A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 3, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

Alex's fall breaks his back and several other bones. He realizes, just before he passes out, that he has not one friend or ally in the world and that F. Alexander's confederates hoped he would jump and die, martyring him for their cause. A "long black black gap" of time later, Alex wakes in a hospital, in casts from head to toe but at least not in pain. An attractive nurse sits nearby, reading—porn, Alex assumes, because she is breathing "uh uh uh" as she reads. Alex tries to invite her to join him in the hospital bed, but only slurred words come out. The nurse goes to get the doctor, and Alex sees that he is in a private room before slipping under again. He dreams (or perhaps it really happens) that doctors are standing by his bed with the prison chaplain, who explains that he now preaches against what was done to Alex, his "little beloved son in J.C."

When Alex next wakes, Z. Dolin, Rubinstein, and D.B. da Silva stand by his bed, calling him their friend. They report that the people are "on fire with indignation" and that his actions have cost the incumbent government reelection. Alex would like to call them "treacherous droogs" but still cannot form words. They hold up newspapers with headlines like BOY VICTIM OF CRIMINAL REFORM SCHEME that call for the ousting of the Minister of the Interior. The nurse forces the men to leave so Alex can rest. He sleeps, dreaming of violence and sex, perpetrated with joy and without sickness, and wakes to find his parents by his bed. His father apologizes and his mother weeps. Joe has been "done by the police" for refusing to leave a corner where he was waiting for a date, so Alex can come home. When Em cannot stop crying, Alex threatens to kick her teeth in and feels better. If he comes home, he says, "things will have to be very different." His cowed parents agree to let him be boss.

The nurse tells Alex learns he has been in the hospital for about a week. When he asks whether the doctors have been "playing around with inside like my brain," she answers vaguely. A few days later, two doctors with sweet smiles visit with a book of pictures. They show him a picture of a bird's nest with eggs and ask what he would do with them. "Oh ... smash them," he says, to their delight. Alex responds similarly to other innocuous pictures and then to violent pictures, which attract him. "Deep hypnopaedia," one of the doctors says, has reversed Alex's conditioning.

Over the coming days, Alex eats and heals. One day, he has a "very very very special visitor," the Minister of the Interior. Cameras flash as Alex insults the Minister, who refuses to take offense; it is how friends talk. But Alex says, "All who do me wrong are my enemies." The Minister is glad to see Alex doing well. The State has provided the best of care, and Alex's true enemies, subversive writer F. Alexander and his confederates, have been dealt with. The State had to put F. Alexander "away" because he was convinced that Alex was responsible for the "death of someone near and dear." The Minister offers Alex an easy job with good pay "because you are helping us." Cameras click as the Minister presents Alex with a gift—a new stereo. Assistants set it up, and Alex asks them to play the "glorious Ninth." Alex signs some paperwork, not caring what it is, and fantasizes, alone in the room, about slashing the entire world with his razor. "I was cured all right," he says.

Analysis

As Alex passes in and out of consciousness, competing ideas of free will, morality, and State control get a final chance to make their case. He wakes to find the prison chaplain by the bed, telling him that he left the prison to preach against the State's use of aversion therapy, apparently because of what he saw happen to Alex, his "little beloved son" in Christ. Alex wakes later to find da Silva, Rubinstein, and Dolin (but not, interestingly, F. Alexander) by his bed, calling him "little friend" and assuring him that his suicide attempt has killed the "boastful villains' chances of re-election" (they are mistaken). He wakes still later to find his parents, looking guilty and promising to let Alex have his way. Finally, he wakes to the smiling doctors who are oddly pleased by his violent reactions to pictures they show him. Throughout these appearances, Alex is strapped to the bed. But once he is pronounced well, he finds himself the star of the State's carefully scripted public relations campaign—a spokesman, whether he agrees or not, for the incumbent government. Of all the competing demands on Alex's loyalty, the State's apparently wins.

In the American edition of the novel, Chapter 6 is the final, controversial chapter. Alex is human again in that he has free will. He can and apparently intends to choose evil and violence without becoming ill. Alex is an engaging protagonist and narrator whose adventures and tribulations readers have followed closely, and from his perspective. Ending the novel with Chapter 6 suggests that Alex's latest fantasy of running through the world on "very light and mysterious" feet and "carving the whole litso [face]" of the world with his razor as it screams—and then listening in bliss to the finale movement of Beethoven's Ninth—is desirable, even admirable. "It was meant," Burgess writes about Chapter 6, "to be a happy ending" because Alex can choose again. No matter that he chooses "more elaborate patterns of aggression" than he has dreamed of so far—he has free will again, and that is the happy ending. This interpretation remains true even when Chapter 7 is considered as the novel's final word, although the final chapter adds a layer of complexity to this and other themes.

Readers might also consider whether Alex, despite being able to choose again, is truly free or merely reborn as a different creature of the State. The State treats his broken bones and reverses the conditioning. The State does away with F. Alexander and his confederates. The State provides Alex with "a good job on a good salary." The State rewards Alex's cooperation with the new stereo and music. Alex, the Minister says, is a helpful friend, deserving of these accommodations. Alex signs paperwork, a deal agreeing to the State's terms of cooperation, not caring at all about the details. The State owned him in prison, claimed his free will during and after treatment, and now uses him through bribery for its ends. Despite his wild fantasy, Alex may be less free to act violently than he thinks.

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