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By nightfall, the new prisoner has made an enemy of everyone
in the cell. He threatens to take Alex’s bed, but Alex’s cellmates
rally to his side and overrule the man. That night, Alex wakes to
find the new prisoner lying next to him, running his hand over his
body. Alex lashes out reflexively, punching the prisoner in the
face. A fight ensues in the cell, and the other prisoners join in
on Alex’s side. The noise soon causes a riot, and the guards arrive
to find the new prisoner bloodied. They restore order, but as soon
as they leave, the new prisoner incites another brawl, and Alex’s
cellmates decide to teach him a lesson. Excited by the violence
in front of him, Alex kicks the prisoner a few times in the head
before they all go to sleep.
In the morning, Alex and his cellmates find the prisoner
dead. It isn’t long before the cellmates agree that Alex is chiefly
responsible, and report the story to the guards, which reminds Alex
of the treatment he received from his old, traitorous droogs. At
this point, the prison goes into a lockdown. The prisoners sit silently
in their cell for hours, until the Governor returns with the Head
Warden and an unfamiliar, impeccably dressed man. These three men
pace the hallways. When the new, important-looking gentleman finally
speaks, Alex understands very little of what he says. The man, whom
Alex later learns is the Minister of the Interior, criticizes the
current “penological theories” and advocates treatments on a “purely
curative basis” that kills “the criminal reflex.” In his speech,
the Minister makes special mention of political prisoners. He then
selects Alex to be the first in a new criminal correction program.
The guards roughly transport Alex to the Governor’s office, where
the Governor briefs him on his status. To his delight, Alex learns
that the Minister has selected him for Reclamation Treatment, a
two-week program which will culminate in the State releasing Alex.
Alex pays little attention to the Governor, who doesn’t support
the procedure, and eagerly signs a form granting the State permission
to treat him.
Before Alex leaves Staja 84F, he’s brought to see the
chaplain, who is very drunk. The chaplain laments Alex’s fate and
wants Alex to know that he had no part in the decision. The chaplain
goes on to question the ethics of a program that removes the desire
to hurt and offend others. Alex, who knows nothing about his treatment
other than it lasts two weeks, doesn’t quite understand the chaplain
and finds the notion that he is “to be made into a good boy” laughable.
The next day, the guards bring Alex across the prison
yard to a new, hospital-like building. There he meets Dr. Branom,
whom he instantly likes. Alex can’t believe his good luck as he’s
given new clothes, slippers, his own room, magazines, and a cigarette
with his lunch. When Branom describes the treatment, Alex feels
even luckier. All Alex has to do is watch a series of “special films.”
Branom also mentions a needle after every meal, which Alex assumes
will contain a nutritional supplement.
The first of these shots comes that same day, before his
afternoon film session. Alex notices that he feels weak going into
the session, but attributes his fatigue to the malnourishment he
suffered in prison, and is confident that the hypodermic vitamin
supplement will set him right.
Alex’s second murder occurs under very different circumstances from
the first, but it highlights many of the same character traits.
In both the cases of the cat-lady and the new prisoner, Alex displays
a blatant lack of compunction as well as a steady reliance on impulse and
intuition to guide his reactions. These attributes drive the plot, since
they are responsible for both his incarceration and his release. While
Alex’s impulsive attraction to the Beethoven bust allows him to
be captured, the reckless delight in violence that the Minister
calls the “criminal reflex” subsequently gets Alex out of prison.
It’s also important to note that these two murders suggest a less
obvious, but no less important, aspect of Alex’s character. If death
is not an unwelcome consequence of Alex’s crimes, it certainly is
an unintended one. Even in his fantasies, Alex never connects death
with violence. Alex’s neutral stance on death highlights a strong
commitment to living, albeit in a somewhat warped manner. Death
equates to inaction, and this is the very opposite of what thrills
The Minister’s speech in Chapter 2 provides a rare glimpse
into the normally obscure inner workings of the government. By mentioning
the need to make room for “political offenders” in the State’s prisons,
the Minister insinuates that the government anticipates a period
of increased political dissent. It seems reasonable, then, to assume
that the government is about to undergo some kind of major transition,
during which it will become even less tolerant of criticism and
opposition. At this point, Alex’s new position as a pawn of the
State comes into play. The new Minister, whom the Governor refers
to as “a very new broom,” plans to sweep typical criminal—thieves,
murderers, and violent offenders—out of the jails by treating them
on a “curative basis.” Alex represents an ideal test case for this
rehabilitative treatment since, as a young killer who stalks the
streets at night, Alex represents many citizens’ greatest fears.
If the State can successfully neutralize the threat posed by Alex and
other young thugs like him, it can expect to parlay the citizens’ deep
gratitude and new sense of security into political currency, thereby
defusing the threat of insurgency as it makes its administrative
The Minister’s disenchantment with what he calls “outmoded penological
theories” (i.e., imprisonment) is ironic, since it is the State’s
own laxness on crime that has allowed prisons to become so dangerous
and overcrowded in the first place. Early in the novel, Alex notes
that there are significantly fewer policemen patrolling the streets
at night, and those same officers only manage to apprehend Alex
because his friends betray him. The State has insidiously indulged,
possibly even encouraged, juvenile crime in the past because it
keeps other citizens in a state of fear. But now, as it prepares
for a period of even greater dominance, the State plans to use new
technology to remove the juvenile threat, which represents not only
a volatile social force, but also a negative public relations campaign
for the government.
Through the chaplain, Burgess voices the novel’s most
trenchant moral question: “Does God want goodness or the choice
of goodness? Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better
than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” The chaplain refers here
to the Reclamation Treatment, a psychologically imposed behavioral
modification that would render Alex incapable of performing evil
deeds. Burgess would answer the chaplain’s question with an emphatic
yes. Free will is an essential component of humanity, because without
the power of self-determination, human beings wouldn’t have the
chance to choose goodness. Ludovico’s Technique eliminates the essence
of humanity by removing individual free will, which, by necessity,
must include the option of bad behavior. Thus, when the chaplain
laments that Alex will be “beyond the reach of the power of prayer,”
it is because, deprived of the ability to make moral choices, Alex
will cease to be a divinely created human being, and instead become
a State-created mechanism: a “clockwork orange.”
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Clockwork Orange!