A Clockwork Orange
Part Three, Chapters 1–2
Standing free outside the Staja, Alex recounts his last day in the treatment center, which was full of press conferences and humiliating demonstrations. This morning, the center has all but kicked him out. Left with little more than an empty stomach, Alex goes to a nearby blue-collar café for breakfast. There, he sits in the corner by himself and reads the newspaper. Apparently a government publication, the paper details the current administration’s various successes, urging the reader to reelect it when the next General Election is held in two weeks. Alex notes an article about the improved police force with interest, but as he turns the page, a photograph of a familiar-looking person grabs his attention. The picture is of Alex himself, as well as one of the Minister, and the accompanying article describes Alex’s treatment and the Minister’s boasts about a new, crime-free era.
Alex heads home to see his parents, and perhaps listen to a little music in bed. Excitedly, he passes the Municipal painting downstairs—now all cleaned of graffiti—and takes the elevator up to his flat. When he gets inside, he finds a stranger eating with his parents. The stranger angrily snaps at Alex to explain himself, but before he can go on, Alex’s mother begins to cry, thinking he’s broken out illegally. Alex tells his parents his story, and learns that Joe, the unfamiliar man, is a lodger renting Alex’s room. Demanding that Joe leave, Alex brushes past them on his way to his room, which he finds has changed completely. All his treasured possessions, including his stereo, are gone. Alex’s father explains to him that, according to a new regulation, the police have seized everything to compensate Alex’s victim. In this case, the money from Alex’s property has gone toward the old woman’s cats. Stunned, Alex sits down, trying to smile to keep from getting sick, while Joe harasses him. He asks his father what is to be done, and when his father shamefacedly tells Alex that they can’t accommodate him, Alex begins to cry. Joe, who, despite being quite close to them in age, regards himself a foster son to Alex’s parents, mercilessly berates Alex until Alex leaves, wishing he were back in prison.
Alex wanders aimlessly to the old record shop, as people on the street stare at him and his outdated clothes. At the store, his request to hear Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony draws some jeers from the store’s teenage customers, but the youngish salesclerk points out a listening booth for Alex to enter. Instead of Mozart’s Fortieth, however, the clerk pipes in the “Prague” Symphony. Normally, this ignorance would anger Alex. This time, however, he can’t dwell on his anger because the music makes him sick—he’d forgotten about the collateral damage done to him by Ludovico’s Technique. He runs from the store and staggers over to the Korova, where he orders a hallucinogenic milk drink.
Alex hallucinates vividly for a very long time, squealing euphorically, talking nonsense, seeing God and angels shaking their heads at him. As the drugs wear off, though, Alex’s hallucination sours and he entertains thoughts of killing himself. With each minute that passes, it becomes clearer to Alex that suicide represents the answer to his suffering.
Unsure of the best way to kill himself, Alex heads over to the public library to research various painless, peaceful methods. Finding no books to his satisfaction, Alex turns to the Bible for comfort, as he had once done in prison. This too makes him sick, however, and he’s on the verge of tears when an old man inquires as to Alex’s troubles. While the two are talking, another old man, Jack, recognizes Alex. Two years ago, Alex beat Jack up and smashed his fake teeth, and Jack has not forgotten Alex’s face. Jack calls the other elderly library patrons to his side, and together they assail Alex, who cannot defend himself. Though the men are feeble, Alex begins to feel sick simply thinking about the violence being done to him. To his own amazement, Alex finds himself imploring the librarian to call the police, who arrive just as the old men have beaten Alex to the ground.
Once again, Alex asks himself, “What’s it going to be then, eh?” This time, however, there doesn’t seem to be much point in answering the question. Stripped of the ability to pursue the passions he lives for, choice has become a non-issue for Alex. Accordingly, Alex seems passive and listless for much of this section. Whereas in Part One he was an active predator, now Alex largely finds himself the prey to others’ ridicule. He abides the incessant staring, taunting, and harassment from the people he encounters, even though the subjects of each of these abuses—including his clothes, his taste in music, and his status as son—were once near and dear to his heart. The last of these offenses happens in Alex’s actual home, when Joe rebukes Alex for the suffering he has caused his parents, among others. Joe’s function in the plot serves mainly to satirize the facile ineptitude of Alex’s parents, but his unbridled attack on Alex also underlines Alex’s utter helplessness. Alex can’t even defend his biological right to be his parents’ son.
Alex’s enforced submissiveness is part of a larger structural motif that Burgess employs over the course of the novel. In many ways, Part Three provides a mirror image of Part One. Once a victimizer, Alex is now the victim. Once a prince in his home, Alex is now unwanted. Once enamored of violence and music, Alex now despairs at the thought of them. Alex’s beating at the hands of the old men provides an apt example of this symmetry. Two years ago, Alex and his droogs found Jack on the nighttime streets—their turf—and humiliated him as they physically abused him. In this chapter, Jack confronts Alex in Jack’s own territory—the library—and calls in his elderly friends to beat and humiliate Alex. Even as Alex takes the first few punches, he notes the inversion of situations. Whereas he and his young friends used to prey on the old, here he finds “old age having a go at the young.” These kinds of reversals of fortune will prove a recurring motif throughout Part Three.
The milk-induced hallucination that leads Alex to the library recalls Alex’s scornful observations about the hallucinating Korova patron in Part One, but apart from this reversal of fortune, the scene also reveals Alex’s deep awareness of his own condition. In a commentary on his novel, Burgess has written that “the gates of heaven are closed to [Alex]” when he ceases to be able to enjoy music. Alex’s loss of divinity seems clear during his hallucination, when God and His angels shake their heads at Alex and refuse him admission to paradise. Alex’s experience at the record, which immediately precedes the hallucination, would seem to substantiate this interpretation. Drugs may take him away from the world, but they do not lift him higher than Beethoven or Mozart does. In fact, drugs only seem to exacerbate his powerlessness, as the hallucinogens engender a sense of “thingness” in him. As a “thing,” Alex is incapable of making the changes he needs in order to recover his old life. As he comes down from his trip, Alex realizes that he remains a “thing,” having lost the free will essential to his humanity.
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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