A Clockwork Orange

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A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, and forms the basis for the 1971 film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick. The novel is widely regarded as a successor to earlier great British dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World.

Burgess wrote that the title came from an old Cockney expression "As queer [i.e. strange] as a clockwork orange", but that he had found that other people read new meanings into it¹. For instance, some believed that the title referred to a mechanically responsive (clockwork) non-human (orang, Malay for "person"). The French title, "Orange mcanique" was interpreted to be a grenade. Burgess wrote in his later introduction, "A Clockwork Orange Resucked", that a creature who can only perform good or evil is "a clockwork orange—meaning that he has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil." Rumor has it that Burgess had intended to name the work "A Clockwork Orang" and was hypercorrected to the form we know. In his essay "Clockwork oranges"² he says that "this title would be appropriate for a story about the application of Pavlovian, or mechanical, laws to an organism which, like a fruit, was capable of colour and sweetness". This title alludes to the protagonist's negatively conditioned responses to feelings of evil which prevent the exercise of his free will.

The book was inspired by an event in 1944, when Burgess' pregnant wife Lynn was robbed and beaten by four U.S. GI deserters in a London street, and suffered a miscarriage and chronic gynaecological problems³.



Set a few years in the future, the book follows the career of fifteen year old Alex (his full name is revealed in the movie as Alexander de Large). His main pleasures in life are classical music, rape, and random acts of extreme violence ("ultraviolence" in Alex's idiom). Alex roams the streets at night with his gang, committing crimes for enjoyment, while no one attempts to stop them or the other gangs that ravage the community. He tells his story in a teenage slang called "Nadsat", which combines eighteenth-century Russian and English slang.

Eventually Alex is incarcerated and "rehabilitated" by a program of aversion therapy. However, the experiment is nothing more than a harsh exercise in behavioral conditioning that strips Alex of his free will. Though it renders him incapable of violence (even in self-defence), it also makes him unable to enjoy his favourite classical music, an unintended side effect.

The moral issue at stake within the book is that Alex is now "good", but his ability to decide this for himself has been taken from him; his "goodness" is as artificial as the clockwork orange of the book's title.

Eventually Alex falls foul of some of his former victims, and the ensuing political fuss results in the removal by the state of his conditioning; he gleefully returns to his early habits but finds he has lost the taste for it, a more mature responsible unit of society. The 20th chapter ends the original American edition on a dark note, with Alex listening joyfully to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and eagerly anticipating his return to creating havoc.

It is at this point that early American editions of the book end, but there is a 21st chapter which was dropped at the time of US publication. Burgess says that the original American publisher dropped his final chapter in an effort to make the book more depressing. The intended book was divided into three parts of 7 chapters each, which added up to be 21, a symbolic age at which a child earns his rights (when the novel was written). There is controversy as to whether the 21st chapter makes the book better or makes the book worse. In the 21st chapter, which takes place a few years after the 20th, we find Alex realising that his violent phase is over, but that it was inevitable. A few of the old characters are reincarnated as new friends of Alex. He thinks of starting a family, while thinking that his children will be as violent as he was, for a time. It should be noted that the movie version which was directed by Stanley Kubrick follows the American version of the book, ending prior the events of the 21st chapter. Kubrick has claimed that he was unaware of the non-American version of the book at the time that he filmed the movie.

The line "What's it going to be then, eh?" recurs throughout the book, and the first chapter of each of the three parts begins with the line.


Both the story and individual elements have had a strong influence on popular culture in general and popular music in particular, although this is probably due to the movie's popularity rather than the novel's. Perhaps most notably, the 1980s British electropop band Heaven 17 took their name from an eponymous band in the book. Although the British dance act Moloko's name simply means "milk" in Russian, it was adopted indirectly from Nadsat in which it has the same basic meaning, but also refers to a milk drink with admixed drugs. References in pop music abound outside the English-speaking world as well. In 1988, the German punk rock outfit Die Toten Hosen released their breakthrough concept album Ein kleines bisschen Horrorshow (a reference to Alex's Nadsat phrase a bit of [the old] horrorshow [ultraviolence]), having been involved as musicians in a German stage production of A Clockwork Orange. In 2002, Poland's alternative stars Myslovitz released an album entitled Korova Milky Bar, a reference to the place where Alex and his friends meet to consume their drug-enhanced moloko. The Korova Milk Bar in New York City references the same, and even features decor similar to that of the movie, as well as milk and iced-cream themed drinks. Moloko is also the name of a vodka bar in Salisbury, in the English county of Wiltshire, specializing in Russian, Polish and Scandinavian vodkas. The Streetpunk/oi band Lower Class Brats has maintained a theme of both the film and the book in the band's lyrics, merchandise, and even the members's tattoos. Countless other references can be traced in books, movies, and even computer games. The rock band The White Stripes may have been influenced by the movie. Some consider the music video for Seven Nation Army to be a homage to the movie. R&B Singer Usher's outfit was influenced by the main character in which he wears the bowler hat and has the trademark drawn eyelash on his left eye. In the video, "My Way" he plays the protagonist to singer, Tyrese Gibson, where he playfully flirts with his girlfriend. He has a street gang who all wear bowler hats and dance in this neon-graffiti-street-gang world. Norwegian Punk band Turbonegro's lead singer is seen with trademark eyelashes on both eyes and also wears a bowler hat during performances.


  • After Kubrick's film was released, Burgess wrote a Clockwork Orange stage play. (Reportedly, he modeled one of Alex's early victims on Kubrick.) In the stage version, Dr. Branom "defects" from the psychiatric clinic when she realizes that the treatment has destroyed Alex's ability to enjoy music. This version also restores the novel's twenty-first chapter, ending with Alex deciding to start a family.
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company's theatrical version used songs composed especially for the production by Bono and the Edge of the rock band U2.
  • Seven years prior to the Kubrick film, Andy Warhol had produced a low-budget version, titled Clockwork (also known as Vinyl). Reportedly, the only two recognizable scenes are those where Victor (Alex) wreaks general havoc and undergoes the Ludovico treatment.
  • Members of The Rolling Stones proposed to film their own adaptation before Kubrick decided to do so. Other unrealized versions were to contain girls in miniskirts or senior citizens instead of the teenage rowdies.
  • There is also a pornographic spin-off, entitled A Cockwork Orgy. In this version, Alex is a female (Alexandra), the Korova is just a regular, run-of-the-mill bar, and there is no prison chaplain.
  • The car seen before the scene of ultraviolence at "HOME" is the M-505 Adams Brothers Probe 16. Only three were produced.
  • The paintings in Alex' parents living room are mass market art created by the artists Joseph Henry Lynch and Gerritt Van der Syde

Alternate usages

  • Clockwork Orange is also a nickname of the Glasgow Subway, the SPT metro line of Glasgow, Scotland.
  • Clockwork Orange was also the nickname for the Dutch national soccer teams of the early 1970s, for their precision passing and ballhandling and the team's orange jerseys.
  • Clockwork Orange is also the name of a supposed(?) 1970s hard-right-wing MI5 operation led by one Colin Wallace, designed to discredit the Irish Republicans, Harold Wilson and his Labour Party, and the Conservative's leader Edward Heath, ultimately putting Margaret Thatcher in power. ([1] (http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/article.php4?article_id=3637), [2] (http://www.wakeupmag.co.uk/articles/sstate3.htm). The name was used on the floor of the House on February 1, 1990. [3] (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm198990/cmhansrd/1990-02-01/Orals-2.html))


  1. A Clockwork Orange: A play with music. Century Hutchinson Ltd. (1987). — An extract is quoted on several web sites: [4] (http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~fa1871/burgess.html), [5] (http://pages.eidosnet.co.uk/johnnymoped/aclockworktestament/aclockworktestament_anthonyburgessonaclockworkorange_page2.html), [6] (http://kubricks0.tripod.com/burgesam.htm).
  2. Burgess, Anthony (1978). Clockwork Oranges. In 1985. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0091360803 (extracts quoted here (http://pages.eidosnet.co.uk/johnnymoped/aclockworktestament/aclockworktestament_beingtheadventures_page1.html))
  3. Vidal, Gore. Why I am 8 years younger than Anthony Burgess. United States p. 411.

External links

Related Concepts

es:La naranja mecnica (pelcula) fi:Kellopeliappelsiini fr:Orange mcanique he:התפוז המכני it:Arancia meccanica ja:時計じかけのオレンジ nl:A Clockwork Orange pl:Mechaniczna pomarańcza pt:Laranja Mecnica (1971) sv:A Clockwork Orange


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