A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – A Cult Classic Novel

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“We can destroy what we have written, but we cannot unwrite it.”

Have you ever opened twitter, typed something so unknowingly scathing within 140 characters in a moment of rage? And then proceeded to hit the tweet button, only to be swept away by a sudden, unsurpassable surge of dread as you instantly regret ever typing? This, is just one example of the power of words. In a modern, everyday context, of course. In a digital age where social media has become such an inescapably integral part of everyday life, it becomes apparent of just how much we take for granted the most basic form of communication. As basic as the gift of language may seem in every day life, words are the most fundamental part of communication in the spoken or written form and are arguably most powerful. Awareness, of what we say and what we write is needed perhaps more than ever.

A Clockwork Orange, is a perfect metaphor for the importance of words and the unmovable permanence of irreversible change. The original book was released in 1962, by Anthony Burgess. Addictively dark and disturbingly brilliant, the novel is regarded a dystopian satire novel. Did you know, during the time the novel was published, dystopian novels were heavily influenced by socio-political situations? So– for example,  as the Cold War was beginning to thaw, many people from western ideologies were living in fear of communism. The sheer tension which brewed and overspilled into society inspired many creative minds to subvert their reality as the fear of communism permeated through the media to the people. A dystopia is the subversion of a utopia– a heavenly like place. A dystopia is a twisted and dark realm in which nightmarish characters like A Clockwork Orange’s main protagonist: Alex, can exist.

Anthony Burgess, the author of the novel, pretty much invented his own language of Russian and Cockney rhyming slang, for Alex to communicate with his fellow ‘droogs’ (friends) with. Nadsat, as the slang is known as, offers a glimpse into the Burgess’ perspective of what it might be like to live in a futuristic setting in which Britons reside under a Soviet state. The reader is plunged into to Alex’s futuristic world, it can get really disorientating. Foreshadowing the moral alienation, Alex’s character develops alongside the brilliantly the twisted plot. The language used is so vast that people have gone to lengths to compile actual dictionaries to help you understand the meaning behind what the characters mean. You can actually find websites dedicated to Nadsat dictionaries online. Pretty handy when getting your head around the, at times, tricky hybrid slang used in the novel.


The book is written from Alex’s perspective; his narration when you first come into contact with it is indeed amicable and for the most part, friendly. However, fifteen-year-old Alex is not your typical teenage delinquent. In fact he is none other than: nightmarish, bloodthirsty and just plain evil.  Alex is the ringleader of his group and is responsible for committing extremely stomach-churning crimes. Crimes he shows absolutely no remorse for. Crimes he even revels in. Clearly, as a danger to society, he is not particularly the sort of bloke you would want to cross paths with in a dark alley way late at night after coming home from the pub. People like Alex shouldn’t be allowed freedom, right? His friendly discourse poetically disarms the reader by directly addressing you. Leaving the horrors of his ever-so elegant descriptions to unfold in your imagination.

If you were wondering how such a brutal character was given such a well known name, it was because Burgess wanted to name the main character Alex because it is globally recognised, he revealed in an interview with the New York Times. 

Alex finally gets his comeuppance (which was definitely a long time coming), when he is eventually imprisoned for murder, where in which he is offered to be set free early if he complies with the Ludovico Technique. This twisted technique was being tested on inmates in prison. The main outcome is to rehabilitate Alex, who would be transformed into a non-violet individual, upon release into society. To outsiders, he will be transformed into what society deems as a good, non-violent person. This is because Alex is tortured to the point where the thought of those violent acts he so enjoys, are no longer enjoyable to him. These violent images and thoughts drive Alex to feel extremely physically sick whenever he is exposed to them. This decision made by Alex to undergo this ‘treatment’ in turn for freedom is a pinnacle moment in the book which raises the moral dilemma and prevailing themes of free will. Do you think it is wrong to take away someone’s free will and happiness, even if that means hurting them? Is it right to force someone to be a good person, even though they are not good, and never will be?

Although Alex is offered this freedom, once he is granted freedom he is stripped of all free will. He is not a good person still; his evil thoughts are simply suppressed by the trauma he had undergone, which inevitably drives him insane.

 The groundbreaking novel was included on Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. And what is even more incredible– Burgess wrote the powerful book in three weeks. The book was actually banned in US school’s after releasing due to its immoral nature and sexual violence. In fact, the film made in 1973 was even banned in the UK, until the director Kubrick’s death in 1999. Anthony Burgess honestly hated the film directed by Stanley Kubrick, even though now it is regarded as a cult-classic.

In a statement about the film Burgess expressed: ‘We all suffer from the popular desire to make the known notorious. The book I am best known for, or only known for, is a novel I am prepared to repudiate […] it became known as the raw material for a film which seemed to glorify sex and violence. The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about, and the misunderstanding will pursue me until I die. I should not have written the book because of this danger of misinterpretation’.

Did you know there are actually two endings to the book? But, for the sake of suspense you will have to read both versions yourself and decide for yourself which is better.

“It’s funny how the colours of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.”

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