Book Review on A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange, written by Anthony Burgess, describes a fifteen year old boy named Alex who only knows how to enact violence to his immediate surroundings. The readers are informed by Burgees in the introduction of the book to be our own judge as to whether the twenty-first chapter is the artistically appropriate ending for the novel in which our narrator, Alex, transforms into a human being conscious of the good in the world and chooses to be good. I am, however, arguing that the artistic appropriate ending for this novel is III 6, due to evidences in the text that suggest the narrator’s relation with his younger self that contradicts with the transformation in III 7.

The author’s claims in the introduction that: “it is with a kind of shame that this growing youth looks back on his devastating past. He wants a different kind of future” (vii-viii). Burgess is telling the story through his sense of retrospection as an author, by conveying his original intension which he had when he was writing the story. However, the readers’ sense of reading comes from the narrator, due to the first person narration of the novel, which causes the readers to interpret things differently than the author. The disputed ending by the readers is an unintended consequence on Burgess’ part. The quote from the introduction written by Burgess implies that there is a distinctive relationship between the narrator and his younger self, the one who goes through the events. If this quote is true, it would mean that the narrator is contrite about the acts of violence he has committed as a youth because he has changed. However, the contrary seems to be true because the narrator is not contrite at all for the violence that he has inflicted thus far. The counter argument to my proposed ending of the book at III 6 will be to locate evidences in the novel that supports the transformation of the narrator. I, however, am going to demonstrate that there is no change.

The way the narrator narrates his younger self committing these acts of violence is in a tone of retrospective joy. If the narrator had indeed changed as the author claim in his introduction, I would’ve expected the narrator to have a more remorseful tone or even a slight disgust when he presents the scenes of the violence to the readers; however, this is not true at all. A manifestation of the retrospective joy by the narrator is evident when he describes his younger self about to rape the two little girls: “[putting on the] lovely Ninth…and then the lovely blissful tune all about Joy being a glorious spark like of heaven, and then I felt the old tigers leap in me…” (50-51). The diction used to describe the violent scene is very descriptive, conveying the exuberant emotion displayed by the narrator’s younger self. However, I am puzzled at this moment because there is no clear distinctive relationship between the narrator and his younger self; the lack of distinction signifies the narrator taking on the identity of his younger self, which is clearly not in accordance with the author’s claim in the introduction that the narrator has changed.

The lack of distinction or the lack of voice to distinguish between the narrator and his younger self can be viewed as a problematic aspect that Burgess has produced through his writing, which lends support to the ending in III 6, where the narrator does not change. An example of this is the claim by the narrator in the novel that suggests that he believes in and respects the notion of free will in every single individual: “if lewdies are good that’s because they like it, I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures…but what I do I do because I like to do” (44-45). This quote above implies a conscious distinction in Alex’s mind between good and bad. Alex is saying that he doesn’t interfere with other people wanting to be good because they have the freedom to do so; however, the same thing applies to Alex in his choice to be bad because he chooses to do so. Furthermore, Alex explicitly states, “I don’t mind about the ultra-violence and all that cal. I can put up with that. But it’s not fair on the music.” (130), in the conditioning process; this goes to show that Alex is unaffected by the violence and the horrors in the film. He is desensitized to the violence presented in the films. It proves to me that Alex can only understand the world through the association of music. Therefore, the illness that Alex feels is only through the association of his physical illness and discomfort with the music being played in the films: “It’s not fair I should feel ill when I’m slooshying lovely Ludwig van and G.F Handel and others” (130). The physical discomfort has nothing to do with the images shown in the film because Alex is desensitized to violence. Furthermore, after Alex is conditioned in II 7, he becomes a spectacle in front of a crowd on a stage that prompts him to engage in violent behaviors. It is in this moment on the stage that Alex’s instinctive reaction is revealed through the trial that he is put through. In the second trial when a beautiful girl with “real horrowshow groddies” (142) walks up to Alex, the first response that he has is that “[he] would like to have her right down there on the floor with the old in-out real savage…” (142). This is after Alex is conditioned, which means that Alex didn’t change in his nature, despite the Ludovico’s technique. Alex is still the same old boy with the violent nature in his heart; he just can’t act in accordance with his desires, due to the conditioning he has been through. The two major factors that refute Alex’s transformation into a human being at III 7 come from his belief in free will and the unchanging instinctive nature to commit violence he keeps after the conditioning process.

The chapter that justifies my sense of the book’s ending is III 6, particularly the last line of that chapter where Alex said, “I was cured all right” (199). This last line in the chapter does justice to the title of the book and the entire book as a whole. By ending the book with III 6, Burgess truly depicts Alex as “a clockwork orange.” The ending of the book at III 6 dramatizes the entire novel by bringing everything back to the start like a clockwork. The diachronic progression of the book can be viewed as a clockwork; the various events that Alex has been through: inflicting violence, being sent to jail, conditioned by psychologists, released from jail, and finally the extinction of the conditioning brings him right back to where he started. Symmetry is displayed through this ending, which represents Burgess’s own aesthetic as he uses the theme of symmetry throughout the novel. For example, Dim and Billyboy become the police after Alex is let out of the jail, displaying a symmetric narrative constructed by Burgess. Therefore, if the book was to end at chapter III 7, the most important symmetric element that completes the whole book, the ending, would not exist because Alex becomes asymmetric in his relation to his younger self and the previous events of the book.

In conclusion, the evidences in the novel clearly suggest that the narrator does not change at all. Alex’s belief in free will and his idiosyncratic mind produces an inexorable propensity to enact violence because he finds pleasure in doing so. In the novel, we can find moments in the text where the narrator blends in with his younger self as he describes his youthful activities with a joyful tone. Therefore, the artistically appropriate ending for A Clockwork Orange should be III 6 because it represents the narrator and depicts him as a clockwork that returns to the same starting point but still having the organic quality of a human being, an orange, at the end of the book.