A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 2, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Alex is wheeled to a room with a screen, speakers, and a "bank of all like little meters." A chair attached to wires sits in the middle of the room. Alex crawls weakly into the chair, feeling too tired to watch films. An attendant straps Alex's head against the headrest. When Alex says the restraint is not necessary, the attendant laughs and straps Alex's arms and feet down as well. Then the attendant attaches clips to Alex's forehead to keep his eyelids from closing. Finally, he fits a cap to Alex's head and sticks electrode patches over his heart and stomach. Dr. Brodsky, a short, obese man, enters with Dr. Branom in tow, "all smiling, as though to give me confidence." The lights dim, music pours from the speakers, "very fierce and full of discord," and the first film plays. It shows two teens savagely beating an old man; the bloody action is "very realistic." Alex expects to enjoy the film, yet he feels unwell. In the next film, a woman is brutally raped by a series of young men. Alex wonders how "the Good or the State" could produce such realistic films. He becomes nauseated but cannot move, "fixed rigid" in the chair.

A film that shows a man's face being slashed follows; the man screams as his teeth are pulled with pliers. Over the screams and the music, Alex hears Dr. Brodsky say, "Excellent, excellent." The next film shows an old woman, badly beaten by thieves, unable to escape her burning store. Alex begs for something he can vomit into, but Dr. Brodsky says the nausea is not real and cues up the next film, footage from World War II in which Japanese soldiers torture captured combatants. Alex screams, "I can't stand any more," but Dr. Brodsky says, "Why, we've hardly started" as others in the room laugh.

Analysis

Ominous tension builds in this chapter as the hints of the previous chapter take physical form. In perhaps no other chapter in the novel is setting so important. Details that create unease in readers include the comparison of the chair in the room to a dentist's chair, the shadows of people moving purposefully behind frosted glass, and the process by which Alex is secured to the chair and prepared to watch the films. How the attendants respond to Alex increases the tension as well. When Alex objects to having his head strapped to the headrest, insisting that he is here to watch films and "viddy [watch] films I shall," the attendant not only laughs (for no reason Alex can guess) and says, "It's better this way." Head, arms, and feet bound, Alex is helpless when the most frightening restraint is added: clips that prevent his eyes from closing. By the time the first film rolls, Alex is "sitting alone in the dark," restrained and frightened. The scene is reminiscent, perhaps even suggestive, of torture—torture carried out by the State for the State's benefit, though Dr. Branom later claims that it is for Alex's benefit.

Before writing A Clockwork Orange, Burgess read various dystopian novels, two of which describe torture carried out by and for despotic States: We, by Russian novelist Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924 English translation), and 1984, by British novelist George Orwell (1949). He later wrote that he feared totalitarian states and noted that the "nightmare books" of the 20th century are not about "new Draculas and Frankensteins" but about State-imposed dystopias. A terror of the too-powerful State permeates the description of the treatment room.

Burgess, through Alex, describes the films in detail as well, even discussing production values. Alex notes that, unlike movies, the films lack titles and credits, but they are "very good professional" works in which the actors compellingly portray aggressors and victims. Music enhances the films, at times "very like sinister" or "like very pathetic and tragic." And the images are "real, very real," leading Alex to wonder how actors agreed to participate and how filmmakers could bear to film.

These questions, like the ones Alex asks after Deltoid leaves him alone in his parents' apartment, are Alex's poor, immature attempts at reasoning through what it means to be good, attempts that Burgess expects the reader to further. Alex decides that "clever" editing and cutting must be the key, but Burgess leaves open the question of how the filmmakers achieve the realism. (The novel was published in 1962, long before computer-generated imagery, of course.) Alex, who previously enjoyed fantasies starring himself as protagonist, not much different from the ultra-violence depicted in the films, finds the veil of fantasy stripped away and screams that he cannot bear more. The ominous final line of the chapter belongs to Dr. Brodsky, who laughs and says, "Why, we've hardly started." The reader cannot help but recall a similar line spoken by Alex during the evening of crime that opens the novel: The night is "still young."

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