EN 4241  Utopias and Dystopias

2011-12, Semester 2

Rajeev S. Patke



Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1962)


Nadsat dictionary: link.
The NUS Central Library gives access to the Literature Online resource on the novel: link.
It is OK to read and digest that, but please do not plagiarize from it.
Topics for discussion (pg numbers refer to the Penguin 1972 edition)
  •  The title ("a fairly gloopy title ... laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation", 21; "'Am I just to be like a clock-work orange?'", 100; "this veck was a writer veck. A Clockwork Orange, that had been it", 120).
  •  The tension between the claims to individual liberty and social order ("you can't run a country with every chelloveck comporting himself in my manner of the night", 34).
  • The role of Nadsat in the novel.
  • The role of violence in the novel, especially in the light of the remark from Dr Brodsky: "The sweetest and most heavenly of activities partake in some measure of violence" (91).
  • The "cure" administered to Alex, esp. in terms of how he is made to feel "sick" (82, 95, 101); and why: "I want to be sick. Please let me be sick" (83).
  • The relation of Ludovico's treatment, notions like "subliminal penetration", "delimitation" (91) to developments in psychology during the first half of the twentieth century.
Passages for close reading
  • Comment on the distinction  between "badness of the self" and "the not-self cannot have the bad" (34, Part 1.4)
  •  What do you understand by "the thrill of theft, of violence, the urge to live easy' (63)?
  • What is meant by "The heresy of an age of reason" in relation to Alex's remark: "I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong" (92).
  • Comment on the reasoning underlining the declaration "Our subject is, you see, impelled towards the good by, paradoxically, being impelled towards evil" (99).
  • Comment on "any music that was like for the emotions would make me sick just like viddying or wanting to do violence" (110).
  • Comment on: "You've sinned, I suppose, but your punishment has been out of all proportion. They have turned you into something other than a human being. You have no power of choice any longer" (122). What, in light of this passage, is the relation of choice to utopia?
  • Is there irony, pathos, or some other effect in Alex's self-recognition: "I had this idea of my whole plott or body being like emptied of as it might be dirty water and then filled up again with clean" (134)?
  • What do you make of the term "hypnopaedia" (137)?
  • Comment on: "Perhaps I was getting too old for the sort of jeezny I had been leading, brothers. I was eighteen now, just gone" (147) and "Being young is like being one of these malenky machines" (148).
  • What is the effect of using the first-person narrative?
  • How far does it make sense to speak of the novel as a bildungsroman?
  • Comment on the 3-part structure of the novel: before, during, and after Alex's conditioning.
  • How does irony play a role in the relation between Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the novel?
  • Could one speak of the structural relation of the three Parts of the novel as dialectical or dialogic?
  • Comment on the changing relations between Alex and the novelist F. Alexander.
  • Comment on how the novel ends (Alex back to violent ways, but bored).
  • What is the significance of the special "dialect" given to Alex?
  • Can one speak of his choice of language as a form of resistance? resistance to what?
  • What is the significance of the Russian or Slavic etymology of the special form of language used by Alex?
  • In what sense could one speak of the linguistic registers used in the novel as dialogic in a Bakhtinian sense?
  • How can one relate Alex's story to the ways in which societies have handled, or can handle, the issue of juvenile delinquency?
  • What, according to the novel (and according to Alex - which may not be the same thing) is, or ought to be, the relation between crime and punishment? law and justice? punishment as retributive and as deterrent? between freedom and necessity?
  • Comment on the rationale of "We are not concerned with motive, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime-" (99).
  • What is the significance of Alex's fascination with classical music, specifically Beethoven's?
  • What, according to various viewpoints dramatized by the novel, is the relation between violence and music, or between violence and energy?
  • How do you relate the protagonist's interest in Beethoven's music (37, 39, 59) to his actions and temperament in general terms? Contrast that with the references to composers such as Bach and Handel (64, 67), and the merging of Beethoven & Handel (71, 91), and to Mozart (109).
  • (For those who have seen the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film): How does the film version compare to the novel?




Last Updated  27 January 2012