Youth Culture at its Most Dystopian? (A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess Book Review)
The children are the future. According to societies around the world the youth must be preserved so that they can grow up and become prominent members of the community who help foster good values and allow the society to progress into the future. The author of A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, views the influence of the youth differently; instead of believing the youth as being the saviors of society, he views the teenagers as the downfall of society. The novel A Clockwork Orange serves as a commentary on the state of the youth today and how the youth will progress into becoming more violent and primal people. Burgess accomplishes his goal of commentating on the youth through his description of the dystopian society, language, depiction of violence, and irony to deliver his message on the animalistic behavior of teenagers.
During the period the story was written many youth movements began stirring across the country in which the youth attempted to influence the country through their demonstrations. Burgess’s commentary of the youth in the movement is stated clearly through the man that Alex and his droogs encounter on the street, who cries out, ‘It’s a stinking world because it lets the young get on to the old like you done, and there’s no law nor order no more.’” (Burgess 17). In Burgess’s mind, the youth are taking over and must be stopped. By describing teenagers in this way Burgess helps develop the idea of where the children of the future are heading, as society continues on its path the youth will soon take over with their vicious ways. In the story, Alex and his droogs control the night while the rest of the “starry bourgeois lurked indoors” (47) out of fear. Depicting the dire situation of the dystopian world in the novel allows Burgess to comment on the situation in the modern world in which the youth are attempting to take over. Throughout the youth movements, there were multiple instances of violence and terrifying scenarios that would have forced people to remain inside unless they wished to be stuck in the crossfire. Burgess, viewing this situation happening around him, incorporates that into his novel, however, instead of protests the adults remain inside out of fear for the gangs that roam at night because they have the authority during that time of day. He continues his commentary on the youth by discussing through P.R Deltoid how the violence is simply ingrained into the minds of teenagers despite the situation that they may grow up in. The children in the world have everything that they need, “a good home here, good loving parents'' (43), and yet according to Burgess they will continue to choose violence and basic animal instincts because that’s how teenagers behave. They immediately revert to their primal instincts because it is simple and easier than having a conversation and as a result, the youth can’t be trusted.
Burgess’s commentary of the youth is further emphasized through the NADSAT language. The NADSAT language created by Burgess is solely for teenagers, not many adults throughout the novel speak the language nor do they understand the language. The language consists of harsh-sounding words such as “bezoomny”, “droog”, “rassoodock” and many others. Upon hearing Alex speak the language Dr. Brodsky, the scientist who undertakes the responsibility of conditioning Alex, comments on how the language is similar to “the dialect of a tribe” (129). Tribes are most often associated with less sophisticated human beings and therefore the NADSAT language showcases the primal instinct of the youth. They are reverting to the old days when people were more likely to resort to violence to solve their problems instead of simply discussing the problem and arriving at a solution together. The NADSAT language also proves to be difficult to understand and it creates a divide between the adults and the children. In order to compensate for this divide, Alex changes his form of speech so that the adults can better understand him; when talking to adults he speaks in “a very refined manner of speech, a real gentleman’s goloss” (23) which allows him to further himself on the social ladder because he is discarding the language that makes him seem primal. This further adds to Burgess’s commentary on how tone, language, and voice are associated with maturity and intelligence because those who are the adults talk in a language or tone that is far more refined than what the teenagers speak on a normal basis. This can be seen in the modern world as well when parents ask their children for the meanings of specific words that they may have heard. Similarly to children today, Alex had to explain the meanings of words such as “horrorshow” to F. Alexander’s friends by calling it “nadsat talk” and explaining how “all the teens use that” (181). The
NADSAT language allows teenagers to seem animalistic and separates them from the rest of society because they aren’t important members of the community and it allows for the reader to feel detached from the violent acts committed in the novel due to the language barrier.
The violent acts committed by Alex and his droogs are further proof of the violent and immature behavior that teenagers exhibit. Alex and his friends spend their nights and sometimes their days engaging in violent acts from beating up a stranger to raping innocent girls because they feel satisfaction in those violent acts. When describing why he likes violence Alex says “what I do I do because I like to do” (45), he commits violent acts for no other reason except for the violence. Alex and his droogs find art and beauty in violence which speaks to the twisted nature of their teenage minds. Burgess’s extensive use of violence throughout the story develops the idea that teenagers are simply nothing more than violent creatures that need to be taught how to live in a normal society. As Alex matures he begins to realize that he no longer feels the same satisfaction that he used to from his violent acts due to “something soft getting into” him and he “could not pony why” (206). Alex can’t believe that he no longer feels the same way towards violence and he thinks that it is a byproduct of the experiment he has to undergo, however, in reality, Alex’s sudden shift in thinking is Burgess’s commentary on how teenagers are simply the ones that are inciting the violence. Alex comments that “being young is like being like one of these malenky machines” (211), teenagers have no other option besides being violent because it is ingrained into their nature. Similar to a machine that only goes forward and crashes into walls or other objects, teenagers and children alike can’t help themselves from committing acts of violence because their brains aren’t mature enough yet and therefore they aren’t able to fully grasp the situation at hand or understand the consequences of their actions. Burgess includes Alex’s sudden evolution at the end of the novel to show that it wasn’t Alex who was evil but it was the teenagers and their mindset which led to Alex committing horrible acts because it’s how he was built.
Despite violence being ingrained into a teenager’s mind, there’s no doubt that the community and the society that the child grows up in has a significant impact on the actions and thoughts of that child. A recurring symbol of the influence the government has on its children is shown in the form of the drug-induced milk that Alex and his droogs drink. Alex and kids around the same age as Alex aren’t allowed to be served liquor however “there was no law yet against prodding some of the new veshches which they used to put into the old moloko” (3). The irony in the statement is evident because milk is seen as something that is nurturing and gives life to new babies however in this instance the milk is being laced with different drugs that distract Alex and his droogs from reality and could encourage them to fuel their violent actions. After all, they aren’t fully aware of what is happening around them. The milk sharpens them up and makes them “ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one” (4) because the drugs laced in the milk lower their judgment and cause them to make terrible decisions. Although Burgess believes teenagers are hardwired to act primitive and violent, he doesn’t deny the possibility that there may be something in the teenagers’ surroundings that lead to their violent acts. Their surroundings combined with the influence of the government leads to the teenagers being some of the most destructive members of society.
Throughout the novel, it’s evident that Burgess doesn’t view teenagers in the same light as many modern communities view their youth. According to Burgess, teenagers are more similar to a destructive tornado that incites violence wherever it goes instead of the future hope of society. Teenagers are built to be more violent than adults and they can’t control their violent side because it’s ingrained into their brain and they don’t know what else to do. Their violence is only exaggerated through their surroundings because the people meant to protect their innocence are instead working against them.