Anthony Burgess, “A Clockwork Orange”

Anthony Burgess’s 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange paints a dystopian view of a world desensitized to violence. The book focuses on Alex, a teenaged gangleader who begins a crime spree that eventually culminates in breaking into an elderly couple’s home and forcing the husband to watch the rape of his wife. Alex is eventually caught and sentenced to fourteen years in prison but receives a reduced sentence for participating in an experimental treatment that makes him physically ill at the thought of violence. By detailing Alex’s ultra-violent exploits and later his violence aversion conditioning by the hand of the state, the book delves into themes of morality, humanity, and the involvement of free will in redeeming someone who has preformed unredeemable acts. Burgess also invents a Russian-inspired slang of the future called ‘Nadsat’, designed to make Alex’s language even more threatening as the novel was written at the height of the Cold War.

A Clockwork Orange has faced multiple book banning attempts due to the sexual violence it depicts. In 1973, a bookseller in Orem, Utah was arrested for selling the novel along with two other ‘obscene’ books. The store owner initially faced a fine. While the chargers were later dropped, she was still forced to close her store and move to another city. The novel was also banned in 1976 in Aurora, Colorado, in 1977 in Westport, Connecticut, and in 1982 in Anniston, Alabama. As recently as 2019, members of the Florida Citizens Alliance have lobbied to ban the book along with almost one hundred other ‘pornographic’ novels.  Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 movie adaption of the book was also controversial for its depiction of the novel’s rape scene. The movie was withdrawn from circulation in 1973 by Kubrick’s request, as he believed recent crimes in the UK may have been influenced by the movie’s violent scenes.

About the Author

Anthony Burgess is a composer and writer, best known for his novel A Clockwork Orange and its use of linguistic inventiveness and satire to deliver biting societal criticism. He wrote more than fifty books in his lifetime and taught at Birmingham University from 1946 to 1950. Burgess also composed more than two hundred compositions in his lifetime and wrote “I wish people would think of me a musician who writes novels, instead of a novelist who writes music on the side.”

Further Reading