“What’s it going to be then, eh?”
(Part 1, Chapter 1)
The repetition of this question at the opening of all three parts of the novel is an example of the symmetrical structure of Burgess’s work. It also points to the theme of free will. At every point in a person’s life, there are choices to be made, choices which determine one’s own fate. At the end of the novel, Alex finally decides “what it’s going to be.” He wants to leave his violent life behind and start a family.
“Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no real need from the point of view of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four, nor to do the ultra-violent on some shivering starry grey-haired ptitsa in a shop and go smecking off with the till's guts. But, as they say, money isn’t everything.”
(Part 1, Chapter 1)
This quotation from the first chapter, spoken by the narrator, Alex, introduces the four droogs’ life philosophy. The gang steals and uses brutal violence not because they need to, but simply because they enjoy it. The money is not the point; the thrill of it, apparently, is. The passage also introduces the nadsat, or teen, slang that Alex and his friends use. Many slang words appear here, most derived from Russian: deng (money), crasting (stealing), tolchock (hit), veck and ptitsa (“guy” and “chick”), viddy (see), starry (ancient), smecking (laughing). Pretty polly rhymes with lolly, an old gypsy, or Romany, word for money (originally from loli, meaning red, which the gypsies used to denote copper coins). Burgess, a talented linguist, invented this nadsat talk to give readers a sense of entering a different world, and also to lessen the shocking effect of the imagery in his book.
“ ‘Go on, do me in, you bastard cowards, I don’t want to live anyway, not in a stinking world like this one… It’s a stinking world because it lets the young get on to the old like you done, and there’s no law nor order no more…. What sort of a world is it at all? 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 nor more. So your worst you may do, you filthy cowardly hooligans.’…
[T]hen he started singing again…So we cracked into him lovely, grinning all over our litsos.”
(Part 1, Chapter 2)
This is spoken by the old drunk in the street whom Alex and his friends beat up. He comments on the state of the society in which Alex and his friends live today. A violent youth culture has prevailed, leaving the old in fear of being preyed on by the young. The world is technologically advanced—people are on the moon and orbiting the earth—but morally backward.
“The attempt to impose upon man, a creature of growth and capable of sweetness, to ooze juicily at the last round the bearded lips of God, to attempt to impose, I say, laws and conditions appropriate to a mechanical creation, against this I raise my sword-pen.”
(Part 1, Chapter 2)
These words are taken from the manuscript of F. Alexander’s book A Clockwork Orange, and help to explain the central metaphor of Burgess’s novel. An activist against the government, F. Alexander warns that the dehumanizing laws of a totalitarian state will take away humans’ free will, making them, creatures of God’s creation, as unnaturally mechanical as a clockwork orange. Reading this on the night of the “surprise visit” to the writer’s home, Alex finds the passage meaningless, and its pompous tone makes him chuckle. However, the phrase “clockwork orange” sticks in his mind. Later, after he has suffered at the hands of the government, he understands all too well that F. Alexander was right.
“The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk around my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.”
(Part 1, Chapter 3)
Alex’s experience of music is like heavenly rapture. His descriptions of it are highly poetic, showing that although he seems a brute, Alex is an aesthete, capable of appreciating things of high quality and beauty. His ability to appreciate music seems to make Alex more human than Dr. Brodsky, who only sees music as “a useful emotional heightener.” Disturbingly, however, when Alex listens to music, he sees violent pictures in his head. To Alex, violence and art are inseparable and both bring out the same powerful emotions. The sight of blood flowing is beautiful to him, and he brags that he can make his razor “flash and shine artistic.” When the ability to do violence is taken from him, so is the ability to enjoy music. Besides being an author, Anthony Burgess was an accomplished composer and musician. His love for classical music, as well as his lyrical writing style, can be appreciated very well in this poetic passage.
“This biting of their toe-nails over what is the cause of badness is what turns me into a fine laughing malchick. They don’t go into what is the cause of goodness, so why of the other shop? If lewdies are good that’s because they like it, and I wouldn’t ever interfere with their pleasures, and so of the other shop. And I was patronizing the other shop. Badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.”
(Part 1, Chapter 4)
This passage, spoken by Alex soon after a visit from his Post-Corrective Adviser, P. R. Deltoid, outlines Alex’s view of morality. There is no logical reason why he behaves badly—it’s not the social environment nor the family environment, as behaviorists would argue—he chooses to be bad because he likes it. He finds being good as natural as being bad. Given the free choice between good and bad, some will naturally choose bad. The “big machine” of the government that tries to eliminate bad will also eliminate the self.
Alex’s view is held up by the Christian doctrine of original sin, which suggests that all humans are sinful by nature, and contain in themselves strong impulses for evil as well as good. God granted his creations free will to make their own moral choices, and although everyone is capable of redemption, some will always choose evil.
“Then I noticed, in all my pain and sickness, what music it was that like crackled and boomed on the sound-track, and it was Ludwig van, the last movement of the Fifth Symphony, and I creeched like bezoomny at that. ‘Stop!’ I creeched. ‘Stop, you grahzny
disgusting sods. It’s a sin, that’s what it is, a filthy unforgivable sin, you bratchnies!’”
This refers to an unintended side effect of Alex’s conditioning against violence, what F. Alexander refers to later as “marginal conditionings”: he will no longer be able to enjoy music. Music had been Alex’s only real connection with heavenly grace, and now it has been taken from him. It is no wonder that he refers to this as a sin. The removal of Alex’s ability to enjoy music is just one example of how the Ludovico Technique or similar methods of conditioning are able to make a person less human, and more of a machine.
“ ‘Choice,’ rumbled…the prison charlie. ‘He has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, fear of physical pain, drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.’
“‘These are subtleties,’ like smiled Dr. Brodsky. ‘We are not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime—’
‘And,’ chipped in this bolshy well-dressed minister, ‘with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons.’”
(Part 2, Chapter 7)
This passage contrasts the Christian view of morality with the behavioral view. To the priest, being good has no meaning if moral choice does not exist. God gave people free will, enabling them to choose between good and bad. Goodness in the absence of choice is empty and insincere. To Dr. Brodsky, on the other hand, feelings and motives are not the point; the point is the behavior, the result. As Harvard psychologist B. F. Skinner, father of radical behaviorism, wrote in Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), people should neither be blamed for bad behavior nor credited for their good behavior. Ethics have no meaning, because there is no such thing as free will in the way it is normally thought of, anyway; all behavior is ultimately a collection of conditioned responses.
“What a superb device he can be, this boy. If anything, of course, he could for preference look even iller and more zombyish than he does. Anything for the cause.”
(Part 3, Chapter 5)
This quote is spoken by Z. Dolin, one of the radical antigovernment group working with F. Alexander. They have determined that they can use Alex to help overthrow the government. Ironically, in their “Cause” of trying to protect liberty for the people, they fail to recognize the liberty of one individual. In fact, as the ensuing events show, they will drive him to suicide so as to make him a better martyr for their cause. This passage is a good example of the humor and satire in Burgess’s writing, and of his reluctance to allow anyone to be wholly good. Z. Dolin and F. Alexander are working against the evil State which threatens to take away all the citizens’ liberty. In another novel they would be presented as heroes. However, Burgess is careful to show that they, too, have an evil side.
“Youth must go, ah yes. But youth is only being…like one of these malenky toys you viddy being sold in the streets…made out of tin and with a spring inside and then a winding handle on the outside and you wind it up grrr grrr grrr and off it itties, like walking, O my brothers. But it itties in a straight line and bangs straight into things bang bang and it cannot help what it is doing. Being young is like being one of these malenky machines.
My son, my son. When I had my son I would explain all that to him when he was starry enough to like understand. But I knew that he would not understand … and would do all the vesches I had done … and so it would itty on to like the end of the world, round and round and round, like … old Bog himself … turning and turning and turning a vonny grazhny orange in his gigantic rookers.”
This passage appears in the final chapter of Burgess’s novel, omitted in American editions until 1986. It is very important to understanding what Burgess believed to be the nature of Alex’s evil. His wrongdoing results from his immaturity. It is only through suffering (“banging into things bang bang bang”) that an immature mind can lift itself from its sinful state and begin to choose rightly. The passage indicates that in Burgess’s mind, Alex was perhaps just as much a mechanized clockwork orange before the Ludovico treatment as he was after it. Before it, he is only able to do evil; afterward, he is only able to do good. The difference is that without the conditioning, he is free to change. The second part of the quotation indicates that this cycle of life, from youth to adulthood, in each generation, will go on and on forever, as Bog (or God) intended. There is no way for Alex to prevent his son from repeating the same mistakes he made, as it is only through trial and suffering that one reaches maturity.
A Clockwork Orange: Top Ten Quotes