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Standing free outside the Staja, Alex recounts his last
day in the treatment center, which was full of press conferences
and humiliating demonstrations. This morning, the center has all
but kicked him out. Left with little more than an empty stomach,
Alex goes to a nearby blue-collar café for breakfast. There, he
sits in the corner by himself and reads the newspaper. Apparently
a government publication, the paper details the current administration’s
various successes, urging the reader to reelect it when the next
General Election is held in two weeks. Alex notes an article about
the improved police force with interest, but as he turns the page,
a photograph of a familiar-looking person grabs his attention. The
picture is of Alex himself, as well as one of the Minister, and
the accompanying article describes Alex’s treatment and the Minister’s
boasts about a new, crime-free era.
Alex heads home to see his parents, and perhaps listen
to a little music in bed. Excitedly, he passes the Municipal painting
downstairs—now all cleaned of graffiti—and takes the elevator up
to his flat. When he gets inside, he finds a stranger eating with
his parents. The stranger angrily snaps at Alex to explain himself,
but before he can go on, Alex’s mother begins to cry, thinking he’s
broken out illegally. Alex tells his parents his story, and learns
that Joe, the unfamiliar man, is a lodger renting Alex’s room. Demanding
that Joe leave, Alex brushes past them on his way to his room, which
he finds has changed completely. All his treasured possessions,
including his stereo, are gone. Alex’s father explains to him that,
according to a new regulation, the police have seized everything
to compensate Alex’s victim. In this case, the money from Alex’s
property has gone toward the old woman’s cats. Stunned, Alex sits
down, trying to smile to keep from getting sick, while Joe harasses
him. He asks his father what is to be done, and when his father
shamefacedly tells Alex that they can’t accommodate him, Alex begins
to cry. Joe, who, despite being quite close to them in age, regards
himself a foster son to Alex’s parents, mercilessly berates Alex
until Alex leaves, wishing he were back in prison.
Alex wanders aimlessly to the old record shop, as people
on the street stare at him and his outdated clothes. At the store,
his request to hear Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony draws some jeers
from the store’s teenage customers, but the youngish salesclerk
points out a listening booth for Alex to enter. Instead of Mozart’s
Fortieth, however, the clerk pipes in the “Prague” Symphony. Normally,
this ignorance would anger Alex. This time, however, he can’t dwell
on his anger because the music makes him sick—he’d forgotten about
the collateral damage done to him by Ludovico’s Technique. He runs from
the store and staggers over to the Korova, where he orders a hallucinogenic
Alex hallucinates vividly for a very long time, squealing
euphorically, talking nonsense, seeing God and angels shaking their
heads at him. As the drugs wear off, though, Alex’s hallucination
sours and he entertains thoughts of killing himself. With each minute
that passes, it becomes clearer to Alex that suicide represents
the answer to his suffering.
Unsure of the best way to kill himself, Alex heads over
to the public library to research various painless, peaceful methods.
Finding no books to his satisfaction, Alex turns to the Bible for
comfort, as he had once done in prison. This too makes him sick,
however, and he’s on the verge of tears when an old man inquires
as to Alex’s troubles. While the two are talking, another old man,
Jack, recognizes Alex. Two years ago, Alex beat Jack up and smashed
his fake teeth, and Jack has not forgotten Alex’s face. Jack calls
the other elderly library patrons to his side, and together they
assail Alex, who cannot defend himself. Though the men are feeble,
Alex begins to feel sick simply thinking about the violence being
done to him. To his own amazement, Alex finds himself imploring
the librarian to call the police, who arrive just as the old men
have beaten Alex to the ground.
Once again, Alex asks himself, “What’s it going to be
then, eh?” This time, however, there doesn’t seem to be much point
in answering the question. Stripped of the ability to pursue the
passions he lives for, choice has become a non-issue for Alex. Accordingly,
Alex seems passive and listless for much of this section. Whereas
in Part One he was an active predator, now Alex largely finds himself
the prey to others’ ridicule. He abides the incessant staring, taunting, and
harassment from the people he encounters, even though the subjects
of each of these abuses—including his clothes, his taste in music,
and his status as son—were once near and dear to his heart. The
last of these offenses happens in Alex’s actual home, when Joe rebukes
Alex for the suffering he has caused his parents, among others.
Joe’s function in the plot serves mainly to satirize the facile ineptitude
of Alex’s parents, but his unbridled attack on Alex also underlines
Alex’s utter helplessness. Alex can’t even defend his biological
right to be his parents’ son.
Alex’s enforced submissiveness is part of a larger structural
motif that Burgess employs over the course of the novel. In many
ways, Part Three provides a mirror image of Part One. Once a victimizer, Alex
is now the victim. Once a prince in his home, Alex is now unwanted.
Once enamored of violence and music, Alex now despairs at the thought
of them. Alex’s beating at the hands of the old men provides an
apt example of this symmetry. Two years ago, Alex and his droogs
found Jack on the nighttime streets—their turf—and humiliated him
as they physically abused him. In this chapter, Jack confronts Alex
in Jack’s own territory—the library—and calls in his elderly friends
to beat and humiliate Alex. Even as Alex takes the first few punches,
he notes the inversion of situations. Whereas he and his young friends
used to prey on the old, here he finds “old age having a go at the
young.” These kinds of reversals of fortune will prove a recurring
motif throughout Part Three.
The milk-induced hallucination that leads Alex to the
library recalls Alex’s scornful observations about the hallucinating
Korova patron in Part One, but apart from this reversal of fortune,
the scene also reveals Alex’s deep awareness of his own condition.
In a commentary on his novel, Burgess has written that “the gates
of heaven are closed to [Alex]” when he ceases to be able to enjoy
music. Alex’s loss of divinity seems clear during his hallucination,
when God and His angels shake their heads at Alex and refuse him
admission to paradise. Alex’s experience at the record, which immediately precedes
the hallucination, would seem to substantiate this interpretation.
Drugs may take him away from the world, but they do not lift him
higher than Beethoven or Mozart does. In fact, drugs only seem to
exacerbate his powerlessness, as the hallucinogens engender a sense
of “thingness” in him. As a “thing,” Alex is incapable of making
the changes he needs in order to recover his old life. As he comes
down from his trip, Alex realizes that he remains a “thing,” having
lost the free will essential to his humanity.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Clockwork Orange!