A Clockwork Orange | Critical Essay by William H. Pritchard

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of A Clockwork Orange.
This section contains 1,035 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by William H. Pritchard

SOURCE: "The Novels of Anthony Burgess," in The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 7, No. 3, Summer, 1966, pp. 525-39.

Pritchard is an American critic and educator. In the following excerpt, he discusses the effect of Burgess's invented language, "nadsat," on the violent content of A Clockwork Orange.

A Clockwork Orange, The Wanting Seed, and Honey for the Bears are (at least the first and last) Burgess' most popular books and they ask to be considered together. All of them concern the individual and the modern state; all of them are felt to have a connection with the quality of life in the 1960's, but they approach life obliquely by creating fantasies or fables which appeal to us in odd and disturbing ways. As always with Burgess' work, and now to a splendidly bizarre degree, the creativity is a matter of style, of words combined in strange new shapes. Through the admiration these shapes raise, rather than through communication of specifiable political, philosophical or religious ideas about man or the state, is to be found the distinction of these novels; for this reason it is of limited use to invoke names like Huxley or Orwell as other novelists of imagined futurist societies.

Anthony Burgess on a Clockwork Orange:

I'm not particularly proud of A Clockwork Orange, because it has all the faults which I rail against in fiction. It's didactic. It tends to pornography. It's tricky. It's gimmicky. One may excuse any author for writing what he writes, because he's primarily earning a living, you see. He's turning out an artifact which will, he hopes, sell enough to pay the rent. It's Balzacian. It's almost, indeed, it's Shakespearean. Nothing wrong with it. But I do object very strongly to these theses that are written on the damn book. The book is not all that interesting or important.

Anthony Burgess with Samuel Coale, in an interview in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 27, No. 3, Autumn, 1981, p. 448.

A Clockwork Orange, most patently experimental of the novels, is written in a language created by combining Russian words with teenage argot into a hip croon that sounds both ecstatic and vaguely obscene. The hero, Alex, a teenage thug, takes his breakfast and morning paper this way:

And there was a bolshy big article on Modern Youth (meaning me, so I gave the old bow, grinning like bezoomny) by some very clever bald chelloveck. I read this with care, my brothers, slurping away at the old chai, cup after tass after chasha, crunching my lomticks of black toast dipped in jammiwam and eggiweg. This learned veck said the usual veshches, about no parental discipline, as he called it, and the shortage of real horrorshow teachers who would lambast bloody beggary out of their innocent poops and make them go boohoohoo for mercy. All this was gloopy and made me smeck, but it was nice to go on knowing one was making the news all the time, O my brothers.

Although the American paperback edition provides a glossary, one doesn't need it to get along very well after the first few pages. In fact such translation is a mistake for it short-circuits the unmistakable rhythms of speech by which the sentences almost insensibly assume meaning. Moreover, though the book is filled with the most awful violence—what in our glossary or newspaper would be called murder, assault, rape, perversion—it comes to us through an idiom that, while it does not deny the connection between what happens in the second chapter and what the newspaper calls a "brutal rape," nevertheless makes what happens an object of aesthetic interest in a way no rape can or should be. Life—a dreadful life to be sure—is insistently and joyously deflected into the rhythms of a personal style within which one eats lomticks, not pieces, of toast.

The novel is short and sharply plotted: Alex is betrayed by his fellow "droogs," imprisoned for murder, then by a lobotomizing technique is cured of his urges to violence; whereas music, Beethoven in particular, had inspired him to heights of blood-lusts, he now just feels sick. Caught between the rival parties for state power he tries suicide, but lives to recover his original identity, as listening to the scherzo of the Beethoven Ninth he sees himself "carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva." The book concludes on this happy note, for oddly enough it is a happy note; we share the hero's sense of high relief and possibility, quite a trick for the novelist to have brought off. And without questioning it we have acceded to the book's "message," as radical and intransigent as the style through which it is expressed:

More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines. I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.

Doing what you do because you like to do it is what the Burgess hero—Crabbe, Denham, others—has done and has been punished for doing by his creator. But the hero of A Clockwork Orange is rewarded and endorsed in a way more recognizably human characters in a more "realistic" atmosphere could not possibly be. In the world of creative fantasy we can admire hero and event as they are shaped by language; our response is akin to the old-fashioned "admiration" proper to the heroic poem. By the same token the defense of self, no matter how twisted it may be, and the condemnation of the state, no matter how benevolent it pretends to be, is absolute. Such a simple and radical meaning is not morally complex, but it must be taken as a serious aspect of fantasy. Within its odd but carefully observed limits the book is entirely consistent, successful and even pleasing, Burgess' most eye and ear-catching performance.

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This section contains 1,035 words
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Buy the Critical Essay by William H. Pritchard
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