A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 2, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

A new prisoner is introduced, a "quarrelsome" man with "filthy intentions" who brags about his crimes and who thinks Alex, as the youngest cellmate, should sleep on the floor. The others defend Alex, but that night he wakes to find the new prisoner in his bunk, masturbating and speaking "dirty." Alex hits the man, and the others join the scuffle in the darkened cell until the guards turn on the lights and break up the fight, which they blame on Alex before turning the lights off and leaving. Alex cedes his bunk, now contaminated with the new prisoner's stink, but the man seems to think it beneath him to share the cell with six others. His insults continue until Big Jew holds him while Wall punches him. Then Alex, excited by the violence and blood, takes his turn until the man passes out. The cellmates go back to their bunks. When Alex falls asleep, he dreams. He is in an orchestra "hundreds and hundreds strong," led by a composer like a Beethoven-Handel hybrid who looks "weary of the world." His instrument is a bassoon-like appendage growing out of his abdomen. To play it tickles and makes him laugh, angering the composer, who yells at him until he wakes up "like sweating."

When the morning bell sounds, the new prisoner lies dead on the floor, and the cellmates scold Alex for beating him overzealously. "Traitors and liars," Alex says, just as he did two years ago about his gang. The body is removed, the prison goes on lockdown, and a tall, educated man arrives. The man disapproves of "outmoded penological theories" that cram criminals together instead of eliminating their "criminal reflex " Because criminals are violent by nature, he says, they "enjoy their so-called punishment." When Alex objects that he is not a "common criminal," the man tells the Governor to use this "young, bold, vicious" teen as a "trailblazer."

Analysis

Alex, whose enjoyment of violence has had no outlet in Staja 84F, delights in thrashing the proud prisoner in the dark cell. His language becomes animated as he describes "fist[ing]" the man, "dancing about with my boots on though unlaced," and tripping the man before kicking him in the head. When he sleeps again, music, which Alex often links to violent action, intrudes into his dreams. This dream mixes not only music and violence but also sexual imagery that resonates with the proud prisoner's sexual overtures. Alex's instrument in the dream, a "white pinky bassoon made of flesh," is oddly phallic and may represent either his fears of being sexually violated while in prison or his own sexual desires. Alex's strange, physical dream belongs in a chapter marked by bloody details and murder.

Alex wakes to the prison buzzer and another set of betrayals. His cellmates, who helped and even encouraged him to thrash the proud prisoner, blame him for lashing out with, as The Doctor says, "the forcefulness and heedlessness of youth," one of several hints that Burgess intends Alex's violence to be interpreted as the province of the young, a trait that would be naturally reformed with age—and that would make the British ending the more logical one. Alex calls his cellmates "traitors and liars" and decides that there is "no trust anywhere in the world." But in a sense, The Doctor has only confirmed what Alex thinks of himself. He is better, stronger, purer than his cellmates, as he tells the educated, serious man who visits his cell, "not a common criminal" and "not unsavoury," as they are. The man views Alex immediately as a good candidate for the new treatment. His "hard slovos [words]" about Alex mark "the beginning of my freedom," but his cold, clinical attitude as he speaks of eliminating "crime in the midst of punishment" creates suspenseful foreshadowing that does not bode well for Alex.

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