A Clockwork Orange
Part Two, Chapters 2–3
By nightfall, the new prisoner has made an enemy of everyone in the cell. He threatens to take Alex’s bed, but Alex’s cellmates rally to his side and overrule the man. That night, Alex wakes to find the new prisoner lying next to him, running his hand over his body. Alex lashes out reflexively, punching the prisoner in the face. A fight ensues in the cell, and the other prisoners join in on Alex’s side. The noise soon causes a riot, and the guards arrive to find the new prisoner bloodied. They restore order, but as soon as they leave, the new prisoner incites another brawl, and Alex’s cellmates decide to teach him a lesson. Excited by the violence in front of him, Alex kicks the prisoner a few times in the head before they all go to sleep.
In the morning, Alex and his cellmates find the prisoner dead. It isn’t long before the cellmates agree that Alex is chiefly responsible, and report the story to the guards, which reminds Alex of the treatment he received from his old, traitorous droogs. At this point, the prison goes into a lockdown. The prisoners sit silently in their cell for hours, until the Governor returns with the Head Warden and an unfamiliar, impeccably dressed man. These three men pace the hallways. When the new, important-looking gentleman finally speaks, Alex understands very little of what he says. The man, whom Alex later learns is the Minister of the Interior, criticizes the current “penological theories” and advocates treatments on a “purely curative basis” that kills “the criminal reflex.” In his speech, the Minister makes special mention of political prisoners. He then selects Alex to be the first in a new criminal correction program.
The guards roughly transport Alex to the Governor’s office, where the Governor briefs him on his status. To his delight, Alex learns that the Minister has selected him for Reclamation Treatment, a two-week program which will culminate in the State releasing Alex. Alex pays little attention to the Governor, who doesn’t support the procedure, and eagerly signs a form granting the State permission to treat him.
Before Alex leaves Staja 84F, he’s brought to see the chaplain, who is very drunk. The chaplain laments Alex’s fate and wants Alex to know that he had no part in the decision. The chaplain goes on to question the ethics of a program that removes the desire to hurt and offend others. Alex, who knows nothing about his treatment other than it lasts two weeks, doesn’t quite understand the chaplain and finds the notion that he is “to be made into a good boy” laughable.
The next day, the guards bring Alex across the prison yard to a new, hospital-like building. There he meets Dr. Branom, whom he instantly likes. Alex can’t believe his good luck as he’s given new clothes, slippers, his own room, magazines, and a cigarette with his lunch. When Branom describes the treatment, Alex feels even luckier. All Alex has to do is watch a series of “special films.” Branom also mentions a needle after every meal, which Alex assumes will contain a nutritional supplement.
The first of these shots comes that same day, before his afternoon film session. Alex notices that he feels weak going into the session, but attributes his fatigue to the malnourishment he suffered in prison, and is confident that the hypodermic vitamin supplement will set him right.
Alex’s second murder occurs under very different circumstances from the first, but it highlights many of the same character traits. In both the cases of the cat-lady and the new prisoner, Alex displays a blatant lack of compunction as well as a steady reliance on impulse and intuition to guide his reactions. These attributes drive the plot, since they are responsible for both his incarceration and his release. While Alex’s impulsive attraction to the Beethoven bust allows him to be captured, the reckless delight in violence that the Minister calls the “criminal reflex” subsequently gets Alex out of prison. It’s also important to note that these two murders suggest a less obvious, but no less important, aspect of Alex’s character. If death is not an unwelcome consequence of Alex’s crimes, it certainly is an unintended one. Even in his fantasies, Alex never connects death with violence. Alex’s neutral stance on death highlights a strong commitment to living, albeit in a somewhat warped manner. Death equates to inaction, and this is the very opposite of what thrills Alex.
The Minister’s speech in Chapter 2 provides a rare glimpse into the normally obscure inner workings of the government. By mentioning the need to make room for “political offenders” in the State’s prisons, the Minister insinuates that the government anticipates a period of increased political dissent. It seems reasonable, then, to assume that the government is about to undergo some kind of major transition, during which it will become even less tolerant of criticism and opposition. At this point, Alex’s new position as a pawn of the State comes into play. The new Minister, whom the Governor refers to as “a very new broom,” plans to sweep typical criminal—thieves, murderers, and violent offenders—out of the jails by treating them on a “curative basis.” Alex represents an ideal test case for this rehabilitative treatment since, as a young killer who stalks the streets at night, Alex represents many citizens’ greatest fears. If the State can successfully neutralize the threat posed by Alex and other young thugs like him, it can expect to parlay the citizens’ deep gratitude and new sense of security into political currency, thereby defusing the threat of insurgency as it makes its administrative transition.
The Minister’s disenchantment with what he calls “outmoded penological theories” (i.e., imprisonment) is ironic, since it is the State’s own laxness on crime that has allowed prisons to become so dangerous and overcrowded in the first place. Early in the novel, Alex notes that there are significantly fewer policemen patrolling the streets at night, and those same officers only manage to apprehend Alex because his friends betray him. The State has insidiously indulged, possibly even encouraged, juvenile crime in the past because it keeps other citizens in a state of fear. But now, as it prepares for a period of even greater dominance, the State plans to use new technology to remove the juvenile threat, which represents not only a volatile social force, but also a negative public relations campaign for the government.
Through the chaplain, Burgess voices the novel’s most trenchant moral question: “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” The chaplain refers here to the Reclamation Treatment, a psychologically imposed behavioral modification that would render Alex incapable of performing evil deeds. Burgess would answer the chaplain’s question with an emphatic yes. Free will is an essential component of humanity, because without the power of self-determination, human beings wouldn’t have the chance to choose goodness. Ludovico’s Technique eliminates the essence of humanity by removing individual free will, which, by necessity, must include the option of bad behavior. Thus, when the chaplain laments that Alex will be “beyond the reach of the power of prayer,” it is because, deprived of the ability to make moral choices, Alex will cease to be a divinely created human being, and instead become a State-created mechanism: a “clockwork orange.”
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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