A Clockwork Orange | Study Guide

Anthony Burgess

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A Clockwork Orange | Part 3, Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Alex, with his new gang—Len, Rick, and Bully—sit in the crowded Korova Milkbar planning their evening in a scene nearly identical to the novel's opening scene. Fashions have changed—the boys now shave their heads and wear wide trousers—but the "horrowshow bolshy boots" for kicking victims are the same. Alex, as oldest, leads the gang, though Bully—a large, loud teen—wants to challenge him. Alex has ideas and fame, not to mention a job at the National Gramodisc Archives, which pays well and gets him free albums. Bully wants to proposition some stylish young women, leaving "old Len alone with his God," but Len objects. They should be "all for one and one for all." Suddenly, Alex feels simultaneously exhausted and tingly with nervous energy. He leads the gang out of the Milkbar, pounding a drugged man on the way out but feeling no relief. On the street, the four teens run into an old man. Alex directs the others to beat him but does not participate. The pattern of the first chapter continues as the gang goes to the Duke of New York to drink and to establish alibis, but Alex is uncharacteristically reluctant to buy rounds for the old ladies there.

As Alex pulls out his "hard-earned pretty polly," a magazine clipping showing a happy, fat baby falls out of his pocket. Alex quickly shreds the clipping as the boys laugh about the "dear little itsy witsy bitsy bit" of a baby. Disgusted, Alex splashes his beer onto the floor and tells the others to carry on without him because he is "just not in the mood." Bully is pleased because he will get to lead. Alex walks the cold streets alone, puzzling over how he has changed. Craving tea, Alex stops at a tea shop full of ordinary people who "would do no harm to no one." He sees a couple chatting, a pretty young woman and, though it seems "impossible impossible," it is Pete, who introduces the woman as Georgina, his wife. Georgina giggles over Alex's nadsat, and Pete—no longer speaking nadsat—invites him to visit them.

As they leave, Alex wonders whether, at 18, he is too old for gang life. By 18, Mozart and Mendelsohn had written great music. Alex walks the streets again, imagining himself married, with a son to whom he could explain the world. The novel's persistent question is answered at last: "That's what it's going to be,"Alex decides. It is time to grow up. His readers—younger "brothers"—cannot follow him into this "new like chapter." To them he bids farewell; to the others in his story, he makes rude mouth noises. And Alex signs off. It is August 1961.

Analysis

Chapter 7, the last chapter in the British edition of the novel, takes place shortly after Alex's release from the hospital. Readers have just read his fantasy about running on mysterious feet as he slashes the bleeding world with his razor. What has happened, readers may wonder, in such a short time to change his mood and his plans so drastically?

The pivotal event seems to be that Alex has turned 18. He has a new gang, just as interested in violence and theft as was his old gang, and he leads it. He follows the same pattern of behavior that once gave him great joy, but, as the adage goes, his heart is just not in it anymore. Violence does not take the edge off his restlessness for something he can't name. "What's it going to be then, eh?" is giving way to "Is this all there is?" Alex's concerns have turned toward adult matters. He hates to part with his cash—earned at work, not from theft—to treat old women "all eager like for some free ale." Before, these women were alibis and allies; now they are irritating moochers.

Alex wants tea, not alcohol, to warm him on the cold evening. He fantasizes now, not about blood and rape, but about sitting by a fire in a room much like F. Alexander's book-lined study, about coming home to a wife, and having a son. The Alex developed over 20 chapters is gone. He was present even when he could not act on his violent impulses, but he has changed radically. Even his musical tastes have changed. He still loves bold symphonies, but now he is drawn especially to Lieder, German art songs often scored for voice and piano only. His encounter with Pete suggests new possibilities for life. "I am not young, not no longer," he admits to his readers, as surprised by his maturation as readers may be.

In Burgess's 1961 typed draft of A Clockwork Orange, a note in his handwriting appears at the end of Chapter 6: "Should we end here?" Chapter 7, at that time, was marked as an optional epilogue which Burgess said, at first, that he wrote because his British publisher preferred a more optimistic ending. Dispute over which ending Burgess preferred lasted for years, but later in his life he wrote that the epilogue shows that Alex always had the choice to reject violence: "The way has always been open." Alex has been "a sour orange" but, as he matures, he can instead develop "something like decent human sweetness"—again, only because he has always had the choice.
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