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A Clockwork Orange

Anthony Burgess

Part One, Chapter 3

Part One, Chapter 2

Part One, Chapter 4

Summary

Just outside town, the boys abandon their car and take the train back into the center of town. Alex notes that they pay the fare like perfect gentlemen and then nonchalantly describes their subsequent vandalism on the train.

The boys return to the Korova Milkbar and notice that a few things have changed since they left. To Alex’s distaste, the patron drinking hallucinogenic milk is still there and still intoxicated, leaving himself open to torment and mockery. The place is also filled with quite a few new faces. According to Alex, these are mostly other teens, and a few garishly made-up twenty- and thirty-somethings just getting off work from the television studio.

One of the people from the older crowd triggers an altercation among the boys. A woman, sitting at the bar with her friends, sings a few bars from an opera familiar to Alex. Clownish Dim, hearing this, makes an obscene gesture toward the woman. The woman doesn’t notice, but Alex does and becomes enraged. He calls Dim a “[f]ilthy drooling mannerless bastard” and deals him a hard punch on the mouth. Dim is at first confused and then angry, telling Alex he had no right to hit him like that. It begins to look like the two might have to go outside and settle the dispute with knives, but Pete tries to calm them down. Alex starts trying to defend what he did, saying that he’s the leader, that he has to maintain discipline among them, and that “Dim . . . has got to learn his place.” The other boys don’t quite seem to agree, but, wary, they keep quiet. To Alex’s surprise, Dim suddenly drops the argument and suggests that they all just go home and go to bed. The boys agree and plan to meet as usual the following night.

Convinced that this squabble has no significance, Alex leaves the Korova with razor in hand, prepared for any trouble from Billyboy or other warring gangs. On his way home to Municipal Flatblock 18A, he passes evidence of some typical street violence: a boy sprawled out and bleeding on the street; a pair of girls who have likely been assaulted and raped. Reaching his building, Alex passes a vandalized municipal painting as well as a freshly damaged elevator and takes the stairs up to his tenth-floor flat. Inside, Alex eats the dinner his mother has laid out for him and gets ready for bed. Before trailing off to sleep, Alex turns on his stereo. He listens, enraptured, to classical music, first by an American named Geoffrey Plautus, then Mozart, and finally Bach. During the Bach compositions, Alex muses on what he read at the writer’s house earlier that night. He thinks he understands it better now, and if anything, he wishes he could have “tolchocked them both harder and ripped them to ribbons on their own floor.”

Analysis

In an interview, Burgess called writer George Steiner “the biggest bloody fool who ever lived” for being “so foolish as to wonder why Nazis, why a concentration camp officer could listen to Schubert and at the same time send Jews to the gas.” There are, Burgess says, “two different kinds of good”: the aesthetic and the ethical, and, as he demonstrates with the character of Alex in Part One, these two kinds of goodness don’t necessarily correlate with one another. Alex loves doing cruel things to people, and Alex loves listening to Beethoven. Though this situation may instinctually feel counterintuitive to us, there’s no logical reason why these two predilections should conflict with one another. On the contrary, as we see, Alex thinks they go together perfectly—he likes very much to lie on his bed, listening to Mozart and fantasizing about beating and raping people. It makes sense, then, that Alex would give Dim a great big punch in the mouth for being disrespectful toward a beloved opera. This incident, which sows the seeds of a rebellion against autocratic Alex, does again illustrate Alex’s strange fastidiousness: he’s violent, but he abhors vulgarity.

The bit of opera that the woman sings foreshadows Alex’s misery later on in the book. The name of the fictional composer is Gitterfenster, which is German for “barred window,” pointing toward Alex’s coming imprisonment, and the bit of an aria that she sings—“it was the bit where she’s snuffing it with her throat cut, and the slovos [words] are ‘Better like this maybe’”—points toward Alex’s suicide attempt in Part Three Chapter 5, when, in the little apartment he decides he has “to do [himself] in, to snuff it.” Another bit of foreshadowing of the suicide attempt comes at the end of this chapter, when he’s lying in bed listening to some music, thinking about rape, and he actually ejaculates with the bliss of it: “when the music...rose to the top of its big highest tower, then, lying on my bed with glazzies [eyes] tight shut and rookers [hands] behind my gulliver [head], I broke and spattered and cried aaaaaaah.” The way in which this is described very closely echoes his attempted suicide in Part Three, Chapter 5, when he goes over to the window, high up in a big apartment tower, climbs “on to the sill, the music blasting away to my left, and I shut my glazzies and felt the cold wind on my litso [face], then I jumped” and spattered on the pavement below.

Burgess further emphasizes the communist mentality of this society with the description of the mural in the hall of Alex’s apartment building. Alex tells us about “the good old municipal painting on the walls—vecks [men] and ptitsas [women] very well developed, stern in the dignity of labor, at workbench and machine with not one stitch of platties [clothing] on their well-developed plotts [bodies].” What he is describing here sounds just like a piece of Socialist Realism, the official style of art in the U.S.S.R., which most typically consisted of extremely earnest depictions of healthy, idealized workers. Alex describes further how some of the kids in the apartment building have vandalized the mural, drawing speech bubbles with dirty words coming out of the mouths of these dignified laborers. The relation between the ugly graffiti and the earnest mural is the same as the relation between the hooligans and the state; the graffiti and the hooligans are certainly nasty but, in some way, less threatening than the idea of an official and bureaucratic art or the specter of the totalitarian state. There is something human about the graffiti—it represents the work of independent individuals, however filthy-minded, and not the product of an administrative decree. While Burgess remains highly critical of their violence, he does want us to see the thuggish kids as more human and, thus, as a kind of countermeasure against the repressive state of A Clockwork Orange.

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laaaamwe

by Chuck-Norris, September 12, 2012

time machine is boooring

So yeah.

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.

Or something.

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2 out of 4 people found this helpful

Horrorshow

by ilotaatoli, November 04, 2013

I don't think I saw anything about the importance of this word anywhere in the guide, but it's a very loaded word. If you think about most of the other slang Alex uses, they tend to be Russian influenced, but this one isn't. Throughout the story, the meaning of this word changes to the reader: in the beginning, the way the teens use "horrorshow" for something positive leads the reader on to how violent they are. As you move into part two of the book however, you realize that "horrorshow" also alludes to the ultra violent films that Alex is f... Read more

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7 out of 14 people found this helpful

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