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.