A Clockwork Orange has become one of the most popular and controversial novels of the twentieth century. Burgess has created the society of the future and portrayed the main hero provoking a wide range of the reader’s emotions – from disgust to compassion.
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Summary of the Novel
The main hero Alex is the leader of a gang committing violent crimes. Alex describes the events related to the rape of the wife of a writer and the assault of the wealthy old lady. After the betrayal of the friends, he gets into prison and agrees to go under the Ludovico Technique. Alex leaves the prison being incapable of committing violence. After he meets the writer whose wife he has raped before, Alex becomes involved in an intricate story and commits suicide. As he survives, he is relieved from the Ludovico effect and returns to his violent habits but eventually realizes that he is tired of crimes and wants to lead a normal life.
Topic and Thesis
The plot of the story differs in the American version of the book and the British one. The American publisher forced Burgess to omit the last chapter of the book due to its incompatibility with the preferences of the American public. However, the removal of the twenty-first chapter does not only change the plot but influences the meaning of the book. The analysis of the overall philosophy of Burgess and the meaning of the novel reveals that the twenty-first chapter plays a crucial role in delivering the main message of the possibility of moral evolution and making the image of the main hero complete.
Burgess Overall Philosophy
Though there are various disputes about the philosophy of the book, Burgess gives his clear vision about this issue in the introduction to the complete variant of the book including the last chapter. The introduction demonstrates that the author aimed at exploring such themes as free will and the cyclic recurrences in human life. The author considers a human left without a free will a clockwork orange: “an organism lovely with color and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil” (Burgess 4).
A moral choice made with a free will is regarded as a key to moral growing-up. The moral lesson given in the book is identified by the author as “the fundamental importance of moral choice” (Burgess 5). The philosophy of Burgess expressed in the book is based on the belief that people can make themselves better and on the “notion of moral progress” (Burgess 4). Therefore, the initial philosophy Burgess was willing to embody in his novel contradicts the understanding of the novel shared by most readers of the incomplete version of the book.
The importance of the 21st Chapter
The Overall Meaning of the Book
Such misinterpretation is mostly caused by the removal of the twenty-first chapter, which plays a vital role in enhancing the overall meaning of the book. First of all, the number of chapters is important because of its symbolism – Burgess chose the number of 21 as it reflects the age considered to be the mark of growing up. Therefore, the 21st chapter itself embodies the idea of growth, not the physical but the moral one: “Alex like groweth up, oh yes” (Burgess 107). While the 20th chapter leaves the impression that nothing can be changed, the last chapter supports the idea of a possibility of moral evolution based on the moral choices.
Though all the previous chapters show that the negative moral choices are repeated continuously, and there is no escape for those who have chosen the world of violence, the last chapter strikes the reader with the clear demonstration of the notion of moral choice that can be done by any person, even the most corrupted one, and change his/her life and priorities. Therefore, the removal of the last chapter changes the initial message of the novel and makes the reader face the reality that contradicts the meaning given to the book by the author.
The Evolution of the Main Hero
The image of the main hero and his evolution is also severely influenced by the removal of the last chapter. The last chapter starts with a description of the same set-up that was depicted at the beginning of the novel. The same type of gang, the same bar, the same entertainments, and details: “The four of us were dressed in the height of fashion”, “We were dressed in the height of fashion” (Burgess 6, 101). The author demonstrates that though the outward world is still the same and only the details of fashion have changed, the inner world of the main hero has experienced a significant change.
The 21st chapter depicts Alex, who chooses of leaving his violent lifestyle and starting a meaningful life: “That was something I would have to get started on, a new like chapter beginning” (Burgess 107). Without the last chapter, the novel ends showing no evolution of Alex. Such an idea is embodied in the last words of the 20th chapter: “I was cured all right” (Burgess 100). Alex makes the same moral choices and returns to his habits as soon as his free will is recovered. The 21st chapter shows the hero’s evolution and makes his image complete by demonstrating Alex’s morals growing up from violence.
The twenty-first chapter of A Clockwork Orange plays an important role in delivering the initial message of the novel as this chapter reveals the idea of moral evolution and makes the image of the main hero complete by demonstrating his capability of moral transformation. The removal of the last chapter can be considered the main reason for the misinterpretations of the meaning of the book.
Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange (UK Version). n.d. Web.