A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 2, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

Later that day, guards drag Alex to the Governor's office, where the downtrodden Governor explains that the Minister of the Interior, a "very new broom," has issued new orders, of which the Governor emphatically disapproves. Alex signs a form commuting the remaining 12 years of his sentence to two weeks in "Reclamation Treatment," which the Governor says is "far from being a reward." Before Alex leaves, the guards take him to speak with the chaplain, who insists that Alex's release has "nothing to do with me." The chaplain tries to explain that the treatment, which he is powerless to protest, will eliminate Alex's power to choose evil, which the chaplain regards as a "terrible terrible thing." He drunkenly sings a hymn as Alex is led out, but Alex laughs to himself, oblivious to the chaplain's remorse. The next morning, Alex is "punched and kicked" from the prison to a white, clean building nearby. It smells like a hospital, and the workers wear white coats. Alex is taken to a pristine room with a bed all his own—luxury after two years in the overcrowded cell—and served coffee. Dr. Branom pronounces him fit for treatment, which involves watching "special films." Dr. Branom tells Alex that prison food has left Alex "under-nourished" but that daily injections will correct this issue. As Alex waits, he plans for life after prison. He will replenish his funds by stealing and then take revenge on Dim and Pete, being careful not to get caught. He eats a hearty lunch and has a cigarette, thinking himself fortunate. A nurse gives him his first "vitamin" shot, and shortly afterward, an attendant comes with a wheelchair to take Alex to his first treatment session. Alex is sure he can walk, but when he stands, he feels weak and assumes that he is under-nourished, as Dr. Branom said.

Analysis

The question of free will is in the spotlight in this chapter as the Governor and, in more depth, the chaplain consider the mysterious treatment Alex is about to undergo. The Governor "most emphatically" disapproves of the Ludovico Technique; justice, for him, is an "eye for an eye." The State must "hit back" against lawbreakers, and a treatment that removes the need for justice by turning "the bad into the good" is "grossly unjust." It removes all agency, not only the lawbreaker's but also the State's. It upends the social contract the Governor assumes necessary.

The chaplain's critique of the treatment is more philosophical and addresses the nature of choice. To Alex's claim, almost certainly a lie, that it will "be nice to be good," the chaplain responds with a critical distinction: Does God want goodness itself or the choice of goodness? It may be better to have choice and choose evil, he argues, than to have "the good imposed" by an outside force. The chaplain struggles to justify what Alex is about to endure and to absolve himself of any role in it. He consoles himself by reasoning (illogically) that perhaps by agreeing to the treatment, Alex is making a final decision to choose the good.

As when Alex first describes the prison, setting plays an important role in this chapter. The details Alex reports about the treatment center create a suspenseful atmosphere. Details that Alex perceives as neutral or positive may strike readers, primed by the Governor's and chaplain's misgivings, as foreboding. Alex often notes odors (he has, he boasts, a "very sensitive ... sniffer"). The center has a "new cold like" hospital smell that gives him "a bit of the shivers," but the attendants smile and treat Alex well, and Dr. Branom is cheerful—suspiciously so, readers may think. Alex, lulled by clean, warm clothes and hot coffee, misses the overacting. Dr. Branom's glib explanation of the "quite simple treatment" and rapid change of subject are further clues that Alex misses. Odd little details build gradually and ominously, prompting readers to mistrust Alex's belief that he has "copped it lucky and no mistake."

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