Anthony Radice said that "Burgess was an author who blurred the boundaries between fiction and autobiography." But his writings, for a biographer, contained an "alarming mixture of fact, fiction and fantasy." Scattered throughout his work were various information about himself, but the problem was that the information was often contradictory. His tendency for half-truths about himself is typified by 'Anthony Burgess' an entirely new Christian name invented in 1956. He also drew up a version of his family tree without referring to official documents, drawing questionable connections to an illegitimate descendent of King James II and more. Even in interviews Burgess would leave false trails for historians. However people like Mr. Biswell took the challenge of clarifying Burgess' history by observing more than just his novels, which contained many falsehoods and contradictions (in the case of A Vision of Battlements, Burgess claimed that he wrote the book in 1953 in his novel Little Wilson and Big God, but in the introduction of the novel in 1965 he claimed that he wrote it in 1949). Biswell pieced together information from letters, interviews, memoirs and more. Note: in the end, Biswell found out that Burgess had been suffering from the mumps while he was writing A Vision of Battlements, so when he found this illness mentioned in letters dated during the winter of 1951-52 he concluded that that was when Burgess wrote the novel.


Nadsat, a transliteration of the Russian suffix meaning -teen, refers to the teenage slang used throughout the novel in A Clockwork Orange. In the novel, Dr. Branom says, in response to hearing Alex speak, that nadsat consists of "odd bits of old rhyming slang...A bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav. Propaganda. Subliminal penetration." (page 86). This was the only such insight into Burgess' language that he would give, refusing to put a glossary in the novel. He said that, like the book was supposed to be about brainwashing, he was brainwashing the reader into learning minimal Russian by using these words which were gradually clarified in context. But Dr. Branom's assertion was confirmed when the American edition was published in 1963, containing a glossary and an afterword by Stanly Edgar Hyman where he admits that he would be unable to read the novel without assembling a glossary. Most of the words were able to be dissected, however nobody was able to speculate on the origins of the word "Bog," which Burgess used to refer to God in his phrase "Bog or God". Blake Morrison found that "Bog" is British slang for lavatory, and asserted that "averse though Burgess was to lavatory humour, there is a touch of it in his word for God: Bog." But Burgess had never used God disrespectfully, thus that conclusion can likely be rejected.

More probable, however, is that Burgess got the word from Stevie Smith's poem "Our Bog is Dood":

Our Bog is dood, our Bog is dood.
They lisped in accents mild,
But when I asked them to explain
They grew a little wild.
How do you know you know your Bog is dood
My darling little child?

We know because we wish it so
That is enough, they cried,
And straight within each infant eye
Stood up the flame of pride,
And if you do not think it so
You shall be crucified.

Then tell me, darling little ones,
What's dood, suppose Bog is?
Just what we think, the answer came,
Just what we think it is.
They bowed their heads. Our bog is ours
And we are wholly his.

Burgess' autobiography revealed that his interest in linguistic experimentation and his appeal for rhyme may have led to him to be attracted to Stevie Smith's our "Our Bog is Dood", where "Bog" is supposed to be a child's attempt at saying "dog" but then in the end of the poem the word is changed into 'God". A brief glossary of nadsat and it's derivations:

  • "Horrorshow" from the Russian word khorosho, meaning good or well
  • "Lewdies" from the Russian word liudi, meaning people
  • "Millicents" from the Russian word militsia, meaning military or police
  • "Oddy Knocky" from the Russian word odinock, meaning lonesome
  • "Luscious Glory" for hair, which rhymes with "upper story"
  • "Pretty Polly" for money, which rhymes with "lolly"
  • "Guff" for "guffaw"
  • "Sarky" for "sarcastic"
  • "Sinny" for "cinema"
  • "Pee and em" for "pop and mom"

The 21st Chapter

Burgess had originally intended to publish the novel, A Clockwork Orange, in three different parts, each divided into seven chapters, to symbolize the age at which boys become men (21). And this was how the novel was published in the UK in 1962, however the U.S. publisher W.W. Norton did not like the final chapter and would not publish it unless it was excised. Thus Burgess reluctantly agreed and it wasn't until 1987 that the U.S. audience was able to read the final chapter when W.W. Norton and Company released A Clockwork Orange: Resucked which included the 21st chapter. In the introduction to the novel, Burgess summarized the signifiance of the twenty-first chapter saying that his "young thuggish protagonist" matures and grows bored with violence, recognizing that his energy is better spent on creation than destruction (realizing that he wants a child). But critics responded differently to the novel as a whole with the inclusion of the final chapter. Michael Gorra, for example, argued that the original version was "darker than the glibly apocalyptic American version". Deanna Madden, on the other hand, dismissed the novel--with or without the final chapter--as a misogynistic piece of literature. John. Stinson enjoyed the novel more without the final chapter, saying that the "truncated ending, which leaves the reader with a stark presentation of unregenerate evil, surely carries more impact."

However, critics do not consider the ethical importance of the twenty-first chapter as a response to Alex's nonexistent moral and family systems that fail Alex as he tries to achieve manhood. Family is a recurring theme throughout the novel, where Alex constantly strives to establish and participate in family structures; notably with his droogs, when he tries to reconnect with his real family after his treatment and when he's searching for some sort of "HOME" after he is left desolate and miserable. The twenty-first chapter is necessary both in fulfilling Burgess' moral vision as well as demonstrating the significance of the centrality of family structures as catalysts for interpersonal development and individual change.

"As novels are about the ways in which human beings behave, they tend to imply a judgement of behaviour, which means that the novel is what the symphony or painting or sculture is not--namely a form steeped in morality." -Anthony Burgess

The Movie

The film adaptation, directed by Stanley Kubrick, was for the most part critically praised receiving numerous award nominations and stellar reviews. Kubrick followed the guidelines set by Burgess' novel very closely, with most of the dialogue almost identical to that of the novel. But the movie may have followed the scenes in the book a little too literally; for the most part Kubrick decided not to mold every single occurence in the book together, but rather he decided to divide the novel into scenes and then chose which ones were important and which ones weren't. After reading the book, viewers may feel that the movie is a Frankenstein-esque product--that is, it feels as though it consists of various scenes stitched together, without the transitions that the book offers.

The final product is a movie that takes it very seriously, perhaps too much, to replicate the violent scenes to better illustrate the dystopic setting, without putting too much emphasis on the suffering of the victims. For this reason, many critics have deemed this movie to be "pornographic" because of the victims were given absolutely no personality. Also the nude scenes were extended, and the character development was shortened, resulting in an overly explicit and offensive film. Also, in the movie the viewer is forced to sympathize with Alex as he is essentially the only true character in the movie--no other character is given any depth at all. Burgess said, regarding the film; "when the film was made, the theological element almost completely disappeared."

Burgess publicly stated that he enjoyed the film, however he would have preferred the inclusion of the twenty-first chapter. Kubrick initially explained that this exclusion was due to the fact that he wrote the script based off of the American novel, however later Burgess found out that Kubrick really did not like the twenty-first chapter, and tensions between the two began to build. Kubrick, when confronted, let Burgess defend the violence in the film by himself. Thus Burgess reacted by making fun of Kubrick in the musical version of A Clockwork Orange, where a character resembling Kubrick is beaten up.

In the end, the movie is a decent film which accurately portrays the happenings of the novel. However, it is only enjoyable if you haven't read the novel, because once read, every character will seem bland, and the cold-hearted narrator that was hard to sympathize with in the novel is suddenly the only character to sympathize with in the movie.


A Clockwork Orange lends itself to the dystopian novel differently than you would normally expect. Rather than having an introduction illustrating the horrible and oppressive society, this novel begins with a gang of happy teenagers, flourishing in the current situation. It is only until we encounter the Ludovico Treatment where we start to think that the generic dystopian novel is beginning, the Ludovico Treatment is supposed to be the oppressive governmental tool implemented on the people. However, in the end, the Ludovico Treatment is defeated. Typically, in dystopias, we find that the protagonist is unable to conquer the desolate aspect of society, thus the Ludovico Treatment can't be just that. But rather, the dismal prospect is something that seems much more realistic to today's society: out-of-control crime and a powerless government. Such a prospect is frightening, Alex and his droogs go out every night to perform horrific crimes; including stealing cars, raping women, beating people. Worst of all, their actions are all unmotivated--they are only done for pure enjoyment, as Alex says during the Ludovico Treatment. These are illustrated in the novel to be the base teenage emotions. So, is A Clockwork Orange meant to be a dystopia based off of the fear of anarchy?

A Clockwork Orange has several themes, but the most significant theme may be free will. When broken down, the title means "Clockwork Man", where "orang" is Malay for man. In his 1986 publication of the book, A Clockwork Orange: Resucked, Burgess says that a clockwork orange is a person who "has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice, but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil, or the almighty state. Alex is turned into such as a result of the Ludovico Treatment, when he is removed of his capacity to commit crime, but also incapable of doing good. Samuel McCracken states that without the choice of sin, there is no chance of salvation thus the State and the Minister of the Inferior in essence have robbed Alex's choice and consequently his chance at salvation. The pro-choice crusade is spearheaded by the prison chaplain in the novel. His key quote, after witnessing Alex pass the test following his Ludovico Treatment, is:

"Choice...He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice."


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