In A Clockwork Orange, Alex, the narrator and the main character, tells the story of his teenage years, starting at fifteen. He begins his tale as the leader of a small gang that spends its evenings pillaging and wreaking havoc on the town until the gang mutinies and "Your Humble Narrator," as Alex refers to himself, is caught by the police. From there, Alex travels to State Jail 84F to serve 14 years, but receives an offer from "the Government" which entails undergoing experimental treatment in return for early release. He seizes what seems to him an opportunity, but is horrified by the "cure" he endures. The new "good" Alex that is released unto the world is depressed, frustrated, and lonely, although no longer violent. A radical political group then exploits him as an example of the cruelty of "the Government." This faction tries to force Alex to suicide in order to gain a martyr, but Alex's attempt fails and he is nursed back to health and his natural mental state by the Government, who in the end comes out on top.
Alex, whose last name is not mentioned in the book, is a violent, aggressive teenager of fifteen, who is the leader of a four-person gang. He truly enjoys violence, reveling in the sight of blood or weapons. Alex's love of hate is not simply a rebellious emotion, but as he explains, it is his very nature, and he could not change it if he wanted to. Despite his passion for what most see as ugly and disgusting, Alex does have a great appreciation for classical music, especially Beethoven.
Alex's main conflicts are both external and internal. His external conflicts are between him and the members of his gang. Dim and Georgie, two of the members of Alex's gang, are unwilling to accept Alex's leadership. They challenge his authority, and Alex reacts rashly by trying to re- establish his dominance through defeating both of his aggressors in fighting. This confrontation only raises tensions within the gang, and leads to a betrayal which results in Alex's capture on the charge of murder. Alex's main internal conflict is a physiological one. The Government's experimental treatment which Alex undergoes involves conditioning to produce a feeling of nausea and overbearing fear when violent tendencies are encountered. Since Alex's nature is to respond to situations violently, he is ruined by the conflict between his physical and emotional feelings.
The climax of the book occurs at the end of Alex's conditioning, when he is made to feel sick by his own true emotions, and he realizes fully that he must change his entire way of life.
The major difference between the film and the book versions of A Clockwork Orange was the lack of theme or meaning in the film. The film easily conveyed all aspects of the story's plot and dialogue, but was quite lacking in the conveyance of the thoughts within Alex. It seemed that without this key part of the book, the film was completely devoid of any merit whatsoever.
Between the film and book versions of A Clockwork Orange, I prefer the book infinitesimally. The whole reason Anthony Burgess wrote the book in the first place was to convey a question of morality: is it justifiable to corrupt the pure nature of a person for the benefit of the greater society? His epochal query was clearly communicated within the book, but Stanley Kubrick did not even begin to deal with this moral issue in his movie which I perceive as a shallow and strange film which I could not enjoy, knowing that the message behind Burgess' story was not the advocation of blatant violence, as portrayed in the film.
The climactic scene in the book occurs when Alex has finished his conditioning, and he is displayed as an example of the new technique in criminal reform. Alex is put on stage in front of government dignitaries, where he proves that he is incapable of committing an act of violence.
In the book, Alex is thrust on stage, where he tries to defend himself against an attacker, but is choked back by the acute nausea he experiences with violence. With Alex narrating, the reader experiences the main character's thoughts and feelings as his physical body strangles his true emotions and prevents him from acting on them.
The movie shows the same scene, but without examining any of the psychological aspects of it. All the viewer sees is Alex being bullied by another man, and unable to fight back, crippled by some unknown internal monster.
I did not like the film's version of this scene because it did not clearly show what was transpiring within the characters.
The theme of the book deals with a person's most basic right to be himself. Burgess questions whether it is right to destroy an individual's self in the interest of society. He also questions the morality of the government judging what is right or wrong for everyone.
While these themes were evident throughout the book, they were only once mentioned in the film, by a minor character who appears only once. I think the film does not deal with theme because it is difficult to impart the thoughts of the main character without changing the plot of the film, which would lead it astray from that of the book.
The most obvious and powerful symbol in the book was the slang language used by the teens, called "nadsat." Nadsat has chiefly Russian origins. Many of the words were chosen because of their forceful sound, as a symbol of the attitude of the nadsats, or teens. For example, "grahzny bratchny" sounds much more harsh than "dirty bastard," although one is a literal translation of the other. This is similar to Gene Roddenberry's creation of the Klingon language, which sounds very much like Russian, in his series "Star Trek," although this may have been due to a cold war stereotype.
This symbol, although it was attempted in the film, did not work well. It seemed that dropping words like "droog, tolchock," and "zooby" in the middle of a sentence of otherwise perfect English only confused the viewer, especially without any reference to the nadsat language.
A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, presents an issue that should be discussed in schools, although the book may be too potent for some. The film, however, is definitely too focused on plot and the portrayal of destruction and violence, without enough of a focus on theme. I would recommend reading the book; its social commentary is much more relevant now than when it was written in the sixties.