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Governmental Treatment for Society’s Violent...
Natalie Hanemann
 May 03 2024 at 02:05 pm
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A Book Review of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Book: A Clockwork Orange. Date of publication: 1962. Genre: Sci-fi/Drama/Dystopian. Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company. I’ve heard reference to this work my entire adult life, likely from the film version Stanley Kubrick created in 1971, so when I embarked on reading 12 Classics in 12 Months, I grabbed this one off my short-list of “One Day Read This” titles, though I knew absolutely nothing about the plot. Before even opening the book, I noted the endorsers on the back cover: Roald Dahl and William S. Burroughs, and smiled: Duly impressed. This novel begins with an introduction by the author, written in 1986, twenty-four years after the initial publication of the work. The introduction, titled “A Clockwork Orange Resucked,” gives an account of a publishing debacle with almost as much drama as the story itself. In the 1984 reissuing of the book, Americans would, for the first time, read the complete version of the novel. In the original release, the New York publisher, believing the final chapter to be “a sellout” and “veddy veddy British” removed the final chapter, ending the story before the protagonist shows signs of growing up. The publisher believed the American audience was “tougher than the British and could face up to reality” that human beings “could be a model of unregenerable evil,” though Burgess believed it wasn’t an accurate reflection of human life. Fortunately, the British and other foreign printings reflect the author’s intended ending. The question of evil is paramount in the story. The title describes what happens when a biological entity is stripped of free will and made to choose only good or only evil, thereby becoming a clockwork orange, “meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour [sic] and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State,” the author explains. Set in the future, the story is told from the perspective of Alex, a fifteen-year-old criminal who skips school and sleeps most of the day, but at night, prowls around the streets with his three friends, drinking and terrorizing unsuspecting citizens, simply for the fun of it. The author developed a teenaged slang, which slowed down my reading pace at first, but eventually became part of the personality of the overall story. If you’re considering reading this book, don’t be deterred when you read on page 1: “There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening…” In response to the growing lawlessness in public spaces, the government creates an experimental program they believe will rid society of senseless violence, and Alex agrees to be the first test subject in exchange for not serving his full prison sentence. The rehabilitation begins with Alex drinking a concoction, what he assumes are vitamins, and undergoing a series of experiments. Tied to a chair while the medical staff hooks him up to wires, Alex’s eyelids are pried open, and he is forced to watch films depicting all manner of depravity — including innocent people beaten and set on fire, women raped, and torture tactics used during war. While watching the events, Alex gets slammed with waves of nauseous and begs for the images to stop. “In your imagination,” the lead doctor assures him. The doctor discovers Alex’s affinity for music and admits, “I know nothing about it myself. It’s a useful emotional heightener, that’s all I know.” In an act of exquisite cruelty, while the disturbing images flash, the doctor plays Alex’s favorite composers, killing all pleasurable association the music ever brought him. “Each man kills the thing he loves…” the doctor mumbles. After each session, Alex’s head throbs, his mouth sticky and dry, his stomach sick, his soul utterly traumatized. Dragged back to his room, he’s left to sleep and recover. The episode repeats the following day. The medical team administers a series of rehabilitation sessions, periodically testing Alex to see if the treatments are curing him of his violent tendencies. When a discharge officer asks Alex if he wants to punch him, Alex makes a fist and swings, but the officer dodges the blow. Then Alex is hit with the urge to vomit that wears off after a few minutes. After the initial treatment, Alex inquires what they’re doing to him. “We have to be hard on you, you have to be cured.” “You mean I have to sit through — ? You mean I have to look at — ? Oh, no,” I said. “It was horrible.” “Of course it was horrible,” smiled Dr Branom. “Violence is a very horrible thing. That’s what you’re learning now. Your body is learning it.” “I don’t understand about feeling sick like I did. I never used to feel sick before. I used to feel like the very opposite…I just don’t understand why or how or what — ” “Life is a very wonderful thing…” said Dr Branom. “The processes of life, the make-up of the human organism, who can fully understand these miracles?…What is happening to you now is what should happen to any healthy human organism contemplating the actions of the forces of evil, the workings of the principle of destruction. You are being made sane, you are being made healthy” (p. 121). Was the governmental treatment a success? I’ll let you be the judge. I always enjoy escaping into a fictional world that addresses meaty philosophical questions. Along with dozens of other futuristic literary offerings published the mid-late 20th century, such as 1984, Anthem, and The Giver, we are asked to consider: Should the State impose laws that restrict human behavior, for the good of society, even if it means restricting our personal freedom? I’m pretty sure that’s how our laws work today, at least in America. Maybe the more specific question is: When convicted of a crime in a court of law, does the criminal lose the right to all freedoms? Can the state experiment on prisoners if their participation has the potential to help the greater good? A good book causes the reader to ask hard questions…about themselves, about others, about the world. Stories can help us frame value choices in new contexts and reconsider our perspectives. A Clockwork Orange catalyzed a discussion about where the good of society ends and personal freedom begins. What do you believe?

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