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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Book Review

‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess is about a 15-year-old boy Alex who alongside his friends enjoys ultraviolence, rape, drugs and music. They live in a dystopia where the State is corrupt and the people live in fear. The 1962 novel is controversial and much acclaimed, raising moral issues on good and evil. It examines the problems of juvenile delinquents and the possibility of aversion therapy. Chapter 2 (Part 1) of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is an important part of the novel. In Chapter 2 the reader learns a lot about Alex and his friends, or as Alex refers to them, his ‘droogs’.

(‘Droogs’ comes from the language that Alex uses in the book; it is a kind of teenage colloquial language, called Nadsat, which is used throughout the book). We also learn about Burgess and some of his opinions and learn a lot through the language used to describe what happens in Chapter 2. At the start of Chapter 2 Alex has just left “the Duke of New York”, after already that night taking a concoction of drugs, terrorising and humiliating an old man, robbing a local shop, attacking a drunken man and battling with another youth gang.

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Already the reader knows Alex and his droogs quite well and have already to some extent learnt that Alex lives in a dystopia where the world is a place of terror. It is not a shock to the reader when Alex steals a car. He says, “We backed out lovely, and nobody viddied us take off”. He has no fear and was not afraid.

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Whilst driving the stolen car Alex and his droogs show disrespect for all in their path. They reach a place with a sign called “HOME”, this is when Alex and his droogs stop and get out of the car.

Next Alex describes how he politely knocks on the door of this house and politely asks to call an ambulance to help an injured friend. Alex is polite and persuasive and very different to the Alex the reader knows. After much deliberation the woman who Alex has been talking to opens the door. Alex then puts on his mask and as the door opens Alex and his droogs run in lifting up the woman and taking her along with them. What happens next is the climax of their criminal activity. They are rude to the woman and her husband; they also ruin the life works of the husband.

The man is writing a book titled, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which Alex throws all over the floor. The reader is shown how Alex really has no respect whatsoever for someone else’s life and property. He then rips the work to shreds and they all beat the man. The others then start to eat food, which is surprising as most people find food around blood and violence are not a pleasant mix. Yet for them it is which shows the reader what sot of people they are. Alex then rapes the woman. Then they cause destruction in the house and the droogs urinate and also prepare to excrete on the carpet.

They then leave, drive back in the stolen car, “running over odd squealing things on the way”, as Alex puts it. Anthony Burgess uses language and form to describe what Alex and his droogs have done. One way Burgess does this is through 1st person narration. Everything is written from Alex’s point of view. This means that everything we are reading is from Alex’s perspective, which at times allows the reader to side with him. For example, when he is tying to persuade the woman to open the door the reader is eager for her to do so, he says, “I could slooshy the clack clack clakcky clack clack clackity clackclack of some veck typing away”.

It is as though the reader is present with Alex. During the passage Alex does terrible things for example when he rapes the woman, and for the reader to read this is appalling so Burgess uses ways to detach and distance us from the hideous crimes committed so that the are not so graphic. One way Burgess does this is through the Nadsat language. Because Alex talks in the Nadsat language it detaches us from what is going on. For example when he rapes the woman he says, “while I ripped away at this and that and the other, the others going haw haw haw still, and real hororshow groodies they were…

while I untrussed and got read for the plunge”. This is not that graphic, taking into consideration what is actually happening. Nadsat muffles the violence and horror of the reality to make it less distressing for the reader. The place that Alex and his droogs commit the horrendous crimes is called “HOME”. Alex describes it as “a gloomy sot of name” but to the reader and most people home is not. Home is a place which most people feel safe and secure. It makes the reader think, where can humans be safe if not in their own home? Yet Alex doesn’t see home in that way.

Burgess has done this to show that the society Alex is living in is out of control. This is also represented when Alex says; “she hadn’t shut the door like she should have done, us being strangers of the night”. Even Alex, the one committing the crimes understands the world that he lives in is not safe. Some readers perhaps might find that this makes Alex even worse, that he plans his attacks knowing the dystopia that he lives in. Burgess also shows in detail the way that Alex ties to persuade the woman to let him into the house.

The words Alex says to the woman are, “Pardon, madam, most sorry to disturb you, but my friend and me were out for a walk, and my friend has taken bad all of a sudden with a troublesome turn, and he is out there on the road dead out and groaning. Would you have the goodness to let me use you telephone to telephone for an ambulance? ” Alex is polite, courteous and talks like a well-spoken gentleman. Yet from what he is doing we know he is not. Therefore I think we receive mixed messages about Alex. At times he does the most disgusting of acts and at others he is polite and what society would call ‘normal’.

This is shown again when Dim, Georgie and Pete (the droogs) eat and drink after some violence. This in its own rights shows a lot about the droogs, after committing horrendous violence they are able to eat. Eating is something we do everyday, its normal and for the droogs to be relaxed enough to eat then, what they are doing must not be that much of a shock or disgrace to them. Also Burgess describes the droogs as, “going haw haw haw, viddying old Dim dancing around and fisting the writer veck”. The language Burgess uses greatly gives the impression that the droogs really don’t care.

Yet Alex does, he says, “I didn’t like that, it being dirty and slobbery”. Burgess portrays Alex as loving blood, violence and rape but ironically he is neurotic about being clean. Again the reader understanding two ‘different’ Alex’s. Some of the language Burgess uses is also theatrical. For example when Alex says to the woman and her husband, “Never fear. If fear thou hast in the heart, O brother, pray banish it forthwith”. Burgess uses this language to make the incident sound like a performance because to Alex that is what it is and that’s what it is shown to the reader to be.

Alex is the director of a surreal sadistic show of ultraviolence. After Alex and his droogs have committed these acts of violence and rape, Alex says, “Then there was like quiet and we were like full of hate, so smashed what was left to be smashed”. It seems like Alex and his droogs are left feeling empty, they are not fulfilled with what they have done, to be left with hate is a feeling of self-disgust. In some ways the reader can relate to them more, after all they are humans, even though they have just done these awful acts.

Burgess then describes an act of childlike behaviour. Dim, “watered the fire out and was going to dung on the carpet”. This means Dim urinated in the house and was going to excrete, this is not evil or morally wrong, it is viewed as disgusting but also as a practical joke. The reader is shocked but this kind of violation is different from rape and violence and shows a younger side to the droogs. At the end of the chapter Alex says, “But they’d live”, referring to the people from the house he had just terrorised. The reader feels shocked and disgusted by this scene.

Burgess through his language and form presents this chapter in a way that shows the droogs and Alex at the height of their criminal activities. In this section even though the reader reads Alex’s point of view and the description is not as graphic Burgess still wants to show the reader that Alex and his droogs are beyond redemption, Burgess encourages you to think they are juvenile delinquents. Yet Burgess’s point is that whoever you are, even the Alex’s of the world, shouldn’t have their freedom taken away from them. He makes this point when Alex destroys the writer’s book, entitled “A CLOCKWORK ORANGE”.

The description reads, “The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen”. Alex makes fun of this but ironically Alex becomes a ‘clockwork orange’, later on in the book. Yet through this rape scene Burgess wants us to see Alex is a horrible person and commits rape and violence, this being a poignant subject for Burgess as his wife was raped. Yet his main idea is this doesn’t mean his free will should be taken away.

When the novel was written in 1962, at the time aversion therapy was being considered as a way to deal with the number of juvenile delinquents. Yet Burgess was against this idea, he believed that humans have the choice good or evil, and it was a choice whether to be good or evil. Chapter 2 (Part 1) tells the reader a lot about Alex and his droogs and the terrible acts or violence and crime they commit. The reader also learns how Burgess greatly uses language and form to show his point. ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is a book of controversy that deals with sensitive issues but through Alex and his droogs Burgess makes his point.

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A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Book Review. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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