A Clockwork Orange
Part Two, Chapter 1
After a series of court hearings and ruinous testimonies from P.R. Deltoid and his arresting officers, Alex gets sentenced to fourteen years in Staja (State Jail) 84F, an adult prison. There, he trades his clothes in for a prisoner’s brown jumpsuit, and his name for a number, 6655321. While at Staja, he’ll only be known by this number.
The first two years of prison are hellish for Alex. On a daily basis, he copes with guards who routinely beat him and prisoners who want to rape him, and has to toil in the prison workshop making matchboxes. His only consolations during this time are the occasional reminders of criminal behavior from his happy and carefree days. Later, he’s cheered by the news that Georgie has died, killed while escaping a house he’d been robbing with Dim and Pete.
As time goes by, Alex grows more comfortable in prison. There’s one guard who doesn’t harass him, and his cellmates are decent enough not to assault him. He also has a new job, playing the stereo for the prison chaplain, or charlie, during Sunday mass. Alex likes the job, and the chaplain likes Alex—partly because he’ll snitch occasionally, which helps the chaplain look good to the Governor, and partly because Alex takes an interest in the Bible. As a result of the latter, the chaplain grants Alex the special privilege of using the stereo while he reads. Alex takes this opportunity to listen to Bach and Handel as he pores over the Old Testament, delighting in the sex and violence he finds within its pages. At the urging of the chaplain, Alex also studies Jesus’s divine suffering and enjoys it greatly, imagining himself as a Roman who whips Jesus and nails him to the cross.
One Sunday morning, after the chaplain delivers his sermon, Alex asks him about a program he’s been hearing about, which allows prisoners to shorten their sentences. The chaplain has heard of this experimental program, called Ludovico’s Technique, but seems to disapprove of it. Anxious to rejoin the free world, Alex presses to be recommended for the treatment, but the chaplain wants to talk about it later. Alex finishes his work without a further word about Ludovico’s Technique. After lunch, a new prisoner gets added to his already-overcrowded cell.
In its opening sentence, Part Two stresses the importance of structural motifs in the novel. As in Part One, this chapter opens with the simple question, “What’s it going to be then, eh?” This time, however, it isn’t Alex asking the question, but a State-affiliated priest. This shift signals to us that Alex is no longer in a position of power. He has no authority to ask questions or demand answers, as he might have done in the past. At this point, Alex’s voice has been replaced by the State’s.
The question is also deeply ironic, since it appears to offer Alex a measure of choice. As posed, the question implies that Alex can have a say in “what it’s going to be.” While in prison, however, Alex will actually have very little control over anything that happens to him. Incarceration represents an annulment of free will, as convicted criminals are deemed unworthy and undeserving of the rights of self-determination. In this society, however, prison doesn’t represent a punitive alternative to a free existence; rather, it represents an extension of the social dynamics outside the prison walls. A communist state, such as the one portrayed in this novel, seeks to condition its citizens in myriad ways to abdicate their individual will, and replace self-determination with the collective will. Ludovico’s Technique—an experimental treatment that Alex will be subjected to in Part Two—forcefully attempts to do just that, by ridding criminals of their antisocial impulses and instituting State-approved behavior instead.
The replacement of Alex’s name with a number, 6655321, reinforces the effacement of Alex’s identity at the hands of the State. As nothing more than a string of numbers, Alex and his fellow prisoners remain indistinguishable in the State’s eyes. The government’s use of numbers to identify the objects it controls—besides Alex’s new identity as a seven-digit code, we have already seen Staja 84F and Municipal Flatblock 18A—suggests the massive scale on which the government operates, and the thorough depersonalization it imposes.
Alex’s association with Jesus Christ is another motif that returns from Part One. In Part One, Alex styles himself a Christ-like martyr, betrayed by his disciple droogs. In this chapter, Alex emphasizes his own suffering, warning us that this will be “the real weepy and like tragic part of the story.” He calls himself “brother Alex,” and stresses that he is a humble man. This protestation of meekness and deference suggests Christ’s own modesty and humility, but we should also keep in mind that Alex is far from a neutral narrator, and that he may be trying to curry our favor or win our sympathy.
Part Two also has a somewhat surprising moment that finds Alex identifying not with Christ but with Christ’s captors. While reading the chaplain’s Bible, Alex enjoys imagining himself as a Roman soldier charged with torturing Christ. In doing so, Alex unwittingly aligns himself with the State ideology. This isn’t the first time Alex has unknowingly supported the government’s machinations. In his thuggish days, the free Alex played a role in suppressing insurgency by making the streets unsafe at night, preventing law-abiding citizens from assembling and thus hindering any rebellious tendencies that the population might harbor. The State has demonstrated its ability to appropriate chance acts of violence for its own repressive purposes.
The nature of Alex’s interest in the Bible suggests that he’s still not mature enough to understand his self-destructive behavior. Viewed as a whole, the Bible’s progression from the Old Testament to the New provides a template for the evolution of human morality. In the Old Testament, God rewards his subjects for unquestioningly following divine law, but the more complicated New Testament requires its hero, Jesus, to develop individual moral principles. Alex’s fondness for the more lurid stories of the Old Testament indicates that he still revels in vice and criminal behavior. But this fondness also signifies that Alex’s own sense of morality still remains entrenched in a rigid concept of law and lawbreaking. As he grows older, Alex will begin to abandon this binary outlook in favor of a more nuanced understanding of morality.
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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