As always, this is not a book report. Rather, it is an opportunity to discuss some themes that stuck with me while reading “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess.
It can be fiction or non-fiction. It makes no difference because they share a foundational need for any good story. Character development and the quality of it makes or breaks a book. We may love and/or loathe the character we are reading but we must witness their growth over the course of the book. If we don’t, then more often than not, a story is a failure. Here, Burgess gives us an unlikeable character who is hellbent on destruction and thievery. This character is then arrested, forced through the prison system, tortured, retrained, and set loose back into society. We may not like the character. We may root against him but at least his character arcs from the first page to the last.
What Are They Saying?
The characters in this book speak a foreign language version of English. For the first third of the book, you won’t have a clue what they are discussing. You may become frustrated, lost, and irritated. You may even think of putting the book down. Instead of abandoning ship, I would encourage you to stay the course. Much like being dropped into the middle of a culture surrounded by people talking a language you don’t speak, you will adapt. By the time you reach the second third of the book, the words will become a second language to your ears and eyes. You may not understand every single word, but you will get the gist.
Crowded prisons have become a way of life in the United States. Since most of us don’t interact with people in prison, nor do we spend much time there, we don’t give it much notice. This book encouraged me to begin giving this some serious thought. Instead of prisons built as punitive systems, perhaps we could construct systems of rehabilitation focused on showing inmates the error of their ways, correcting those learned and/or innate behaviors, and properly releasing them back to society. This may sound costly, but as far as society is concerned it is the right thing to do.
The lead character in this book is selected for a new program meant to brainwash prisoners into reforming. With his eyes propped open, he is forced to watch countless hours of violence, rape, death, disease, and disgust all to reform him. As you read this section of the book, your mind will naturally wonder to thoughts of torture and the supposed moral arguments surrounding it. For me, I couldn’t help but think about CIA black sites where “enemy combatants” were held against their will. My mind conjured up thoughts of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and humiliation all in the name of protecting America. I believe, as I do now, and this book reinforced my beliefs, torture is wrong on every single level.
Our lead character leaves prison a changed man. The brainwashing worked. No longer is he drawn to fits of violence and chaos. Instead, he acts like an abused dog unable to defend itself. Of course, this doesn’t last long, and he is lured back into the life. When we think all hope is lost, he does what we all do naturally. He compares himself to people he respects and admires. Then, and only then, does he realize he must change. The impetus for change does not come from forcing him to do so. No, it is internal. When we work with inmates, this is the center we must chase.
Be good to each other,
I've never asked readers for financial support before. I am committed to keeping content on this site free and open to all. For me, this means no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what I create, please consider making a contribution on Patreon.