A Clockwork Orange | Wayne C. Connelly

This literature criticism consists of approximately 7 pages of analysis & critique of A Clockwork Orange.
This section contains 1,939 words
(approx. 7 pages at 300 words per page)
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Wayne C. Connelly

SOURCE: "Optimism in Burgess's A Clockwork Orange," in Extrapolation, Vol. 14, No. 1, December, 1972, pp. 25-9.

In the following essay, Connelly argues that the untruncated version of A Clockwork Orange is a story of "life's movement, of growing up and of renewal."

Some ten years after its publication Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange is finally beginning to receive justly deserved popular attention. It is unfortunate, however, that this attention is being given to a misleading and inferior version of the original novel. In both its British hardcover edition published by William Heinemann and its Pan paperback, the novel concludes with a seventh chapter to part three. This chapter is missing from the American Ballantine version as well as the recent Penguin edition. Furthermore, it is this incomplete version which Stanley Kubrick has so diligently followed in his successful film-script. Why the original ending should be absent is a question best answered, of course, by Burgess; nonetheless, it seems safe to suggest that the consequences of its absence are regrettable. Without this concluding chapter A Clockwork Orange becomes totally distorted; the novel assumes the appearance of a satire lacking a moral centre, an unsatisfying shriek of violence remaining horrifyingly neutral.

In its longer form A Clockwork Orange is a tale of adolescence. It is a story of life's movement, of growing up and of renewal. Alex's literary "brothers" are truly Huck Finn and Holden Caufield, and like them he, too, must confront sinning humanity and emerge with a kind of loving. Before going on, though, it might be wise to give a brief account of the missing chapter.

The first significant point to note is that the opening of this final chapter parallels the novel's very beginning:

'What's it going to be then, eh?'

There was me, Your Humble Narrator, and my three droogs, that is Len, Rick, and Bully, Bully being called Bully because of his bolshy big neck and very gromky goloss which was just like some bolshy great bull bellowing auuuuuuugh. We were sitting in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry … but I've told you all this before.

As Alex himself suggests, we have come full circle. He is once more the leader of a gang of droogs "tolchecking starry vecks" and buying "Scotchmen for baboochkas." Even the change in "nadsat" style is but a variation—"at this time it was the height of fashion to use the old britva on the gulliver, so that most of the gulliver was like bald and there was only hair on the sides."

Yet there is one remarkable difference. Alex himself is not the same. He is no longer "little Alex." In the preceding chapter, the ending for the American version and the Kubrick film, he had just returned to his old recidivist self, "slooshying the lovely music of the glorious Ninth" and dreaming of "carving the whole litso of the creeching world." In this chapter, however, his outlook and attitudes have undergone yet another dramatic change; only this time it has nothing to do with the Ludovico Technique. For example, he experiences ennui:

But somehow, my brothers, I felt bored and a bit hopeless, and I had been feeling that a lot these days.

He has wholly un-nadsat feelings about money:

There had come into my gulliver a like desire to keep all my pretty polly to myself, to like hoard it up for some reason.

Above all, though, his taste in music has altered. He is becoming sentimental:

I was slooshying more like romantic songs, what they call Lieder, just a goloss and a piano, very quiet and like yearny.

In fact, Alex is no longer a schoolboy. He has a regular "lewdie" job with the National Gramodisc Archives.

Alex's new droogs are naturally quite shocked by this talk of not wanting to spend "hard earned pretty polly," but what truly bewilders them is a newspaper clipping that Alex accidentally lets drop from his wallet. It is a photograph:

… of a baby gurgly goo goo goo with all like moloko dribbling from its rot and looking up and like smecking at everything, and it was all nagoy and its flesh was like in all folds with being a very fat baby.

Alex has no explanation for the picture, either for himself or for his droogs. He can only explain his odd behaviour as the effect of "a temporary illness."

Finally, unable to get into the mood for "a bit of the old dirty twenty-to-one," he leaves his new droogs to manage for themselves for the one night, and without knowing why, wanders into "a tea-and-coffee mesto full of dull lewdies." It is here that this final chapter achieves its ironic climax. For Alex encounters Pete, one of his former droogs, now dressed and talking like a lewdie and, worse, he has with him a "devotchka":

'Wife?' I like gaped. 'Wife wife wife?

Ah no, that cannot be. Too young art thou to be married, old droog. Impossible impossible.'

Alex's astonishment does not last long, however. In a moment, rather like an epiphany, he recognizes that Pete is old enough—and so indeed is he:

Perhaps that was it, I kept thinking. Perhaps I was getting old for the sort of jeezny I had been leading, brothers. I was eighteen now, just gone. Eighteen was not a young age.

The final chapter of Burgess's novel ends, consequently, with Alex realizing that the time has arrived for him to begin looking for a wife, some devotchka to be the mother of his son. As he puts it, "a new chapter was beginning."

A Clockwork Orange is thus a story of adolescence. Without this final chapter, though, Alex never does grow up, and Burgess's statement remains grotesquely incomplete. Earlier, it was suggested that Alex's "brothers" were to be found in Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye, both classic tales of youth and coming-of-age. The narrative technique and style are unquestionably the same. That is, all three novels are presented ostensibly as first person vernacular narratives—or naive autobiographies. Compare, for example, these openings with that of the Burgess novel:

You don't know me without you read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom's Aunt Polly, she is—, and Mary, and the Widow Douglass is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers as I said before. [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1884]

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them. [Catcher in the Rye, 1951]

In each instance, the narrator is an adolescent male; he appears to admit his readers to a special intimacy; and he addresses them in a peculiar spoken idiom. Alex's "nadsat" is simply a teenage slang, a patois or dialect not so unlike Huck's "Pike County" or Holden's "New York 1950's." Its real achievement and distinction lie in its being an altogether artificial construction. Fixed indefinitely in the future and based primarily on a mongrelizing of Russian and American, "nadsat" is able to suggest both the generality and the insularity of adolescence. It bridges those adult distinctions, time and place, and creates a private world of its own.

The humour of A Clockwork Orange, a somewhat surprising aspect of its art, likewise resembles the humour of Huckleberry Finn and Catcher in the Rye. It is a deceptively harmless surfacing that serves to undercut the pessimism. Even so, Alex's world often seems funny and always childishly pitiable precisely because it reflects, as do the worlds of Huck Finn and Holden Caufield, the condition which existentialists have described as "the Absurd." That is to say, there exists in all three novels a disparity between reality and the protagonist's vision.

It is the accommodation of reality and private vision, moreover, which constitutes the movement of the coming-of-age novel. Alex's nightmare world is a portrait of a dystopian future, but the world of "twenty-to-one" and "the old in-out-in-out" is equally an adolescent fantasy—a youthful male living in his own private reality, a reality that only begins after dark, consisting exclusively of taverns and streets, of other youths and girls, and, of course—on the outside—of lewdies. When he determines it is time to grow up, Alex looks back on his old self and sees the limits of the "nadsat" vision:

Yes yes yes, there it was. Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. No, it is not just like being an animal so much as being like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets, like little chellovecks made out of tin and with a soring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being one of these malenky machines.

Nevertheless, Alex has no illusions about growing up. He knows that his own son will have to go through the same process—"yes perhaps even killing some poor forella surrounded with mewing kots and koshkas." Almost beyond-instinct in its determinism, Burgess's adolescence must be endured, not learnt from. Thus the ending of the novel does not arise from the preceding chapters; it is a new beginning.

In The Wanting Seed, another novel written in the same year and also having a future setting, Burgess describes human history as a cycle of Augustinian and Pelagian phases. It appears that in the individual movement of life, adolescence is correspondingly a period of inherent sinfulness, as well as a period of mechanism and anti-life. Accordingly, A Clockwork Orange can be characterized as Alex's personal "Augustinian night." Throughout all but the last chapter he shares in the existentialist pleasure in viewing life as innately evil. Still, for Burgess, Augustinian night is inevitably followed by Pelagian day. And so there exists in A Clockwork Orange, as in The Wanting Seed, a cosmic grace, a "mystery," that somehow moves Alex into his Pelagian phase, his own period of choice and life. Beatrice-Joanna decides for her "gurgling wooly rosy twins," and Alex, too, chooses the "gurgly goo goo goo" son of his news-clipping.

A Clockwork Orange is, finally, not a novel of paroxysm but of paradox, not of chaos but of dichotomy. There is a bright as well as a dark vision. However, without this last chapter the continuum of life (Burgess's moral centre) is absent, and we do not see the coming of day:

… and so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round, like some bolshy gigantic like chelloveck, like old Bog Himself turning and turning a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers.

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This section contains 1,939 words
(approx. 7 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Wayne C. Connelly
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