A Clockwork Orange
Part One, Chapters 6–7
The boys find the Manse in Oldtown, an older section of the city where the streets are quieter and the houses statelier. Anxious to establish his leadership, Alex insists on trying his usual ploy of sweet-talking his way through the front door. This time, however, Alex’s scheme doesn’t work, and the old woman inside refuses to open the door. Determined, Alex has Dim boost him up to the window above the front door. Once inside, Alex decides that he’ll do the job alone. By the time he opens the front door for his droogs, he plans to have incapacitated and raped the old woman and located the most valuable possessions in the house.
Alex’s idea backfires, though, when he finds the old woman in a large, well-lit room completely overrun with cats. As Alex approaches her, he becomes distracted by a bust of Beethoven on the mantle, and slips on one of the many milk saucers littering the floor. The old woman begins rapping him on the head with her walking stick. Stunned, Alex manages to knock her off balance, but as he kicks her he steps on a cat, which responds by attaching itself to Alex’s leg with its teeth and claws. Frantic, Alex trips on another saucer, and as he comes crashing down, the old woman attacks him, calling on her cats to help. To Alex’s amazement, the cats swarm around him, hissing and scratching. Now in a rage, Alex rises and, with a silver statue he has taken from another room, hits the woman on the head and knocks her unconscious.
Hearing a police siren in the distance, Alex runs for the front door, figuring the old woman must have called the police before he broke in. He finds Dim waiting for him outside with his chain. Before Alex realizes he’s been betrayed, Dim whips him in the eyes and runs off, laughing. Abandoned by his droogs, Alex gropes blindly in the hallway until the police arrive. The policemen taunt Alex as they kick and punch him, and they seem to know Alex by name. Alex is then driven away in a squad car.
Beaten and dismayed, Alex finds himself in a very bright, white room with four officers. Alex demands a lawyer and gets laughed at and punched in the stomach. He makes his situation worse by retaliating and kicking an officer in the shin. The police respond by beating Alex until he vomits, which Alex seems rather ashamed of. On top of this, Alex receives a discouraging visit from P.R. Deltoid. Deltoid looks at Alex coldly, as if Alex were only a “thing,” and although he assures Alex that he’ll come the following day to speak on Alex’s behalf, he spits in Alex’s face before leaving.
The officers then force Alex to make a statement confessing his crimes. Alex tells them everything from the past twenty-four hours, making sure to include his treacherous friends. When Alex finishes his statement, the police drop him in a holding cell crowded with criminals and drunks. As soon as Alex is thrust in there, he has to fight off two prisoners who try to molest him. With the help of a guard, Alex is eventually left alone to get some sleep. He dozes, transfixed by thoughts of Beethoven’s Ninth. During this reverie, Alex envisions a place where satyrs play flutes and Beethoven’s head floats in the sky, shining like the sun. He imagines new, violent lyrics for the “Ode To Joy.” An officer wakes him up and Alex is taken to a new office, where he learns that the old woman he assaulted has died.
If, in previous chapters, Alex feels justified in praising the virtues of intuition over intellect, in these two chapters he experiences firsthand how intuition can fail him. Alex’s trouble with the cat-lady and his subsequent arrest are caused by his youthful impetuousness. Whereas earlier chapters exhibit, in one critic’s words, “the naked beauty of an uninhibited psyche,” these chapters reveal the self-endangering potential of a cocksure punk, ruled by his immature urges. Juvenility proves both a benefit and a disadvantage for Alex. In the past, being underage has allowed Alex to avoid serious legal trouble, but now it seems to have led him toward punishment and incarceration. The saucers of milk that Alex trips over recall the Korova Milkbar, a haven for young delinquents. Milk is also a substance closely associated with youth and infancy, and we’re reminded of its nurturing quality when the older women in Chapter 1 protect the boys, maternally, from the policemen. At the Korova, milk becomes associated with the brash, violent power of youth; at the cat-lady’s house, it becomes a symbol of youth’s arrogance and foolhardiness.
Another recurring motif—classical music—plays a central role in Alex’s downfall. Alex becomes distracted by a bust of Beethoven, and subsequently trips and becomes vulnerable to the old woman and her cats. Alex finds himself drawn to the statue, even though, at that moment, he’s in no position to lose his concentration. Disregarding reason, Alex impulsively moves toward the bust; in this case, Alex would have been better off following his intellect over his instinct. Alex’s love for classical music, however, will also be depicted as a redeeming force. Near the end of Chapter 7, Alex manages to comfort and protect himself by concentrating on Beethoven’s Ninth.
In Burgess’s eyes, the State’s cruelty toward Alex is a far graver perversion of morality than any of Alex’s crimes. Burgess has said that “the violence in the book is really more to show what the State can do with it.” The State of A Clockwork Orange has a legal monopoly on the use of violence, and as such, it may observe or reject the law as it sees fit. As the arm of government, the police who arrest Alex instantiate this power, and they exploit the law for their own pleasure when they beat Alex without cause. These men are as thuggish and brutal as any of Alex’s droogs, and Alex bitterly notes the hypocrisy of their esteemed place in an institution that supposedly upholds goodness—“if all you bastards are on the side of the Good then I’m glad I belong to the other shop.” This is the second time Alex refers to “the other shop,” and here the phrase takes on a richer meaning. Alex at this point is not expostulating abstractly from his kitchen—he is bloodily revolting against the hypocrisy of a State that wishes to harm him while simultaneously exhorting him to be a good, dutiful citizen. Alex’s subsequent confession of all his crimes, then, represents an impassioned assertion of his identity against the State.
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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