A Clockwork Orange: Novel Summary: Part 1, Chapter 2
Leaving the Duke of New York, the group spies an old drunk man singing on the sidewalk. They beat him, but he continues to sing. “Go on, do me in, you bastard cowards, I don’t want to live anyway, not in a stinking world like this one,” he says. This lawless world is not safe for old men like him, he goes on to say, so he’d be happier dead. They kick and beat the man until he vomits and coughs up blood.
Next the droogs head to the Municipal Power Plant where they encounter a rival, Billyboy, with his gang of five droogs, who are getting ready to rape a young girl. They let the girl loose, and she runs away crying while the two gangs begin a brawl. Dim wields a chain, while Alex uses a knife to slice off Billyboy’s clothing and carve up his cheeks. Just then the police come and everyone flees, Alex issuing threats of what will happen next time.
The gang escapes through an alley where they see the blue dancing light of televisions in every apartment window. Everyone is watching the “worldcast,” or worldwide broadcast of some program via satellite. Dim stares up at the moon, stars, and planets with his “rot” (mouth), open wide, wondering what’s up there. Alex tells him not to think about such things, commenting that there’s probably just knifing going on up there just as it is on earth. The others laugh.
Near the movie theater, the group steals a car called a Durango 95, said to be “newish,” and they take off cruising around the streets, scaring pedestrians. Next, they head out into the countryside, planning to stage a “surprise visit,” or break-in, at some lonely house. Along the way, they run over an animal and laugh, then taunt and beat a romantic couple they see under a tree.
Finally they arrive at a small cottage with the word “HOME” on the gate. They knock at the door, and Alex, using a phony polite voice, explains that his friend is ill and he needs to use the phone. The woman says they have no phone, but then agrees to get a glass of water. While she goes for the water, Alex and his pals put on their masks and burst in. They find the woman and her husband, a writer seated at his typewriter, writing a book called A Clockwork Orange. Alex reads aloud part of the manuscript, and he and his friends laugh; then, they tear up the pages and scatter them while Dim beats the writer bloody. Georgie and Pete come from the kitchen with mouthfuls of food, and Alex tells them to stop eating, as he gave no permission. They take turns rapingthe writer’s wife, then smash everything in the house and roar off back to town, “running over odd squealing things on the way.”
Analysis of Part 1, Chapter 2
In this chapter, the violence is heightened to an even more shocking level of “ultra-violence” and brutal rape, showing that there are few limits to what Alex and his friends will do for fun. The state of the world is expressed quite eloquently by the drunk in the street, who says, “Men on the moon and men spinning round the earth like it might be midges round a lamp, and there’s not no attention paid to earthly law nor order no more.” The world is technologically advanced, but morally backward. The gang’s attack on the country cottage called “HOME” shows them desecrating the most sacred and beloved place for human beings, the safe security of home and hearth. No person, anywhere, is safe from their destructive impulse.
The writer in the country cottage is apparently an anti-government activist, wielding a “sword-pen.” The words from his manuscript, A Clockwork Orange, help to explain the title and a major theme of this novel. As Anthony Burgess explained in his introduction to the novel in 1986, the idea for the title came from the Cockney expression “queer as a clockwork orange,” applied to something truly bizarre. In the novel, Burgess uses the image of a clockwork orange to stand for, as he put it, “the application of a mechanistic morality to a living organism oozing with juice and sweetness.” In his opinion, people are natural creations of God capable of growth and sweetness, so it is bizarre and unnatural for a government to restrict their free will, to control and manipulate their thoughts as if they were only wind-up toys in service to the State. Deprived of self-determination by a repressive government, humans become like clockwork oranges, natural on the outside but with the souls and hearts of machines. Incidentally, as Burgess was also aware, orang is Malay for “man,” so “a clockwork orange” literally can be taken to mean a clockwork, or mechanized, human being.
At this point in the novel, the reader may question whether this is true of Alex and his friends. Are they capable of growth and sweetness? Is there any humanity in them, or are they truly nothing more than automated machines of violence? How should the law deal with criminals such as Alex? Should he be free to do as he likes, even if what he likes to do is evil?
Amid the chaos of the “surprise visit,” Alex attempts to impose order and discipline. He disapproves of the others eating and laughing, as he finds it “dirty and slobbery,” and as they leave, he prevents Dim from defecating on the carpet. Alex views violence as a work of art, and takes pride in seeing it done well. His view of violence as art is seen in his description of his britva, or razor, which he says he can “flash and shine artistic.” And when describing how Dim beats the writer, Alex says that the wife “started letting out little malenky creeches, like in time to the music of old Dim’s fisty work.” In other words, Alex sees the beating like a piece of music. Indeed, grisly violence seems to be Alex’s preferred mode of self-expression.
The specter of mind control through government-managed mass media is a theme that runs through many novels of the Cold War era. For instance, Orwell depicted Big Brother dispensing propaganda to the masses (and watching them) from their telescreens in his 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. And in Ray Bradbury’s short story The Pedestrian, published in 1951, a man is arrested by police and sent to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies when he is caught out walking instead of being at home in front of his viewing screen like the rest of the zombified citizenry.Here in this chapter, everyone except for the hoodlums appears to be inside their apartments watching the government-sponsored “worldcast.” Eerily, the only ones who seem to escape government control and indoctrination are the criminals, drug addicts, and drunks, which pose no threat to the establishment at any rate, as they are consumed in their own petty fights. In fact, as mentioned before, the hoodlums actually serve the state’s interests, as they keep the citizens living in fear.
Critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, in his afterword to the novel in 1963, noted the surreal imagery of hell in this chapter. As the gang rides out of the country, they hit a big snarling toothy beast that screams and squelches, and on the way back, they hit odd squealing things in the road. Given the infernal world Alex inhabits, Hyman suggests, these beasts might literally be devils or other creatures of hell.