Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Orange you glad I didn't say "Oozhassny"?

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. London: Norton, 1967 (1963).

Alex is a young man of the streets in Anthony Burgess' futuristic world of violence and desecration. His nocturnal hobbies include theft, beatings, rape, and the occasional murder, and in the daytime he spends his hours cutting school to listen to the works of Beethoven, Bach, or Handel. A Clockwork Orange begins at a time when the Alex of the night is kept separate from the Alex of the music, and progresses onwards as Alex is arrested, imprisoned, and subsequently reformed into a model citizen, as his two sides suddenly collide in a cacophony of misery for Alex, to whom all that once seemed beautiful becomes abhorrent. At once, Alex finds himself hating those things he loves best.

Several editions of this novel, apparently, have been published without the final chapter, simply to make the book less optimistic. Burgess in his introduction explains that the story is worthless without its conclusion, which shows the power of the human's will to choose. Morality in A Clockwork Orange becomes meaningless unless it comes from one's will. The final chapter, then, exhibits Alex's choice in a way that gives purpose to the rest of the book, as once again the Alex of the night and the Alex of the music are separated, although in this second instance, Alex's two personae struggle to coexist in a way that one would not have expected in earlier chapters.

A Clockwork Orange is surprisingly self-aware of itself on multiple levels; both Alex in his narrations and Burgess in his coincidences seem determined to make the reader aware of the media as well as the story, perhaps because of their point. Burgess is correct; the book is pointless without its conclusion. Although it deals with some harsh subjects, A Clockwork Orange asks some fundamental human questions, and even takes a step towards answering a few of these, in bold and daring black and white.

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