A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, adapted as a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. It is widely regarded as a successor to earlier great British dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World.

Burgess wrote1 that the title came from an old Cockney expression, "As queer [meaning strange] as a clockwork orange", but that he had found that other people read new meanings into it. For instance, some believed that the title referred to a mechanically-responsive (clockwork) non-human (orang, Malay for person). Rumour had it that Burgess had intended to name the work "A Clockwork Orang" and was thus hypercorrected to the form we know. In his essay "Clockwork oranges"2 he says that "this title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian, or mechanical, laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of colour and sweetness". This title alludes to the protagonist's conditional negativistic responses to feelings of evil which prevent the exercise of his free will.

The book was inspired by an event in 1944, when Burgess' pregnant wife Lynn was robbed and beaten by four US soldiers in a London street, which aborted the pregnancy.³

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers.

Set a few years in the future, it follows the career of a teenager, Alex. His main pleasures in life are classical music and random acts of violence (actually, "ultraviolence"). He tells his story in a teenage slang called "Nadsat", a variation of English with Russian slang.

Eventually Alex is caught and "rehabilitated" by a program of aversion therapy, which, though rendering him incapable of violence (even in self-defence), also makes him unable to enjoy his favourite classical music as an unintended side effect.

The moral question of the book is that Alex is now "good", but his ability to choose this has been taken away from him; his "goodness" is as artificial as the clockwork orange of the title.

Eventually Alex falls foul of some of his former victims, and the political fuss that ensues results in the state removing his conditioning; he gleefully returns to his early habits but finds he has lost the taste for it. The 20th chapter ends on a dark note, with Alex listening joyfully to music again, and eagerly anticipating his return to creating havoc.

At this point some editions of the book end, but there is a 21st chapter which was dropped at the time of US publication. Burgess claims that the original American publisher dropped his final chapter in an effort to make the book more depressing. The intended book was divided into three parts of 7 chapters each, which added up to be 21, a symbolic age at which a child earns his rights(when the novel was written). There is controversy as to whether the 21st chapter makes the book better or makes the books worse. In the 21st chapter, which takes place a few years after the 20th, we find Alex realising that his violent phase is over, but that it was inevitable. A few of the old characters are reincarnated as new friends of Alex. He thinks of starting a family, while thinking that his children will be as violent as he was, for a time.

The book was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, starring Malcolm McDowell as Alex and featuring a soundtrack by Wendy Carlos. (It would appear, from one of Burgess' later novels, The Clockwork Testament, that Burgess himself may not have been too pleased by the adaptation that made it to the screen)

In Britain the sexual violence in the film was considered extreme at the time, with the press blaming the influence of the film for an attack on a homeless person. The outcry annoyed Kubrick so much that he personally withdrew the film from distribution in the United Kingdom. As a result, the film could not be seen in Britain for some 27 years, until after Kubrick's death.

Rated X on its original release in the United States, the film was nonetheless nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture (it lost to The French Connection) and reinvigorated sales for recordings of Beethoven's ninth symphony. Later, a censored R-rated version was also released in the US; both the original X-rated and the later R-rated version are today available on VHS and DVD. Notably, the MPAA has since reclassified the X-rated version of the film to R.

Unrealized adaptations

Members of The Rolling Stones proposed to film their own adaptation before Stanley Kubrick decided to do so. Other unrealized versions were to contain girls in miniskirts or senior citizens instead of the teenage rowdies.

Related topics

External links


Clockwork Orange is also the nickname of the SPT metro line of Glasgow, Scotland