To call this book "dystopian", as so many seem inclined to do, is a complete misrepresentation of it. It's contemporary social satire that's just as relevant today as it was when first published in the early 1960s.

What makes this book difficult is not so much the mindless violence that the narrator engages in or the nadsat language that he uses, but moreover the directness with which Burgess wrote the story. He didn't soften it by loading it up with metaphors, he went straight for the jugular.

The satire in this book clearly attacks at least three aspects of society, each given their own section in the book:

Part one takes a shot at the choice, notions of "free will" are closely examined in this book, of Alex and his cohorts to freely engage in hooliganism and mindless crime for no other reason than that they can. Alex revels in it, glorifies himself through it and makes no apologies. Alex is not written to be likable, he is neither protagonist nor anti-hero; he is simply Alex who exercised his free will contrary to how we would have liked to see him do it.

Part two attacks corrupt, hypocritical governments and other power structures and what they do with their powers when left unchecked. After Alex is simply thrown in prison for his crimes, he hears of a new experimental method of "reforming" criminals in such a way that they will not ever re-offend. Officially, this is done to ease the burden on the prison system. Realistically, it's a disturbing and invasive behavioral control mechanism that goes much deeper than simply eradicating Alex's criminal tendencies; it stifles his ability to take much joy in life at all, criminal or benign. The classical music he was passionate about before the "treatment" is unbearable to him after. What they do to "reform" Alex is pure abuse of power and no less disturbing than anything Alex himself ever did.


Part three takes a run at anti-government groups and how they use, and often abuse, people. After his release from prison. Alex eventually and unwittingly finds his way into the company of a man who he horribly victimized in the first part and two other men representing and anti-government organization. Initially, they see Alex as a potential "poster boy" for their cause and intend to use him as evidence to the public of how evil the government is; however, a combination of Alex's former victim eventually recognizing Alex for who he really is and Alex later trying to take his own life sees the anti-government movement abandon Alex almost as quickly as they rallied around him. Their only interest in him was as a tool for their cause.

This book challenges the reader because it gives no true protagonist to bond to, in fact it strives to keep a distance between the reader and the narrator and the nadsat slang is a big part of how that's done. The slang is not actually that difficult to figure out as there is enough standard English to give context. The key is that nadsat works exactly as slang should, that is as an exclusionary language; every generation creates its own slang to confuse older, more authoritative generations and to keep them somewhat in the dark.

Burgess places the reader in the position of being a bystander to the goings on in the story; close enough that we can see, but still outside of it and not directly involved. Disturbingly like watching a television newscast these days.

misspent youth, government corruption and anti-government groups of often dubious motives existed at the time Burgess wrote this book and they still exist today; they are timeless things. As such, this book is anything but dystopian; it's uncomfortably contemporary.

As for the film adaptation; that was certainly not one of Stanley Kubrick's finest hours. It only very loosely follows the story, cuts out a lot of critical events and adjusts certain characters' physical qualities to the point where a lot of the shock value is lost.