A Clockwork Orange
Fruits of Redemption
After following a few violent days in the life of Alex, the anti-hero of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, and his friends (his `droogs' in the slang of the time), we're obviously supposed to be shocked when we he declares, after murdering an elderly woman, "And me still only fifteen.."
Maybe when written in 1962 this was shocking. Post-Columbine High School, most people have become numb to violent acts committed by children. The fact that Alex and his gang's favorite pastimes are spreading terror, theft, and rape, may even seem tame by today's standards. Yet we should be appalled, none the less. Not at his age, but with the cavalier attitude towards death and the destruction of the lives of others.
It is a well known fact that Burgess was dismayed at the success of A Clockwork Orange. In the introduction to the 1986 reprint, which included the "missing" 21st chapter, never published in the United States before (more on that later), Burgess says he would "be glad to disown it for various reasons, but that is not permitted." While ACO survives, other works of his that he values more, "bite the dust." Such is the life of an artist. Our humble narrator is a 15-year old leader of a small gang of droogs. The four spend their after-school hours wreaking as much havoc as they can muster. Of course, boys being boys, someone has to lead the pack.
As the result of a power struggle within the little group, during a bungled robbery attack, Alex takes one across the glazlids, and is left blinded for the police to pick him up.
Though sentenced to spend 15 years in prison, a stroke of luck gives Alex the opportunity to participate in a new experimental aversion treatment for violent criminals. He emerges from prison a changed, if not particularly new, man. The violent impulses are still there, but he is overwhelmed by nausea whenever they rear their ugly head.
Now a "victim" of the state, the opposition political party that is fighting the government's recent crackdown on violent crime seizes upon Alex's plight. He becomes their poster child for overthrowing the oppressive regime in the next elections. Tormented by his present condition, Alex attempts suicide by leaping from a window. His failure only draws attention to the issue (the opposition is delighted) but prods the government into righting its previous "wrong" by changing Alex back to his old self.
"I was cured all right," the original American version ended. So now our little droog is back to the way he was; violent, chaotic free will and hormones raging. Ready to prey on society once again, only now with a good paying government job from his new friends.
The new version or, perhaps I should say, the original version (now available in the U.S.) has an entirely different ending. In the final chapter, our "young thuggish protagonist grows up. He feels bored with violence and recognises that human energy is better expended on creation rather than destruction." This version, Burgess believes, is a true novel as it is founded on the principle that human beings change. The old American version was a fable as are all fictional works that fail to show change in human character.
The prison chaplain, who befriends Alex, puts it succinctly when he says, "When a man ceases to choose, he ceases to be a man... It may be horrible to be good."
He warns the pre-treatment Alex, "You are passing now to a region where you will be beyond the reach of the power of prayer. A terrible terrible thing to consider. And yet, in a sense, in choosing to be deprived of the ability to make an ethical choice, you have in a sense really chosen the good. So I shall like to think."
Burgess, like his jailhouse preacher, is a strong believer in free will. They are appalled that government could decide to take away one's ability to make decisions between right and wrong. If that happens, a person is no longer a person and the fact that they will no longer harm anyone else is secondary to the fact they have been harmed themselves. Then what is the point of punishing criminal behavior?
Which brings us to the final, omitted (dare I say censored?) chapter. In the original novella, and the revised American version, Burgess' character has a sort of realization that maybe the life of violence he has lead is not the right way. Maybe he should even get married and have kids - not that he would be able to control them any more than his parents did him, but just maybe... Is this a true conversion in Alex? Or is it the idle prattle of a common street thug? Burgess intends for us to believe that it's the beginnings of a true change.
Suppose it is. That's not a hard thesis to support. Alex himself recognizes that something is changing. "There is something happening inside me," he says, "and I wondered if it was like some disease or if it was what they had done to me..." But Burgess fails to take the cue from his own character.
Perhaps out of resentment for the original omission of his last chapter, Burgess refuses to even recognize that maybe it was the punishment he received that has lead to the new Alex. Instead, he gives all the credit to Alex's free will. Perhaps. After all, as he says, "The important thing is moral choice. Evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate."
And so it must.
expressed do not necessarily reflect those of PoliticalUSA.com.