A Clockwork Orange

The airport is not the best place to read philosophy theses. But in my junior year, while waiting for the plane that would jumpstart my spring/summer adventure in Seoul, I did just that. Titled “A Horrorshow Raskazz in Kantian Morality: The Conflation of Ethik and Recht in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange,” Mike’s thesis gave me my first glimpse of this novel—not to mention Kantian philosophy. Danica gave me the book for my birthday.

With words like chelloveck and skolliwoll, this novel is half English and half invented language. The vocabulary bumps seemed too frequent at first, but fascinatingly enough, the strange words eventually registered in my mind just like any other. Still, more than its linguistic aspect, what is really striking about the book is the moral dilemma it poses. Young Alex is a repeat offender who undergoes an experimental procedure that renders him incapable of evil. He is then ejected back into society to build a “good” life—one in which evil is not only physically impossible, but no longer even conceivable.

After being promised freedom in a fortnight, Alex enters into the deal expecting it to be real horrorshow, but instead finds it a real horror show. “Am I like just some animal or dog?” The prison chaplain expresses the problem plainly: “He ceases to be a wrongdoer. [But] he ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.” What is the point of good if it is a person’s only reality? Where is the meaning in that? But: In a world of scarcity, should we give the same value to criminals as well as to innocents? When we cannot fund both the penal and social system, which do we choose? Also: Is completely removing evil from the horizon of another person’s existence not evil in itself? As Anthony Burgess himself states, “It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil.”

In the introduction, Burgess deplores his publisher’s omission of the last chapter, which he insists is integral to the novel. I agree, although I think it should have been toned down: Alex’s rapid maturation seems out of place, too glaringly didactic. Overall, A Clockwork Orange struck me as powerful—but underwhelming. Still, that’s probably only because I already knew the premise beforehand. First-time readers are certain to get more of a kick out of it than I did.

‘Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.’

‘You are to be made into a good boy, 6655321.’

It’s funny how the colours of the like real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen.


2 thoughts on “A Clockwork Orange

  1. Le Mike

    “Alex’s rapid maturation seems out of place, too glaringly didactic.”

    I both agree and disagree; in a novel so full of deviance that deviance becomes the norm, I chose to view Alex’s sudden maturity as his last, glorious act of rebellion, against both himself and the system that could just as easily have obliterated his capacity for the normal. I know it verges on over-reading, but still…

    Also, I ran out of time for my thesis, but it was supposed to have a portion wherein I discuss whether or not morality in itself (as good and evil), as differentiated from standards of conduct, is an inherently inhuman concept. I can feel Kant rolling in his grave.

    1. Mich Post author

      But does it feel like rebellion though? If I remember correctly, Burgess says in the foreword that he wanted redemption for Alex because he wanted the book to end on a positive, hopeful note. His US publishers disagreed, hence the squabble over the last chapter.

      I really should have read your thesis after the book! It preempted everything.


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