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A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How does Alex's reference to himself as narrator change during the treatment sessions in Part 2 of A Clockwork Orange, and how does the change affect readers' views of Alex?

Throughout the novel, Alex has spoken to his audience (unidentified, but possibly other teens, because in the final chapter he leaves them behind and enters the adult world) in a familiar and often self-aggrandizing tone. He calls his readers "my brothers" and refers to himself flatteringly: "your Faithful Narrator," "your handsome young Narrator," and most often, "your Humble Narrator," though Alex is, in Part 1 of the novel, anything but humble. But as he undergoes the Ludovico Technique, Alex changes how he refers to himself. During the first treatment, Alex calls himself "Your Humble Narrator And Friend." Afterward, he speaks of himself as "your Humble and Suffering Narrator" and "your poor and suffering friend and narrator." These descriptions reflect his changed condition, from leader and aggressor to passive victim, and may elicit readers' sympathy. Such sympathy is problematic. Alex has just imagined life after prison as full of "dirty" fun and vengeful violence. He has just laughed with pride at the thought that he's fooled the prison system. Alex is still the "vicious young hoodlum" the Minister of the Interior chose as a test subject. Yet because he identifies himself not as "faithful," "handsome," or even "humble" during treatment but rather calls himself "poor" and "suffering," he presents himself as pitiable.

What is the medical team's behavior like during Alex's treatment sessions in Part 2, Chapters 4–6 of A Clockwork Orange, and what does their behavior suggest about their motives?

Members of the team treat Alex in various capacities, but all are united in their tendency to see Alex as less than human and certainly less than worthy of compassion. For Drs. Brodsky and Branom, the stakes are high—Alex's response will either prove or disprove their procedures. But they are hardly unbiased, as researchers should be. Rather, they are confident of success. Dr. Branom at least tries to assure Alex that he is being healed, if painfully, but Dr. Brodsky spares little more feeling for Alex than he would for any lab rat—a living but disposable tool. The attendants' behavior toward Alex is telling. They know what the treatment does and taunt him cruelly. The attendant responsible for preparing Alex for treatment and caring for him after is callous and dismissive of Alex's suffering. He takes advantage of Alex's weakness to strike him after his escape attempt. The Discharge Officer asks Alex to hit him so he can watch Alex's distress, and other attendants hold him down to force him to allow the injections. This is not the behavior of a clinical trial but of people who despise Alex and who enjoy punishing him while they have power over him.

What does Dr. Branom reveal to Alex about the treatment and what does he conceal in Part 2, Chapter 5 of A Clockwork Orange?

Dr. Branom is a nervously optimistic man who behaves around Alex as if he, too, has been "forced into" the treatment plan. Dr. Branom is willing to answer some of Alex's questions, especially after the first treatment, but he does so evasively. He assures Alex that the terrible sickness he feels is normal and expected, even good, because it means his body is learning healthy responses to violence. When Alex complains that he does not understand "how or why or what," however, Dr. Branom speaks generally of "the processes of life" and the "miracles" of the "human organism" that even Dr. Brodsky, a "remarkable man," cannot grasp. Dr. Branom avoids the subject of the nearly two dozen remaining sessions; he dodges the question of "how" the treatment works; and he treats Alex almost as an uncomprehending child, patting him on the head as he leaves. All smiles and blue eyes, Dr. Branom is not Alex's ally, despite presenting himself as such. He may be more squeamish about the Ludovico Technique than Dr. Brodsky is, or he may secretly fear Alex, a violent criminal desperate to escape his prison sentence. Whatever his motivations, he is a false friend to Alex.

How do the dreams in Part 1, Chapters 4 and 5, and Part 2, Chapter 5 of A Clockwork Orange foreshadow later events and affect the novel's atmosphere?

Three dreams hint at events yet to come and contribute to a mood of unease and suspense in the novel. The first dream, in Part 1, Chapter 4 is Alex's. He dreams that Georgie, dressed as a general, is ordering him around and that Dim, older and missing teeth, wields a whip to discipline Alex, who tries to flee as Dim laughs and slashes at him. The dream may arise from Alex's premonition that Georgie will challenge his leadership. In fact, that is what happens when the four teens are together next. The second dream, in Part 1, Chapter 5, is Pee's. He dreams that teens beat Alex badly; Alex lies "helpless in [his] blood," unable to fight back. This dream foreshadows multiple acts of violence against which Alex is unable to defend himself—during police interrogation and during and after treatment. It also reveals that Alex's father, despite fearing his uncontrollable son, does worry about him. The third dream happens when Alex sleeps after the first treatment session. In it at first he perpetrates and enjoys violence, but soon he feels ill, even in the dream. He cannot fight back when men beat him up and has to struggle through "pints and quarts and gallons" of his own blood to wake. This dream hints at how helpless Alex will be, after treatment, against those who want revenge. The three dreams add a fantastic element to the novel, buffering some of the painful realism of the violence. They also serve to complicate the question of free will, suggesting elements of fate, destiny, and even tragedy associated with the events.

Why is Dr. Brodsky unconvinced, in Part 2, Chapter 6 of A Clockwork Orange, by Alex's protestations that he is cured?

Driven to "cunning" by desperation, Alex claims after his first full day of treatment that he has "learned my lesson" and is "cured, praise God." He claims to understand what the treatment is teaching him, that everyone has "the right to live" free from violent aggression. Alex thinks he is saying the right things—and the Governor and prison chaplain would likely agree with his words (whether he means them is another question). But Dr. Brodsky, smiling broadly, calls Alex's claims "the heresy of an age of reason," words Alex doesn't quite grasp. Brodsky means that people can know, rationally, and even believe in "what is right" while still doing "what is wrong." People are not controlled by reason; that is why they must be controlled through the aversion therapy Alex is undergoing. People must cede their ability to reason and acquiesce to conditioning that prevents them from choosing "what is wrong" even while knowing it's wrong. In less than two weeks, Brodsky says, Alex will be "a free man," a phrase Alex may interpret as "free to leave prison" but which to Brodsky means "free from the challenge of choosing what is right." Brodsky is unwillingly to leave this choice to Alex or, readers assume, anyone else who might act "against ... society."

How does Dr. Branom respond to Alex's objection to the use of classical music during the treatment sessions in Part 2, Chapter 6 of A Clockwork Orange?

Dr. Branom says the unexpected effects of the music "can't be helped" and blames Alex for his anguish, quoting a line from Oscar Wilde's poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol": "Each man kills the thing he loves." The choice of poem is intentionally allusive, because the poem deals with a brutal crime and critiques the system of justice that imprisons and executes the criminal. But for Branom, Alex's outrage over the use of the music is an unplanned for element of punishment. "The Governor," who prefers retaliatory justice, "ought to be pleased," Branom says. Ludovico's Technique is supposed to be a therapy, not a punishment, yet Branom accepts without question that a "punishment element" has turned up (as if Alex's sickness and fear aren't enough punishment). What Branom knows but Alex has yet to realize is that "association, the oldest educational method in the world" is conditioning him to become ill when he hears classical music. For Alex, this is a lasting and terrible punishment. His deep appreciation and admirable knowledge of classical music set him apart from other people. Burgess was also a composer. That the treatment destroys Alex's enjoyment suggests Burgess's deep opposition to conditioning, especially as carried out by the State.

What do Alex's thoughts about killing a fly, at the end of Part 2, Chapter 7 of A Clockwork Orange, add to this grim chapter?

When Dr. Brodsky claims that Alex is a "true Christian" who feels "sick to the very heart" over the idea of killing a fly, Alex feels the truth of Brodsky's claim. The idea does make him a "tiny bit sick," because the harm done is to so small a living thing. He immediately works on driving the sickness away. He imagines feeding the fly "bits of sugar" and caring for it as if it were a pet and "all that cal [shit]." Only this mental exercise eases Alex's sickness. His reaction to the thought of harming a fly adds a touch of humor to an ugly, fractious scene. "Oh, he wouldn't hurt a fly" becomes not a meaningless adage but a darkly funny way to describe Alex's defenselessness just before he goes out into the world. He will be like the fly, easy to squash with no consequences. But his reaction also suggests that Alex, though his free will has been curbed, still exists. The arrogant, observant, poetic, and often funny mind that Alex's narrative reveals is still active. Because Alex thinks, even briefly, about having a pet fly, there is hope that the treatment has not destroyed what makes him unique.

Describe and critique the "manner of Love" of the "Middle Ages" that Alex is forced to demonstrate in Part 2, Chapter 7 of A Clockwork Orange.

When the "most lovely young" woman Alex can imagine steps into the spotlights with him, Alex says that she moves with "the like light of heavenly grace." Her beauty arouses him immediately (as it does the rather hypocritical men in the audience), and as immediately, his conditioning causes him to react to the idea of the "old in-out" with sick revulsion. Even the scent of her perfume makes him want to vomit. To quell the sickness, Alex offers to serve the woman. He will "throw like my heart at your feet" for her to "trample" and protect her from the "wicked world." He will "worship" her and be her "true knight." As Alex speaks, he feels the sickness "slinking back." Alex takes the role of chivalrous knight, defender of weak womanhood, an ideal celebrated in medieval romance. But in fact, the woman is not in danger and does not need his service. Enjoying her acting role, she even bows to the audience. And Alex is acting, too. He feels "real shooty [foolish] and dim" as she exits. The farce he has been forced to play out has nothing to do with love or with sexual desire. These drives have been corrupted in him; their loss is an assault on his humanity. Alex's feelings about women before treatment were wrong; he rapes and fantasizes about raping and beating women. But this behavior, of the true Christian knight, also denigrates the idea of love, abasing Alex and reducing the woman to prey that must be protected.

How does Alex refer to the Minister in Part 3, Chapter 1 of A Clockwork Orange, and what does this reference suggest about how Alex views the Minister?

Alex reads about himself in a newspaper and sees a photo of the Minister of the Interior along with his "boasting" assurance that people can expect a "nice crime-free era" now that Ludovico's Treatment has been proved effective. Disgusted, Alex throws the paper on the floor, which is covered with food stains and "horrible spat gobs from the cally [shitty] animals" that eat there. To make his opinion of the Minister and his ideas even clearer, Alex mocks him by calling him "the Minister of the Inferior or Interior." Later in the novel, Alex reduces the Minister's title to absurd abbreviations like "Int Inf Min" and "Intinfmin." These names cut the Minister, figuratively speaking, down to size. Alex's disrespect has no effect on the Minister's power, but it serves as a subtle critique of the State's notions of its own importance. And it reminds readers that Alex, despite the Minister's intentions, has retained his individuality, his rebellious spirit, and his defiant attitude toward the State's mechanisms of control.

In Part 3, Chapter 1 of A Clockwork Orange, what details hint that Alex is not as reformed as Dr. Brodsky and the Minister of the Interior might hope?

Several details suggest that Alex's will and spirit, which have so far motivated him to act against the State's wishes, still surge rebelliously in his thinking. The Discharge Officer has given Alex some job leads, even making a few phone calls on Alex's behalf. But Alex refuses to go "off to rabbit work" like the jobs his parents do. He chooses instead to rest and recover, listening to music. Dr. Brodsky boasts, during the demonstration, that Alex is ready to serve the State. Alex has other ideas, despite his conditioning. When Alex sees his photo in the newspaper, he does not recognize himself at first. The "very familiar" person in the photo is "very gloomy and like scared." It takes Alex a moment to realize that the person is "none other than me me me." But he rejects this self-image, blaming the fearful expression on the "flashbulbs going pop pop." Alex is disgusted by the Minister's words in the paper reassuring the public that "young hooligans and perverts and burglars" no longer present a threat. Alex knows, as only he can know, what the Minister intends for these people and is disgusted by the State's willingness to carry out Ludovico's Technique. Each of these hints assures readers that the insubordinate core personality of "Your Humble Narrator" is intact, though buried under aversion therapy and behavioral conditioning.

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