A Clockwork Orange

by Anthony Burgess

The entirety of A Clockwork Orange is written in a futuristic teenage vernacular, a sample of which you can find on the Classic Bitch home page. (The quote there is about a prison chaplain relating a story from the Bible about what happens to those who do not heed the word of God...for those of you playing the home game.) For this reason, and for a few others, I don't know how far out on a limb Classic Bitch is going here to describe A Clockwork Orange as a work of science fiction. It is the story of an imagined future United Kingdom in which acts of violence more extreme than what we are used to today are committed routinely by children younger than those who typically offend in this manner currently. In other words, it's an entirely possible future, I would say. I write the bit about the language in which this book is narrated & the subject matter to warn would-be readers off of A Clockwork Orange if either would bother you. As a reader, Classic Bitch cares neither for the language—something like Serbo-Croatian meets Cockney rhyming slang—nor for the hyper-violence depicted. The argot that comprises the narration is inventive, believable, & consistent—and I like word play in general—but it is an unattractive dialect that has a way of getting stuck in your head long after you're done reading. And as for all the bloodshed & brutality, I am just not one who would first seek out violent content. Despite my personal tastes, I have to say that the book is extremely well written & realized. For anyone into idioglossia and/or raping, pillaging, & plundering, I can wholeheartedly recommend A Clockwork Orange. I'm not joking. Many readers will love it. (Anthony Burgess, by the way, in the book's introduction, defends the rendering of violence as our very human "inheritance of original sin.")

What else can I tell you? The title—apparently part of an archaic British saying—refers to something traditionally organic (that would be the "orange") that has instead been engineered (and there's your "clockwork"). It is a metaphor for a stage of the protagonist's young life in which he is subjected to a kind of reprogramming that conditions his responses against violence. This is an experimental technique offered in the form of rehabilitation and in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. Ancillary characters rail against this reprogramming—even of a hyper-violent miscreant—because it negates free will. As a reader, I have less of a problem with that (especially because the technique seems so effective), but more of a problem with the fact that the cured offender, even while unable to do any more wrong, still has no remorse. In other words: A do-good automaton is all well & good (is it??), but nothing is learned. And in fact the ultimate moral of the story is that the main character must indeed come to the feeling and the understanding on his own that violent behavior is bad!

I feel I am giving too much of the plot away, so I'll stop now. The book is a modern-day morality play, one which the author himself admits may be a little too heavy-handed. Classic Bitch agrees, & when she couples this with the science-fictiony feel, A Clockwork Orange will likely come to rest in her memory as something of a paper tiger. Again, none of this is to say I didn't like the book: It is very, very, very well written.

"'The tradition of liberty means all. The common people will let it go, oh yes. They will sell liberty for a quieter life. That is why they must be prodded, prodded—'"