A Clockwork Orange
Part One, Chapter 2
The night still young, the boys leave the Duke and spot a drunken old man singing a sentimental song to himself. Alex instantly detests him, and without speaking, the boys rough him up a bit. When they finish, however, the man continues singing, and Dim has to punch him in the mouth to quiet him. The old man starts complaining about the state of the world. Interested, Alex stops attacking him and asks the old man to go on. The man frantically expounds on how an old man can’t live in this world anymore, because the young are permitted to prey upon him. He concludes that he’s not afraid of the boys, since he’s too drunk to feel their punches and too worthless to care if he dies. The boys take this as permission to keep beating him, which they do until the old man vomits blood.
The boys continue their walk. By the Municipal Power Plant, they encounter another young thug named Billyboy with his five droogs. Billyboy tosses aside a young girl he had been planning to rape, and a fight ensues between the two gangs. Very quickly, Alex and his droogs gain the upper hand, and they’re poised to pummel Billyboy when they hear sirens. The gangs scatter, and Alex’s droogs duck into an alleyway between flatblocks, the connected tenements that line the town blocks. Here they catch their breath, lit by the moon and the blue television screens of hundreds of apartments. Alex notes that tonight the State is showing a worldcast program, meaning a program broadcast globally. He also notes Dim’s rapt fascination with the moon. Annoyed, Alex reminds Dim that there’s much to attend to on the ground, and that now would be a good time to get a car. Alex then leads the boys to the cinema, where they steal an almost-new Durango 95.
After some time spent terrorizing pedestrians, Alex drives his droogs into the countryside for what he calls “the old surprise visit,” which involves breaking into a house and then beating and possibly raping its occupants. They stop at a cottage, marked with a sign that reads “HOME.” Alex knocks on the front door and asks the woman who answers if he can use her phone and get a cup of water for his ill friend. The woman replies that she doesn’t have a phone, but, lulled by the courteous tone that Alex affects, she steps away from the door to get him some water. Alex slips the chain off the door and the four enter the house, donning their masks. Inside the house, they find the woman and her husband, a writer. Though the husband demands that the boys leave, the droogs pay little attention to him. Alex and Dim look at the manuscript on his typewriter, and Georgie and Pete head toward the kitchen to raid the pantry. Alex mockingly reads aloud from the manuscript, titled “A Clockwork Orange,” before tearing it to pieces. The writer lashes out angrily at Alex, but Dim restrains him. Dim then beats the writer soundly, and as the wife watches, horrified, it seems to Alex that her screams follow the rhythm of Dim’s punching fists. Georgie and Pete return, laughing, with their mouths and hands full of food. Disgusted, Alex orders them to drop the food and hold the writer while he and Dim take turns pinning down and raping the writer’s wife. Dim and Alex then exchange places with Georgie and Pete. After they finish, the droogs trash the house, stopping short just of letting Dim defecate on the carpet. Alex orders them back out to the car, which they take back to town.
The chilling banality of Chapter 1’s concluding sentence—“Still, the night was still very young”—assures us that the violence we have already witnessed will continue in the coming chapters. Alex doesn’t disappoint us in that regard, and in this chapter, he and his droogs commit increasingly sadistic acts of cruelty. Alex remains wholly unconcerned with the effects of his wickedness, and with what it can get for him beyond unmitigated carnal pleasure. He seems to have a disinterested attitude toward money, stealing it from the corner store in Chapter 1, but not bothering to take any from the writer’s house in Chapter 2. The hospitalizations and severe physical injuries caused by his gang’s attacks seem of little consequence to him. What truly matters to Alex is the visceral ecstasy he feels when dealing a punch, slashing an enemy, or raping a woman. These acts take on an aesthetic significance for him. In Alex’s hands, violence becomes elegant and artistic. He describes his razor, for example, as something he can “flash and shine artistic.” Likewise, brutality brings out the rhythmic, colorful, and poetic linguist in Alex. Violence heightens his powers of metaphor and description, as he delightedly notes the pouring of blood (“in like red curtains”), the color of a woman’s nipple, and the “four-in-a-bar” screaming he hears during sex.
For Alex, violence represents a kind of artistic creation, and he approaches acts of brutality like a composer or painter. His verbal playfulness reflects this, as when, for example, he slyly asks the writer’s wife to “Please let him have a cup of water? It’s like a faint, you see.” The woman thinks that Alex’s friend is about to pass out from thirst, while Alex implies that he’s “feinting,” or deceiving, her in order to break into her house. Like a painter or composer, Alex also has specific aesthetic ideas about his art that he won’t compromise. He berates Georgie and Pete for their vulgar laughing, and Dim for his attempt to defecate on the carpet. In Alex’s eyes, these are crass gestures, and have as much place at a beating as they would in a concert hall.
During the droogs’ nighttime rampage, a clearer picture of A Clockwork Orange’s dystopian environment begins to emerge. Certain elements of the novel refer explicitly to events of the 1960s, when Burgess was writing the novella. The car that the boys steal, for example, is a Durango 95, a real car manufactured in Britain in the 1960s. Also, the drunken old man rambles about putting men on the moon, a worldwide preoccupation at the time. More important than these specific historical allusions, however, are the ways in which Burgess satirizes the rise of both totalitarianism and mass market culture, by combining elements from both communist and capitalist societies into a single, fictional society, one which is heavily State-run, and which exploits the controlling power of both totalitarianism and popular culture to the fullest. The cinema and the television worldcast are both government-sponsored entertainments, as are found in communist countries. From the alleyway between the flatblocks, Alex watches as the middle-class citizens dutifully receive and consume this prescribed entertainment. Numbed, the people are kept safely in their houses—a situation that not only ensures the citizens’ security, but also assures the security of the State, since a citizenry occupied by their television sets is unlikely to be assembling with other citizens, planning rebellion and threatening the State’s carefully constructed order.
Besides the seductive pull of State-sponsored television programs, thugs like Alex and his droogs also keep citizens isolated and indoors: while the boys believe they’re prowling the streets, they are, in a sense, also patrolling them. Before Alex beats him senseless, the drunken old man provides insight into how the government incorporates youth violence into its overall scheme of social stability: “It’s a stinking world because it lets the young get on to the old like you done.” The old man implies that the government tolerates and even indulges youth violence. Without safe locations in which to gather and speak to one another, the citizens of Alex’s world have no opportunity to assemble and criticize the government. Thus, even though they style themselves as rebels, Alex, Billyboy, and their respective droogs end up acting in the interests of the government, who engender allegiance to the State by creating fear and a sense of insecurity in the rest of the citizenry.
Through the as-yet-nameless writer, Burgess expresses one of the book’s central themes, the danger of mindless totalitarianism. The writer’s manuscript includes the passage: “The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness . . . laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen.” When Alex reads this passage, he doesn’t understand it; however, the fact that Alex has named his own narrative after that text suggests that the writer’s theories will become significant in later chapters.
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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