A Clockwork Orange, Part II
by Annelise Royles
When we left Alex in Part One, he was being arrested. His situation is decidedly different from when we first met Alex in the first part of the novel, but Part Two begins with the same question: “‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’” (85). This question parallels the slippery language of the rest of the novel; nothing is certain and every choice is limited in this narrative. In the beginning of the novel, Alex demonstrates that he loves violence, and although I speculated in my last post about rebellious fervor as the primary catalyst for such an attitude, it is easy for the reader to assume that Alex’s behavior is not externally motivated. (We will not fully understand these motivations until the end of the novel). In Part One, Alex also asks himself this question when he thinks about his victims. He asks himself about the risk of robbing the elderly lady’s house at which he later ends up arrested. Thus, this question represents the internal mulling over of options for action; it is also a question posed to characters such as Alex from the outside world? He is often confronted with the question of whether or not he will act lawfully and morally by characters such as his probation officer and his parents.
With that said, this question is incredibly charged and carries a very particular tone. The “eh” on the end makes the question especially condescending, but this tone matches the tone of the novel as a whole. It is safe to say that there is a severe lack of respect in A Clockwork Orange: cyclical resentment marinates between this society’s moral authority and those, such as Alex, who decidedly rebel against it. A Part Two scene in the prison perfectly encapsulates this phenomenon and takes “‘What’s it going to be then, eh?’” (85) out of its original context. Alex observes “these grahzny vonny bastard criminals and perverts...shambling like a lot of broke-down apes, the warders or chassos like barking at them and lashing them” (94). This tension then climaxes with the question we have already seen twice before. These guards are clearly commenting on the fact that the prisoners have no choice but to obey. The question of choice highlights the fact that there is no choice and no question in this situation. Power is at the core of this question in A Clockwork Orange.
Choice also comes to the forefront in Part Two when Alex asks about Ludovico’s Technique (93) so he can be released from jail earlier. He becomes enrolled in this experiment and is approached by a few characters who disagree with the the philosophy behind it. The Governor tells Alex that “[t]he new view is that we turn the bad into the good. All of which seems to me grossly unjust” (104). The Chaplan also speaks to Alex and prays for him; he presents Alex with a few serious questions about the capabilities and purposes of humanity: “What does God want? Does God 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?” (106). Foreshadowing the reveal of the Ludovico Technique’s methods, these quotes about the cultivation of goodness reveal many of the moral inquiries that Burgess presents in order to set up his controversial twenty-first chapter.
These questions about thrusting a moral compass upon a person shows through the most famous scene in A Clockwork Orange, which clearly demonstrates one of the most obvious tropes in dystopian fiction: brainwashing. The torture that accompanies brainwashing in dystopian fiction is always memorable, so the scene where Alex’s eyelids are peeled back from his face creates a disturbing image. The “sessions” that Alex experiences consist of his watching a film with violent images, but he is also injected with a drug that simulates severe nausea. The combination of these two things is designed to condition him the associate violence with nausea. This aversion therapy reduces morality to bodily conditions, which Burgess may consider the most terrifying part of his dystopia. Alex describes pain he feels “in [his] belly and the headache and the [terrible] thirst” (118) he feels after punching someone after his first “therapy session.” The notion of morality shifting because of physical pain is one that is common in dystopian fiction (see 1984 amongst many others), and reduces the victim of this treatment down to the most basic human capability and function. There is no need for the mind to decide what is right or wrong when the body screams that it is in pain.
Much more can be read into the therapy Alex undergoes, and much of it becomes clearer after finishing the entire novel.
Stay tuned for a look at Part Three of A Clockwork Orange!
— 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.