A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Length: 1517 words (4.3 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
The novel opens with Alex and his gang (he calls the three members “droogs”), Pete, Georgie, and Dim, at a milk bar. This milk bar is a regular hangout for Alex and his droogs, because the bar serves drug-laced milk. After drinking the spiked milk (Alex proclaims it will make him sharp and ready for violence), the boys assault an old scholar and rob a candy store. They then violently assault an old drunken vagrant with vicious force. Alex tells the reader he is enjoying his usual acts of violence. Alex’s enjoyment is boosted further when he comes across Billy Boy. Billy Boy is another teenager with an equally notorious gang, although they are more brute force and lack the brains Alex and Georgie have. About to rape a young girl with his friends around, Billy Boy sees Alex just before Alex ridicules him and mocks him. Billy Boy gets angry and the two groups break out into conflict. Alex’s group is more prepared and eventually rescues the young girl and scare away Billy Boy and his group. After robbing a store, the boys head out into the country on a stolen car. They stop at a small cottage, where they meet a writer named F. Alexander (very important to the story, in fact), who is writing a novel named “A Clockwork Orange”. Alex is disgusted by the lack of logic in the title, so he rips up the manuscript, disorganizes the house and rapes F. Alexander’s wife with him watching. After heading back to the city and escaping, Alex and his droogs decide they have had enough for one night and Alex retires to his home. After making up an excuse to stay home from school, he is paid a visit from his parole officer, named P.
R. Deltoid. Alex pretends to be improving his behavior, just so Deltoid will leave, and it works. Later that night, Georgie challenges Alex for leadership of the gang by committing a small crime, namely robbing an old woman. After threatening Dim and Georgie with a knife to get his droogs under control, Alex goes to rob the old woman in her house. He accidentally knocks the old woman unconscious and panics. The other three droogs leave him alone at the doorway, where they betray him by calling the police. The police beat him up, and it is found the next day that the old woman has died. Alex is charged with murder and is sent to prison.
After living in prison for two years, Alex gets a job as an assistant for the prison chaplain. He amuses himself by reading the Bible, taking joy in the violent content in the book (like the crucifixion of Jesus). Alex then learns about the death of Georgie through a cell mate. He was apparently killed by his intended victim (who acted in self-defense, and thus was not charged with any crimes). He accidentally helps to kill a fellow prisoner, and is then forced to become a subject in the first major trial involving an experimental technique called the Ludovico technique. He undergoes the treatment, in which he is given a drug that makes him very nauseous. He is obligated to watch violent and disturbing clips for two weeks. With his eyes forcefully held open, he has no choice but to comply. One of the films plays Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Alex’s favorite piece of music, as he is a fan of classical music), and Alex becomes distraught. Alex begs the scientists to turn off the music, and they refuse. This serves as mental torture for Alex.
Following Alex’s Ludovico treatment, he is presented to government officials as a perfectly rehabilitated citizen. Alex sees just how well the treatment worked when he finds he cannot defend himself from attack. The clinicians demonstrate their achievement to an audience. He is then shown a naked woman, but Alex finds he cannot touch her nor defend him self without feeling nauseated. His mind has associated violence with nausea due to his treatment. These effects are thought to be permanent, and Alex also sees the most devastating drawback: he loses his ability to enjoy Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Alex is then released from prison, where he encounters many of his previous victims. They all seek revenge and Alex’s treatment takes effect: he is unable to defend himself. He happily goes home, thinking he can turn over a new leaf, but he sees his parents have basically replaced him by renting his room to a lodger. Alex is miserable and stumbles upon the Korova Milk Bar. He forgets the bar serves drugged milk, and his motor skills are impaired. He goes to a record store to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The treatment kicks in and he runs out screaming, images of violence flashing in his head. Alex decides to commit suicide, but he can’t because the treatment stops him from committing ANY act of violence, even against himself. Depressed again, he goes to a library to calm himself down. However, the old scholar he assaulted much earlier in the book recognizes him and calls the police. The two policemen who are dispatched to the scene are Billy Boy and his old droog Dim. They take advantage of their jobs and, fueled with anger, violently assault Alex. Alex still can’t defend himself. Alex stumbles upon F. Alexander’s house, who is now in a wheelchair due to the earlier attacks made against him. The elderly writer doesn’t recognize him because Alex was wearing a mask in the initial assault. Recognizing Alex from the newspaper, the writer’s friends suggest he use Alex as a poster child for victims of fascism. The writer agrees and confines Alex in a room where he plays loud classical music. The technique kicks in and Alex attempts to commit suicide by jumping out of the window. Alex wakes up in a hospital, where he learns that the government, trying to reverse the bad publicity it incurred in the wake of Alex's suicide attempt, has reversed the effects of the Ludovico treatment and have offered him a well paying civil service job. His parents take him back in, and Alex happily ponders returning to his life of violence.
The twenty-first chapter of the book sees Alex half-heartedly preparing for another night of violence with another trio of droogs. This serves as a reprise of the first chapter, because the first few paragraphs are written in almost exactly the same form. Alex is bored with his life of violence and abandons his droogs. He bumps into his friend Pete, who is now married (at an early age as Alex and Pete are both now eighteen). Alex is inspired by Pete’s marriage, happiness, and great job. He fantasizes about getting married and starting a family of his own, not for the same reason as Pete did. Only for the notion that his own children might be as violent and destructive as he was.
I wouldn’t really recommend this book to a lot of people. Although I loved the book, I can see why some people wouldn’t. Anthony Burgess wrote the book with Alex as a narrator. To make it seem as if Alex was talking to the reader, Burgess made up a type of slang that teenagers in the novel use. The slang is basically English with corrupt Russian phrases mixed in. It is very confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fine.
My favorite character in the novel is Pete. In the beginning, Burgess wants you to hate Alex, and you do. You hate him while he’s in prison; you hate him before he’s in prison. Then, Burgess tries successfully to make you feel sorry for Alex after he is released from prison. Alex faces rejection and isolation, which makes you truly feel sorry for him. However, you begin to hate him again when you see he reverts to his old lifestyle. My favorite character was Pete because he was lighthearted and somewhat compassionate in the beginning. He always broke up fights between the droogs and was the least violent. It was a relief to see him end up well off in the novel. I think Burgess has done an excellent job painting his characters, showing mood, fear, and emotions we all feel.