A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 3, Chapter 2 | Summary

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Summary

Alex makes his way through the cold streets to the record shop, where teens dance to "some new horrible popsong." When Alex asks the new clerk for a Mozart recording, the clerk sends him to a listening booth and pipes in the wrong piece. Alex suddenly remembers something so awful that it makes him want to "snuff it." He has been conditioned to become sick when he hears classical music. He flees the shop and heads to the Korova Milkbar, which is nearly empty so early in the day, and orders "Milk, plus, large" Sipping the milk in a curtained-off seat, Alex observes a scrap of silver paper from a cigarette pack, which glows "bright and fiery" and expands as the "plus" in the milk takes effect, until it becomes the whole world. Alex hallucinates about statues of God, angels, and saints that swoop down on him. He forgets his body and his name. Then the high from the laced milk passes, and he cries at the thought that "death was the only answer to everything."

Alex cannot cut his throat or wrists because of his conditioning, but he wants to "go off gentle to sleep" and never wake. He fantasizes about how sorry everyone—his parents, the doctors, the "boastful vonny [stinking] Government"—will be when he is dead. Alex heads to the library to research methods of suicide. The library is full of old, poor people reading or sleeping. Alex opens a medical book, but the photos make him ill. Then he reads a Bible for comfort, but the violent stories also sicken him. When an old man sees Alex near tears and asks what is wrong, Alex explains that life has "become too much" for him. Another reader shushes them; his magazine, full of geometrical drawings, nudges something in Alex's memory as the old man counsels him to have hope. Again, the other reader shushes him. Then he looks up and recognizes Alex as one of the teens who beat him two years ago.

Alex tries to leave, but the man yells to other readers about the "poisonous young swine" who destroyed his valuable books. Alex protests that he has been punished and is reformed, but another old man says that he and all like him should be exterminated like "noisome pests." A "sea"of old men attacks Alex, but he cannot defend himself. Even the old men's blows make him slightly ill. A library attendant calls the police, and the old men expend their energy chasing, kicking, and yelling at Alex until the police arrive to rescue him.

Analysis

Alex is no longer at home in his world. He has lost his room, his place as son, and his role as leader of the gang. In this chapter the losses mount. Andy, the clerk at the record shop who knew Alex's tastes and helped him find recordings, has been replaced by a clerk who knows nothing about classical music. A more profound loss is Alex's ability to enjoy music at all, for Alex a tragic side effect of the treatment. The experience of "lovely Mozart made horrible" drives Alex to suicidal thoughts. He flees to the Korova Milkbar to drink hallucinogen-laced milk. In his visions, he encounters "God or Bog and all His Holy Angels and Saints," who "shook their gullivers [heads]" at him, sending him back from "like heaven." Even in his hallucination, Alex finds no resting place. Critics who point out parallels between Alex and the stories of Christ note that Christ tells his disciples in Luke 9:58 that "the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

Yet readers must remind themselves that Alex is still immature in some ways. When he thinks of suicide, he is not merely trying to end his pain. He wants to punish those who, to his mind, have let him down. He finds mercy nowhere, so he plots retribution in the only way he can. His death will heap guilt and perhaps sorrow on his parents, clearly. Readers must infer how his death would punish the doctors and the State by depriving them of their prize: a decent former hooligan to parade in front of voters.

Alex is unmerciful toward those who, in his opinion, have persecuted him. He is also the victim of those who mercilessly refuse to forgive: Joe and the old men in the library in particular. They are not convinced that he is reformed, which draws attention to the novel's themes of free will and conformity. Reformation and repentance require a sincere confession of wrongdoing, remorse for wrong acts, and willingness not to repeat such acts. In other words, repentance requires free will. Not only can Alex not exercise free will, but his thoughts before he controls them to prevent feeling sick are clear. He would like to drag Joe out of his parents' flat, but he cannot. He would like to strike back at the old men, if his conditioning didn't prevent him from doing so. It is not a surprise that his former victims and new antagonists do not buy his apologies. Alex is not reformed or remorseful; only his ability to act is repressed. Without free will, not only can there be no moral choice, as the chaplain suggests, but there can be no real repentance or forgiveness.

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