Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Book Review: "A Clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess

Where to begin? This novel, my brothers, has many concepts which I, your humble narrator, shall try to cover and maybe intrigue you enough to go out and read the book on your oddy knocky. Oh wait before I continue with more of this "Nadsat" language maybe that's where I should start. Not only did Anthony Burgess create a novel that gave us a philosophy of freewill and choice makes us human, but he also created his own language. Actually the language was a mix of slang and some borrowed foreign languages..

This language or slang used by the "humble narrator," Alex, is called Nadsat by Anthony Burgess. It is a form of slang the young folks use in the book. It is a mix of modified Slavic words, Cockney rhyming slang, derived Russian (like "baboochka"), and words invented by Burgess himself. One of Alex's doctors explains the language to a colleague as "Odd bits of old rhyming slang; a bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav propaganda. Subliminal penetration." The use of the slang makes for a very interesting read. The context in which the words are used make it easy to pick up what is being said, so the reader is not left in the dark. I found myself using some of the slang in my everyday use. If you would like a guide to Nadsat there is a nice listing here: http://soomka.com/nadsat.html.

So with that little bit of fun out of the way let's talk about the title of the book. When I viddied the movie...see I slipped into Nadsat...when I saw the movie, I never really understood the title "A Clockwork Orange." But the book has the explanation. The explanation was left out of the movie as was several other important features which I may try to list in this review. Basically you have to understand the term "A Clockwork Orange" and the rest of the story really fits into place. The author, Anthony Burgess explains it in the introduction to the book like this:
"A creature who can only perform good or evil is 'a clockwork orange' — meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with color and juice, but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil; or the almighty state."

So knowing that the author is British and the term for a wind-up toy is a clockwork toy, really explains the idea presented in this story.

Another aspect of the book left out of the movie was also left out of the original American release of the book, and that is the great 21st chapter. First of all the number of chapters is significant in that at the age of 21 a person is "of age" and well into adulthood. So that age of 21 may give you a hint of the missing final chapter. (at least missing from the American version and the film.) That hint would be that the narrator and main character Alex comes of age and actually becomes a fully functioning adult. The book is written in first person so Alex is constantly referring to himself as "your humble narrator" throughout the book as the reader you get the feeling he is trying to fool you into thinking he's humble, but that's furthest from the truth. However, when you get to the final chapter you realize he did become humble. The book was re-released in 1986 in America with this much needed 21st chapter.

The book is separated into 3 sections and this is how I shall summarize this great book for you.

Part 1: Alex's world

The book is set in that popular not so distant future which all Utopian or Anti-Utopian books are presented. In this section we get a feel for the violence capable. Alex and His droogeys go out every night and wreak havoc on the world with ultra-violence which includes beatings of innocents, burglary, and rape. There are also gang fights between others which are full of the ultra-violence. The reader also finds that Alex is fond of classical music, especially that of Ludwig Van Beethoven. Alex and company frequent a bar which does not sell liquor but rather a concoction known as milk plus. The plus being synthetic mescaline or other drugs. We also find that Alex is only 15 years old and rules his household by keeping his pee and em (pop and mom) scared of him. He also gets visited by a social counselor , P.R. Deltoid, who gives the reader the clue that Alex has been in trouble before and the next time he will be doing Jail time. During this section his droogs become disenchanted of having Alex as their leader and leave him at the scene of a botched robbery to be picked up by the police.

Part 2: The Ludovico Technique

This section covers the time when Alex is sent to prison. Apparently the murder of the botched robbery victim is enough to try him as an adult. In prison He feigns an interest in religion, and amuses himself by reading the Bible for its lurid descriptions of "the old yahoodies (Jews) tolchocking (beating) each other", imagining himself taking part in "the nailing-in" (the Crucifixion of Jesus). Alex hears about an experimental rehabilitation program called "the Ludovico Technique", which promises that the prisoner will be released upon completion of the two-week treatment, and will not commit crimes afterwards. This Ludovico Technique is pretty much a simple brainwashing. Alex is injected with drugs that make him violently ill and as he is ill he is forced to watch movies of violent actions much like what he took part in in the first section of the book. This in turn makes it so that anytime he sees or thinks of violence he becomes ill and therefore must do good. A side effect noted here is that the soundtracks to the movies all featured classical music "to create severe emotional response." This in turn now makes it so Alex gets ill when hearing his favorite, Ludwig Van.

Part 3: After prison

Fully "rehabilitated," Alex is released from prison and sent out to become a common law-abiding citizen. Troubles first come up when Alex returns home to find his parents have rented his room to a young man and no longer has a home to return to. Alex is forced to take to the streets. He finds himself in a public library and one of his former victims recognizes Alex as the one who beat him up and the patrons of the library begin to beat on Alex. Due to his conditioning he cannot fight back and becomes ill and tries to escape. Just as he is about to escape the police arrive. Well things don't get better here. The officers are one of Alex's former droogs "Dim" who felt wronged by Alex, and one of Alex's former enemies, "Billy Boy." Due to a shortage in the police force they have recruited thugs off the street to wipe out crime. Dim and Billy Boy take Alex out to the country and beat him up. Once again Alex can't fight back. Alex left to die in the country, wanders to find help and finds a home in which the resident is a good Samaritan and helps Alex. This good Samaritan is again one of Alex's former victims, and also the creator of an anti government book titled "A Clockwork Orange." The author's name is F. Alexander. F. Alexander decides to use Alex to thwart the re-election of the government by showing how the police beat him up and that he has no freewill and cannot defend himself thanks to the conditioning. In the process of preparing Alex for the unraveling of the government, F. Alexander finds out that Alex is the one responsible for his wife's death...F. Alexander now seeks another revenge, to kill Alex. The attempt fails and Alex ends up in the hospital. While in the hospital the current government finds F. Alexander's plan and decide to bribe Alex to keep him from spreading anything negative about the government.

Now for the final "missing chapter" of the book, Alex finds that the violence and such are no longer his way of life and he wants to be normal and have a family. And all the violence is waved off as the thrill of youth.

This book takes a stab at many social statements, the corruption of government and police, what determines humanity and where does religion and culture fall in the forming of the human psyche. Not only some fun reading but as Bill Cosby used to say, "You may learn something, if you're not careful."

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