A Clockwork Orange


Came across this quote by Anthony Burgess, on the last chapter of “A Clockwork Orange” (from his publisher’s tumblr):

…But my New York publisher [W.W. Norton] believed that my twenty-first chapter was a sellout. It was veddy veddy British, don’t you know. It was bland and showed a Pelagian unwillingness to accept that a human being could be a model of unregenerable evil. The Americans, he said in effect, were tougher than the British and could face up to reality. Soon they would be facing up to it in Vietnam. My book was Kennedyan and accepted the notion of moral progress. What was really wanted was a Nixonian book with no shred of optimism in it. Let us have evil prancing on the page and, up to the very last line, sneering in the face of all the inherited beliefs, Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Holy Roller, about people being able to make themselves better. Such a book would be sensational, and so it is. But I do not think it is a fair picture of human life.

To me the last chapter was far from optimistic: it was a last horrific twist to the whole book.   The idea that Alex had something deeply and fundamentally wrong with him to do all those things is a comforting one, and is also the justification of the extreme “corrective” methods that the establishment in the book attempt.  

The last chapter tells us that both the reader and the authorities got it completely wrong; that normal people can behave like that if they are not guided through youth not to.  That the guy in the pub on the next table might have tortured people to death for kicks when he was a kid, and later grown out of it.

Now I’m sure Burgess knew what he meant.  But I don’t think my interpretation contradicts his quote — they are two sides of the same coin.  The Christians believe that anyone can be saved because they believe that everyone is a sinner.  The belief that only a few born-evil people are capable of behaving that evilly is the comforting one, but as Burgess says it contradicts all our inherited beliefs.  It is also, coincidentally, wrong.




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