Department of English Language and Literature
BRITISH LITERATURE OF THE 20TH CENTURY
An unconvincing twist or necessary completion of the book’s moral integrity? Discuss the ending of A Clockwork Orange.
Richard Borovička 2nd year – Aj-Pg
Summer semester 2009
Are we to discuss to what extent the ending of A Clockwork Orange is convincing, at least three levels of viewpoint should be taken into consideration. The author’s intention in terms of the effect that the last chapter was supposed to create can be seen as one. Another one lies in the literary means the author used and their contribution to the effect intended. And the last but surely not least is the psychological level concerning the possibility of the final twist in the protagonist’s attitude towards life and its dark sides. All the levels mingle throughout the story since human personality is a complex unit and not a mere composition of separate parts arbitrarily put together. Taking a closer look at all the aspects mentioned above should help us avoid simplification and misinterpretation. It is most unlikely that the last chapter of such a creative work is a mere result of the author’s sudden lost of imagination or inspiration. In the preface to the 1986 edition, Burgess himself claims that the 21st chapter was meant to be an integral part of the story from the very first moment he decided to write it. Although the author’s reliability as a source of information about his work might be considered questionable, his viewpoint should not be ignored completely as it sheds at least some light on the issue. As regards the number of chapters, he puts it quite clearly: “21 is the symbol for maturity, or it used to be, since at 21 you got the vote and assumed adult responsibility” (Thrawn). Burgess talks about the 21st chapter as about the denouement. He adds: “There is, in fact, not much pint in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation or an increase in wisdom, operation in chief character of characters” (Thrawn). Burgess’s life itself appears to be the strongest argument supporting the idea of the 21 st chapter of A Clockwork Orange as not only it but the whole book reflects his passions in language, literature, music, psychology, philosophy and no less importantly his religious concerns. Unaware of these aspects, the reader might easily miss the point. In Burgess, we deal with a complex, well read and smart personality, which we should bear in mind while studying his work. The question of moral integrity seems to be put in the 21st chapter quite deliberately as well as the conclusion it results in. Apart from other arguments, Burgess obviously believed in human free will and one’s moral choice. As a reminiscence of Burgess’s Catholicism, of particular importance also appears the question of original sin and the extent to what a human is tainted by it and how much one can cope with it using their free will. In the context of Burgess’s growing up as a Catholic in the Protestant surrounding of England, the issue of free will and possible change of one’s attitude appears to be even stronger. 2
Considering the ending of A Clockwork Orange in the context of the whole book from the literary perspective, we should ask a question how successful the author was in creating the effect intended. The book is divided into three parts, each of seven chapters. In the first part Alex, the protagonist introduces himself as a narrator, telling us his story. Series of ultraviolent actions result in his imprisonment in the second part and the effort of the authorities in persuading him to undergo a change through a modern scientific cure method. The third part depicts Alex’s life after being ‘cured up’ and released from prison and summarizes how much the attempt of imposing the good upon him was successful. While the characters of Alex’s ‘droogs’, both the first and the...