BURGESS HAS YIELDED ONE OF FICTION’S GREAT FIRST-PERSON NARRATORS
plete. The really clear thing is that Burgess, at this point in the novel, simply needs Alex to regain his freedom of moral choice.
This brings us to the question of the book’s ending. The novel’s tough-minded defence of free will demands, you would think, a toughminded conclusion.
If social conditioning is worse than letting villains freely choose evil, it would seem only fair that Alex, restored to his natural condition, should freely choose evil. And at the end of the book’s second-last chapter, that is precisely what Alex does.
But Burgess believed that a novel, to distinguish itself from a mere fable, had to show moral growth in its protagonist. He therefore added a final chapter in which Alex abruptly matures and renounces violence. Burgess’s first American publisher found this coda unconvincing and lopped it off. So did Kubrick. Burgess later implied they were foolish for doing so. But Andrew Biswell, in his valuable introduction to this new edition, reveals that Burgess had early qualms about his final chapter. On the typescript he labelled it an ‘‘ optional epilogue’’.
He was right to doubt its value. He wanted the book to be more than just a fable, but the artificiality of that last chapter proves that a fable is what it is — a brilliantly written one, but a fable nonetheless. It says scarier things about violence than Burgess wanted it to. By the time he wanted Alex to change, so the novel could say something more nuanced, it was too late. Alex had acquired a vivid life of his own. The novel had slipped out of its author’s control. Words have a way of doing that, even when generated by a master — or, perhaps, especially then.
Malcolm McDowell as Alex in Kubrick’s 1971 film of