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Sci-Fi Juggernauts: A Clockwork Orange

Posted 04/28/2008 by Sinjin Jones

A horrowshow veshch about some chepooka.
by Sinjin Jones

Clockwork Orange.gifThere are dozens of classic novels that fall under the category of “must-read” science fiction. Throughout this year, I will examine why a handful of these particular works are absolutely essential additions to everyone’s reading list, even those who do not consider themselves science fiction fans.

"Then I looked at its top sheet, and there was the name – A CLOCKWORK ORANGE – and I said: ‘That’s a fair gloopy title. Who ever heard of a clockwork orange?’"
-Jack, A Clockwork Orange

     Using a slang he created, Anthony Burgess fashioned a masterpiece of science fiction that explores the human condition in a completely unique way: he called it A Clockwork Orange.
     The plot of A Clockwork Orange is one that, at first glance, makes the casual reader grimace: a group of friends led by the main character, Alex, run amok through a futuristic British city wreaking havoc. However, the short description is deceiving. At its core, A Clockwork Orange explores the very foundation of human beings, their need for commitment, free will, and the evil that is inherent in government. The novel follows the story of Alex, a resident and troublemaker of this semi-futuristic society, and his group of friends as they gallivant around, causing immense amounts of damage. Alex is a mere 15 years old but is the vicious leader of a gang of criminals which, throughout the novel, perform various unsavory deeds (including, but not limited to: theft, bribery, and especially violence of every kind).
     Alex is not, however, unlikeable. As narrator, we experience everything through the eyes of Alex and we find him to be at once childishly enjoyable. He immediately seems to be robotic in his need for violence but, as we get to know him, he becomes someone who represents the vileness in all humans. Alex, along with other aspects of the novel, is used to impart the underlying theme: that though humans are vile and depraved, they should never be robbed of freedom and a sense of self-determination. The government’s deprival of Alex’s ability to make moral choices all at once becomes a more inhuman crime than anything Alex and his gang ever committed. In this, the book becomes a massive adage for choice. Burgess himself states, “The freedom to choose is the big human attribute,” and no matter what crime Alex or his compatriots commit, they do not deserve to be robbed of the most basic human trait: the ability to make conscious decisions.
     The government and the necessity of commitment are also large themes in A Clockwork Orange. Burgess was a staunch promoter of choice, and saw that in many ways the government opposed this freedom of choice. Therefore, in this novel, the government is portrayed as inherently evil, the “opposers of choice” so to speak. Alex’s stint in prison, reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, allows the audience to sympathize with Alex, though he has committed unspeakable acts of horror. The government does not tolerate dissent and, again like 1984, will stop at nothing to ensure its survival.
     Alex, a middle-class citizen of this society, is one of the few who truly commits to his actions, and Burgess uses this to explore the theme of commitment. Though the terrible things that he has done cause him great suffering, Alex is made the protagonist because he committed himself to something. Burgess saw the middle class as torpid and used the extreme example of Alex to show this. Alex is able to do virtually whatever he wishes because of the inability of anyone to stop him, except the government.
     A major way that the reader comes to be entranced by Alex is his slang, nasdat. Invented by Burgess, Alex intersperses it (a mixture of mostly Russian and Cockney English) to draw in the reader. At first, one is repulsed by the use of words such as carman (pocket), chasso (guard), and gloopy (stupid), because they are almost undecipherable. However, after time, the reader becomes fluent in nasdat and gains a sense of camaraderie with Alex, sympathizing with his cause.
     Overall, the novel explores the idea of the duality in all things: good versus evil, commitment versus non-commitment, man versus government, and in a way that leaves the reader with heavy thoughts of a wonderful story. Although A Clockwork Orange represents a daunting challenge for beginners in the sci-fi genre, and is a piece heavy with violence, it is well worth it to experience the vision of Anthony Burgess.