To leave out the final chapter of A Clockwork Orange is to change the entire meaning of the novel; as Burgess says in the introduction, his story is transformed into a fable. Without the last chapter the reader is left with a dark and pessimistic theme, that absolute good and evil exist in this world and it is possible for a man to be pure evil. Alex is conditioned and unconditioned, and in the end all indications point to a malicious life of crime. He is a clockwork orange, programmed to be subservient to a master, whether it be the Devil, the government, or a group of men.
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Alex is a windup toy. However, this was not the message Burgess intended to convey. He believes that a clockwork orange does not exist in our society, it cannot exist, for it is inhuman to be pure good or pure evil. All humans have free will and moral choice–no human can behave as a machine. This point is lost to those who are denied the final chapter of A Clockwork Orange. Chapter 20 ends with Alex saying “I was cured all right. ” These are the last words of the book in the American version.
There is no indication that Alex will change from the evil life it appears he will soon resume. It is implied to the reader that Alex is destined for a life of evil and there is nothing he can do to change it. Alex has no free will or moral choice. The theme of the 20 chapter version is that there is no such thing as free will or moral choice. Alex is evil and he has no ability to change that. The story also ends without Alex evolving at all from the beginning of the book. Chapter 21 gives the book an absolutely different theme.
Alex becomes board with his malicious life, he begins to evolve. “I was like growing up” he says about himself in chapter 21. He decides he wants to create rather than to destruct. The theme of the book with chapter 21 included is that people are who they want to be. There is no such thing as pure good or pure evil. A person can not be controlled or programmed to behave a certain way. Humans have the free will to do whatever they choose. I prefer the version of A Clockwork Orange that contains the book in its entirety, all twenty one chapters of it.
Without the twenty first chapter the book is incomplete. It is a fable rather than a novel. This is due to the fact that the main character does not evolve. In order for a book to be considered a novel, the main character must experience some type of growth or evolution. After chapter 20, it appears Alex is planning on doing the same things he did in the first section of the novel. In chapter 21, the reader has an opportunity to see Alex evolve into the person he becomes at the end of the complete novel. Chapter 21 also contains numerical significance.
Burgess states in the introduction that he is a believer in numerical theology. There are three sections with seven chapters each. Seven multiplied by three equals twenty one. Burgess felt that this was significant because twenty one is considered to be the age of maturity and adulthood. The complete version of A Clockwork Orange with twenty one chapters is a wonderfully written book with a powerful theme of one young man’s free will to be whomever he chooses, prevailing over attempts by outside organizations to determine the nature of his life.