A Clockwork Orange
Part One, Chapter 5
Alex doesn’t wake up until quite late in the evening. When he emerges from his room, he finds his parents having dinner and tells them that he’s off to work. His father timidly asks him where he works and what he does. Alex gives a vague answer— “it’s mostly odd things, helping like”—and points out that he never asks for money. Then, his father tells him a worrisome dream that he had, about Alex lying on the street, beaten up by the sort of toughs Alex used to hang out with before he went to reform school. Alex gives his father some of the money he stole from the corner store the night before, for a drink out with mum, and tells him not to worry.
Alex goes downstairs to find the droogs waiting for him. They are cross and sarcastic, and before long a confrontation occurs. Georgie leads the charge, accusing Alex of thinking childishly and acting despotically. They let Alex know that a new, more democratic arrangement is in place. Georgie announces that he has concocted a “mansize” plan for the night. Reluctant to provoke them in this tight spot, Alex plays along, but as they leave the building, Alex hears a bit of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and, inspired, draws his razor on Georgie. Georgie responds with his knife, and the two boys swipe at each other until Alex slashes Georgie’s hand. Dim comes at Alex next, with his chain. Alex isn’t fast enough to completely avoid being hurt, but he soon overcomes Dim by cutting his wrist badly. Alex then invites Pete to the fray, but Pete declines, afraid for Dim. Now triumphant, Alex uses his own handkerchief to bind Dim’s wound, and brings them all to the Duke in the hope of reconciliation. Having given all his money to his father, Alex can’t buy the boys drinks, though as a peace offering he agrees to Georgie’s plans for robbing an old house called the Manse. Georgie has heard from Will the English, an older and prominent thug, that the Manse is filled with gold and silver and other valuables.
If the last chapter explored the duality of goodness vs. evil, Chapter 5 explores the opposing forces of intuition and intellect. Alex decides to attack George when he catches a bit of Beethoven pouring out of a passing car. At that point, he says: “I viddied [saw] that thinking is for the gloopy [stupid] ones and that the oomny [smart] ones use like inspiration and what Bog [God] sends.” Alex’s implication that only stupid people rely on intellect may, at first, seem like a paradoxical conclusion. However, Deltoid and his colleagues have spent years studying and analyzing teen violence, to no avail. Given their academic and scientific worldview, they can’t comprehend the ways in which non-intellectual impulses, like desire and pleasure, can affect human behavior. Just as Alex’s commitment to violence serves to resist the oppressive force of the State, his commitment to intuition and instinct mocks the State’s dedication to rational, logical thought. In Alex’s eyes, intuition becomes the smart choice because it affirms the individual free will. Alex claims that he received his inspiration from God, which echoes his earlier claim that criminal behavior—because it affirms the validity of free will—affirms the power of God. The debate over intuition vs. intellect continues throughout the book, becoming especially significant when the State uses Alex’s intuitive urges against him in order to prevent him from committing violence.
In this chapter, Alex notices that he’s picked up one of Deltoid’s verbal tics: a tendency to add a “yes?” to the end of each of his sentences. With this minor transference, as well as with the widespread use of nadsat, A Clockwork Orange depicts language as something strangely contagious. In Part Two, Dr. Branom describes nadsat as a kind of “subliminal penetration,” and argues that speaking in nadsat conditions one’s perceptions in a particular way and shapes one’s thinking process. Alex may not be aware of it, but by narrating his account in nadsat, he shapes our perceptions as readers. Initially, the foreignness of Alex’s vocabulary insulates us from the violence he commits, since we end up spending most of our time puzzling through the language rather than critically interrogating Alex’s actions. Nadsat, then, also insulates Alex from our immediate condemnation. As the book goes on, and we grow accustomed to the strange rhythms and vocabulary of nadsat, we feel gratification at our increasing comprehension. The danger here lies in the potential confusion of that gratification with an implicit sanction of Alex’s violent, reprehensible actions. Through his linguistic choices, Alex wields considerable influence over the readers’ reactions, a fact Burgess subtly suggests by giving him a name that evokes the word “lexis,” Greek for “word or phrase.”
In this chapter, Alex casually compares himself to Jesus Christ. He says, “Mum gave me a tired little smeck, to thee fruit of my womb my only son, sort of.” Referring to himself as the fruit of his mother’s womb, Alex makes a direct allusion to the Hail Mary prayer. In the Christian tradition, Jesus Christ is believed to have died in order to atone for the sins of others. Though Alex’s fate won’t be nearly as dire—a fact he suggests by the offhanded “sort of” he tacks to the end of the allusion—he will, in fact, suffer a terrible fate for the redemption of others like him. The Christ reference not only serves as an important instance of foreshadowing, but also serves as a structural motif for the entire novella. Just as Jesus dies, is buried, and is resurrected on the third day, the novel’s three-part structure charts Alex’s fall, his interment in prison, and finally, the return to his former self.
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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