The Language of A Clockwork Orange
“Gooly into a world where by nochy prestoopniks rule and oobivat and by day all is well.” This is the nature of A Clockwork Orange, a novel by Anthony Burgess, where one enters the world of a fifteen-year-old named Alex who speaks a vernacular language and does what he likes. This molody nadsat, or young teen, leads a life where crime is real horrorshow as he dodges millicents, or policemen, in order to live a life he wants in the merzky, grazzy city where he resides. Alex and his shaika oobivat too many lewdies, though, and the millicents loveted him. He then becomes a plenny in the StaJa, away from his moloko, snoutie or beloved classical music. As a plenny, he undergoes tests by viddying sinnies, making him horn in pain at the messel of krovvy or guttiwuts. After the tests, Alex returns to the streets as a real horrorshow new malchick, unable to pony or prod crime. Eventually, he meets a ded whose zheena he oobivated before, and is tricked into almost ending his jeezny by thinking of the sinnies and being forced to gooly out of an okno and falling many raskazzes. Alex lives, though, and returns to a jeezny of crime and keeps the city spoogy of him.
The previous paragraph gives an example what much of A Clockwork Orange’s language is like throughout the progression of the novel and is partially the reason why it has developed such a cult following since its release in 1963. What Burgess has done is taken English as a base language, and through the use of slang from English, Russian, Arabic and Gypsy, formed a language all its own which actually manages to accurately depict both the mindset of Alex but also the brutality of the world in which he lives. Some of his words, like “eggiweg,” or, in English, egg, portray the childish nature which Alex frequently exhibits. But others, like “moloko,” or a milk mixture with drugs, shows Alex’s dark side, characterized by largely criminal and demonic overtones.
One thing which may go unnoticed about A Clockwork Orange is just how terrifying it is. It is not the type of terror that will make one jump out of one’s seat, though. Rather, it is something eye-popping, marked by sudden occurrences of agony and despair. Burgess set up the storyline perfectly to allow for this, from the dank and depressive world Alex lives in to the horrific events in that city. A prime example of this “horror” is when Alex is forced into viewing the awful videos in his rehabilitation session. These videos contained incredibly graphic content, from unimaginable depictions of human torture to films from the Holocaust and Nuclear Bomb testings on humans. Burgess’ description of the events – Alex’s vomiting, how he was strapped into immobility and forced to watch the movies, the ominous laughter of guards in the background – all add to the twisted and sublime terror presented in A Clockwork Orange.
Besides presenting utter terror and an extremely innovative approach to the use of language, A Clockwork Orange manages to be extremely philosophical. As Alex encounters different people throughout his process of becoming a better person through tests and manipulation, he encounters the issue of whether or not it is better to live a life of crime than to be forced into not doing so. The question presented by these various people, the main proponent of the belief being the jail chaplain, is that if a man can no longer make that decision, one which could possibly be the most colossal decision of Alex’s life, can he be considered a man? Alex eventually answers this question for himself by attempting to committ suicide because he heard his beloved classical music – the same music used in the tests which makes him feel the uneasiness and pain.
Many of the philosophical issues expressed in A Clockwork Orange address the common tendency towards rebelliousness of today’s youth. The common view among teenagers nowadays is that they deserve to live carefree lives without any restrictions in the forms of laws or minor regulations. So too does Alex express this interest. Although among today’s youth it is not common to be rioting or embarking on a homicide spree, Alex feels this is his way of living a carefree life. However, as a result of his liberty being “denied,” he attempts to vent his anger by committing suicide. Again, today’s teens do not generally veer towards those extremes. The parallel reaction in today’s youth to Alex’s reaction would be the excessive usage of innuendo, free use of the vernacular, indulgence in pleasure of any and all kinds, and the exhibition of mock violence to alleviate angst. It is interesting that there is such a shocking similarity between our world and that of the novel because the novel was written in 1963, at which time there were certainly many differences between teens’ views then and those of today.