A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 3, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Alex walks through icy rain until he sees a village that is somehow familiar, even in the dark. He comes to a cottage with HOME on the gate and knocks for help. A man kindly lets him in to sit by the fire. Suddenly, Alex realizes that the man is the writer whose wife Alex and his gang raped and whose house he trashed. The man, however, does not recognize Alex because the gang wore masks during the attack. The man pities Alex, "[a]nother victim" of the "modern age," and tends to him in the cozy, book-filled room. The man lets Alex bathe and loans him pajamas, causing Alex to nearly weep at this "kindness." The man cooks a large supper, which revives Alex's spirits. "How can I ever repay?" he asks.

The man knows Alex's story and believes Alex has been sent by "Providence." Alex relates an inaccurately mild version of the robbery of the old woman's house, claiming that he landed in jail because the woman's "good old heart" gave out. The man, fascinated by Alex's description of Ludovico's Technique, asserts that the "poor lad" has been punished "out of all proportion" and is no longer human but a "little machine capable only of good." The man quickly grasps that Alex can no longer enjoy music, art, literature, or sex. He tells Alex that he and his friends can use Alex to "help dislodge this overbearing Government" and prevent it from turning other "decent" young men into pieces of "clockwork orange." The man absentmindedly washes the same plate repeatedly as he talks and admits that his wife used to handle such tasks while he wrote. Alex asks whether the man's wife left him. Bitterly, he explains that she was "brutally raped and beaten" and died of shock. When Alex, recalling the attack, begins to feel sick, the man kindly sends him up to bed.

Analysis

Chapter 4 crackles with suspense as readers wonder whether Alex, having been thrown out of his home, mobbed by angry old men, and beaten severely by the police, is now in even greater danger should his host realize who he is. The tension between Alex's knowledge and F. Alexander's ignorance is palpable, especially because Alex needs "help and kindness" badly. F. Alexander seems like the father figure, mentor, and savior Alex has lacked for years. His face beams "like the sun in its flaming morning glory" as Alex lies his way through his misadventures. F. Alexander agrees with the chaplain that conditioning has made Alex a little machine that lacks the capacity to choose, and he intuits immediately what the chaplain could not know: Alex was also subject to "marginal conditionings" that have destroyed his enjoyment of "[m]usic and the sexual act, literature and art."

In his nonfiction writing about the novel, Burgess warns that the "demarcation of one human impulse from another" is tricky. A government may decide that conditioning of some people is in society's best interest, but because conditioning spills over from one behavior (violent action) to another (enjoyment of music), the government risks closing off "a whole world of non-moral goodness." A Beethoven symphony is not evil or good, violent or peaceful, the point Alex tries to make to Drs. Brodsky and Branom in Part 2, Chapter 6 when he says that Beethoven "did no harm to anyone."

What is a "clockwork orange"? Readers begin to grasp the metaphor as F. Alexander muses about marginal conditionings. Humans grow, change, create, adapt; machines do not. Humans enjoy beauty in nature, music, and other arts; machines do not. When a repressive government removes the human capacity for growth and the appreciation of beauty, it creates clockwork beings—perversions of humanity. F. Alexander muses that the "essential intention is the real sin"—that is, the choice to do evil, not the evil itself, is the crime. But to eliminate that choice is to pervert human nature. These thoughts are difficult for Alex to follow, and F. Alexander does not bother to explain himself—a sign that he thinks first of his cause and Alex's usefulness and only later of Alex's actual benefit. Alex is a "poor poor victim" of the repressive government, first, and a unique individual second, if that, to F. Alexander, who never thinks to ask whether Alex wants to "help dislodge this overbearing Government." In this way, F. Alexander is but another extension of the State, using Alex for his own purposes and not recognizing Alex as an individual.

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