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The Book Club

Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange

1. A dystopian future. The image of a not-so-distant future painted by Anthony Burgess is distorted and disturbing; though the purported proliferation of criminals and the absence of proper law and order – particularly when night falls – create an atmosphere of dread and trepidation. Scenes of ultra-violence – as Alex would put in, a “real horrorshow” – varying from senseless fights, unprovoked home intrusions, and revolting scenes of murder and rape; all these significantly contribute to a general sense of helplessness and overall vulnerability. The inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the existing system – and the seemingly-possible explosion of these events beyond the text – provides the perfect setting for Alex and his experiences.

2. Comprehending (and struggling with) Nadsat. Like many, I struggled with comprehending the assortment of slangs and phrases used by Alex and his counterparts. However, given the repetitive nature of the language and the simple logic behind Nadsat, one would get along fine – on occasion attempting to decipher some words and sentences – as events become more coherent and the language itself makes perfect sense (for instance, it does not take one long to figure what the “old in-out” means). Literally, this form of vernacular speech does complement the degree of brutality and sex involved; though in a deeper sense it reflects the youths’ apathy towards conformity and adherence to societal norms. Interestingly, even though the reader might feel a sense of alienation due to the barrier in linguistics; he is gradually eased – through Alex’s narration – into his point of view, and probably observes people and events independent of the periphery.

3. In conversation with Alex. With Alex as protagonist and (humble) narrator, “A Clockwork Orange” works because the reader is slowly drawn into Alex’s world: the prose rhythms are strangely attractive; narrations are proliferated with slangs et cetera. Violence and sex are treated with an air of casualness, and Alex’s embrace of these ideals and crimes is incorporated with a sense of aestheticism and romanticism. Alex’s focuses upon himself – rather than the society at large – give the readers the impression that the plethora of offences is commonplace, with an added degree of authenticity.

4. A Clockwork Orange. Anthony Burgess puts the novel’s title in perspective succinctly. “By definition, a human being is endowed with free will. He can use this to choose between good and evil. If he can only perform good or only perform evil, then he is a clockwork orange – meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State”.

5. Something is rotten in the state of the State. As Alex and his droogs get themselves into drugged stupors of laced milk-drinks, they subsequently go on unprovoked drug sprees involving purposeless theft, violence and rape. Yet as the State laments the sorry state of its youths who are unrestrained in their irrational activities, the State itself is unfortunately also in an awful mess. The prison system is peppered with guards who are oppressive, brutal and sadistic; while the State has decided to (absurdly) employ previously-violent youths as police officers. Naturally, without proper rehabilitation and perhaps even training, these people in power abuse the authority they are entrusted with, resorting to unjustified aggression and brutality to citizens. Frustration against the State’s lethargy and ineffectiveness is represented by F. Alexander and his group of activists, who are actively campaigning against the incumbent administration.

6. F. Alexander. F. Alexander, like Alex, is a victim of circumstances; or as he explains to Alex, a “victim of the modern age”. He has personally been on the receiving end of the lack of proper law and order in the State – having been cruelly assaulted, and having seen his wife raped and eventually dying of shock – and laments the ineptness of the Government. After all, it is an administration that demands control and stability – whilst intolerant of dissent – by employing the threat of violence, adopting technological innovations, clamping down on dissidents et cetera. Alexander’s treatment of Alex in the end divides opinions: was he going too far by hypocritically using Alex as a “case example” – rather than respecting him as a human being – to establish his point against the government; or was the move justified, since Alex and his droogs were indeed the ones who had directly or indirectly contributed to the misery and tragedy in his life?

7. Whose fault is it? The State has to take a huge responsibility for allowing events to manifest and spiral out of control; though the apathy and lethargy of Alex’s parents reflect the absence of proper intervention to guide Alex, as well as the many youths who have gone astray like him. While Man should be empowered to make choices and decisions, they should be guided by moral yardsticks – established and refined by educators and parents through active education – to decide personally what is “right” or “wrong”. Alex’s eventual realisation of his laissez-faire attitude comes when he sees Pete grounded by commitment and attachment; and perhaps if he had enjoyed such affection early in his life, he might have been properly guided in the right direction. The responsibility for educating a person to think and choose goes way beyond the individual.

8. The importance of individual free will. “Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man”. “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him”? “He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice”.

9. Deep hypnopaedia and the Ludovico’s Technique. Is hypnopaedia a common feature for most established dystopian literature; after all, a large segment of Huxley’s “Brave New World” is premised upon this technique to emphasise the State’s extent of control and manipulation of its people. Through that process, citizens are conditioned to be devoid of any personal identity; instead, they begin to think in terms of the community and hence actively reject any forms of commitment or relationship-attachments. In “A Clockwork Orange”, Alex – through the Ludovico’s Technique – is conditioned to reject violence and sex because of the accompanying nausea and headaches that he experiences. Alex might not be harmless; but he is defenceless, incapable of choice, and can no longer enjoy classical music, since he has constantly associated the latter with violence and sex.

10. Classical music. In a direct sense. Alex relates his acts of violence and sex with classical music; for instance, he uses musical language for his violent acts, experiences parallels in the aesthetic pleasures of violence and classical music, and once climaxes whilst blasting classical music in his room. Classical music, as an art form, shows a more sensitive side of Alex; and sharply contrasts the country’s disregard for it (with individuals opting more for more popular and hip pop music).

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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