A Clockwork Orange: Part III
by Annelise Royles
At the beginning of Part Three, the prison releases Alex after he successfully demonstrates the effects of Ludovico’s Technique. To those who experimented on him, Alex is the image of a bad-to-good transformation and they make sure to set up a presentation on Alex’s “moral” progress; experimenters even tell audience members that Alex “will be your true Christian” (143). Soon after, Alex becomes known as a reformed violent offender who is now a “good law-fearing citizen” (149). The real world Alex experiences however is not nearly as excited to recognize him. Our anti-hero is soon met with disgust from his parents when he attempts to see them; this incredibly awkward scene involves Alex discovering that his parents have gotten rid of all of their son’s belongings and now rent his room to a stranger. Alex’s parents then force him out of his childhood home for the last time. After this incident, Alex goes to a bar and a bunch of people recognize him as a violent killer. The police arrive to help him and Alex discovers that the two officers are his former enemy and his former droog. Alex is then abandoned after being horribly beaten.
However, things become interesting when Alex finds a copy of A Clockwork Orange in his apartment. While flipping through the book, Alex discovers that the book’s author, F. Alexander, believes that the modern world transforms people into mechanical men (which is the literal translation of “clockwork orange”). F. Alexander details his beliefs about man in his writing: we are “F. Alexander seemed to think that we all grow on what he called the world-tree in the world-orchard that like Bog or God planted, and we were there because Bog or God had need of us to quench his thirsty love, or some such cal [or crap]” (178). Burgess interestingly incorporates biblical imagery here with the inversion of the classic “forbidden fruit” concept. Humans as fruit grown out of a need for love on God’s earth is a fresh take on human creation and allows the reader to delve deeper into Burgess’ philosophical views; he firmly believes that goodness lies in the core of the human being. Moreover, the fruit imagery lends a new interpretation of the famous biblical phrase “be fruitful and multiply.”With man as the fruit in this metaphor, then this phrase translates to man being true to mankind; be good because that is what humans are destined to do. Further, multiply that goodness. Practice goodness and it will multiply.
While reading this text, Alex is joined by F. Alexander himself, who continues to ruminate on what the reader has seen of his writing. F. Alexander speaks about the nefarious moral implications of the “therapy” to which Alex was just subject as he asks, “‘Will not the Government itself now decide what is and what is not crime and pump out the life and guts and will of whoever sees fit to displease the Government?’” (180). These questions bring the novel back to popular dystopian themes of freedom and government. Burgess worries about a singular structure (government), and not the people as a whole, that creates a rigid moral compass that is fundamentally immoral. By this logic, the definition of crime does not consist of negative action against other members of the human race; rather, it consists of negative actions frowned upon by the government.
As I mentioned in my first A Clockwork Orange post, the end of Burgess’ novel is controversial. Its controversy stems not from the events of the ending, but from an additional chapter that was not included in the American version of the novel upon its release. If the reader only reads the novel through the 20th chapter, she develops the same takeaway as Stanley Kubrick did in his famous adaptation of the novel: Alex ends up having the same violent impulses he had in the beginning of the novel and thus demonstrates that nothing can change a man’s violent nature.
However, Burgess explains why his 21st chapter sets an entirely different tone for the novel as a whole in his Introduction that I spoke of in first part of my look at his novel: “Briefly, my young protagonist grows up. He grows bored with violence and recognizes that human energy is better expanded on creation than destruction. Senseless violence is a prerogative of youth, which has much energy but little talent for the constructive...My young hoodlum comes to the revelation of the need to get something done in life--to marry, to beget children, to keep the orange of the world turning in the rookers of Bog, or the hands of God, and perhaps even create something...It is with a kind of shame that this growing youth looks back on his devastating past. He wants a different kind of future” (xii).
With Burgess’ notes in mind, the impact of the final scene of the novel becomes clear as Alex runs into Pete, who now has a job, wife, and children. Alex makes revelations about youth and realizes that he is no longer young. He disassociates his narrative voice from the Alex about whom we have been reading throughout the novel with his last few sentences: “But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal” (212). Alex ends his story asking the audience to recognize him as a fluid character who is capable of change. Readers often generally forget that they only see a snippet of a life, and Alex reminds his readers that the Alex they now is the one contained in A Clockwork Orange.
Once Alex puts down his proverbial pen he acts and lives as an Alex unknown to the reader; however, he leaves his reader incredibly optimistic that he will live a life dedication to progression rather than destruction. Without this ending, Burgess claims that the novel would not be art. It would never be literature. He claims that “[t]here is...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” (xii). This is how we should think of Alex, as one of the pieces of fruit from the life-tree whose nature ultimately leads him toward goodness; importantly, by goodness I do not mean being lawful. Goodness ends up being something that makes Alex think about his future and his state of being. Instead of doing things on impulse, he thinks beyond his present.
My fixation on many parts of this novel is incredibly revealing. A Clockwork Orange is my favorite book as has been for years. It perfectly encapsulates the dystopian with the coming of age genres. It breaks the fourth wall and creates one of the best anti-heros who ends up having an incredible potential to be a Middlemarch-esque hero. Rich in symbolism, metaphor, and beautifully strange use of language, A Clockwork Orange is a clear standout in how the dystopian genre can take a philosophical approach to morality and the mercurial nature of life without falling into a common dystopian pitfall where the novel puts stock in current political institutions. This novel goes beyond politics and focuses on the human, which makes it real horror show.
— Annelise Royles is an English major at Kenyon College. She edits for Persimmons Literary Magazine, which was founded and still operates on Kenyon’s campus. A few of her favorite books include A Clockwork Orange, Passing, and Middlemarch.