A Clockwork Orange: Novel Summary: Part 1, Chapter 1
A Clockwork Orange is divided into three parts, each with seven chapters. Part 1 introduces Alex and describes the sadistic crimes committed by him and his droogs. At the end of part 1, Alex is captured by the police and thrown into jail. Part 2 deals with Alex’s time in prison and his rehabilitation through a form of conditioning known as “Ludovico’s Technique,” which takes away his ability to do wrong. Part 3 depicts Alex’s life of suffering and victimhood after he leaves prison. At the end of part three, his free will restored, Alex decides he is ready to grow up and end his life of crime.
Part 1, Chapter 1
“What’s it going to be then, eh?” asks Alex, aged 15. He and his three “droogies” (pals), Pete, Georgie, and Dim, their pockets full of money, are out drinking drug-laced milk at their favorite hangout, the Korova Milkbar, and making plans for a rowdy night. They are dressed in the current fashion: black tights with molded codpieces, jackets with outsize shoulder pads, and most importantly, big boots for kicking.
Alex comments on the girls seated at the counter. They wear rainbow eye-makeup, brightly colored wigs, and badges with the names of the boys they’ve slept with. Sitting next to Alex is a drugged-out boy with glazed eyes, babbling nonsense. Alex has tripped like that before, but he thinks it’s cowardly; he prefers drugs that make him sharp and violent. As the group leaves the milkbar, Alex gives this boy a hard slug on the ear.
Out on the street, the four run into a “schoolmaster type” man leaving the Public Biblio, or library. They seize his books and tear them to pieces, then beat the man bloody and rip up his clothes. The little money the man has, they scatter on the street. They don’t need it, anyway; the attack was only for fun.
Next, the gang heads to a bar called the Duke of New York, planning to spend all their money so they’ll have a reason to steal more. There they find a group of old women, or “baboochkas,” drinking beer. They pour their money on the bar and pay for drinks and snacks for the old ladies, then leave saying “Back in a minoota.”
Their next plan is to rob a candy and cigarette shop. Wearing masks of historical personalities to disguise themselves, they burst into the shop. Dim (who is stupid as his name suggests, but a fierce fighter) attacks the owner and beats him while Alex restrains his wife, ripping her clothes to show her breasts. He contemplates raping her, but decides to put that activity off for later in the night. They clean the till and take several packs each of the best brand of cigarettes, then go back to the Duke of New York. Soon after, when the police (known to the boys as “millicents” or “rozzes”) arrive looking for the boys, the grateful baboochkas are happy to provide an alibi for them. “They’ve been in here all night, lads,” they insist to the police. As the police leave with only a nasty glance, Alex feels disappointment at how easy it all is to get away with crime, and with nothing real to fight against. But, as he notes, the night is still very young.
Analysis of Part 1, Chapter 1
The setting is a city in Britain at some time in the late twentieth to early twenty-first century, at least several decades into the future of 1962. The society is a dark dystopia in which the youth are seemingly amoral, overly sexed and violent, disrespectful of the law and of their elders, and where something as innocent and nourishing as milk is corrupted with drugs.
The youth speak a slang language called nadsat, based mainly on Russian with elements of Cockney rhyming slang, gypsy parlance, and words invented by Burgess. For instance, droog in Russian means “friend,” pletcho means “shoulder,” litso means “face,” malchick means “boy,” govoreet means “to speak,” and so on. Some words are imaginatively modified from Russian to give them added meaning. The teens’ use of the word horrorshow (from Russian khorosho, or “good”) highlights the fact that these young people regard as good what is actually horrific. Gulliver (for Russian golova, meaning “head”) brings to mind the bizarre lands described in the fictional work Gulliver’s Travels. Rhyming slang is seen in expressions like “charlie” for the chaplain (a play on “charlie chaplin”), and so on. Burgess’s use of slang may be difficult to follow at first, but gradually, the reader comes to understand what is being said. The slang has two important purposes: it masks the violent and pornographic imagery of the book, making it less immediately shocking, and it creates the feeling of being immersed in a foreign and alienating world.
Burgess wrote this novel in 1962, at the height of the Cold War between the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist western world. The use of Russian would have been sinister for readers at the time, suggesting that the Soviet-style political system would win over the western world. However, the young people in the novel are just as much infected with mass-market capitalism as with communist ideas, as shown by their slavish attention to “the heighth of fashion” and with buying expensive wigs and clothing. The dystopian society depicted in the novel is sick as much with the excesses of American capitalism as with the extremes of Soviet-style totalitarian communism. Both influences work to control the minds of the young people.
Overall, the first chapter gives a picture of a youth culture out of control with mindless, machinelike violence, a youth culture that respects nothing. The gang’s first choice of victim shows that they have a special contempt for books and learning. This is significant, as the first step governments take toward totalitarianism is to discourage books and censor their citizens’ reading material. When the boys tell the man that his books are obscene and must be destroyed, they are unconsciously supporting the government’s agenda. A freethinking and reading citizenry is not good for a totalitarian government, as they are difficult to control. But a citizenry that constantly lives in fear is easy to control. Alex and his pals are perfect tools of their government.
The gang’s mockery of the love letters they find in the “schoolmaster type” man’s pockets shows that they have no concept of simple love and affection for another person. Indeed as we shall see throughout the novel, Alex and his friends view women as mere sexual objects, with no concern for their well-being. The love letter in which a man asks a woman to “wrap up warmly when you go out” seems ridiculous to them.
While the narrator, Alex, addresses the reader in a familiar, chummy fashion, allowing the reader to see his inner thoughts as if he were a friend, he arouses little sympathy. Alex seems to be a sadistic monster with no conscience and no hope of redemption. The chapter ends with the thought, “the night is still very young,” suggesting that more violence is yet to be seen.