The Need for Brutality in A Clockwork Orange

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Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, a critically acclaimed masterstroke on the horrors of conditioning, is unfairly attacked for apparently gratuitous violence while it merely uses brutality, as well as linguistics and a contentious dénouement, as a vehicle for deeper themes.

Although attacks on A Clockwork Orange are often unwarranted, it is fatuous to defend the novel as nonviolent; in lurid content, its opening chapters are trumped only by wanton killfests like Natural Born Killers. Burgess' Ted Bundy, a teenage Lucifer named Alex, is a far cry from the typical, spray paint-wielding juvenile delinquent. With his band of "droogs," or friends, Alex goes on a rampage of sadistic rape and "ultraviolence." As the tale unfolds, the foursome rob a small shop, beat the proprietor and his wife unconscious and then undress the old woman for kicks (Burgess, A Clockwork Orange 13-14). When the moon climbs to its zenith, they get an ache for "the old surprise visit"(Burgess, Orange 24). Donning masks of Elvis, Disraeli and the like, they storm a writer's home and beat him to a pulp, tear up his cherished manuscript, urinate in the fire place and rape his wife while the author is forced to look on in horror (Burgess, Orange 27-29). The following day, Alex, taking a much needed break from school, lures two ten-year-old girls to his room, gets them drunk and rapes them to a backdrop of Beethoven's Ninth (Burgess, Orange 50-54).

Although laden with violence, the novel is not intensely graphic; abrasive episodes are softened by the use of Nadsat, a teen argot of the author's own design. As a Stanley Kubrick film, however, Orange is an immediate shocker. The lack of a linguistic cushion, as well as the necessity to show on-stage v...

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