Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, a critically acclaimed masterstroke on the horrors of conditioning, is unfairly attacked for apparently gratuitous violence while it merely uses brutality, as well as linguistics and a contentious dénouement, as a vehicle for deeper themes.
Although attacks on A Clockwork Orange are often unwarranted, it is fatuous to defend the novel as nonviolent; in lurid content, its opening chapters are trumped only by wanton killfests like Natural Born Killers. Burgess' Ted Bundy, a teenage Lucifer named Alex, is a far cry from the typical, spray paint-wielding juvenile delinquent. With his band of "droogs," or friends, Alex goes on a rampage of sadistic rape and "ultraviolence." As the tale unfolds, the foursome rob a small shop, beat the proprietor and his wife unconscious and then undress the old woman for kicks (Burgess, A Clockwork Orange 13-14). When the moon climbs to its zenith, they get an ache for "the old surprise visit"(Burgess, Orange 24). Donning masks of Elvis, Disraeli and the like, they storm a writer's home and beat him to a pulp, tear up his cherished manuscript, urinate in the fire place and rape his wife while the author is forced to look on in horror (Burgess, Orange 27-29). The following day, Alex, taking a much needed break from school, lures two ten-year-old girls to his room, gets them drunk and rapes them to a backdrop of Beethoven's Ninth (Burgess, Orange 50-54).
Although laden with violence, the novel is not intensely graphic; abrasive episodes are softened by the use of Nadsat, a teen argot of the author's own design. As a Stanley Kubrick film, however, Orange is an immediate shocker. The lack of a linguistic cushion, as well as the necessity to show on-stage violence, propelled the flick into an intense storm of controversy (Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange: A play with music"). The movie was pulled from British theaters in the early seventies and is still illegal, in any form, in the United Kingdom (Contemporary Authors 491). In addition, ripples from the film tarnished the novel's popular image. On account of the movie, some readers regard the book as "a flip testimonial on behalf of mindless, juvenile violence" (Edelheit 126), and Burgess is dubbed "an antisocial writer" and the "stepfather" of a "punk cult" (Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange: A play with music") which sprung up around the Kubrick film.
Compiled upon the movie-galvanized image of the novel, the handiwork of ignorant critics cements Orange's reputation as a phantasmagoria of sex and violence. An anonymous reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement once labeled the tome "a nasty little shocker" (qtd. in Burgess, "A Clockwork Orange: A play with music"), and the pithy epithet now graces the cover of the novel's most recent American printing. Yet, through it all, the author maintains that he took no pleasure in documenting Alex's brutality and even invented Nadsat in an effort to make the violence symbolic...