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Dressed fashionably, and with their pockets full of money,
Alex and his new droogs—Len, Rick, and Bully—sit at the Korova Milkbar, drinking
milk laced with stimulants, and trying to figure out what to do
with the night. Alex describes the teenager’s new uniforms, which
have gone from the tight-fitting shirts and pants of Alex’s younger
days to wide trousers and loose leather jerkins. Alex also summarizes
the dynamics of his new gang. As the oldest and the most famous,
with the best job (at the National Gramodisc Archives), Alex is
once again the natural leader, though he occasionally suspects Bully
of harboring mutinous ambitions. This doesn’t seem to trouble him
too much, though, because lately Alex has become bored by the routine
of theft and gang violence.
When Alex feels the drugs kick in, he punches a neighboring patron
in the stomach and leads his droogs into the street, where they
come upon an old man buying a newspaper. Alex sanctions Bully’s
assault on the old man, and the other two soon join in, tripping
and kicking the man until he crawls away, whimpering. Alex then
gives the boys permission to head over to the Duke, where they sit
across from the same women Alex met there in Part One. The women
praise the boys, hoping for a drink in return, but Alex gets annoyed
and forbids it at first, noting to us that he has become frugal.
Alex eventually concedes to buying the women another round, and,
uncharacteristically, gets himself a beer. As he pulls out his money,
a newspaper clipping falls out of Alex’s pocket, which Bully snatches
up. On it is a photograph of a baby. The group has a bit of fun
with Alex’s apparent sentimentality until Alex snarls at them and
rips the picture up, letting it drop to the floor. To the group’s puzzlement,
he goes on to chastise them, calling them babies because they take
advantage of the helpless.
Not feeling himself, Alex leaves the others and goes out
to roam the desolate streets. During his walk, Alex comments on
how this recent malaise even finds its way into his taste of music.
He doesn’t enjoy great, crashing symphonies anymore, preferring
instead to listen to lieder—very spare, operatic
love songs in German.
Alex is alone in a cafe when he runs into Pete, one of
his old droogs. He learns that Pete got married at nineteen years
old. With his life as a droog entirely behind him, he and his wife
Georgina both work and barely manage to scrape by with meager incomes.
Listening to Pete, Alex finds himself amazed at how Pete has grown.
Listening to Alex, Georgina giggles at his funny way of speaking.
Pete and Georgina leave Alex, who continues to sit in
the café, lost in thought. Alex considers himself at the ripe age
of eighteen, comparing himself to historic figures who were geniuses
in their youth—Mozart writing concertos, Felix Mendelssohn scoring Shakespeare
to ballet, Arthur Rimbaud composing his greatest poetry by age fifteen—and
wondering what he, in turn, will amount to. Back out on the cold
streets, Alex answers his own question with visions of himself,
married and with a son of his own. He likes this idea, because to
him it means he’s growing up. Alex reflects on youth, which he compares
to wind-up toys that just advance in straight lines until they run
up against obstacles. He thinks of his future son in this way, too,
because he doesn’t expect his son to listen to any of the lessons
Alex has to teach him. According to Alex, that’s the nature of life,
and youth will always have to suffer its own mistakes, just as Alex
has. At this point, Alex realizes he’s no longer young.
In his introduction to the 1986 American edition of A
Clockwork Orange, Burgess writes that “there is, in fact,
not much point in writing a novel unless you can show the possibility
of moral transformation, or an increase in wisdom, operating in
your chief character or characters.” Burgess refers here to the
twenty-first and final chapter, in which Alex begins to feel older
and grow weary of violence. The chapter number is significant, twenty-one
being the age where a person attains legal maturity. Burgess’s American
publishers didn’t approve of the twenty-first chapter, and excised
it in favor of the more dramatic, jarring twentieth chapter. But
this last chapter is essential to Burgess, because it fleshes out
how patterns of life function in relation to an individual’s moral
Alex’s insistence on formal and structural motifs in his
narrative draws attention to his reinstatement as someone capable
of and predisposed to viciousness, while simultaneously alerting
us to the transformation his character undergoes. Alex looks the
part and speaks the part, but these days he shies away from acting
the part, as he suggests to us while Bully and the others beat an
old man: “More and more these days I had been just giving the orders
and standing back to viddy them being carried out.” The rhythmic
intensity of the language Alex uses to describe the ensuing violence
pales in comparison to Alex’s earlier accounts of poundings given
by his old droogs. Indeed, its vigor seems all but gone as his fondness
for violence fades.
Alex’s nadsat returns with full strength
during his meditations on the prospect of fatherhood and the likelihood
of him making the same mistakes as his father: “And so it would
itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round,
like some bolshy gigantic like chelloveck, like old Bog Himself
(by courtesy of Korova Milkbar) turning and turning and turning
a vonny grahzny orange in his gigantic rookers.” This passage demonstrates
Alex’s recognizably Christian conception of life as a cyclical pattern,
with original sin eventually being followed by redemption. Upon
realizing this concept of moral and spiritual growth, Alex finally
answers the question he asks himself in the beginning of this chapter:
“What’s it going to be then, eh?” Alex is now mature enough to understand
the connection between violence and youth, the latter of which he
compares to clockwork wind-up toys that move forward, unrelentingly and
unthinkingly, in straight lines. Earlier in his life, violence has served
as an affirmation of Alex’s free will, but as he grows older, Alex
realizes that only through suffering can he truly be capable of making
meaningful moral choices.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Clockwork Orange!