A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is an interesting novel that is set in a future where violence and drug use among youths is out of control. Gangs of violent teenagers prowl the streets at night searching for victims and no one is exempt from their brutality. In this fictitious future there is so much violence and so few police officers that criminals are rarely held accountable for their crimes.
The narrator of A Clockwork Orange is a restive and pernicious boy of 15 named Alex. Alex and his friends use a slang language throughout the novel that is entirely made up by Anthony Burgess. This manner of speech is called natsat talk by Alex. This slang tends to make A Clockwork Orange a trying read since the meaning of words like glazzies, platties, droogs, and smeck can only be deciphered through context. If you do manage to wade your way through the fake slang, you may find A Clockwork Orange to be a rather insightful novel.
At the start of the novel Alex is the leader of a gang of four young men, who set out every night, to rape, murder, beat and rob as much as they can. These boys also like to stop in a bar where they can drink glasses of milk that are laced with drugs. For some reason or another most of the adults in this novel sort of bow to the will of these boys, Alex’s parents in particular.
As you read this novel, you find that your narrator is guilty of taking advantage of 10 year old girls and beating elderly people and robbing them. Alex’s only redeeming quality (if you can call it that) is his love of classical music. Although, even that, serves a dark purpose. Burgess does an excellent job of writing from a criminal’s perspective. Alex’s lack of remorse and manipulative habits are realistic aspects of the criminal mind.
Eventually Alex’s droogs (friends) get tired of his bossy ways and so they begin to revolt. One night while Alex is breaking into an old woman’s house, he leaves his friends outside as lookouts. The old woman realizes she is about to be robbed and calls the police. She then begins to fight with Alex and he eventually hits her on the head with a bust of Ludwig van Beethoven. Alex’s friends desert him and soon after the police arrive and arrest Alex.
Alex is a known criminal so despite being fifteen years old he gets sent to jail with adults. His first morning in jail he discovers that the old woman has died of her injuries so his sentence will be fourteen years. He complains to the reader about the injustice of it all, but one can hardly feel sorry for him.
Further on in his sentence Alex and his cell mates beat an old man to death in their cell. The authorities have had enough of Alex so they sign him up for a new, experimental reform treatment. Alex looks at this as his path to freedom because he is told that his sentence will now be reduced. He will be free in two weeks.
The treatment Alex undergoes is a series of injections followed by the forced viewing of extremely violent acts on film. Normally our narrator would enjoy these scenes but somehow they are now making him feel painfully ill. Eventually the injections cease, but Alex still feels ill at the mere thought of violence.
After his release Alex realizes that he can’t even listen to emotional music without getting sick. He can’t even defend himself when his earlier victims avenge themselves. He can no longer bear it so he jumps out of a window. He doesn’t die but he seriously injures himself. Alex doesn’t mind because somehow he has been “cured” of his treatment by the fall. He returns to his life of crime immediately but when he turns eighteen, at the end of the novel, he decides he wants to change his life and start a family.
A Clockwork Orange really makes you think about the concept of reform and the importance of remorse. Several times in the novel people remark on the insincerity of Alex’s reform. Taking away his ability to commit violence did not change who he was. He clearly wanted to be violent still. He just couldn’t. His aversion to violence is merely an aversion to his own suffering. I believe that the moral of this novel is that true reform for a criminal can only occur when the criminal suffers the pain of true remorse.