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A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In Part 3, Chapters 1 and 2 of A Clockwork Orange, how do people respond to Alex, and what do their responses suggest about the State's intentions for Ludovico's Treatment?

Despite Alex's reformed behavior and the public's knowledge of his inability to act violently, and despite his pleas that he has "suffered and suffered and suffered" already, Alex encounters little sympathy in his first day of freedom. People refuse to accept that he has been reclaimed or that he has suffered enough for his crimes. When Alex sobs to his parents that "everybody wants me to go on suffering," Joe mercilessly retorts, "It's only right that you should suffer proper" (a sentiment Alex himself once expressed about Georgie's death). Later, Alex goes to the library to research how to trick his body into letting him kill himself. There he encounters a moment of mercy when an old man asks, "What is it, son? What's the trouble?" The man sympathizes kindly, but only until another patron, the old "prof" type from the novel's first chapter, recognizes Alex as one of the teens who beat him and destroyed his personal property. Alex insists, "I've been punished ... I've learned my lesson," but the old men converge on him. "You lot should be exterminated," one says, and another says, "We'll teach him all about punishment." They do not believe that Alex's sufferings are sufficient. "Kill him, stamp on him, murder him, kick his teeth in," they yell as they swarm him. The old men want a vengeance that will satisfy their grievances, and Alex, as the helpless teen in their midst, endures their attack as an unwilling representative of all violent youths (one of several nods to the passion narratives, in which Christ bears all sins). If the State puts Ludovico's Treatment into widespread use, as it intends, a new vulnerable class of people will be created. They will be at the mercy of anyone who wants vengeance. Rather than solving the problem of violent crime, the State will have merely shifted the assailants' and victims' roles, if Alex's experiences are representative.

How does Alex's use of details and nadsat reveal his opinion of his assailants in Part 3, Chapter 2 of A Clockwork Orange?

Alex asks the old men at the library to forgive him and tries to evade them, not only because they speak threateningly but because they disgust him. Throughout the novel, Alex has shown his fastidiousness. Dim's sweatiness bothers him, and Billyboy's fatness disgusts him. The stink of the prisoners offends him, and he worries that it will attach itself to him. Anyone whose physical nature repels Alex in some way is inferior, in his opinion, and the "starry [old] dodderers" in the library are particularly repulsive to him. Alex observes the men's "trembly old rookers [hands]" and finds the smell of "old age and disease" that accompanies the "near-dead" men sickening. The men's fingernails are "horny old claws," and they yell at him in "breathy old" voices, "panting like dying." The men's "feeble" blows are not what scares Alex the most. It's the press of a "sea of vonny [stinking] runny dirty old men" that overwhelms him. Alex says that the men attack him in part because it is "old age having a go at youth." The old resent the young, he implies, but his own prejudice against the old is clear in his vivid descriptions of his attackers.

What do the parallel plot structures in Parts 1 and 3 of A Clockwork Orange suggest about Alex as a heroic or antiheroic narrator?

Burgess describes Part 1 of the novel as "crime" and Part 2 as "punishment," because Alex's crimes in Part 1 lead to imprisonment and then to aversion therapy. However, punishment continues well into Part 3 as Alex pays a personal price for his various crimes and misdeeds. For example: Alex and his gang beat up an old man in Part 1; that man and his allies swarm and beat Alex in Part 3. Alex terrorizes his parents to keep them out of his business in Part 1; they replace him with a lodger who appreciates and helps them in Part 3. Alex mocks and dominates Dim in Part 1; Dim arrests and beats Alex in Part 3. Alex loves and is proud of his stereo and albums in Part 1; in Part 3, he learns that they were sold to buy cat food. Alex brutalizes F. Alexander and his wife in Part 1; in Part 3, the only ally he has turns against him when F. Alexander figures out who he is. Alex is a compelling narrator. He is clever, as thoughtful as his immaturity will allow him to be, and brave in his way. His use of nadsat, playful and vibrant, draws readers into his story. But Alex is a criminal, so lest readers forget, in Part 3 he pays for his behavior that took place in Part 1, a reminder that he is not a conventionally heroic protagonist.

In A Clockwork Orange, Part 3, Chapter 4, when Alex twice describes the cottage's gate "HOME, it said," what does he make of this detail?

Alex is cold, wet, hungry, thirsty, and injured when he sees the cottage's name "shining white on the gate." The name acts like a beacon to him. Here, he thinks, he might find "some veck [guy] to help." So he knocks and this time means it when he says he needs aid. The cottage's owner opens the door "full" to Alex's pleas. Alex sees within "warm light" and hears a fire "going crackle crackle crackle." The cottage seems the very refuge Alex desperately needs. Yet readers remember, and Alex quickly realizes, that this is the cottage Alex and his gang brutally invaded two years ago. This suggests to readers that Alex is in danger of yet another act of retaliation. Alex says that he opened the gate and "sort of slithered" down the path to the cottage door, ostensibly because the path is icy. But the verb slithered evokes only one animal—a snake. It reminds readers that when Alex was last at the cottage, he was deceptive and venomous, an intruder in the warm and happy marriage of F. Alexander and his wife. Alex and the gang violated the literal and symbolic HOME of the cottage. Yet now, having forfeited his own home, Alex views the cottage as his only hope of refuge.

To what extent does F. Alexander have Alex's interests at heart in Part 3, Chapter 4 of A Clockwork Orange?

F. Alexander seems kind and motivated by Alex's plight. He gives Alex's bruised face a "tender" look, hurries to meet Alex's immediate needs for warmth and a "hot stimulating" beverage, and says comforting words like "There there there." Alex "could have wept at his kindness," so unexpected and so very undeserved. F. Alexander provides a warm bath, clean clothes, and a substantial meal before he even asks about Alex's story. He seems entirely motivated by compassion for the "poor lad," the latest victim of the police. But F. Alexander gradually admits that his help is not without conditions. Alex, he knows, is "the poor victim" of the "horrible new technique" for controlling those the State thinks subversive. Now Alex is not human but a "machine capable only of good," which makes him a weapon F. Alexander can use against the hated government. Readers realize that, however kind F. Alexander seems to be, his motives are not purely compassionate, and there is the risk that he will use Alex for his purposes as the chaplain, the doctors, and the Minister of the Interior have.

In what ways is Alex a "victim of the modern age," according to F. Alexander in A Clockwork Orange, Part 3, Chapter 4?

F. Alexander characterizes the modern age as a time of intrusive State control, unchecked violence, and creative stagnation. A writer who apparently craves recognition (his face lights up when Alex says he's heard of A Clockwork Orange), F. Alexander seems to prefer the soft power of writers and artists to the hard power of the State. Ensconced in his book-lined room, F. Alexander might once have felt safe, but Alex's gang—disaffected modern youth, unmoored from tradition and culture—destroyed the illusion. F. Alexander's wife, then, is also a victim of the modern age's violence. Alex, on the other hand, is a victim of modern drives toward conformity and standardization. If Alex and other "hooligans" can be reprogrammed as "piece[s] of clockwork," the repressive State can more easily control them.

What forces compel Alex to leap from the window in Part 3, Chapter 5 of A Clockwork Orange, and how are these forces tied to the novel's themes?

The most immediate force that compels Alex to attempt suicide is the pain and sickness that his conditioning causes him to feel, in this case when he hears classical music. F. Alexander's confederates bombard Alex with a "very gromky [loud] and violent piece," so that Alex, "who had loved music so much," is in intense pain and distress, with no way to stop the sensations. He beats his fists on the wall until they bleed and screams as the music plays. A secondary source is the loneliness Alex feels before he falls asleep in the flat. He is utterly alone, has nowhere to go and no one to trust, and is "all bewildered" as he wonders what kind of life he can have now. In this state, it takes only a slight coincidence to push Alex toward suicide. The word "DEATH" in the title of a pamphlet and the sentence "Open the window to fresh air" in a booklet, both in the room, seem like "Fate" telling him to "finish it all off." Stripped of his ability to choose how to act, Alex cannot fight back against his many enemies. He cannot choose to help, or not to help, the subversives. He cannot quell the sickness the music causes. He becomes vulnerable to suggestive reasoning and to coincidences that, in Part 1, he likely would have laughed at. Yet his final (or so he thinks) act is a choice that requires will, intention, and courage, characteristics that he also lacks. Alex cannot live as he wants to any longer, but he also cannot choose to die.

Which details in Part 3, Chapter 5 of A Clockwork Orange convince Alex that his host is "bezoomny [mad]," and does F. Alexander make valid points, regardless of his sanity?

Alex first wonders if F. Alexander is entirely sane when he reads a few sentences of A Clockwork Orange. The text compares people to fruit growing on the "world-tree in the world-orchard" and the purpose of human life as quenching God's "thirsty love." When F. Alexander calls Alex to breakfast, his voice is "full of joy and love," but the more passionately F. Alexander speaks about the incumbent government's actions—"Recruiting brutal young toughs" as officers and "[p]roposing debilitating" conditioning—the crazier the look in his eyes becomes. F. Alexander begins to pace in his agitation, seems not to hear the questions the "poor victim asks," and grits his teeth as he speaks of defending "great traditions of liberty," which the "common people" don't appreciate. F. Alexander becomes more agitated, of course, when Alex's use of nadsat triggers faint memories of the assault. By the time his confederates arrive, F. Alexander can no longer stay on topic, muttering about impossibilities and the desire to "tear" and "split" someone until D.B. da Silva "strok[es] his chest like he was a doggie to calm him down." F. Alexander is, if not mad, at least emotionally fragile. Yet his rant against the State is not unreasonable. He worries about powerful states progressing to totalitarian entities that claim the authority to "decide what is and what is not crime" and to suppress dissent by "pump[ing] out the life and guts and will" from those who disagree, as Ludovico's Technique has done to Alex. Given that the State will soon imprison and suppress F. Alexander, his concerns are quite sane and reasonable.

How does Alex respond to pictures he is shown in Part 3, Chapter 6 of A Clockwork Orange, and against what and whom does he direct his renewed violent urges?

The short answer is that Alex directs his rage "against everything." The smiling young doctors first show Alex pictures of neutral objects—a nest full of eggs, which he says he would like to smash. Shown a peacock, Alex not only reacts violently toward the neutral image (he would like to pull the bird's showy feathers out as it "creeches") but takes offense at the bird's "boastful" attitude. Peacocks aren't proud, but Alex is, as evidenced by his frequent description of his "luscious" hair, for example; and he hates competition. Less neutral images evoke stronger responses, revealing Alex's renewed belief that people's pain is the source of his pleasure. Alex would like to rape the women whose pictures he looks at. He would like to join the beating people are getting in another photo. When he sees a picture of "the old nagoy [naked] droog [friend]" of the chaplain—that is, Christ—carrying his cross, Alex says that he like to handle "the old hammer and nails," a rejection of the comfort of religion that the chaplain tried to offer Alex. "Good good good," the doctors say to each reaction—good in the sense that the State no longer can be accused of harming Alex, but problematic for readers looking for the novel's happy ending or palatable resolution.

Who is punished in Part 3, Chapter 6 of A Clockwork Orange for past interactions with Alex, and in what ways do their punishments fit their crimes against Alex?

A slow-motion parade of people from Alex's life appears by his hospital bed. He's strapped down and, at least for a time, can't speak clearly. Yet he witnesses punitive moments—comeuppance for those who have, in some way, betrayed him. F. Alexander's confederates come, calling him "friend" and triumphantly holding up newspapers with headlines about Alex as they use him for photo ops. Alex wants to call them "treacherous droogs" but cannot form the words. Later, the Minister of the Interior assures Alex that the State has dealt with "certain men who wanted to use you for political ends." Alex's parents, who preferred their lodger to their son (not without reason, some readers might think), visit. As his mother sobs, Alex rejoices in Joe's downfall, threatens to kick his mother's teeth in, and bullies both parents into letting him have things "as you like" at home. Dr. Brodsky and his team do not visit Alex in the hospital, but they, too, suffer a setback. Readers infer that Brodsky is no longer the darling of the State. The Minister of the Interior, who promoted Brodsky's work, has turned against Ludovico's Technique as more trouble than it's worth. "We never wished you harm" the "Int Inf Min" lies, "but there were some that did." In each case, a person or group that in some way acted disloyally toward Alex suffers in some way for their actions. An interesting counterexample is the prison chaplain, who not only stood by Alex during his sentence and wanted to protect him from the treatment, but also stands with him now, giving up his secure prison job to preach on behalf of his "little beloved son in J.C."

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