Banned Books: A Clockwork Orange

a clockwork orangeEvery year when I look at the lists of books being challenged, I’m never surprised to see Anthony Burgess’ masterpiece A Clockwork Orange (or The Clockwork Orange as I often here it referred to at work) sitting there, all oppressed-like. It doesn’t surprise me as much as it would to see something like Goodnight Moon on the list, but I still think Clockwork the book gets an unfair rap because of Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation (awesome as well).

The movie is pretty hard for me to watch, emotionally. Even though the book contains the same content, in terms of themes and events, the book is extremely easy for me to read, psychologically and emotionally–it’s easy for me every which way except linguistically. But the wordplay is one of the book’s many charms.

So I always wonder if the weenies trying to ban the book have the movie in mind. Stanley Kubrick certainly made his share of conservative enemies!

Plot summary of A Clockwork Orange

By now, you probably expect that anything I review will be dystopian literature. Not always, but often, and Burgess’ book is no exception. Set in a future that most people would not want to live in, teenage gangs roam the streets at night, doing pretty much whatever they want, to whoever they want, rarely suffering any consequences. Picture Stanley Kubrick depicting explicit crimes and you get the idea. But the book, in comparison, glosses over many events that get lingered over in the film.

Then Alex, is caught during a crime. Alex is the leader of his gang and is a pretty nasty person. In the movie he is played by Malcolm McDowell in one of the greatest performances I have ever seen.

Alex is incarcerated and finds, unsurprisingly, that prison is not at all to his liking. He is miserable enough to jump at the chance to go an experimental treatment in “aversion therapy.” If it succeeds, he will be released back into society, no longer a danger to anyone.

The therapy looks like this:

A Clockwork Orange

Alex is shown recordings of the sorts of crimes he used to participate in. He is conditioned to feel a wrenching nausea and horror at the mere suggestion of violence. The treatment “works,” and Alex is released, but of course there is more to the story.

A Clockwork Orange asks some big questions for anyone willing to slow down and think about them. The nature of evil, the ethics of aversion therapy, you get the picture. But the book can also be read purely for story.

I mentioned the linguistic challenges of the book. Alex’s gang speaks an English dialect called “nadsat,” an invention of Anthony Burgess that gives the book a feel unlike any other–because the characters speak in a way that you have never heard outside of this novel, I guarantee it.

You’ll get the hang of it quickly, however, and most editions I have seen in the last few years have a handy-dandy glossary in the back.

Good stuff. I love this book.

Have you read it? Loved it? Hated it? How about the movie?

Josh

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