A Clockwork Orange
Part Three, Chapter 7
Dressed fashionably, and with their pockets full of money, Alex and his new droogs—Len, Rick, and Bully—sit at the Korova Milkbar, drinking milk laced with stimulants, and trying to figure out what to do with the night. Alex describes the teenager’s new uniforms, which have gone from the tight-fitting shirts and pants of Alex’s younger days to wide trousers and loose leather jerkins. Alex also summarizes the dynamics of his new gang. As the oldest and the most famous, with the best job (at the National Gramodisc Archives), Alex is once again the natural leader, though he occasionally suspects Bully of harboring mutinous ambitions. This doesn’t seem to trouble him too much, though, because lately Alex has become bored by the routine of theft and gang violence.
When Alex feels the drugs kick in, he punches a neighboring patron in the stomach and leads his droogs into the street, where they come upon an old man buying a newspaper. Alex sanctions Bully’s assault on the old man, and the other two soon join in, tripping and kicking the man until he crawls away, whimpering. Alex then gives the boys permission to head over to the Duke, where they sit across from the same women Alex met there in Part One. The women praise the boys, hoping for a drink in return, but Alex gets annoyed and forbids it at first, noting to us that he has become frugal. Alex eventually concedes to buying the women another round, and, uncharacteristically, gets himself a beer. As he pulls out his money, a newspaper clipping falls out of Alex’s pocket, which Bully snatches up. On it is a photograph of a baby. The group has a bit of fun with Alex’s apparent sentimentality until Alex snarls at them and rips the picture up, letting it drop to the floor. To the group’s puzzlement, he goes on to chastise them, calling them babies because they take advantage of the helpless.
Not feeling himself, Alex leaves the others and goes out to roam the desolate streets. During his walk, Alex comments on how this recent malaise even finds its way into his taste of music. He doesn’t enjoy great, crashing symphonies anymore, preferring instead to listen to lieder—very spare, operatic love songs in German.
Alex is alone in a cafe when he runs into Pete, one of his old droogs. He learns that Pete got married at nineteen years old. With his life as a droog entirely behind him, he and his wife Georgina both work and barely manage to scrape by with meager incomes. Listening to Pete, Alex finds himself amazed at how Pete has grown. Listening to Alex, Georgina giggles at his funny way of speaking.
Pete and Georgina leave Alex, who continues to sit in the café, lost in thought. Alex considers himself at the ripe age of eighteen, comparing himself to historic figures who were geniuses in their youth—Mozart writing concertos, Felix Mendelssohn scoring Shakespeare to ballet, Arthur Rimbaud composing his greatest poetry by age fifteen—and wondering what he, in turn, will amount to. Back out on the cold streets, Alex answers his own question with visions of himself, married and with a son of his own. He likes this idea, because to him it means he’s growing up. Alex reflects on youth, which he compares to wind-up toys that just advance in straight lines until they run up against obstacles. He thinks of his future son in this way, too, because he doesn’t expect his son to listen to any of the lessons Alex has to teach him. According to Alex, that’s the nature of life, and youth will always have to suffer its own mistakes, just as Alex has. At this point, Alex realizes he’s no longer young.
In his introduction to the 1986 American edition of A Clockwork Orange, Burgess writes that “there is, in fact, not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in your chief character or characters.” Burgess refers here to the twenty-first and final chapter, in which Alex begins to feel older and grow weary of violence. The chapter number is significant, twenty-one being the age where a person attains legal maturity. Burgess’s American publishers didn’t approve of the twenty-first chapter, and excised it in favor of the more dramatic, jarring twentieth chapter. But this last chapter is essential to Burgess, because it fleshes out how patterns of life function in relation to an individual’s moral growth.
Alex’s insistence on formal and structural motifs in his narrative draws attention to his reinstatement as someone capable of and predisposed to viciousness, while simultaneously alerting us to the transformation his character undergoes. Alex looks the part and speaks the part, but these days he shies away from acting the part, as he suggests to us while Bully and the others beat an old man: “More and more these days I had been just giving the orders and standing back to viddy them being carried out.” The rhythmic intensity of the language Alex uses to describe the ensuing violence pales in comparison to Alex’s earlier accounts of poundings given by his old droogs. Indeed, its vigor seems all but gone as his fondness for violence fades.
Alex’s nadsat returns with full strength during his meditations on the prospect of fatherhood and the likelihood of him making the same mistakes as his father: “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 demonstrates Alex’s recognizably Christian conception of life as a cyclical pattern, with original sin eventually being followed by redemption. Upon realizing this concept of moral and spiritual growth, Alex finally answers the question he asks himself in the beginning of this chapter: “What’s it going to be then, eh?” Alex is now mature enough to understand the connection between violence and youth, the latter of which he compares to clockwork wind-up toys that move forward, unrelentingly and unthinkingly, in straight lines. Earlier in his life, violence has served as an affirmation of Alex’s free will, but as he grows older, Alex realizes that only through suffering can he truly be capable of making meaningful moral choices.
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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