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A Clockwork Orange: A Critical Analysis

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Nadsat Language in A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess's writing style in his most famous novel, A Clockwork Orange, is different to say the least. This novel is praised for its ingenuity, although many are disturbed by Burgess's predictions for the future. However, for many, it is close to impossible to comprehend without outside help. This is because Burgess created a language specifically for this novel, called Nadsat. This Russian-based language forms conversations between the narrator, Alex, and his teenage, delinquent friends. There are many assumptions as to why Burgess chose to complicate A Clockwork Orange by filling it with the confusing Nadsat language. Some opinions are that the language shows A Clockwork Orange readers where Alex and his "droogs" were located socially in society, or that Burgess was attempting to brainwash his audience, just as the authority figures brainwashed Alex and other members of their community, or finally, to show the shift from immature, young adults to normal, mature people. While it may not be clear to the audience why Burgess used Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange, it is easy to see that the different language adds character and depth to the novel.

Alex and his friends, Pete, Georgie, and Dim, are different from the rest of the society in Burgess's novel. Not only are their actions of rape, murder, and theft out of the ordinary, but their dress and speech are unique only to their breed of adolescents. These differences are apparent to the reader immediately, and even before an act of crime is

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committed by the gang of "droogs," it is obvious that they are looked down upon in society. Alex and his friends know that they are looked down upon, and this is clear in a line in which he is describing the jackets the boys choose to wear. "Then we wore waisty jackets without lapels but with these very big built up shoulders ('pletchoes' we called them) which were a kind of a mockery of having real shoulders like that" (Burgess 2). Other members of society look at Alex's gang as eccentric and everything they do proves their abnormality. Most cannot understand the way in which they speak, and laugh at the fashion forward clothes they choose to wear. There is a sense of fear around these boys, and because of their different language, outsiders think that they are trying to manipulate them or harm them in some way (Ingersoll 62). This fear forces the gang of "droogs" to become social outcasts, and anytime there is a disturbance of some sort, the "millicents" or police come to Alex and his boys first. The boys are stereotyped in their community to an extent to which it will be hard to overcome.

An interesting factor in Nadsat language is that while there are many words depicting violence and gore, there are no words describing joy, love, or family (Rabinovitz 45). This further differentiates the troubled adolescents from society, as typical men like F. Alexander see man as "a creature of growth and capable of sweetness" (Rabinovitz 46). It is as though Alex and his friends are unable to feel emotions of happiness and even relate to others on a personal basis. Some critics, such as Todd F. Davis and Kenneth Womack, believe that Alex and his "droogs" are unable to express their inner feelings in ways other than incomprehensible words or acts of violence (23). This separates the boys from the rest of society because they communicate

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in a way that puts fear into those around them. Because of their lack of communication, there is no way for Alex and his friends to be on the same level in society as most others. Nadsat language separates them from others in their community. Alex and his "droogs" are known as delinquents because of their different ways, and the main way to solve that problem is to learn to communicate more effectively with people in their community.

The central theme in A Clockwork Orange is the phrase, "a man who cannot choose ceases to be a man." Burgess chose to focus on the different ways society brainwashes its citizens. Whether it be brainwashing all of society to follow the same, monotonous ways, or brainwashing criminals into "normal" people who are drained of all their natural emotions, everyone in Burgess's novel must deal with brainwashing. Burgess chose to use Nadsat throughout A Clockwork Orange in order to give his audience a small experience with brainwashing. Burgess himself says that through the use of many Russian-like words, his readers will be forced to learn minimal Russian (Craik 51). After Burgess repeats words like "gulliver," "otchkies," and "devotchka," his readers begin to remember what these strange words mean, and therefore learn a new language. Without knowing it, the readers have taken part in a type of linguistic programming, and they are able to see first hand just what Alex undergoes in A Clockwork Orange (Craik 51). Burgess uses words very similar to their Russian counterparts. For example, the word "horrorshow" from the novel, which means good, comes from the Russian word khorosho. The word liudi, translates to "lewdies," meaning people. Because these words are so similar to the Russian words they come from, readers of A Clockwork Orange should be able to recognize small amounts of

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Russian (Craik 51). Almost subconsciously, Burgess has brainwashed his readers into learning a new language, and this relates them to the characters in the novel on a level

that is not usually reached.

Burgess's technique in this novel is genius, and it aids in sympathizing with the criminals rather than the authority figures. While Burgess brainwashes his audience, he puts them in the same position as Alex, therefore, it will be easier for them to relate to the criminals as opposed to the authoritarians (Rabinovitz 46). Burgess's plan was to show how easy it can be to manipulate people into doing something without their knowledge. He is using the example that authoritarian figures like Dr. Brodsky in A Clockwork Orange, will do anything in order to better themselves, even if it is at another's expense. This intensifies evil in most cases (Ravinovitz 47). Burgess's attempt at brainwashing his audience is possibly one of the reasons his novel has received such high acclaim. There are not many novels in which the reader is able to take part in an activity much like the one the central character is undergoing. It is obvious that Nadsat

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