This is a confronting novel and yet one which ultimately poses an incredibly deep question. It is to me a novel about: morality, free will, government control, human nature and good versus evil. It is an exploration of the human propensity towards evil and challenges whether a man can truly ever be good if he is forced to do so or whether by removing his choice he becomes instead something other than human. However despite this depth the premise itself is so unlikeable that unless a reader can push through the first twenty pages they may never see why this truly is a classic novel.
A Clockwork Orange follows the 'adventure' of its twisted narrator: Alex. He enjoys a life of crime and moral decay including brutally bashing up the weak, raping and stealing whatever he wants. He is to that extent totally unlikeable because not only does he do these things but he appears to find them acceptable and even enjoy participating in them. Eventually he is arrested for his crimes and in an attempt to get out of jail he agrees to participate in a radical treatment. This treatment basically involves brainwashing him through forcing him to associate sickness and disgust with horrific immoral acts so that he no longer wishes to commit them. And so we see that Alex finds that in life there are no get out of jail cards. And even further his treatment is ultimately reversed by those who see his 'punishment' as the greater evil.
I also found it interesting how the characters Alex interacts with after his treatment treat him just as poorly as he treated them. I personally think that whenever someone treats another individual (even if they are a criminal) with contempt that they act lower than that criminal in many ways. Why? Because they often know better or have the chance to be the better individual but choose to lower themselves to create their own perceived justice. But justice is often served in different ways. That said I've never been in that kind of situation where someone has committed a crime against me and cannot judge another myself.
The challenge in A Clockwork Orange was about how morality is linked to our ability to choose between what is good and what is evil. It questioned whether an evil done for good would ultimately result in evil or whether it was just as twisted as a 'purely evil' act. It explored how humans (in their worst state) have a desire to perform evil and asked what the role of governments in quelling immorality should be? A difficult question as where do you draw the line? Do you stop at preventing an individual from infringing on other humans' rights or are their cases where you need to interact for the good of an individual solely? These are ethical and moral dilemmas and the novel curiously never makes a strong stance on these issues. It merely raises them and asks the reader to consider for themselves their stance.
On a personal level I found this novel a challenge to break into. But once I entered the second half of the story I found it very much re-warding in terms of the ideas. Due to my personal beliefs about the nature of humanity I found this a very interesting novel from the perspective of looking at the various issues raised and I'm glad I did read it. No doubt many highly moral people have avoided this due to their concerns over it glorifying violence or immoral living. However I would state that this is a novel that should be read in order for readers to be able to challenge their own views on the book's internal issues. I do not believe it glorifies immorality or violence but rather uses them as devices to challenge how we perceive humanity and our freedom to choose good or evil.
The nature of the writing itself helps to make this a more palatable read. The novel is written in a beautifully unique style with the youth slang and jargon used by Alex making reading the novel an act of interpretation. But this helps to hide many of the true horrors described by Alex. For had the author written in the usual manner the violence and rape described would have been amplified I believe. Yet this style also serves to make it a novel that is at the very start not very accessible to the average reader looking for an interesting relevant read. But then again its target is not to provide entertainment but a challenge.
One major flaw I had with the book. And it mainly irked me personally was how Burgess portrayed youth versus maturity. There were many times when the younger men in the novel were villainous but when they became older stopped their evil ways. Take Peter as an example. It was highly suggestive that by nature younger people are more morally inept. Which annoyed me as a 'responsible' younger person and from the point that I don't think immorality is something you just 'grow out of' like a faze. Which was tempered by the violent actions of some of the mature officials in the novel somewhat. But I couldn't help feeling like Burgess had something against younger people. And as a future secondary teacher and current older teen I disagree with this suggestion. I think morals are something that come through education rather than merely because of age, class or gender and to say or even suggest otherwise is a little ludicrous to me.
Ultimately this is a novel that I cannot like in its entirety or entirely dislike. Merely it stands as a novel with value in the way it challenges various conceptions and pre-existing ideas. The writing is unique, creative and therefore makes the novel more rewarding to read than had it not been written in such a quirky manner. My overall assessment therefore is that this is a novel not to be liked or disliked but it most certainly is one to learn from. 3.5 stars.