Writing A Clockwork Orange essay

Whether you're talking about the novel or the film, A Clockwork Orange is a fascinating subject for an essay. It raises a lot of difficult questions about society and morality, so there's no shortage of things to talk about.

  • Alex, the anti-hero, is part of a distinctive teenage subculture. Easily identified by the way they dress, they drink milk laced with mind-altering drugs then go on orgies of recreational violence. Anthony Burgess wrote the novel in 1962. How does this behaviour compare with today's binge drinking culture and the random violence often seen in town centres at the weekend?
  • Alex and his friends use a distinctive dialect called Nadsat. This is the Russian suffix for "teen" and most of their expressions are Russian or derived from it (Horrorshow from the Russian Kharasho - good - being one example.) Burgess was writing during the Cold War and he intended that to properly understand the book the reader would need a Russian dictionary. At the time the Russians were regarded as the enemy. By identifying Alex and other teens with them, what point was Burgess trying to make? Was he arguing that teenagers are an enemy of society, that the Russians were misunderstood or simply trying to make Alex and his companions seem alien?
  • Eventually Alex is arrested and jailed for his crimes. He becomes the guinea pig for an experimental new treatment, the Ludovico Method. This mentally conditions him so that even just thinking about violence or criminality will make him feel nauseated; he is no longer capable of being a criminal. However it could also be argued that he is no longer human; he has no free will. In one scene, in a discussion with a psychiatrist and a government minister about how Alex is now reformed, the prison chaplain says "He has no real choice, has he… He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice." A question Burgess asked was "Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?" Is a law-abiding society worth the price if it means turning people into robots?
  • When the film was released in 1972 it caused an uproar and was accused of encouraging violence. Does this accusation stand up? The viewer is led to sympathise with Alex, but does that extend to approving of his actions? How did Burgess himself feel? It's worth mentioning that in 1944 his pregnant wife was beaten by a group of drunken American soldiers while Burgess was stationed in Gibraltar. She miscarried and Burgess always believed that the attack led to her early death.

No matter what your views on the characters, A Clockwork Orange is an outstanding piece of writing turned into a remarkable film, and as a basis for an essay it has almost endless possibilities. Make the most of them.