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What is the nature of Alex’s relationship
with his parents, and how is this relationship important to the novel?
Alex likes his parents, but at the same time
doesn’t consider them worthy of admiration. Alex suggets an affectionate
disregard for his parents when he refers to them as his “pee and
em.” The words pee and em, which
merely represent the letters “P” and “M,” suggest that Alex has
effaced the paternal and maternal roles they play.
Alex’s parents are notable largely for the lack of influence
that they have on Alex’s life. They are timid and passive, especially
in contrast to Alex, who is committed to an adventuresome lifestyle. And
although Alex’s parents are decent and loving, they are chiefly used
as objects of satire. Burgess drives this point home by alternately
romanticizing Alex’s destructive behavior and portraying Alex’s
law-abiding parents as soft, hapless beings who waste their lives
“rabbiting” away at their meaningless jobs. Burgess’s word choice
to describe the parents’ work is significant, since rabbits are commonly
portrayed as weak, fearful animals. Burgess implies that Alex’s
parents live a life motivated by fear, which includes a deep-seated
fear of their own son, whom they never confront.
What is the significance of nadsat in
Nadsat performs several
functions in A Clockwork Orange. Most immediately,
it forces readers to deal actively with the language of the book.
Because we must pay attention to understanding the words on the
page, our attention is diverted from making judgments of the book’s
characters. In this way, nadsat insulates us from
many of the harsh and violent realities in the book, allowing us
to develop a rapport with Alex, the protagonist. If we struggle
through the first few chapters and gain an understanding of nadsat,
we eventually feel pleasure at our increasing ability to decode
this strange language. The potential danger, however, is that we
may come to associate our pleasure at decoding the language with
pleasure in the violent actions that the language often represents.
As the narrator of A Clockwork Orange, Alex uses nadsat most
intensely when he writes about violence. And in some sense, he uses
it to brainwash us on a very small level. By the end of the novel
we find ourselves in possession of the trappings of a nadsat vocabulary,
which points to the subtle and subliminal ways language can work
Nasdat also suggests Burgess’s inspirations
for the society described in A Clockwork Orange. Most
of the words that comprise nadsat have roots in
Russian. This presence of Russian in Alex’s vocabulary suggests
that Alex’s society contains elements of both West and East, which
in Burgess’s time meant democracy and Communism. Because it is the
fashionable slang of the teenagers in the novel, we may assume that nadsat creeps
into the cultural consciousness on a subcultural level. In this
way, nadsat hints at the undercurrent of repression
in the State that controls Alex’s society.
Trace the change that the government
in A Clockwork Orange undergoes over the course
of the novel. What does this change reflect about the designs of the
The primary difference between the policies
of the government in Part One and those of the government in Part
Three is in how they enable violence to maintain order. In Part
One, the government operates insidiously. It denounces evil and
seeks to eradicate it by studying the problem and finding a scientific
explanation, but at the same time the government recognizes that
evil serves a purpose. Youth violence in Part One helps to maintain
the status quo by making the streets unsafe at night, which in turn
keeps people in their homes and concerned mainly with their own
welfare, preventing them from exchanging opinions that could lead
to political turmoil. With this in mind, the State has reduced the
number of police who patrol by night, content to indulge the rampant
youth crime committed by people like Alex and Billyboy. Alex draws
attention to this phenomenon in Chapter 4, when he notes that there
are always several more policemen on patrol during the daytime than
In Part Three, the government has abandoned its policy
of condoning youth crime, and, in light of a coming election, has
instead decided to crack down on delinquency. The way the government accomplishes
this goal, though, is by reclassifying many of those young thugs
as law enforcement officials. In this way, the government can earn
public allegiance while at the same time exerting a greater control
over potentially disruptive forces. This government has no need
of people like P.R. Deltoid, who in Part One futilely devotes his
energies to the eradication of violence. With a total monopoly on
the use of force, the government of Part Three can make a transition
to even greater power, which it in fact does by the end of the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Clockwork Orange!