A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 2, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Alex refuses to describe the other films he sees during the first treatment; he cannot believe Dr. Brodsky's team can stand to be in the room. Finally, Dr. Brodsky ends the session, in a "very yawny and bored" voice. The attendant takes Alex, who feels he could vomit up every bite of food he has ever eaten, back to his room, where he collapses on his bed. Alex thinks the "horrible nightmare" is over until Dr. Branom tells him that he'll have two sessions tomorrow. The cure is painful, Branom admits, but necessary. "Your body is learning" that violence is horrible, he says. Any "healthy human organism" is repulsed by it, and Alex is "being made healthy" again.

Alex wonders whether the wires attached to his body caused his illness but cannot puzzle it out. The thought of more sessions terrifies Alex, and he considers refusing to continue. But when the Discharge Officer arrives to ask where he will go after the treatment, the promise of freedom persuades Alex to continue. Before the Discharge Officer leaves, he asks whether Alex would like to hit him, "just to see how you're getting on." Alex obliges, yet when he tries to land the blow, he feels immediately sick, and the man laughs.

Later Alex tries to make sense of events. That night he has nightmares in which he is in a film of a violent assault on a young woman, laughing and "being the ringleader." Suddenly, he feels paralyzed and ill; he must fight through gallons of his own blood to wake up. When Alex attempts to get to the toilet down the hall, he finds that he is locked in his room and notices that the windows are barred.

Analysis

The fictional Ludovico Technique is a form of aversion therapy that conditions the body to react negatively to stimuli. In a 1972 interview about A Clockwork Orange, Burgess recalls social concerns about violent youth in the 1950s. Youth were seen, he says, as "restless and naughty," unhappy with post-war England and Europe, "violent and destructive." Burgess claims that experts debated how to deal with the problem, much as the authors of the articles Alex reads about "Modern Youth" in Part 1 do, and some suggested that rather than prison, an "easy course in conditioning" would, at less taxpayer expense, result in youth who associated violence with "discomfort, nausea, and even [hints] of mortality." This therapy destroys free will, in Burgess's opinion.

In his nonfiction writing about the novel, he rejects behaviorist treatments even when they rely on positive incentives as limiting the human capacity for choice. By showing Alex's ability to choose chiseled away in session after session, so that he becomes a "vomiting paragon of non-aggression," Burgess presents behavioral conditioning at its most disgusting and alarming. Burgess once spoke of the novel as a parable of sorts, which suggests that readers must draw a lesson from its events; however, critics argue over what that lesson is, especially given the two endings of the novel.

Not only are the technique and Alex's reaction to it disturbing, but the reactions of Dr. Brodsky and his staff are upsetting as well. They behave in a conspiratorial manner, refusing to disclose to Alex what is going on, laughing at his discomfort, and ironically enjoying his suffering and punishment in a way that even the Governor of Staja 84F, with his "eye for an eye" ideas about justice, never does. They join other adults in the novel—like Deltoid, the police officers, the judge, and the prison guards—who abuse their power to bully and punish Alex, who, as test subject for a program expected to be implemented fully within a year, represents all people the State might choose to condition. Dr. Brodsky's reputation, too, is riding on Alex's "cure." He chuckles, repeats phrases like "Excellent, excellent," and becomes more and more pleased as Alex grows increasingly sick.

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