A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 2, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Alex begins the "weepy and like tragic" part of his story. Two years have passed since he began his sentence as Prisoner 6655321 in Staja Number 84F. Found guilty of murder and sentenced to 14 years, Alex does not find prison "edifying." The guards are cruel, and some prisoners are "perverts," overly interested in a "luscious" teen like Alex. Pee and Em visit occasionally. They report that Georgie died during a robbery; the enraged victim hit him with an iron bar. This, Alex thinks, is "right and proper and like Fate."

On a Sunday morning Alex runs the stereo for the prison chaplain as usual. The prisoners stink with a "dusty, greasy, hopeless" smell that Alex fears he is acquiring. The chaplain asks the same question that opens the novel: "What's it going to be then, eh?" Will the prisoners reoffend or reform? He warns not only of punishment in prison but also of eternal torment in hell. When a prisoner makes a rude noise, the guards hit the crowd "left and right."

The chaplain likes Alex, who is allowed to read the Bible (he enjoys the violent Old Testament stories) and listen to "holy music" like Handel and Bach. The chaplain urges him to "[m]editate on" Christ's sufferings, which intrigues Alex.

That morning, the chaplain reads the parable of the house built on sand; then the prisoners sing a hymn while guards threaten punishment. After the service the chaplain asks Alex about rumors the Governor needs to know. Sometimes Alex tells what he has heard. At other times, he makes up rumors, as he does on this day. Then Alex asks about a rumored treatment for prisoners. The chaplain is reluctant to discuss Ludovico's Technique, as the "very simple but very drastic" treatment is called, but Alex is willing to try anything to reduce his sentence. The chaplain doubts that a treatment can make a person good because "[g]oodness is something chosen." Without that choice, a person "ceases to be a man."

Alex rejoins his cellmates: talkative Zophar; one-eyed Wall; Big Jew, a "fat sweaty" man; Jojohn, imprisoned for sex crimes; and The Doctor, jailed for practicing unlicensed medicine. The six men crowd into a cell built for three, and then another prisoner arrives. He shakes the bars, yelling about his rights, until a guard warns him to find someone willing to share a bunk or get used to sleeping on the floor.

Analysis

Alex emerges in the opening chapter of Part 2 betrayed and disempowered. The repeated question of the novel, "What's it going to be then, eh?" no longer comes from him because his ability to answer it is now severely limited by the State. Instead, the chaplain asks it, not of Alex in particular but of all the inmates. With a dozen years of his sentence remaining, Alex recalls with fury those who put him in jail (not, of course, himself): Deltoid "spat forth" lies and "slander" while em cried over Alex's failings. Then the judge and jury spoke "some very very nasty" words that doomed Alex to prison. Alex seems not to grasp the chaplain's point: The inmates, Alex included, choose whether they will reform their ways or end up back in jail. As he did when his gang turned on him, Alex deflects guilt on others—in this case, on the adults in power over him, "Bog [God] blast them."

Critics who argue that Alex is a Christ-figure point out the perversion of justice. Lies and slander, they argue, were also used to sentence Christ in the passion stories. Other critics counter that, unlike Christ, Alex is guilty not only of the old woman's murder but of many other crimes. He has earned his sentence. Alex himself, when the chaplain urges him to read the passion narratives in the New Testament and "think on the divine suffering," finds the "scourging and the crowning with thorns" fascinating only because he can fantasize taking part in the crucifixion, even "the nailing in." The chaplain reports to the pleased Governor that Alex has "taken to like Religion." Thus, both the justice system and religious teaching—two tools for reform and redemption of criminals—are corrupted and perverted in this chapter. However, Alex has exercised his free will in doing so, even while imprisoned, a right that Burgess sees as fundamental to humanity, even when taken to the extreme embodied by Alex.

Alex does not want to reform, but he does want out of prison. To serve his sentence is an unbearable thought. He still considers himself superior to the other prisoners, as he later insists to the Minister of the Interior. In addition, Alex rejects the thoughtful work required for reform. He is attracted to the rumored new treatment because it is the easy way out, and he ignores or fails to grasp the chaplain's claim that goodness is an active behavior, "something chosen." Alex misses the point, too, of the parable of the house built on sand (Matthew 7:24–27), which speaks of choices and consequences and of rejecting wise teachings. Ironically, so does the State, which chooses to build a society on such shaky ground as a forced economy and theoretically reformed prisoners.

Burgess's artistry is on display in this complex opening chapter of Part 2, especially in his use of sensory detail to convey the living conditions in Staja 84F. Alex complains of the gray sameness of life, down to prison apparel, a jumpsuit in "a very filthy like cal [excrement] color." The number sewed on his uniform—6655321—rubs out prisoners' unique identities, too, so that "your little droog [friend] Alex" is "not no longer." The prison is permeated by a "special real stinking" smell that comes not only from the prisoners' grimy bodies and the overcrowded cells but also from hopelessness, and Alex, "though still very young," is beginning to have the stink as well. The food is horrible, and the overcrowded cells are "a dirty cally disgrace" without enough room for Alex to stretch out. Readers can contrast these conditions with those in Alex's parents' flat, where he has his own room, set up to his demanding standards; his own bed, where he can listen to his beloved music and fantasize, and of course, the freedom to roam the streets at night.

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