A Clockwork Orange
Part Two, Chapter 7
His two weeks nearly over, Alex goes once more to the screening room. He wears his old clothes, which the orderly gives him along with his old razor. Upon entering, Alex notes that the room looks quite different. A curtain covers the screen wall, and in place of the frosted glass are seated a group of men. Among them are Branom, Brodsky, the Minister of the Interior, the Chief Warden, the Staja Governor, and the chaplain. When Brodsky notices Alex enter, he winds down his lecture about the virtues of Reclamation Treatment and introduces Alex, his test subject. Brodsky then urges them all to observe Alex in action, as a model citizen. Confused, Alex stands before the curtain while the lights dim and a spotlight is focused on him. A large, older man walks up to Alex and insults him, twisting his ear, flicking his nose, and stepping on his foot. Alex reaches for his razor, but the “horrible killing sickness” immediately stops him. Alex’s only recourse, he reasons, is to change his hostile feelings toward the man. Alex tries to give him a present, but the man insults him, slapping the razor Alex offers him from Alex’s hand. Desperate to please, Alex licks his boots, and when the man begins kicking him, Alex clings to his ankles until the man falls. This triggers laughter among the audience, but it pains Alex, and he tries to help the man to his feet. At this point, Brodsky calls off the charade, and the man, evidently an actor, bows and scurries away. Brodsky explains that all of Alex’s violent impulses are accompanied by intense physical distress, and therefore, any ill will on Alex’s part ends up forcing him to exhibit good behavior.
He then opens the floor to questions, and an argument ensues. On one side, the chaplain criticizes the treatment, claiming that it eradicates the possibility of moral choice for the subject. On the other side, Brodsky and the Minister defend the treatment, stressing its efficacy and usefulness. At a loss, Alex loudly protests, “What about me? . . . Am I just to be a clockwork orange?” This silences the room, and the men remain quiet for a moment before a man unfamiliar to Alex scolds him. The argument erupts again, this time about love, but Brodsky uses the topic change as an opportunity to present his second case study to the audience. This time a beautiful young girl appears. Alex thinks about raping her savagely, but as the sickness hits, he finds himself bowing and professing a knightly devotion to her in order to escape the pain. With this, the girl bows and capers off, as the other men ogle her and Alex feels incredibly stupid for responding to such an obvious ruse. Pleased with the success of his presentation, Brodsky declares Alex a “true Christian” who is “ready to turn the other cheek.”
Brodsky’s guarantee that Alex will become a “true Christian” not only provides insight into the State’s position on religion, it also sheds some light on Alex’s status as a martyr. At other points in the book, Alex has toyed with the notion of playing Christ. Each time, however, he’s always been willing to forsake his identification with Jesus for the chance to nail Jesus to the cross. Now, however, Alex has become a true—though unwilling—martyr. What may have begun as a form of self-flattery has now been wrested from his control, as the State forcibly imposes martyrdom upon Alex. After going through Ludovico’s Technique, the doctors say that Alex is now “ready to turn the other cheek,” an explicit reference to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (found in the Bible’s Book of Matthew.) Alex has become a Christian martyr, in the sense that he now exhibits a commitment to humility and acceptance, as well as a political martyr, sacrificed to the cause of social stability. We’ll see in forthcoming chapters that these two things are very much the same.
The chaplain’s challenge to Brodsky and the Minister serves as both a reasonable critique of the State’s new criminal policy and religious outlook, as well as an inspiring redemption of the chaplain’s character. Earlier, the chaplain’s ambition and inebriation leads him astray, as he manages to rationalize Alex’s participation in the experimental procedure. Now, however, the chaplain sacrifices his career in order to criticize the corrupt doctors, providing a rallying point for others who also value free will. As a Christian, the chaplain understands behavior as a function of choice, since behavior is predicated on an individual’s decision, as an autonomously moral being, to perform good acts.
Thus, while Brodsky claims that Alex, who remained unreformed after two years of imprisonment, has now become a “true Christian” because he not only does good, but also intends to do good, the chaplain rightly points out that Brodsky’s conclusion rests on a crucial technicality. Alex’s incapacity to reason morally invalidates his intention to do good deeds, since he has ceased to be capable of making his own choices. The State has replaced Alex’s autonomy with its own decision-making. Alex imagines that his consciousness has been infiltrated by an unseen police force that patrols his impulses. When he sees the beautiful young woman, his first thought is to rape her, until “skorry as a shot came the sickness, like a like detective that had been watching round a corner.” The introduction of an internalized moral police force isn’t just a subtlety, as Brodsky calls it. Choice, not behavior, is the essential factor in a Christian moral framework. Thus, Brodsky’s claim that Alex has become a “true Christian” represents nothing more than a serviceable party line, designed to bolster the State’s image. The State emerges as an institution that seeks to perpetuate itself by appropriating competing individualist philosophies and forms of self-organization, and imprisoning the remaining dissidents. As it has already done with youth violence, so it does with Christianity. Alex unwittingly alludes to this phenomenon when, in Chapter 6, he describes Ludovico’s Treatment with the final line of the “Our Father” prayer: “so that I would be sick always for ever and ever amen.”
Alex begins to truly understand the significance of his “reclamation” when he refers to himself as a clockwork orange. We may recall that this phrase was the title of the manuscript Alex saw in Part One, in the little cottage where the droogs encountered the writer and his wife. The manuscript was a polemic against the imposition of “laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation.” Those are precisely the kind of laws that have been levied against Alex, who has been technologically conditioned to behave in a given way, in response to a certain set of stimuli. He is at once organic and mechanized, aware of his conditioning but powerless to change it. During Brodsky’s two demonstrations, Alex begins to recognize the futility of behaving in anything other than a socially acceptable manner. Alex has become harmless to society, but he is now also helpless in the face of it. This situation doesn’t bode well for Alex’s impending release, if the audience’s coarse and gleeful behavior is any indication of the world outside prison.
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.
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