My first time reading the book A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess was the American edition that didn’t include the final chapter, which is the same version that Kubrick used for the film. I recently read the full version for the first time and enjoyed it more, the last chapter brought the book full circle and gave it the closure that I felt the American release lacked.
We meet the main character, our humble narrator, Alex, a 15 year old sociopath at the Korova Milkbar, “What’s it going to be then?” he asks his droogs, his gang. They all have an unhealthy liking for the ultra-violent… from drugs, theft, vandalism and beating random people to raping women and girls, Alex and his droogs are complete bloody bastards that need some good, repeated kicks in the yarbles. His only redeeming quality is his deep appreciation for classical music; however, even that is corrupted by Alex’s sick mind.
Tiring of Alex, his gang sets him up during a burglary they planned and he starts learning what it’s like to be the one wronged. Of course our young antihero doesn’t gain any insight as he is beaten and imprisoned. After a couple years in jail he is allowed to play music on the stereo during the religious services and seems to take comfort reading the bible. Alex isn’t finding faith, as the chaplain thinks, he reads it for the violence. Neither imprisonment or scripture has taught him anything, as we soon learn when he beats a cell mate to death.
Fully blamed for the murder, even though he was only 90% responsible, Alex is chosen to undergo a new treatment where he will be cured and the rest of his sentence commuted. Alex undergoes the Ludoviko treatment, a form of aversion therapy, which causes him to become ill whenever he thinks of anything violent. Worse, to him, is the inability to listen to classical music that the treatment unexpectedly caused.
Alex is “cured” and released; unable even to defend himself he is now the victim. His parents won’t take him back home and he takes so many beatings that you can’t help but feel sorry for him as he decides his only remaining option is suicide. His attempt unsuccessful, he wakes in the hospital to find the government is taking a lot of flak over his treatment and the resulting suicide attempt. They promise to undo the treatment and get him a good job if he sides with them. Alex agrees and is then, in his mind, cured as he can now think fondly of violence and enjoy music again. This is where the original American release ends, Alex happily dreaming of the old ultra-violence.
The final, previously excluded, chapter finds Alex back at the beginning. “Well, what’s it going to be then?” he asks his new droogs while they sit at the Korova Milkbar but finds he doesn’t feel up to the ultra-violence after all and wanders the night on his own. Whether Alex is growing up and out of his violence or some part of the Ludoviko treatment remained, Alex is surely changing.
This book is by no means a favorite of mine, however, it’s a must-read because of the questions it raises. Should we have free choice even if we are unable to choose correctly? Get out your Nadsat dictionary and read A Clockwork Orange. Kubrik’s film was a masterpiece but he didn’t have the full story to work with.