By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News
“A Clockwork Orange” is one of those rare combinations where both the book and movie adaptation seem to have an equal amount of popularity.
The film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is both controversial and classic. Most would consider it among the director’s best.
Yet the novel upon which it is based hasn’t been lost in all of the movie’s praise — at least not to the degree of most books-turned-films. Take Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” for example: an adaptation so highly regarded, the novel it stemmed from is left behind, like a footnote. A large number of films are created this way — steal a book’s ideas, and leave the carcass of the novel in its wake.
Not Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange.” A big part of the novel’s staying power is one of the most unique uses of language found in English literature.
Narrated through the eyes of Alex, a 15-year-old teen who regards the reader as “brother,” “A Clockwork Orange” is written in the made-up, yet brilliantly thought out slang of Nadsat.
In short, the slang is based in contemporary English, but with a number of commonly used terms exchanged for some fun, new variations. Friends are now “droogs” (a straight translation into Russian,) working is known as “rabbiting” (from the Russian “rabota,” meaning “work”) and a policeman is known as a “rozz,” (from the Russian “rozha,” meaning “ugly face.”)
That’s just to name a few. There are entire dictionaries dedicated to Nadsat, although they are hardly necessary to read the book. Burgess makes sure that all words are quickly understood through context, so that what could have been a chore ends up being really fun. Be warned: It’s very likely some Nadsat terms will stick in your head. Try not to use them in public, or be prepared for some strange looks in your direction.
However, language by itself can’t carry a book. Due to this, Burgess has stuffed “A Clockwork Orange” full of plenty of brain food for you to chew on. The story revolves around the narrator’s search for a purpose, even though he can’t see that himself. Alex and his gang of friends often skip school, stay out late and terrorize the local citizens through robbery, assault and even rape. The crew constantly searches for the next thrill, with bigger and bigger doses needed to fulfill their cravings.
It’s when Alex gets caught by police soon into the book, that some real moral issues come into play. As “professionals” begin experimenting with new rehabilitation treatments for criminals on Alex, readers are forced to ask questions. “What is good, and what is evil?” You may start to ponder.
While his evil acts may sound obscene and gross when talked about outside the book, it’s hard as a reader to not get a thrill when Alex describes them. As is the case with any passionate person, their passion tends to rub off on those around them. When we see Alex having a blast kicking a drunk, homeless man, part of us is repulsed — but another part of us is swayed by Alex and his joy.
In this way, the book seems to aim to make us question our own evil side. While most of us may not have done anything too crazy as teens, most can admit to at least some hijinks. And while Alex’s acts may be extreme, it’s hard not to root for him. He’s like our wildest, most uninhibited self, doing everything we know is wrong, but deep down might get a kick out of — if we could detach ourselves from feeling for others.
The best part about “A Clockwork Orange” is that it packs all this punch in under 200 pages. Head to your bookstore, pick it up, and by all means, buckle in for the ride. After all, Alex is behind the wheel.
Dean Goranites can be reached through Twitter at unleashingwords.