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A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


Which details show that Alex may not have affirmed his position as the gang's leader at the end of Part 1, Chapter 5 of A Clockwork Orange?

Some readers may agree that Alex is firmly in control of the gang again as Part 1, Chapter 5 ends. They've agreed to work together to rob a wealthy woman, as Georgie wanted, and Dim seems placated if confused. The gang is back into its usual pattern, stopping at the Duke of New York to establish alibis, and the swift and painful lesson Alex administered with his razor seems to have been effective. Now the boys know, Alex says, "who was master and leader, sheep." However, subtle clues suggest that the struggle for leadership is not over. Alex says he "thought" he had established his position, not that he has definitively done so. He cannot buy the boys a round as would be expected, having given his money to his father. Dim mumbles vague threats about how he could have "chained his glazzies [eyes]," though he seems unclear whose eyes he means. Alex agrees to Georgie's plan, even though it worries him, because a leader must be "generous to his like unders." But as they leave the bar, Alex, who knows the ending of his story, remarks that though he is leading his friends, they are going "to my doom."

How is Alex's relationship with his parents depicted in A Clockwork Orange, Part 1, Chapters 4 and 5?

Pee and Em are minor characters—they are flat and change little over the course of the novel. But they reflect the glare of Alex's dominance, revealing both positive and negative traits about him. Alex seems fond of his parents, and he seems to pity them because their lives are limited and boring. He does not, however, seem aware that his mother's sighs and his father's worries are more the result of having a son who, since age 11, has been in and out of corrective schools, who clearly hides much of what he does in the evenings, and who has grown up strong and so sure of himself that he brooks no authority. Alex, a 15-year-old unemployed repeat drop-out, is the boss of his home. The mere threat of harm keeps his parents cowed and largely silent, suggesting that they know what he's capable of. Yet they continue to care about him. Em makes him meals and leaves them so that he can eat when he chooses to. Pee relates his dream about Alex lying helpless in his own blood and asks his son to take care. Both tolerate the music he plays loudly, sometimes all night, in their small flat, and they ask few questions about where he has been or why he is not in school. Alex runs his parents, but their continued care for him, though it marks them as weak, does not show him in a strong or positive light. It reveals him to be a glorified bully.

What draws Alex to the bust of Beethoven in Part 1, Chapter 6 of A Clockwork Orange, and what does this connection reveal about his hero-worship of Beethoven?

Readers already know that, of all the composers whose music Alex loves, Ludwig van Beethoven is the one he most admires. He especially loves the "glorious" Ninth and the "Ode to Joy" in its final movement. Anthony Burgess knew, as a musician and composer who studied Beethoven's works, that the Ninth Symphony broke musical ground; it was a daring and even shocking symphony that broke accepted forms and rules. So it is appropriate that Alex, a rule-breaker with a sure sense of self, admires Beethoven and his great work. In addition, observant readers will notice similarities between the bust and Alex. The bust has "stone long hair." Alex speaks of combing out his "luscious glory" of a mane. Beethoven's likeness wears a cravat—a loose and flowing tie—and Alex, a fashionable dandy who cares about appearance, wears "off-white cravats" that look like whipped potatoes. Alex feels an affinity for the "lovely Ludwig van" (they're on first-name basis) in "frowning like stone," in part because he identifies with his romantic view of the composer.

How is the prison chaplain, or "charlie," characterized in Part 2, Chapter 1 of A Clockwork Orange, and how can his relationship with Alex be described?

The chaplain is a harried man. Readers get the sense that he's been working with the prison population for some time and is both committed to his mission and frustrated by his lack of effectiveness. The prisoners respond more to the "thrill of theft" and the "urge to live easy" than to the threat of prison and, worse, of punishment in hell, which he describes in fearful detail, provoking laughter among the inmates. His is perhaps a Sisyphean task, both difficult and futile, but in Alex he seems to find hope. Alex's sensitivity to music, which he chooses for the services, and his apparent interest in scripture give the chaplain hope, as does Alex's willingness to report rumors. Alex shows "a genuine desire to reform" and will, the chaplain thinks, "earn [his] remission." But readers know that the chaplain is deceived, perhaps because he is desperate for success or because he is naive about Alex. When Alex reads stories from the Bible, he enjoys the violence and sex, not the moral teachings. When he reports (or makes up) rumors, he is not seeking "remission" but favors. Alex pretends to conform to the State's desires so that he can use the chaplain to get what he wants.

How does Alex use figurative language to depict his fellow prisoners in Part 2, Chapter 1 of A Clockwork Orange to convey his opinions of them?

Alex describes the prisoners, to whom he feels superior, with language—similes and onomatopoeia in particular—that compares them to animals. The guards herd them to chapel and back to their cells, striking them often and indiscriminately to keep them in order, like dogs harrying a flock of sheep. The prisoners stink; their smell adds to Alex's perception of the prison as a "stinking grahzny [dirty] zoo." They "howl" the hymn and then leave, "going marrrrre and baaaaaa like animals." One prisoner has "rookers [hands] hanging like an ape." Alex despises these men and holds himself apart from them. He may fear them as well, especially because they perceive him, he thinks, as "very special favoured" by the chaplain.

Why is Alex able to tolerate his cellmates in Part 2, Chapter 1 of A Clockwork Orange but not the new prisoner whose behavior dominates Chapter 2?

Alex's five cellmates are violent criminals older than he is (at this point in the novel, about 17). They have terrible records that include theft, rape, and murder, and their behavior must disgust Alex, given his fastidious nature. One is a "very fat sweaty" man; another "tear[s] bits of his toe-nails off" as Alex watches. Alex says, in an understatement, that he does not "enjoy being with them" any more than readers enjoy hearing about them, but he can endure their presence because they are "not given to perversions of the body." They leave Alex alone sexually, that is. But the new prisoner has a "very dirty mind" and "filthy intentions." Alex wakes in the darkness to find the man on his bunk, whispering and "stroke stroke stroking away." This behavior makes Alex "bezoomny," enraged with anger, and so disgusted that even after the cellmates beat the man badly, Alex cannot return to his bunk. It is now "filthy and cally [shitty]" merely because the man lay on it.

What assessment of "penological theories" does the man who visits Alex's cell offer in Part 2, Chapter 2 of A Clockwork Orange, and how does he view the prisoners?

The man, who readers later learn is the Minister of the Interior, finds such theories "outmoded" and self-defeating, since they produce "concentrated criminality" and reward criminals, who "enjoy their so-called punishment." Cold and clinical, he describes prisoners as "unsavoury" and looks not at but "right through" Alex and his cellmates. The prisoners' terrible living conditions don't register with the Minister, nor does he connect these conditions, especially the overcrowding, with what happened in Alex's cell the night before. Instead, the Minister seems to perceive the prisoners as dead wood, taking up space in cells that may soon be needed for "political offenders." He states confidently that the new treatment, which will free up cell space, will be fully implemented in a year. The Minister seems unmoved by Alex's outburst but perhaps chooses him for treatment because he contradicts the Minister or at least insists that the Minister deal with him as an individual—that he looks at him, not through him, with his "stern blue" eyes. Prisoners are not quite human to the Minister. Even Alex, as he asserts his individual humanity, is just a "vicious young hoodlum" to be "transformed" into someone unrecognizable.

Why is the treatment Alex undergoes in Part 2 of A Clockwork Orange called "Reclamation Treatment," and in what way is the treatment's name ironic?

Staja 84F's Governor calls the name "Reclamation Treatment" a "ridiculous expression" but does not define what the treatment reclaims. Alex may feel that he will reclaim his freedom. He will find that the treatment obliterates his psychological freedom while granting him a certain degree of physical freedom. The Minister of the Interior, who has chosen Alex as his test subject, might say the State is reclaiming its authority over citizens. The State's power to impose its will on citizens by controlling undesirable urges is undermined when individuals exercise free will, but the treatment will eliminate the ability to choose. The chaplain, who worries that it "may be horrible to be good" and who urges Alex to "meditate" on Christ's sufferings, might argue that only through religion and suffering can a person reclaim an understanding of goodness, which results in salvation, and evil, which results in hellish punishment. The treatment proposes to remove choice, which may mean a reversion to an innocent state, like that of an infant dependent on its parents. Alex will become dependent on the State after the treatment, and only the State can reclaim his humanity as it hides the facts about the treatment.

How does the irony of Alex's laughing at "everybody's like innocence" after Dr. Branom examines him in Part 2, Chapter 3 of A Clockwork Orange set up Chapter 4's events?

Alex spends his time before the first treatment congratulating himself on being out of prison, luxuriating in clean clothes and hot food, and—most important—coming up with a to-do list for when he is released: Get a "nice easy job" for daytime Form a new gang "for the nochy [night]" Avenge himself on Dim and Pete Not get caught Pleased and confident about his plan, Alex is "smecking his gulliver off" (laughing his head off) at the thought of how he has everyone fooled—the chaplain and Governor, the doctors and attendants, and even the Minister of the Interior. Readers know or at least sense, however, that the joke is on Alex. He is the one who has been duped by smiling attendants, lying doctors, and callous government officials. The last hint of trouble in the chapter is Alex's inability to walk to the treatment room, explained by Dr. Branom's lie about the "vitamin" shot. When in Chapter 4 Alex becomes ill and begs for the films to stop, the attendants in the room laugh at him.

How do Dr. Brodsky and Dr. Branom interact differently with Alex during his treatments in Part 2, Chapters 4 and 5 of A Clockwork Orange?

Dr. Branom is Dr. Brodsky's underling and also his admirer. Branom interacts more often with Alex, handling routine medical tasks and working to keep him compliant so that Brodsky can do his important work. Smiling broadly and speaking with false enthusiasm, Branom exudes sham optimism around Alex, even giving him a "like very droogy [friendly] and sympathetic type smile" after the first treatment, as if he "had nothing to do" with Alex's suffering. Branom is likely in awe and perhaps in fear of Brodsky, who is clearly in control of the experiment and who treats Alex either as a data point ("Reaction about twelve point five? Promising.") or as a child, patting and praising him. Both are complicit, of course, in Alex's suffering, but Brodsky remains detached, observant, and scientific, while Branom engages with Alex, explaining and cajoling to keep him going during the treatments, though perhaps only so that his idol's experiment succeeds.

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