What’s With the Missing Chapter of A Clockwork Orange, and Why Do We Care?
Warning. There are spoilers ahead for A Clockwork Orange, both the novel by Anthony Burgess including the last chapter, and the movie, by the amazing Stanley Kubrick. Viddy this, and pop away if you are among the holdouts who have not neither seen nor read this amazing work.
I wanted so to have a new book to review for you, but I am not quite finished with the one I wanted to share with you next. I almost waited, but I didn’t want you to get bored. I have read literally thousands of books in my lifetime, so there ought to be something I could talk with you about in there somewhere. Indeed, there are many books I would love to talk with you about. As I said prefer to share new things with you, however. So, why are we talking about a book written before even I was born, shortly after the discovery of fire?
To answer that, I pose you a question. I would love you to give your opinions in the comments. What does it mean to grow up? How do you know you have? I asked my dad, in one of our meandering philosophical conversations, if there was a magic age where I’d wake up and feel like a grown up. He said he was still waiting. He was 63 at that time. By many objective measures, I certainly haven’t done it.
I certainly wasn’t grown up the summer I spent watching A Clockwork Orange. Although the wisdom of letting an 11 year old watch such a violent movie is dubious, watch it I did. Every day, for a month. I can still quote huge sections of dialogue, in passable Nadsat. You may or may not know, the film was based on the American version of the book, which was missing the last chapter. As I fell head over heels in love with Little Alex, Your Humble Narrator, I was simply happy he was back to his old ‘orrible self again by the end of it.
In case you are one of three people on earth who don’t know, here’s what the story is about, via the Amazon blurb: A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”
It would be years before I read the book, and I got to that last chapter first, in Rolling Stone. It was a pretty big deal to discover there was more to the story. These were the days before the internet, you understand, so we didn’t have knowledge at our fingertips. Nor were there scores of badly written bits of fan fiction to tide us over when cannon failed.
The gist of the last chapter is that Alex IS his old self, but that he discovers his old life isn’t enough. Eventually, he runs in to one of his old droogs, and finds that what he really needed was to grow up, to move on from his past into an adult life.
I remember thinking, “So it was all just a PHASE?!” I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed in this ending. I was far from grown up myself even then, and wondered if one HAD to change so fundamentally during the process. I hadn’t begun to feel very changed. And I STILL DON’T.
Many Gen Xers are experiencing an extended adolescence, or a second adolescence, just as I am. Many of us have had to go back home and our plans and dreams certainly have not turned out the way we might have hoped. I find myself having a lot of advice to share, but my essential self doesn’t seem to have changed very much at all. My dad’s earlier response seems to imply that everyone experiences this to some degree.
So I wonder about you, my readers. Do you feel like you’ve grown up? If so, what makes you feel that way?
I will say A Clockwork Orange is a Heavenly book, although you may feel you’ve gone through Hell before it is done.