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Comparison of Linguistic Differences in the Film and Novel of A Clockwork Orange

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Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange - Linguistic Differences in the Film and Novel


A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess, is experienced differently as a novel than it is as the movie directed by Stanley Kubrick. The heart of the difference between the two forms is expressed by Bakhtin: "The potential for [‘double-voiced discourse’ between the author and narrator] is one of the most fundamental privileges of novelistic prose, a privilege available neither to dramatic nor to purely poetic genres" (Bakhtin, 320).1 An entire dimension of the novel’s story is lost in the movie when Alex’s role is reduced from narrator to commentator. The ability of Burgess to speak indirectly to the audience through Alex is removed, and the perspective on the Clockwork world revealed through Nadsat, the language Alex speaks, is lost. However, this does not mean that the movie is less effective than, or an inferior medium to the novel. The main drive of the story remains in the movie form: Kubrick utilizes the means, such as a musical score and the visual dimension, unique to the dramatic genre to find ways around the loss of Nadsat and first person narration. He also tries to maintain the twisted sense of humor found in the book while working to promote the audience’s understanding of Alex’s universe. Kubrick preserves the unusual opportunity A Clockwork Orange offers the audience—a chance to immerse itself in Alex’s character and actions, and have its "nastier propensities titillated" (Burgess ix)2 by Alex’s "ultra-violence", instead of being frightened away.

In the novel, Burgess is able to speak indirectly through Alex’s narration, telling the reader about the novel’s political setting as well as revealing Alex’s (and perha...


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... Nadsat, is lost. And with the loss of a large and comprehensive language such as Nadsat, goes part of Burgess’ voice. However, Kubrick does an excellent job of retaining the novel’s spirit and structure, even while offering his own interpretation. He takes advantage of the visual and auditory possibilities that the film medium presents to fill in the gap created by the removal of Nadsat, resulting in an accessible and satisfying movie. In both forms, A Clockwork Orange draws its audience into sympathizing with Alex and ultimately enjoying themselves as they "rape and rip by proxy" (Burgess ix).

Works Cited


1. M.M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981).

2. Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (NewYork: W.W. Norton & Company, 1986).

3. A Clockwork Orange, prod. and dir. Stanley Kubrick, 137 min., Warner Bros., 1971.


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