A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 3, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

"What's it going to be then, eh?" Alex asks himself when he is released the next morning. With a little money to get him started, Alex heads to a small café for breakfast. The sight of diners grabbing at the waitress's large breasts sickens Alex, who retreats to a dark corner. Alex buys a paper and reads about upcoming elections. The incumbent government boasts of how much safer the streets are, with more and better-paid police. Alex sees a grainy photo of himself, the "first graduate" of the "State Institute for Reclamation of Criminal Types," and reads an article on Ludovico's Technique in which the Minister of the Interior predicts a "crime-free era." Disgusted, Alex flings the paper to the ground and heads home to surprise his parents, rest, and listen to music.

His flatblock is clean, the mural has been repaired, and the elevator works. He enters his parents' flat to find them and a stranger at breakfast. The stranger tells him to get out while his parents stare, "like petrified," assuming he has escaped. Pee says they are glad to see him a free man but did not expect him home for years. The stranger is their lodger, Joe. Alex sees that his stereo and albums are gone. The police sold everything, Pee explains, to provide care for the cats left behind by the old woman Alex murdered. Stunned, Alex carefully controls his emotions. Joe has paid the month's rent, Pee says, so they cannot evict him. Besides, Joe considers Pee and Em family and refuses to abandon them to Alex. Alex sobs that no one "wants or loves me" and everyone wants him to "go on suffering." Joe comforts Pee and Em as Alex leaves them to their "horrible guilt."

Analysis

The opening chapter of Part 3 traces Alex's reintegration into society, or rather its failure, since the social structures that should support him betray him. The humiliating demonstration that ends Part 2 of the novel, readers learn, is only the first indignity Alex endures on behalf of the State. Interviews, photos, and more demonstrations of "me folding up in the face of ultra-violence" follow. Alex's reclamation is public news that the State quickly puts to use, but others will use Alex's defenselessness, now that they know about it, for their own purposes. The treatment team ousts Alex the next morning, suddenly and unkindly. Assisting with his reintegration, as he joins the world again in his psychologically maimed state, is not their concern.

It makes sense, then, that Alex heads home, but there he finds further betrayals. His room and his place in the family have been usurped by a man who claims, with some cause, to be a better son to Pee and Em than Alex. His room, where he thought to find sanctuary, is no longer his. The things that made Alex who he was have been taken from him, just as his ability to choose good or evil has.

Alex even betrays himself. He cannot defend himself against Joe's insults or force him to leave. Alex, whose confidence bordered on arrogance, is reduced to sobbing about how he has "suffered and suffered and suffered." He thinks longingly of Staja 84F, where at least one person—the chaplain—was loyal and kind to Alex.

It is possible that, in these betrayals and those to come, Alex is reaping what he has sown. Perhaps he deserves his parents' reluctance to welcome him home, given how he treated them. Perhaps, considering his crimes against the State, he should not expect social structures to assist him. However, the situation is not either-or. Alex was a criminal. He may still be a criminal, though his urges have been successfully repressed. This fact does not lessen the damage done by institutions—the State, the law, the prison, the family. One concern that Burgess had while writing the novel was that Alex would become too sympathetic a narrator. But for the novel's critique of overly powerful governments and behavioral therapies to hit home, readers must feel sorry for Alex, a vicious rapist and murderer. The State, Burgess later wrote, "has been responsible for most of our nightmares." For example, individuals do not come up with "the slaughter of intensive bombing." The State does. Institutions may begin with good intentions in mind, but they quickly become self-serving. Alex's reclaimed condition is not for his own good, but for the State's. The succession of betrayals he experiences keeps this critique in readers' faces.

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