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A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess

Important Quotations Explained

Part Three, Chapter 7

Key Facts

1. What’s it going to be then, eh?

This question appears several times in the book, at the beginnings of Parts 1, 2, and 3, as well as at the beginning of the final chapter. Besides helping to underscore the symmetry of the novel’s structure, this phrase reinforces some of the central themes of the novel, including the inviolability of individual moral choice and the necessity of commitment in life. Alex first asks this question to himself and his friends, as they plan ahead for a night of crime. Throughout Part One, Alex is confronted with a choice between being good and being evil. At this point, the question is an authentic one, as both options represent equally valid alternatives. In Part Two, however, Alex is not in the position to ask this question himself. Having convicted him of murder, the State restricts his options and revokes his right to determine his own behavior. The government is now the only entity that can authentically ask the question. Choosing his path for him, the State selects Alex to undergo conditioning to kill his capacity to consider socially unacceptable courses of action.

Neutered of his free will, Alex loses the power to make meaningful choices. The question as it appears in Part Three, then, is an empty one, since Alex’s conditioning has restricted him to a single option. Without the power of self-determination, Alex loses his identity as a human being. Alex becomes a mechanized thing, and therefore becomes vulnerable to being used in others’ schemes for power. Faced with the prospect of being either a good thing or a dead man, Alex chooses the latter and attempts suicide. Alex is unsuccessful. However, the government subsequently chooses to eradicate his conditioning, and Alex once again regains the capacity for evil. Despite his returned propensity for evil, the novel claims that, without the power to choose one’s own path of action, any human behavior remains meaningless.

2. The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen.

In Part One, Chapter 2, Alex reads this passage from F. Alexander’s manuscript, “A Clockwork Orange,” before beating F. Alexander and raping his wife. Though Alex mocks the pompous didacticism of F. Alexander’s prose, this quotation represents the most succinct expression of Burgess’s main theme, a point reinforced by the fact that Burgess gives both his novel and F. Alexander’s manuscript the same title. There are many similarities between Burgess and F. Alexander. Both men use their books as platforms from which to criticize governments that, in their eyes, seek to limit an individual’s freedoms through the application of technology. In addition, both men continue to uphold these beliefs despite being the victims of violence committed, it would seem, by individuals who run athwart of those governments. Alex dismisses this passage when he first reads it, but he is reminded of it later in the novel, when his free will is revoked by the state.

Though F. Alexander’s prose style may strike us as ludicrously overblown, and his betrayal of Alex may cause us to doubt his character, that doesn’t mean we can discount the essential truth of this passage. A Clockwork Orange is notable for its lack of clear-cut heroes and villains. After all, the novel’s protagonist and demonstrated champion of free will is a sadistic thug. The priest, another devoted advocate for the importance of self-determination, is a drunk and a careerist. These seeming contradictions, however, represent an essential element of Burgess’s argument. For human will to be truly free, Burgess argues, human beings must be legitimately able to choose wicked, depraved options, otherwise good behavior remains a meaningless, empty gesture.

3. They don’t go into the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? . . . Badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines?

This passage comes from Part One, Chapter 4, when Alex challenges P.R. Deltoid’s attempts to ascertain the source of wicked behavior. Deltoid and his government colleagues have labored over this problem for years, and are still no closer to an answer. Alex’s point is that there is no answer because evil is a natural part of man, and is therefore as inexplicable as goodness. Furthermore, evil, just like goodness, is a choice, which Alex accentuates by referring to it as “the other shop” that he patronizes. In asserting the validity of his choice of evil, Alex produces one of his most philosophically substantive ideas of the novel. It is rational and sober, as suggested by the low frequency of nadsat words, and about as intellectually abstract as Alex gets. By invoking God in the process, Alex brings up the notion of the immortal soul as God’s greatest creation, or, as Alex says, “his great pride and radosty.” This idea is important because it introduces a Christian understanding of the self as an autonomous moral being with the power and duty of choice. Having this choice is a prerequisite for having a soul.

Alex’s comments about “the government and the judges and the schools” are also perceptive. Badness is socially disruptive, and thus damaging to the welfare of the State. Because of this, the State seeks to deprive the individual of its choice, which in essence is tantamount to depriving the individual of his soul. In this manner, Alex identifies himself with the cause of badness, which he equates to the cause of the individual. He sets the individual, or the human being, against the government, or the machine. Lastly, Alex’s mention of modern history alludes to our own world, where revolutions that have bettered society on the whole have been fought in the name of individual liberty.

4. What does God want? Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?

This quotation, which appears in Part Two, Chapter 3, comes from the chaplain and articulates a distinctly Christian perspective on the subject of free will. The chaplain refers here to the Reclamation Treatment that Alex will undergo, a psychologically imposed behavioral modification that would render Alex incapable of performing evil deeds. As the Christian voice of the novel, the chaplain ascertains that good acts are morally valueless if performed without free will. He thus doubts the moral worth of Ludovico’s Technique, and, if anything, wonders if forced benevolence is in fact more evil than sin itself. Christianity is predicated on sin and redemption through God’s grace. This belief presupposes a free individual will that can both sin and commit good acts. Ludovico’s Technique, however, eliminates the essence of humanity by not allowing for free will, which by necessity includes the option to be bad.

5. And nor would he be able to stop his own son, brothers. And so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round, like some bolshy gigantic like chelloveck, like old Bog Himself (by courtesy of Korova Milkbar) turning and turning and turning a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers.

This passage appears in the novel’s final chapter and is taken from Alex’s extended inner monologue about his imagined son. Pondering whether his future son will take heed of any fatherly advice Alex will pass on to him, Alex is certain that his son will follow in his footsteps and pay no mind to well-intentioned parental lessons, and that his son’s son will do the same. This understanding is part of the realization that Alex has about the inescapable patterns of life and, more personally, the connection between violence and immaturity. Alex imagines “old Bog Himself” spinning the world around in circles, literally holding these things on a cyclical path. To Alex, these patterns of life are inevitable, and thus he sees his own mischief as a natural and necessary part of youth, and as such, a necessary part of growing up.

Having made some sense of his odious behavior by contextualizing within a larger progress toward maturity, Alex realizes that he has had to sacrifice for this understanding. This conforms to the Christian conception of original sin, which holds that man is innately predisposed toward evil, and unshackles himself only through suffering and divine Grace. Alex considers his own suffering sufficient to move forward with his life, which in a sense, makes him the “true Christian” that he could never be as Brodsky’s mechanistic creation.

By ending the novel with this passage, Burgess wraps the book up structurally as well as thematically. Alex’s triple repetition of the words “round” and “turning” echoes the three parts of his story, and having thus completed his three-part pattern, Alex seems ready to move on. Alex signals this by changing the very manner in which he addresses the reader. Following this passage, Alex begins to use the present tense, as he makes plans to start looking for the mother of his son. In this way, the above passage both calls attention to and departs from the novel’s formal structure.

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laaaamwe

by Chuck-Norris, September 12, 2012

time machine is boooring

So yeah.

by ThatGenericUsername, November 29, 2012

Just wanted to say thank you for the post of the Nasdat dictionary. The language of the story was a bit overwhelming at some points, though this helped me pull through. I'd also like to mention the explanations under the "Important Quotes" were a very interesting read. If anyone reads this comment, I'd recommend them a read for a potential boost in the understanding of the subliminal contexts of Burgess's story.

Or something.

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2 out of 4 people found this helpful

Horrorshow

by ilotaatoli, November 04, 2013

I don't think I saw anything about the importance of this word anywhere in the guide, but it's a very loaded word. If you think about most of the other slang Alex uses, they tend to be Russian influenced, but this one isn't. Throughout the story, the meaning of this word changes to the reader: in the beginning, the way the teens use "horrorshow" for something positive leads the reader on to how violent they are. As you move into part two of the book however, you realize that "horrorshow" also alludes to the ultra violent films that Alex is f... Read more

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11 out of 21 people found this helpful

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