page 1 of 2
Alex’s torture continues the following day. This time, the screenings aren’t nearly as violent, but somehow, Alex feels the pain more acutely. During one film, a German movie from World War II, Alex recognizes the soundtrack as Beethoven’s F.fth Symphony. Alex cries out in agony for them to stop, calling it “a filthy unforgivable sin.” Branom and Brodsky don’t stop the film, but once it’s finished, they puzzle over Alex’s reaction and the significance of the music, since this is the only time Alex has vomited during his treatment. Brodsky knows little of music other than its usefulness in heightening emotions.
Brodsky informs Alex that the treatment involves an application of the theory of associative learning. By making Alex feel ill while he views violent films, the doctors force Alex to associate sickness with violence. Alex finally realizes that the needles, which he had thought were vitamin supplements, are actually responsible for his illness. He becomes angry, but soon changes his tactics, assuring the doctors that he has learned his lesson and that he now understands the consequences of evil and is ready to reject it. This assertion only produces more laughter and a pat on the shoulder.
As the treatment progresses, Alex loses count of the days. He tries to rebel once, smacking a needle from the nurse’s hand, but that only results in a minor beating and a new needle. Another day, Alex devises a plan to preempt his torture session by knocking himself unconscious, but can’t even think about banging his head against the wall without becoming sick and exhausted. Finally, one morning, the nurse doesn’t show up at his room. Instead, the man who wheels Alex to treatment steps in and tells him that they will walk to the screening room together. During the session, the doctors restrain Alex with the usual straps and clips, but don’t attach any wires to him. This provides conclusive evidence to Alex that the headaches, thirst, and nausea he experiences are actually a reaction to the films, not the wires. Alex’s realization brings him to tears. The attendants arrive at his side instantly, drying his eyes so that he can continue watching the screen. The film, which depicts Jews being gassed to death, only makes him cry again.
That night, Alex decides to attempt an escape. He proceeds to bang on his door and call for a doctor, all the while planning to catch the orderly unawares, knock him out, and slip away. When his chance comes, however, Alex pauses with his fists raised in the air, staggered with nausea. The orderly understands the situation immediately, and taunts Alex before punching him in the face. Left alone in his pain, Alex realizes that it’s better to receive a blow than to deal one.
In A Clockwork Orange, the principles of behaviorism are used to support Ludovico’s Technique, a new, cutting-edge technology that allows the State to convert otherwise-incorrigible criminals into reliably law-abiding citizens. In Burgess’s own time, behavioral science was a relatively new field, one whose practitioners considered themselves highly sensitive to issues of ethics. Many behaviorists saw their profession as a chance to redesign society based on universally benevolent principles, but Burgess had a distinctly less idealistic attitude toward the nascent discipline. Reform may qualify as an admirable sentiment, but in these chapters, we witness as behaviorism is used to justify the hijacking of Alex’s free will and the reduction of his moral choices to a set of predictable outcomes. Burgess creates Ludovico’s Technique in the fictional world of A Clockwork Orange in order to interrogate the ethical implications of behaviorism in his own world. The examination of contemporary concerns through a fantastic, imaginary fiction is the defining element of dystopian science fiction.
Not only does the application of aversion theory rid Alex of his attraction to violence, it also has the unintended consequence of eliminating his ability to enjoy music. Ludovico’s Technique may be an effective instrument, but it also seems to be a blunt and problematic one. Ludovico’s Technique doesn’t make any distinction between Alex’s aesthetic pleasure and its own so-called moral concern: since music, like violence, prompts an instinctual response in Alex, it too becomes susceptible. In behaviorism, this unintended transference is known a “false positive,” the incidental stimulation of a secondary sense that shares some of the same faculties with the impulse being tested. Brodsky is aware of the phenomenon, but the consequences don’t faze him. Ludovico’s Technique is predicated on the notion that the criminal impulse can be isolated and eliminated, but Brodsky himself admits that human psychology remains more complicated and that the removal of violent tendencies runs the risk of extinguishing other, more benign inclinations.
Take a Study Break!