Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
A Clockwork Orange is told retrospectively by a character who is both a victim and a great exponent of violence. Alex inhabits a world that is almost thoroughly dispirited, broken down by a daily grind of meaningless work, stultifying mass culture (a combination of government propaganda and silly pop music), and officially sanctioned “milk bars” that serve a variety of drug tonics to send one off on incoherent fantasies. This gray world may well be Anthony Burgess’ vision of a not-too-distant future England suffering under the failure of socialism and liberalism, and Alex’s protest, as shocking and violent as it is, is curiously sympathetic.
The bulk of part 1 is taken up with descriptions of Alex’s exploits in, to use his own term, “ultraviolence.” He and his fellow gang members, Georgie, Pete, and Dim, wander across a bleak landscape each night in a parody of heroic adventures: They spend their time enacting a succession of rapes, robberies, and assaults, usually aimed at almost completely defenseless people. These attacks are surely pathological, yet Burgess is careful not to make them too terrifying. Alex is, ironically, as much a hero as he is a villain, and his violent acts are described in such a stylized, detached, and sometimes almost comical way that the reader tends to focus on his physical and imaginative energy rather than on the pain he causes.
Each of the gang’s actions is random, born of a moment’s...
(The entire section is 833 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Burgess’s most memorable novel, A Clockwork Orange, cannot be discussed without addressing its language, “nadsat,” a combination of Russian, English, and slang, which was invented for the novel and which catapults its narrator, Alex, into the reader’s consciousness as few other books can. Alex invites readers along with him and his “droogs” (buddies) as they sit in a bar, eyeing the “devotchkas [girls] . . . dressed in the heighth of fashion” and wearing “make-up to match (rainbows round the glazzies [eyes], that is, and the rot [mouth] painted very wide).” He narrates their adventures as they do a bit of ultraviolence: They “razrez” a teacher’s books to bits, then “tolchock” him and treat him to the “old bootcrush”; they come across Billyboy and his five droogs, which leads to a gang fight with “the nozh [knife], the oozy [chain], the britva [razor], not just fisties and boots”; they beat to death an old woman and her “pusscats.”
Throughout part 1, the extreme violence of the novel is made palatable by the unusual language, which presents repulsive acts with strange, new words, drawing the reader into the book and into the violence itself. The language of the novel captures the reader and makes him or her one of Alex’s “droogs,” maintaining sympathy for Alex throughout his violent activities. When he rapes two ten-year-old girls in his room, he tells the reader that “this time they thought...
(The entire section is 981 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Alex, a young, English “ultra-violent” gang leader, leads his three “droogs” (or companions) in campaigns of robbery, mayhem, rape, and torture. Alex celebrates gratuitous cruelty and carnality, allowing nothing to get in the way of his impulses. After leaving the Korova Milkbar (the milk is spiked with various drugs) and ducking in and out of a pub, his gang beats up a “doddery starry schoolmaster type veck” (the gang members speak a dialect particular to their violent subculture) and destroys his books, assaults a man and woman while robbing their shop, and brutally thrashes a singing drunk. Spying a rival gang about to rape a girl, Alex, Georgie, Pete, and Dim, although outnumbered, go on the attack until the police break it up.
Their night is not yet over. In a stolen car they take a joyride into the country, wildly running over things. Stopping in a village, they attack a cottage occupied by a writer and his wife, whose educated accents drive them to even greater viciousness. They rape the wife and leave the husband permanently paralyzed. After returning to the Korova Milkbar, Alex bullies and insults Dim, who protests, with the support of Georgie and Pete. Alex’s authority over the gang is faltering. At this point they quit for the night. For Alex, such an active evening requires music to make it complete. At Municipal Flatblock 18-A, where he lives with his parents, he enjoys terrible fantasies of violence as he listens to Mozart and...
(The entire section is 951 words.)
Part 1 Summary
A Clockwork Orange opens with Alex, the main character of the novel, and his droogs, Dim, Pete, and Georgie, drinking drug-laced milk at the Korova Milkbar. After leaving the Milkbar, the four commit what is to be the first in a string of "ultraviolent" acts, savagely beating up an old man carrying library books and destroying his books. Next, the group comes across a rival gang in a warehouse. Billyboy, the leader, and his five droogs are raping a young devotchka (girl), and Alex's crew attacks them, beating them back until the millicents (police) arrive.
Alex and his gang next come to a house with the word "HOME" on the front gate. This marks a turn in the novel towards the fabular (fantastical), and away from the realistic. After telling the woman answering the door that his friend is sick and he needs to use her phone, Alex breaks into the house with his gang, now wearing masks. They viciously beat the woman's husband and pillage the house, then gang rape the woman. The man, F. Alexander, is a writer working on a book called A Clockwork Orange, which Alex calls a "gloopy" title. The book critiques the welfare state and government oppression of civil liberties. The droogs destroy the book. (This scene echoes an event from 1943 in Burgess's own life, when his wife was raped and brutalized by a gang of American soldiers.)
After returning to the Milkbar, Alex hits Dim for ridiculing a woman singing opera at the bar. Georgie and...
(The entire section is 501 words.)
Part 2 Summary
The second section, chapters eight through fourteen, describes Alex's life in the "staja" (state penitentiary), after he is sentenced to fourteen years there. A model prisoner—despite killing a fellow prisoner who had been making sexual advances towards him—Alex makes fast friends with the chaplain, who allows him to listen to classical music on the chapel stereo. Prison officials and the Minister of the Interior offer Alex the opportunity to undergo Ludovico's Technique, an experimental treatment that guarantees his release from prison and ensures he will never return, and Alex agrees. Burgess models the idea of Ludovico's Technique on the work of B. F. Skinner. Skinner, a mid-twentieth-century behavioral psychologist, wanted to build a society based on a system of rewards and punishments. He believed that human behavior could be conditioned, once people learned to associate "good" behavior with the pleasure of the reward they received for it, and associate "bad" behavior with the pain of punishment. These methods were used for a time on juvenile delinquents and retarded children. Skinner outlines his ideas in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity.
For two weeks, Alex is given injections of a drug that makes him physically ill whenever he witnesses violent acts. His eyelids clamped open, Alex is forced to watch films packed with scenes of torture, rape, and beating. After being shown a film detailing Nazi atrocities from World War II, with...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
Part 3 Summary
In the third section, Alex becomes a victim. In his absence, Alex's parents have taken a boarder, Joe, so Alex is forced to the streets, where he encounters the people he victimized in the first section. He is being beaten by a group of old men in the Public Biblio (library), one of whom Alex and his gang had beaten before. Alex is then "rescued" by three policemen, two of whom turn out to be Billyboy and Dim. The government had recruited the two in its efforts to use society's criminal elements for its own repressive purposes. Billyboy and Dim take Alex out to the country, beat him, and leave him for dead. Alex then wanders through a village and comes upon the house with "HOME" written on the gate. F. Alexander, the writer beaten by Alex earlier, recognizes Alex from the newspaper and takes him in, planning to use him in a campaign to "dislodge this overbearing government."
While Alexander and his liberal friends brain-storm how to use Alex as an example of government repression, the writer recognizes Alex as the person who beat him up and raped his wife a few years ago. With his friends' help, Alexander locks Alex in an apartment and plays classical music, Otto Skadelig's Symphony Number Three, driving Alex into a suicidal frenzy because of the sickness and pain he feels listening to the music. Alex jumps out the window, but does not die. He awakens in the hospital, his love for violence restored. Meanwhile, the Minister of the Interior visits Alex,...
(The entire section is 378 words.)