Too weak to stand on his own, Alex arrives at the screening room in a wheelchair. The room is unlike any theater he has ever seen. On one wall hangs a huge screen. Against another wall is an array of meters. A pane of frosted glass is set in the back wall, and through the window, Alex thinks he can see figures moving. In the middle of the room sits a dentist’s chair, which has a series of wires running through it. Attendants fasten Alex, who is fast becoming limp and very sick, into the dentist’s chair. They strap his head and hands down, and fasten clips to his forehead which pull and keep his eyelids open. Then Dr. Brodsky enters, a short, fat, curly-haired man with thick glasses and a sharp suit. With everything prepared, Alex begins his treatment.
The first film Alex is forced to watch depicts an old man being attacked and stripped naked by two fashionably dressed boys. As he watches the brutal beating, Alex begins to feel sick to his stomach. He tries to forget about it, but the nausea becomes worse during the second movie, which portrays a gang rape involving a young girl and several teenage boys. The violence appears so real that Alex wonders how these movies could have been made with the victims’ consent.
Alex watches three more films, during which Brodsky measures Alex’s reactions through wires attached to his head and stomach. The first film shows a single face being beaten and cut with a razor. The face screams in anguish as the razor cuts out one of its eyes and its teeth get yanked out with pliers. The second film shows an old woman being robbed and burned alive in her store, shrieking in a way Alex has never heard before. These images set Alex to retching, and he pleads for a receptacle in which to vomit, but Brodsky calmly assures him that it’s only his imagination. The last film takes place during World War II, and shows Japanese soldiers laughing as they torture their enemies in elaborate ways. The horror of this spectacle causes Alex to scream and beg them to stop, but Brodsky and the others simply laugh at him.
Though Alex only describes these five films, he sees several more that afternoon that are so horrific that he decides his captors are more deranged than any of the criminals in prison. When the screenings are over, Alex feels horribly sick. Brodsky seems pleased by the day’s proceedings and sends Alex back to his room. There, Alex begins to recuperate and receives a visit by a smiling and sympathetic Branom. Branom seems to know already that Alex is beginning to feel better. He tells Alex that his body is in the process of learning that violence is bad. A healthy human organism, he says, should react to evil and destruction as Alex has just done. Alex doesn’t believe him, though. He accuses Branom and the others of making him feel ill, but when Branom asks how he feels at this moment, Alex finds himself quite well, even hungry. This puzzles Alex, but Branom’s reasoning is simple: “you felt ill this afternoon . . . because you’re getting better.”
All this seems strange to Alex. He remains skeptical, figuring that his illness has something to do with the wires. As he considers resisting treatment the next day, a man calling himself the Discharge Officer enters the room and asks Alex about his plans once the two weeks are up. Reminded of his imminent release, Alex concludes that it would be best to reserve his rebellious impulses for the outside. The two casually discuss Alex’s future plans, and Alex remains vague and noncommittal but secretly plans for future mischief. Before the Discharge Officer leaves, he asks Alex if Alex would like to punch him in the face, “just to see how [Alex is] getting on.” The officer then moves his grinning face within striking range but pulls back when Alex swings and walks away. Alex is bewildered at first, then becomes violently ill for a few minutes, as if he were back in the screening room.
That night, Alex dreams he’s leading a gang rape, but just as the situation reaches its climax, Alex becomes paralyzed with sickness and all the other rapists laugh at him. Alex then wakes up feeling so sick that he climbs out of bed to vomit in the bathroom. He finds his door locked and his window barred, preventing escape. The nausea eventually subsides by itself, leaving Alex trembling and afraid to go back to sleep.
Though Alex could never have been prepared for what he undergoes in the screening room, we may find his naiveté surprising. Alex takes it to heart when Branom tells him that the treatment consists merely of watching “special films,” thinking Branom a goodhearted fool for believing that something as innocuous as a movie could change such a fundamental part of him. Even after Alex’s first session of aversive therapy, he continues to trust the smiling and benevolent-seeming Branom. Alex may not believe Branom when he assures Alex that his new, physical response to violence represents the reactions of a normal human being, but he repeatedly fails to make the connection between the supposed vitamin needles and his profound sickness.
In the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, Alex remains steadfastly convinced that he’s managed to resist the treatment. Alex can maintain that naiveté because he and Branom have fundamentally different perceptions of what human beings are. Alex regards himself as a unique being, with his bodily functions (such as the ability to feel nausea) being part of the totality of who he is. Branom, however, sees only a nonspecific set of sensors that respond to stimuli. In other words, Branom sees Alex as a mechanical entity, as predictable as clockwork and incapable of real choice. As long as Branom can control the stimulus, he can control Alex’s response. Alex can’t fathom this concept, which is why he becomes so confused when Branom seems to know when he’s feeling better, and when Branom anticipates his momentary relapse, which occurs when Alex takes a swing at the Discharge Officer.
Though we may not think of Alex as a particularly good Christian, his perspective on the human self fits squarely within a Christian moral framework, which holds that human beings are free and individualized beings, capable of responding in myriad ways to various stimuli and situations. To Branom, however, his own robotic theory of human behavior represents an equally religious dogma. Alex notes that Branom takes a “very holy” tone with him, explaining life in terms of “miracles.” Alex attempts to capitalize on Branom’s righteousness later, when he tries to deceive the doctors by praising God and raising his eyes “in a like holy way,” but Alex makes an unconvincing convert to the religion of science.
In the words of one smirking technician, Ludovico’s Treatment represents “a real show of horrors.” The phrase recalls the nadsat term horrorshow, a garbled translation of the Russian term kharasho, or “good.” In these chapters, the term turns frighteningly literal, as all the things that Alex once found horrorshow become horrifying and nauseating to him. The films, many of which closely resemble Alex’s own crimes, are so real that their existence seems to belie the scientists’ moral authority. Alex writes that “you couldn’t imagine lewdies actually agreeing to having all this done to them in a film, and if these films were made by the Good or the State you couldn’t imagine them being allowed to take these films without like interfering with what was going on.” That the State, the alleged defender and arbiter of righteousness, might sponsor such brutal violence is not only morally condemnable, but morally inconsistent, as well. The depiction of Ludovico’s treatment in Chapters 4 and 5 emphasizes the State’s hypocrisy. The State lacks a genuine humanitarian concern for its test subjects, an idea reinforced by the sadistic glee the technicians take in Alex’s pain and discomfort.
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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I don't think I saw anything about the importance of this word anywhere in the guide, but it's a very loaded word. If you think about most of the other slang Alex uses, they tend to be Russian influenced, but this one isn't. Throughout the story, the meaning of this word changes to the reader: in the beginning, the way the teens use "horrorshow" for something positive leads the reader on to how violent they are. As you move into part two of the book however, you realize that "horrorshow" also alludes to the ultra violent films that Alex is f... Read more→
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