A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is a satirical novel about young teenage boys who go on an orgy of violence for the sheer thrill of it and get caught by the state but are ‘reformed’ in a questionable manner. Like a character ponders,
Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?
The novel is split into three parts – His violent escapades, his prison life after he is caught and sentenced for 14 years and his life after he has been ‘reformed’ as part of an experiment. The story starts with a bunch of teenage boys led by Alex, the most deranged of them all, setting out on a series of bludgeoning, fights, brutal rapes, thefts, destruction of property, and other such acts of violence just as a way of entertainment. On one such night he gets caught in the act and is sentenced to a lifetime of prison. There however he puts up an act of goodness and is chosen for an experimental reforms programme led by the government. Though seen by him as an escape route to get back to his life and its thrills, after the programme he becomes incapable of enjoying anything, even music that he unabashedly loved. Is such a life worth it? Can a criminal so mentally disturbed be ‘cured’? You begin to wonder.
The novel makes you wonder. Wonder at first how a teenage mind can be so twisted as to perform such crude acts of violence for no reason other than that they enjoy the act itself. And then when the main character is caught by the law and put to test in an experimental technique to reform criminals so that they will never be a threat to society, you begin to wonder if that is also right. Are such cruel methods of reformation justified where the criminal ceases to be human, ceases to be able to make a choice, ceases to be able to decide for themselves. You wonder. You wonder how wrong is wrong, and to what extent we will go to make it right, and for what reasons? The honest altruism for a better society or just political mileage?
This novel is gruesome. To say the least. The scenes as well as the language is difficult to comprehend. Trust me. The entire novel is a narration by the main character – Alex – taking us into the way he thinks and see what he does. But all this is in a whole new language, which he calls as nadsat – teen language. It is written in English alright and you have the usual a, an, the, but beyond that every word seems like gibberish. Anthony Burgess has beautifully created a whole new language out of the English we know. The slangs are so strange and haven’t been used before or after. Tough though at first, as you proceed with the novel, you begin to understand the meaning of those words. Because the picture of what Alex is up to becomes clear to you, and you actually see it before you. All that he thinks, all that he does and all that he intends. And when you begin to understand him, it starts to get disturbing. And stays that way till the end.
To read this novel you’d need to be brave. But miss it you can’t. Its only of those brilliant pieces that you will have to see yourself through even though you wouldn’t want to at first.
Pick it up. You won’t regret it.
Photos: Remya Nair