Last week (22 September – 29 September) was the time of year when we celebrate nowadays’ freedom to read by reading books that have been banned in previous centuries. I have already shared with you my enchantment with prohibited novels, so it is anyone’s guess that I participated in the event with unbridled enthusiasm. I had heard a lot of talk about the book that I picked: some people acclaiming its ingenuity, others wondering what all the bustle was about. As its reception, “A Clockwork Orange” is also enormously contradictive and highly debated. Knowing little about the plot, the rendition and the characters, so many aspects of the book came as a complete surprise.
The story is actually quite simple. Alex is the epitome of a hooligan. He and his posy, albeit in corrective schools, continually perpetrate atrocities against innocent civilians. They burgle, they batter, they rape and they bash even each other in a perpetual crescendo of violence. It comes as no revelation that people ready to cause so much anguish to others are not happy with themselves. In a bloody attempt at coup d’etat , Alex is arrested for voluntary manslaughter. And his life takes a turn for the worse as he is enrolled in a special programme which is meant to refine and redeem all miscreants transmuting them into exemplary, yet devoid of will, citizens who cannot withstand violence and therefore become automatically benign and helpless.
“Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man… He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.”
Anyway, even though Alex is a recidivist, he is astonishingly erudite. He has a proclivity for classical music and knows all about the lives and work of Mozard, Beethoven, Bach etc. – quite atypical for a jailbird. ‘Symphony #9’ overwhelms him with exaltation and is his personal definition of happiness. Nevertheless, after successfully completing the reforming programme, his love for music morphs into abhorrence. Being deprived of the moral choice between delinquency and diplomacy, his appreciation for all that brings about joy in one’s life dissipates.
“Delimitation is always difficult. The world is one, life is one. The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence – the act of love, for instance; music, for instance.”
Being someone who is incredulously ignorant of the notion of news and current affairs, I am not consciously aware of the vice and crimes all over the globe. My realization of murder, malignity and physical suffering is so ephemeral and tenuous that I do infallibly abate in a fabulous world of unicorns, elves and rainbows. Reading about all the bloodshed in “A Clockwork Orange” made the malevolent and bellicose side of humans more than just a hypothesis and a universal motif in s deluge of novels, but some people’s reality.
Not all of us get to worry solely about the grade of their math exam and perhaps the choice of good and evil is not really a choice, but a forceful result of the environment about you. Especially, as teenagers we are tremedously affected by our friends and urroundings. The older one gets, the more peer pressure attenuates, the more clearly one’s own phenotype is expressed. Being sixteen and thinking you have figured out who you are is a common sighting and a common misconception. At that age you are more a product of your environment than your genes. So in a convoluted, yet cunning, way being a teenager is equal to having taken part in that reforming programme. We are deprived of the possibility to express our true nature – we are all, or have at least been, clockwork oranges.
“Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being in a way like it might be an animal. Not, 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 spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside 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 and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being like one of these malenky machines.”
That is an unprecedented combination of the living and the robotic. Even though the orange is capable of developing and maturing on its own, it has a clockwork mechanism to determine its growth and its proliferation. The orange isn’t able to make choices, as far as we are concerned, so the ethical problem is not the privation of options but the privation of freedom to express his own nature with all its mutation, delays and malignancies.
I gave “A Clockwork Orange” only 3 stars because reading about brutality wasn’t a pleasurable experience and because the rendition was far from beautiful. Nevertheless, it is a brilliant novel with a unique argot, called Nadsat – a fascinating amalgam between contemporary English, Russian and Shakespearean English. I had a whale of time deciphering the language, which was not as difficult for me provided that my native language is quite similar to Russian, and I think I have mastered it.
Reading “A Clockwork Orange” is a challenge from all perspectives. It is nearly as hard to get the hang of Alex’s dialect as to perceive our innate proclivity for violence and our susceptibility to biochemistry.