Con-nerd-sseur Log-Book #4- A Clockwork Orange

Brought the grandparents back to West Virginia today, so I got a good chunk of time to hammer out my fourth literary taste test of NPR‘s list of the top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books-A Clockwork Orange.

Book: A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess


Time Period: Thursday December 22nd- (early) December 23rd

Source: Audiobook borrowed from Westminster Library

This is the first book on the list I felt a little torn on. There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t as satisfying a story as I thought it would be. For example, I liked the author’s commentary at the beginning, the use of linguistics, the commentary on society and the individual (control, blame, etc.), and Alex’s terrible nature throughout the story. But, the thing I didn’t like about it was the end, which Burgess addressed a bit in his foreword, which left me feeling cheated in terms of the story.

Burgess begins by commenting that this is a book he feels obliged to take “responsibility for” and he hoped it would die away and not have to remember. This is one of his earlier pieces in which he was still testing his literary chops, so he says the ending is a bit too didactic and there are other works of his he considers far better than this one, which he must now suffer the immortality of thanks to the film adaptation. He also comments on the final chapter that both the American version of the novel and Kubrick’s film omit-which I feel rightfully do. And my reasoning will be explained shortly.

First off, I loved the use of linguistics. Initially I was put off because I didn’t understand what they meant and why the author felt compelled to make me think this hard, but I came to find it rather tasteful because it adds further to Alex’s subversion and mockery of the controls placed upon him by society (like the moral and social expectations of others and the government). This is initially a hard character to sympathize with because of what seems to be morally reprehensible behavior (mind you, some of it is) but, when you see the lead-up to and the repercussions of these actions, we discover society’s role in Alex’s issues as well. Alex is the personification of all the terrible things society does to itself but concentrated into one character. Alex not only reflects society’s own woeful behavior but reveals it through his own struggle and even mocks it. For example, while some would think that Alex taking the two young girls home and getting them drunk and doing the ole’ in-out is a terrible thing, I found it rather the right thing to do. Alex’s actions do not show the poor morals of him, but of the girls. These girls want to seem sophisticated and older (like when they are choosing a restaurant) but they have a very innocent view of the world. However, this innocence seems to be a bit of a guise. These girls knew damn well what Alex intended to do by bringing them home, yet they are the ones that blame him for being terrible and perverted when they sober up to what they were doing. This causes me to sympathize more with Alex. Also, when Alex kills the old lady as well as the man in prison I sympathized with him. He broke into the house (which is bad) and the old lady fought him (no complaint here). But when she starts telling her cats to fight him (which they do) and then getting on his case for hitting her cats pissed me off at her (the intended effect of the author). This lady had a separate set of expectations for herself and others, Alex, which I feel characterizes the relationship of society to the individual well. When it is concerning her, she is will sink to any level, but when Alex is trying to fight back, she refuses to see his perspective (the getting his face scratched off perspective) that prompts Alex to finish her off. This tendency of society to see the wrong of others and not themselves is continued in the prison when everyone cheers on Alex to beat the man, but when there is authority to answer to he is thrown to the dogs.

One thing I found incredibly satisfying was that Alex maintained his character right until the government intervened with their process of destroying the individual. Alex is this asshole throughout the entire story and his parallel with society depicts the worst side of the collective self. Alex is the leader of his group and just like the government because both of the two seek to control people (Alex tells his droogs what to do, the government does the same). Throughout the whole story, I felt sympathy for Alex because he just seemed to be society’s receptacle. He is always taken advantage of by those in power, his three droogs, the government and even the three men at the end. This is seen best when Alex’s free will has been inhibited and the officials are mocking him (the part when the minister hits him and he can’t do anything to fight back-yeah, that bit). I felt for this character more than I ever did. When Alex jumps out the window (something society drove him to do) and then everyone clambers to him to look like the good guy, I felt even more for him because while he is a seemingly bad person, it is his choice to do certain things…just like the repercussions of these actions are the choices of others (but he is the only one that really owns up to the responsibility of their actions). When Alex finally regained his ability to hate and fight, I was overjoyed because this meant he had finally regained his free will, by himself, after society had fought to stomp it out of him. This is what made the last chapter so disappointing.

I felt the last chapter was rushed and disingenuous to Alex. After years of fighting society and finally succeeding (by regaining his free will) Alex just gives up….Bull shit! I just don’t buy it. Alex fights his whole life and NOW he just gives into fate without even fighting it? I don’t buy it. And this chapter is way too short and rushed to sell me this. Had I seen Alex going around with his new droogs, raping some girls and fighting some people and then saying “I’m bored, fuck this” I would totally buy it. But just saying, I’m growing up, I feel bored and I feel something inside me changing was a tough sell. I agree with Burgess when he calls this too didactic of an ending. I would have liked this ending were it more typical Alex-with the fighting and all that.

The entire human race is a clockwork orange (something that appears to be living on the outside but is really governed by hard and fast rules, no exceptions…lacking variation and uniqueness) hence, why everyone seems to be all good or all bad. But Alex is the actual human because he made choices and didn’t just let things happen or blame others for the responsibility of actions. So, with this in mind, you will see why I find this to be a disappointing and unsettling ending. Burgess commented early on that the idea of art, a novel in particular, is to show characters change. The arc this novel took (or attempted to) was Alex goes from thoughtless violence to thoughtful non-violence. But the ending just didn’t convey this. He just seemed to be letting society manipulate him by succumbing to the pressure of having a life and a family-just like it pushed him to destroy himself-showing no change at all. He could just have easily chosen to be violent and continue mocking society’s tendency to de-humanize individuals in the guise of the common good. But he didn’t. He just perpetuated the thoughtless adherence to social paradigm that makes him just another ticking gear in the clockwork orange. Thus, I did not find the ending satisfying.

While this is a great book for many reasons, I just didn’t buy the reasoning behind the ending. This book was on point pretty much the whole way through and then it just fizzled at the end. Mind you, it could have ended either way (Alex being good or bad), but not having Alex really struggle to SHOW his revelation, the reader is cheated. Alex goes from being our humble narrator to being a pathetic man that gives into fate and doesn’t even try to fight it. While this does piss me off quite a bit, the book is still great (real horrorshow 😉 ) and I would recommend the read. I may even try a re-read.

I know I’m not a reviewer or a literary expert, so you don’t have to take my word for it. This is just my initial response to my first reading of the text. There are many ways this could be interpreted and somewhere in there I likely made some mistakes or misinterpretations. But, I do hope that my humble perspective at least helped you in your understanding of this dark and very philosophical novel. This has been the fourth entry of my con-nerd-sseur literary taste testing. Until next time, have a happy holiday! I look forward to giving you more feedback on my reading exploits.



~ by theblogofmatthew on December 23, 2011.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: