character study

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is a 1962 novel by Anthony Burgess, which was later the basis for a 1971 film adaptation of the same name by Stanley Kubrick. The novel was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.

Plot summary

Part 1: Alex's world

A Clockwork Orange is set in a dystopian future England, likely sometime in the early 21st century. Hints are given in the text that mankind has achieved lunar colonisation and ultra-high-speed air travel, but at the same time suffered a terrible breakdown of law and order.

The novel opens with 15-year-old Alex and his gang members (known as "droogs") Pete, Georgie and Dim, who roam the streets at night, committing crimes that include rape (the "old in out, in out"), shoplifting, and violence (ultra-violence) for fun. In contrast to Alex's love for wrong-doing and cruelty, he also has a passion for classical music, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony being his favourite piece.

Essentially, the first part of the novel is a character study of the protagonist. We learn that Alex and his "droogs" (Russian for friend), have their own dialect known as nadsat, and their own hierarchy, in which Alex is the leader. Although they are all "droogs", Alex seriously resents Dim for his stupidity and constantly picks on him. There is a general disregard for the law and for older generations — creating an image of a youth movement that is taking control of this fictional future.

Part 1 involves Alex reflecting on his illegal activity. After drinking narcotic-laden milk at the Korova Milk Bar, Alex and his droogs ridicule and beat an old man, tearing up his books. They then rob a sweet shop, beating up the owner and his wife and then proceeding to the 'Duke of New York' pub, where they bribe a group of elderly alcoholic women into vouching for them by buying them food and drinks with their ill-gotten gains. After leaving, Alex and his droogs ridicule and beat an old drunken vagrant, and come across a rival gang lead by Billy Boy at a deserted power station. A fight between the two gangs ensues, with Alex and his droogs emerging victorious and leaving before the police arrive. They then steal a Durango '95 sports car for a reckless drive into the countryside and finally end up at HOME. That is, the name of the home that belongs to a reclusive writer named F. Alexander. The gang use their cunning and force to invade the house, savagely beating the writer, tearing up his written work (entitled "A Clockwork Orange"), and brutally raping his wife. Afterward, back at the Korova, there is a moment of tension among the four when Alex strikes Dim for ridiculing a woman as she sings a classical piece that moved Alex. The other droogs, Pete and Georgie, manage to keep the peace between them. Thus the group heads home. Alex returns to his home at a tower block, where his mother and father have factory jobs, and climaxes the evening by listening to classical music on his expensive stereo.

The following morning, after giving his mother an excuse for a need to miss school, Alex is visited by P.R. Deltoid, the social worker assigned to his case, who has heard word about Alex's doings the previous night. Deltoid warns Alex that if he gets in trouble again, he'll be sent to prison. Alex assures Deltoid he won't. While skipping school, Alex picks up two girls in a record shop, takes them home, and has sex with them both by getting them intoxicated. Sitting down at dinner, Alex's father asks his son about his "night job". Alex gives him a weak excuse, and then a generous portion of his "salary" to compensate. The earlier tension within Alex's gang deepens however, as Alex finds his droogs waiting for him outside his house. Alex learns that his droogs, particularly Georgie and Dim, are no longer fully satisfied with him as their leader, suggesting a "new way", and that they should drink "moloko plus" before they discuss it. Although he is slightly threatened, he deals with the problem by fighting and beating the two, slashing Dim's wrist and demonstrating his leadership and unwillingness to be overthrown. That night, the gang perpetrates another home invasion. When confronted by the owner, an elderly woman, Alex strikes her with a medium sized art sculpture, apparently rendering her unconscious. He soon hears police sirens, and attempts to flee. His droogs seize their opportunity to betray Alex, however, and Dim lashes him across the face with a chain (which Dim uses as a weapon), leaving his vision temporarily impaired and unable to escape from the police who arive shortly thereafter. Soon after his interrogation, Alex learns that the woman he struck with the statue died as a result of her injuries. Alex is convicted for her murder and sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

Part 2: The Ludovico Technique

After enduring prison life for 2 years, Alex gets a job as an assistant to the prison chaplain. He feigns an interest in religion, and amuses himself by reading the Bible for its lurid descriptions of "the old yahoodies (Jews) tolchocking (beating) each other", imagining himself taking part in "the nailing-in" (the Crucifixion) of Jesus. Alex learns of his ex-droog Georgie's death by an intended victim during a botched robbery. He also hears about an experimental rehabilitation programme called "the Ludovico technique", which promises that the prisoner will be released upon completion of the two-week treatment and, as a result, will not commit any crimes afterwards.

After helping to kill (although accidentally) a fellow prisoner in his cell, Alex is selected to become the subject in the first full-scale trial of the Ludovico Technique. The technique itself is a form of aversion therapy, in which Alex is given a drug that induces extreme nausea while being forced to watch graphically violent films for two weeks. Strapped into a seat, his head clamped and his eyes held open with specula, Alex has no choice but to watch the films. One of the films has a soundtrack of Alex's beloved Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and though he pleads with them to remove the music, they refuse, saying that it is for his own good and that the music may be the "punishment element".

A few weeks later, he is presented to prison and government officials as a successfully rehabilitated member of society and released. The treatment has left him unable to perform, or even think about, any kind of violent action without becoming severely ill. He soon learns just how well it worked when he finds he cannot even defend himself against an attacker when necessary. The clinicians demonstrate the treatment's effectiveness in front of an audience, including the prison chaplain who was opposed to Alex's "treatment": a man taunts and abuses Alex who is rendered helpless to defend himself, as each time he tries he becomes nauseated. Then a beautiful, naked woman is shown to him, but Alex is unable to think of touching her without feeling ill.

Part 3: After prison

The third part of the novel centers on Alex's life after he is released from prison. Alex encounters many of his former victims, all of whom seek revenge upon him. He finds himself powerless to defend himself against them, as the Ludovico treatment leaves him ill when he attempts violence. Alex returns home, joyful at the thought of starting afresh. However, he is unpleasantly surprised by the discovery that his parents have rented out his room to a lodger named Joe, essentially "replacing" their son. With no place to go, stripped of the ability to fight back, Alex despondently wanders London. He stops at the Korova Milk Bar and drinks euphoria-inducing milk, something he has never done before, and then to the music store for some classical music. However, in an unintended side effect, the technique has also rendered him incapable of listening to his beloved classical music, and he runs screaming from the store. Alex decides to commit suicide, but is unable to because the technique prevents him from committing any act of violence, including against himself. He wanders into the public library, only to be quickly recognised by the elderly librarian whom he had beaten up with his droogs in chapter one. With his librarian friends, he attacks and beats on Alex. The police, called by the librarian, turn out to be his old ex-'droog' Dim, and old arch-enemy Billy Boy. Taking advantage of their positions (which apparently permits summary punishment), they take Alex to the town's edge, beat him and leave him for dead.

Alex falls into the hands of Mr. Alexander, the husband of the woman he raped at the beginning of part one. Mr. Alexander was apparently crippled in the initial assault and is now confined to a wheelchair, and his wife is now deceased, due to an illness he blames on the rape. Since Alex was wearing a mask during the earlier assault, Alexander does not recognise him as the attacker. Recognising Alex's photo from the newspaper, Mr. Alexander's political activist friends decide to use him as a weapon against the government by turning him into a poster child for the victims of fascism; they play classical music in the room beside his, triggering the maddening effect of the Ludovico treatment. Driven to insanity by the music, Alex jumps from his bedroom window in an attempt to end his life.

Alex wakes up in a hospital, where he learns that the government, trying to reverse the bad publicity it incurred in the wake of Alex's suicide attempt, has reversed the effects of the Ludovico treatment and have offered him a well paying civil service job. His parents take him back in, and Alex happily ponders returning to his life of ultra-violence.

In the final chapter, Alex finds himself half-heartedly preparing for yet another night of crime with a new trio of droogs. After watching them beat an innocent stranger walking home with a newspaper, he begins to feel bored with his life of violence. He abandons the gang then has a chance encounter with Pete, an old droog who has reformed and married. Alex begins contemplating giving up crime himself to become a productive member of society and start a family of his own, while reflecting on the notion that his own children will be just as destructive-- if not more so-- than he himself.


  • Alex: The novel's anti-hero and leader among his droogs. Alex often refers to himself as "Your Humble Narrator." At the point of seducing two girls in a music shop, Alex reveals himself as "Alexander The Large." This was later the basis for Alex's claimed surname DeLarge in the 1971 film.
  • George or Georgie: Effectively Alex's greedy second-in-command. Georgie attempts to undermine Alex's status as leader of the gang. He is killed while breaking into a house during Alex's term in prison.
  • Pete: The more rational and least violent of the gang. He is the only one who doesn't take particular sides when the Droogs fight.
  • Dim: The brute force of the gang, big and gormless. He later becomes a millicent (police officer).
  • P.R. Deltoid: A social worker assigned to Alex, who monitors his progress through reform schools. He warns Alex that if he gets into any more trouble, he will most likely be sent to prison.
  • The Prison Chaplain (also called the 'prison charlie,' a take on Charlie Chaplin) The character who first questions whether or not forced goodness is really better than chosen wickedness. The only character who is truly concerned about Alex's welfare; he is not taken seriously by Alex, though.
  • The Governor: The man who decides to let Alex "choose" to be the first reformed by the Ludovico Technique.
  • Dr. Brodsky: One of the co-founders of the Ludovico Technique. He at first seemed like a friend to Alex, and then introduced him to pain. Plays the "Bad Cop" role when talking to Alex before and after his sessions in the theater.
  • Dr. Branom: The other co-founder of the Ludovico Technique. He says much less than Brodsky and is interpreted as the "Good Cop" role when addressing Alex.
  • F. Alexander: An author writing, at the beginning of the novel, his own novel called A Clockwork Orange. The gang breaks into his house and brutally beats him while forcing him to watch as they rape his wife. The attack leaves him a widower. He takes Alex in off the street, and then tries to drive him to suicide.
  • Otto Skadelig: a fictional Danish composer. The first movement of his third symphony is violent in style. It prompts Alex to attempt suicide. His surname means "harmful" in Danish.

Omission of the final chapter

The book is divided into three parts, each containing seven chapters. Burgess has stated that the total of 21 chapters was an intentional nod to the age of 21 being recognised as a milestone in human maturation. The 21st chapter was omitted from the editions published in the United States until 1986. The film adaptation, which was directed by Stanley Kubrick, was based on an early American edition of the book and ends prior to the events of the 21st chapter. Kubrick claimed that he had not read the original version until he had virtually finished the screenplay, but that he certainly never gave any serious consideration to using it.



Burgess wrote that the title was a reference to an old Cockney expression, "as queer as a clockwork orange".¹ Due to his time serving in the British Colonial Office in Malaysia, Burgess thought that the phrase could be used punningly to refer to a mechanically responsive (clockwork) human (orang, Malay for "man").

Burgess wrote in introduction to the 1986 edition, titled 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; or the almighty state."

In his essay "Clockwork Oranges"², Burgess asserts 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 positively conditioned responses to feelings of evil which prevent the exercise of his free will.

Point of view

A Clockwork Orange is written using the first person perspective of a seemingly biased and unreliable narrator. The protagonist, Alex, never justifies his actions in the narration, giving a sense that he is somewhat sincere; a narrator who, as unlikeable as he may attempt to seem, evokes pity from the reader through the telling of his unending suffering, and later through his realisation that the cycle will never end. Alex's perspective is effective in that the way that he describes events is easy to relate to, even if the situations themselves are not. His narration includes many uncommon words and a slang called Nadsat, which are apparently common to the speech of the youth subculture in the novel.

Use of slang

The book, narrated by Alex, contains many words in a slang dialect which Burgess invented for the book, called Nadsat. It is a mix of modified Slavic words, Polari, Cockney rhyming slang, derived Russian (like "baboochka"), and words invented by Burgess himself. For instance, these terms have the following meanings in Russian - 'droog' means 'friend' ; 'korova' means 'cow'; 'golova' (gulliver) means 'head'; 'malchick' or 'malchickiwick' means 'boy'; 'soomka' means 'sack' or 'bag'; 'Bog' means 'God'; 'khorosho' means good, 'prestoopnick' means 'criminal'; 'rooker' is 'hand', 'cal' is 'crap'; 'litso' is 'face'; and so on. One of Alex's doctors explains the language to a colleague as "Odd bits of old rhyming slang; a bit of gypsy talk, too. But most of the roots are Slav propaganda. Subliminal penetration." Some words are not derived from anything, but merely easy to guess, e.g. 'in-out, in-out' or 'the old in-out' means sexual intercourse and 'cutter' means money.

In the first edition of the book, no key was provided, and the reader was left to interpret the meaning from the context.

Droogism refers to the commission of a crime for the sole sake of committing a crime, without material gain or benefit; robbery and kidnapping with the intent to demand ransom, for example, do not qualify as droogisms, as they are committed with the intention of some sort of material benefit for the perpetrator.

The term "Ultraviolence", referring to excessive and/or unjustified violence, was coined by Burgess in the book, which includes the phrase "do the ultra-violent." The term's association with aesthetic violence has led to its use in the media.

Awards and nominations

  • 1983 - Prometheus Award (Preliminary Nominee)
  • 1999 - Prometheus Award (Nomination)
  • 2002 - Prometheus Award (Nomination)
  • 2003 - Prometheus Award (Nomination)
  • 2006 - Prometheus Award (Nomination)
  • 2008 - Prometheus Award (Hall of Fame Award)

Other adaptations

The best known adaptation of the novel to other forms is the 1971 film by Stanley Kubrick, but there have been others. A 1965 film by Andy Warhol entitled Vinyl was an adaptation of Burgess' novel.

Excerpts from the first two chapters of the novel were dramatised and broadcast on BBC TV's programme Tonight, 1962 (now lost, believed wiped).

After Kubrick's film was released, Burgess wrote a Clockwork Orange stage play. In it, Dr. Branom defects from the psychiatric clinic when she grasps that the aversion treatment has destroyed Alex's ability to enjoy music. The play restores the novel's original ending. One of Alex's early victims, a bearded trumpeter who plays "Singin' in the Rain" at the Korova milkbar, is modeled on Kubrick.

In 1990, a second play, titled A Clockwork Orange 2004, was written for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It makes no references to the film version, yet does away with the novel's ending. The performance was scored by Bono and The Edge of U2. In 2001, UNI Theatre (Mississauga, Ontario) presented the Canadian premiere of the play under the direction of Terry Costa. In 2002, Godlight Theatre Company presented the New York Premiere adaptation of Anthony Burgess's 'A Clockwork Orange' at Manhattan Theatre Source. The production went on to play at the SoHo Playhouse (2002), Ensemble Studio Theatre (2004), 59E59 Theaters (2005) and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (2005). While at Edinburgh, the production received rave reviews from the press while playing to sold-out audiences. The production was directed by Godlight's Artistic Director, Joe Tantalo.

Release details

  • 1962, UK, William Heinemann (ISBN ?), Pub date ? December 1962, Hardcover
  • 1962, US, W W Norton & Co Ltd (ISBN ?), Pub date ? ? 1962, Hardcover
  • 1963, US, W W Norton & Co Ltd (ISBN ?), Pub date ? ? 1963, Paperback
  • 1965, US, Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-345-01708-0), Pub date ? ? 1965, Paperback
  • 1969, US, Ballantine Books (ISBN ?), Pub date ? ? 1969, Paperback
  • 1971, US, Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-345-02624-1), Pub date ? ? 1971, Paperback
  • 1972, UK, Lorrimer, (ISBN 0-85647-019-8), Pub date 11 September 1972, Hardcover
  • 1973, UK, Penguin Books Ltd (ISBN 0-14-003219-3), Pub date 25 January 1973, Paperback
  • 1977, US, Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-345-27321-4), Pub date 12 September 1977, Paperback
  • 1979, US, Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-345-31483-2), Pub date ? April 1979, Paperback
  • 1983, US, Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-345-31483-2), Pub date 12 July 1983, Unbound
  • 1986, US, W. W. Norton & Company (ISBN 0-393-31283-6), Pub date ? November 1986, Paperback (Adds final chapter not previously available in U.S. versions)
  • 1987, UK, W W Norton & Co Ltd (ISBN 0-393-02439-3), Pub date ? July 1987, Hardcover
  • 1988, US, Ballantine Books (ISBN 0-345-35443-5), Pub date ? March 1988, Paperback
  • 1995, UK, W W Norton & Co Ltd (ISBN 0-393-31283-6), Pub date ? June 1995, Paperback
  • 1996, UK, Penguin Books Ltd (ISBN 0-14-018882-7), Pub date 25 April 1996, Paperback
  • 1996, UK, HarperAudio (ISBN 0-694-51752-6), Pub date ? September 1996, Audio Cassette
  • 1997, UK, Heyne Verlag (ISBN 3-453-13079-0), Pub date 31 January 1997, Paperback
  • 1998, UK, Penguin Books Ltd (ISBN 0-14-027409-X), Pub date 3 September 1998, Paperback
  • 1999, UK, Rebound by Sagebrush (ISBN 0-8085-8194-5), Pub date ? October 1999, Library Binding
  • 2000, UK, Penguin Books Ltd (ISBN 0-14-118260-1), Pub date 24 February 2000, Paperback
  • 2000, UK, Penguin Books Ltd (ISBN 0-14-029105-9), Pub date 2 March 2000, Paperback
  • 2000, UK, Turtleback Books (ISBN 0-606-19472-X), Pub date ? November 2000, Hardback
  • 2001, UK, Penguin Books Ltd (ISBN 0-14-100855-5), Pub date 27 September 2001, Paperback
  • 2002, UK, Thorndike Press (ISBN 0-7862-4644-8), Pub date ? October 2002, Hardback
  • 2005, UK, Buccaneer Books (ISBN 1-56849-511-0), Pub date 29 January 2005, Library Binding

See also


  • A Clockwork Orange: A Play With Music. Century Hutchinson Ltd. (1987). An extract is quoted on several web sites: , , .
  • Burgess, Anthony (1978). Clockwork Oranges. In 1985. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-136080-3 (extracts quoted here)
  • Vidal, Gore. "Why I Am Eight Years Younger Than Anthony Burgess," in At Home: Essays, 1982-1988, p. 411. New York: Random House, 1988. ISBN 0-394-57020-0.
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.

  • The band "Die Toten Hosen"'s famous song called "Hier Kommt Alex" is written about this book.

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