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A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Nadsat Glossary

Study Questions

1. What is the nature of Alex’s relationship with his parents, and how is this relationship important to the novel?

Alex likes his parents, but at the same time doesn’t consider them worthy of admiration. Alex suggets an affectionate disregard for his parents when he refers to them as his “pee and em.” The words pee and em, which merely represent the letters “P” and “M,” suggest that Alex has effaced the paternal and maternal roles they play.

Alex’s parents are notable largely for the lack of influence that they have on Alex’s life. They are timid and passive, especially in contrast to Alex, who is committed to an adventuresome lifestyle. And although Alex’s parents are decent and loving, they are chiefly used as objects of satire. Burgess drives this point home by alternately romanticizing Alex’s destructive behavior and portraying Alex’s law-abiding parents as soft, hapless beings who waste their lives “rabbiting” away at their meaningless jobs. Burgess’s word choice to describe the parents’ work is significant, since rabbits are commonly portrayed as weak, fearful animals. Burgess implies that Alex’s parents live a life motivated by fear, which includes a deep-seated fear of their own son, whom they never confront.

2. What is the significance of nadsat in the novel?

Nadsat performs several functions in A Clockwork Orange. Most immediately, it forces readers to deal actively with the language of the book. Because we must pay attention to understanding the words on the page, our attention is diverted from making judgments of the book’s characters. In this way, nadsat insulates us from many of the harsh and violent realities in the book, allowing us to develop a rapport with Alex, the protagonist. If we struggle through the first few chapters and gain an understanding of nadsat, we eventually feel pleasure at our increasing ability to decode this strange language. The potential danger, however, is that we may come to associate our pleasure at decoding the language with pleasure in the violent actions that the language often represents. As the narrator of A Clockwork Orange, Alex uses nadsat most intensely when he writes about violence. And in some sense, he uses it to brainwash us on a very small level. By the end of the novel we find ourselves in possession of the trappings of a nadsat vocabulary, which points to the subtle and subliminal ways language can work on us.

Nasdat also suggests Burgess’s inspirations for the society described in A Clockwork Orange. Most of the words that comprise nadsat have roots in Russian. This presence of Russian in Alex’s vocabulary suggests that Alex’s society contains elements of both West and East, which in Burgess’s time meant democracy and Communism. Because it is the fashionable slang of the teenagers in the novel, we may assume that nadsat creeps into the cultural consciousness on a subcultural level. In this way, nadsat hints at the undercurrent of repression in the State that controls Alex’s society.

3. Trace the change that the government in A Clockwork Orange undergoes over the course of the novel. What does this change reflect about the designs of the State?

The primary difference between the policies of the government in Part One and those of the government in Part Three is in how they enable violence to maintain order. In Part One, the government operates insidiously. It denounces evil and seeks to eradicate it by studying the problem and finding a scientific explanation, but at the same time the government recognizes that evil serves a purpose. Youth violence in Part One helps to maintain the status quo by making the streets unsafe at night, which in turn keeps people in their homes and concerned mainly with their own welfare, preventing them from exchanging opinions that could lead to political turmoil. With this in mind, the State has reduced the number of police who patrol by night, content to indulge the rampant youth crime committed by people like Alex and Billyboy. Alex draws attention to this phenomenon in Chapter 4, when he notes that there are always several more policemen on patrol during the daytime than at night.

In Part Three, the government has abandoned its policy of condoning youth crime, and, in light of a coming election, has instead decided to crack down on delinquency. The way the government accomplishes this goal, though, is by reclassifying many of those young thugs as law enforcement officials. In this way, the government can earn public allegiance while at the same time exerting a greater control over potentially disruptive forces. This government has no need of people like P.R. Deltoid, who in Part One futilely devotes his energies to the eradication of violence. With a total monopoly on the use of force, the government of Part Three can make a transition to even greater power, which it in fact does by the end of the novel.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Discuss the relationship between Alex and F. Alexander. What importance does it have, with respect to the novel as a whole?

2. What is the significance of the title A Clockwork Orange?

3. Given Alex’s comparison, in the final chapter, of young people to wind-up toys, do you think that Alex considers his life in Part 1 to have truly been free? Do you consider it to have been truly free?

4. Describe the structure of A Clockwork Orange. What significance does that structure have for the novel as a whole?

5. Discuss the role of music in the novel. What relationship does it have to violence? What relationship does it have to the structure of the novel?

6. Based on the young people in the novel, how might you describe Burgess’s attitude toward teenagers?

More Help

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laaaamwe

by Chuck-Norris, September 12, 2012

time machine is boooring

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1 out of 10 people found this helpful

So yeah.

by ThatGenericUsername, November 29, 2012

Just wanted to say thank you for the post of the Nasdat dictionary. The language of the story was a bit overwhelming at some points, though this helped me pull through. I'd also like to mention the explanations under the "Important Quotes" were a very interesting read. If anyone reads this comment, I'd recommend them a read for a potential boost in the understanding of the subliminal contexts of Burgess's story.

Or something.

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2 out of 5 people found this helpful

Horrorshow

by ilotaatoli, November 04, 2013

I don't think I saw anything about the importance of this word anywhere in the guide, but it's a very loaded word. If you think about most of the other slang Alex uses, they tend to be Russian influenced, but this one isn't. Throughout the story, the meaning of this word changes to the reader: in the beginning, the way the teens use "horrorshow" for something positive leads the reader on to how violent they are. As you move into part two of the book however, you realize that "horrorshow" also alludes to the ultra violent films that Alex is f... Read more

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14 out of 27 people found this helpful

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