A Clockwork Orange – New Testament for American Youth?
In Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, he observes a characteristic of youth that has been documented from the story of Icaris to the movie Rebel without a Cause. Through his ingenious method of examination of this characteristic, the sci-fi novel, he has created an aspect of what he chose to observe: Rebellion.
Our hero, Alex, begins the novel by explaining his mischeviouse exploits in a manner not far from nostalgia, that is tainted with a bit of sarcasm for any bleeding-heart pity one might feel for his victims, as when he recalls his own realization of the importance of the term, “A Clockwork Orange.” Alex says of the author and his wife that he “would like to have tolchocked them harder and ripped them to ribbons on their own floor. (CO 38)” By the juxtaposition of the intelligent rational used in the contemplation of this concept with the complete lack of respect for it, Burgess shows Alex’s attitude as one of childish ignorance coupled with testosterone induced negative energy. An attitude not absent from any boys upbringing. As Alex is growing through that difficult age known as adolescence, he is taking part in what we have called depaternalisation, throwing off the constraints of the previous generation. This is accomplished through random acts of violence, of course, but also through Alex’s existence within a subculture, which by definition is separate from and therefor contrasts with the mainstream culture.
Alex’s subculture is one of youth, and it is defined by its style of dress and its slang. Alex’s style of dress, described twice to us, once with his first gang and once with his second, is intentionally outrageous by our standards, with “a pair of black very tight tights with the old jelly mould, as we called it, fitting on the crotch underneath the tights,” and ” waisty jackets without lapels but with these very big built up shoulders (CO 6).” This is in itself a form of rebellion, to the accepted codes of “proper attire.” By the end of the novel, Alex is wearing “these very wide trousers and a very loose black shiny leather like jerkin over an open-necked shirt with a like scarf tucked in (CO 140).” This quick and drastic change in style, although still noticeably different from anything that could be considered “mainstream,” is portraying the ambiguity of the styles, meaningless except for their immediate connotations.
The slang, Nadsat, is one of the undisputed aspects of genius in the novel, and is constantly used as a divider between people. In the Staja 84F, Alex runs across an old criminal, whom he doesn’t quite get along with, who has his own “old-time real criminal’s slang.” As the criminal is describing his difficulty in acquiring a “poggy,” Alex interjects with “(whatever that was, brothers)(CO 85).” By pointing out this barrier Alex is showing his contempt for his washed-up cellmate, and illustrating another aspect of the generation gap that even prison cannot bridge. This slang separates him from those older than him, and those younger than him too. The girls in the disc-bootick “had their own way of govoreeting. (CO46)” “Govoreeting” meaning “speaking” in Nadsat. These two devotchkas show that Alex and his subculture are being rendered obsolete even as he is in his prime.
Two versions of this novel so laced with rebellion exist, the difference between them being an extra chapter added to the end of the story. This added chapter does not subtract from the theme of free will, but it does add a positive outlook to it. In regards to depaternalisation, the last chapter can be seen as a negation of it; Alex decides he wants to become a parent. With this decision he sees the error of his previous ways and chooses a new path for himself, the righteous path, the path that was at first implanted in him. This ending is the “politically correct” one, the one that reemphasizes the actions considered good by society and Alex’s voluntary choice of them. The other ending and the one that is used in the movie, is much more unsettling to the whole of society and much more conducive to rebellion. Alex does not at long last see the error of his ways, instead being overjoyed at his remission into ultra-violence. This ending was chosen as the end to Stanley Kubrick’s film, I feel because of its rebellious nature and the rebellious nature of the audience it was intended for: American Youth.
American youth entertainment is full of violence, for the simple reason stated earlier in this paper, the naturalness of violence and youth. Today “gangsta rap” is at the top of the charts and films like Pulp Fiction are blockbusters. These are successful because of their styles that have acts of violence against existing power structures ingrained in them. Things like a quick robbery for the thrill of it and the easy cash, that are admired by ambitious and ignorant teens, are incomprehensible to adults (or at least seen for what they are: entertainment). The youth of America is where the market for most entertainment is, being that they have the most leisure time and money to spend on small ticket items. Therefore the entertainment industry caters to them. A Clockwork Orange is no exception.
Had Stanley Kubrick used the extra chapter of the novel for the end of his film, I don’t think it would have been as successful in its attempt at the arousal of emotion, an aspect of films that I love. I personally dislike the last ending when reading A Clockwork Orange as well, my opinion being that it makes the novel more vague by adding a dimension to it that is unnecessary. That dimension is Alex’s change to the good side, or as I called it earlier, his “paternalisation.” Alex doesn’t need to become good to maintain the theme of free will, although it must be much more reassuring to any of the elderly who read the book. My argument is that the book is suppose to be in opposition to the elderly, just like Alex is, and just like the audience is (i.e. American Youth). Through its rebelliousness achieved by the omission of the last chapter, A Clockwork Orange has become a manifesto for rebellion, an aspect of the culture it was written to observe.
Today, Madonna dresses as Alex did in Kubrick’s film, choreographing dance routines that look like scenes of rape and ultra-violence from the movie. When walking down the streets of campus, where bohemian lifestyles are embraced, the words “in-out, in-out” and “ultra-violence” are met with cheers of recognition and admiration. Has A Clockwork Orange become the “New Testament” for American youth?