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Alex’s torture continues the following day. This time,
the screenings aren’t nearly as violent, but somehow, Alex feels
the pain more acutely. During one film, a German movie from World
War II, Alex recognizes the soundtrack as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
Alex cries out in agony for them to stop, calling it “a filthy unforgivable sin.”
Branom and Brodsky don’t stop the film, but once it’s finished, they
puzzle over Alex’s reaction and the significance of the music, since
this is the only time Alex has vomited during his treatment. Brodsky
knows little of music other than its usefulness in heightening emotions.
Brodsky informs Alex that the treatment involves an application of
the theory of associative learning. By making Alex feel ill while
he views violent films, the doctors force Alex to associate sickness
with violence. Alex finally realizes that the needles, which he
had thought were vitamin supplements, are actually responsible for
his illness. He becomes angry, but soon changes his tactics, assuring
the doctors that he has learned his lesson and that he now understands
the consequences of evil and is ready to reject it. This assertion
only produces more laughter and a pat on the shoulder.
As the treatment progresses, Alex loses count of the days.
He tries to rebel once, smacking a needle from the nurse’s hand,
but that only results in a minor beating and a new needle. Another
day, Alex devises a plan to preempt his torture session by knocking
himself unconscious, but can’t even think about banging his head
against the wall without becoming sick and exhausted. Finally, one
morning, the nurse doesn’t show up at his room. Instead, the man
who wheels Alex to treatment steps in and tells him that they will
walk to the screening room together. During the session, the doctors
restrain Alex with the usual straps and clips, but don’t attach
any wires to him. This provides conclusive evidence to Alex that
the headaches, thirst, and nausea he experiences are actually a
reaction to the films, not the wires. Alex’s realization brings
him to tears. The attendants arrive at his side instantly, drying
his eyes so that he can continue watching the screen. The film,
which depicts Jews being gassed to death, only makes him cry again.
That night, Alex decides to attempt an escape. He proceeds
to bang on his door and call for a doctor, all the while planning
to catch the orderly unawares, knock him out, and slip away. When
his chance comes, however, Alex pauses with his fists raised in
the air, staggered with nausea. The orderly understands the situation
immediately, and taunts Alex before punching him in the face. Left
alone in his pain, Alex realizes that it’s better to receive a blow
than to deal one.
In A Clockwork Orange, the principles
of behaviorism are used to support Ludovico’s Technique, a new,
cutting-edge technology that allows the State to convert otherwise-incorrigible
criminals into reliably law-abiding citizens. In Burgess’s own time,
behavioral science was a relatively new field, one whose practitioners
considered themselves highly sensitive to issues of ethics. Many
behaviorists saw their profession as a chance to redesign society
based on universally benevolent principles, but Burgess had a distinctly
less idealistic attitude toward the nascent discipline. Reform may
qualify as an admirable sentiment, but in these chapters, we witness
as behaviorism is used to justify the hijacking of Alex’s free will
and the reduction of his moral choices to a set of predictable outcomes.
Burgess creates Ludovico’s Technique in the fictional world of A
Clockwork Orange in order to interrogate the ethical implications
of behaviorism in his own world. The examination of contemporary
concerns through a fantastic, imaginary fiction is the defining
element of dystopian science fiction.
Not only does the application of aversion theory rid Alex
of his attraction to violence, it also has the unintended consequence
of eliminating his ability to enjoy music. Ludovico’s Technique
may be an effective instrument, but it also seems to be a blunt
and problematic one. Ludovico’s Technique doesn’t make any distinction between
Alex’s aesthetic pleasure and its own so-called moral concern: since
music, like violence, prompts an instinctual response in Alex, it
too becomes susceptible. In behaviorism, this unintended transference
is known a “false positive,” the incidental stimulation of a secondary
sense that shares some of the same faculties with the impulse being
tested. Brodsky is aware of the phenomenon, but the consequences
don’t faze him. Ludovico’s Technique is predicated on the notion
that the criminal impulse can be isolated and eliminated, but Brodsky
himself admits that human psychology remains more complicated and
that the removal of violent tendencies runs the risk of extinguishing
other, more benign inclinations.
The contamination of music for Alex represents a particularly tragic
loss, since music has been the only thing that engages him in a higher
sense of being. Music is, in Burgess’s words, “a figure of celestial
bliss,” a sentiment that Alex would obviously agree with, as he labels
the doctors’ incorporation of Beethoven into his aversion therapy
“a filthy unforgivable sin.” Significantly, Alex has never used
the specifically theological word sin to describe
an offense perpetrated against him—not when his friends betrayed
him, not when the police beat him, not even when a cellmate tried
to molest him. While Ludovico’s Technique, by taking away Alex’s
free will, has already removed his identity as a human being created
by God—or, as the chaplain put it earlier, taken Alex “beyond the
reach of the power of prayer”—this loss of divinity finds its most
acute expression in the loss of Alex’s beloved music. Hearing Beethoven’s
Fifth, Alex vomits for the first time, suggesting that this represents
a crucial moment in Alex’s conditioning. Alex rejects the treatment
verbally, decrying its humanity, as well as physically. This moment
finds an echo in Part Three, when Alex attempts suicide: impelled
by music, Alex will throw himself from a window.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Clockwork Orange!