A Clockwork Orange

by: Anthony Burgess

Part Two, Chapters 2–3


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.”