The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Alex and his three “droogs” (companions), Pete, Georgie, and Dim, amuse themselves by getting high on drugs, exercising wanton violence on defenseless victims, and engaging in rumbles with rival gangs. They relish “ultra-violence,” vividly demonstrated by a “surprise visit” they pay to a writer’s house in the country. They beat the owner and rape his wife. Alex is warned by his probation officer against such antics, but the young thug overreaches himself and is captured after breaking into an old woman’s house and beating her senseless. He is sent to prison for murder after the woman dies. He is only fifteen years old.

Part 2 of the novel reduces Alex to a number (6655321) and shows his progress in prison as a model prisoner. He feigns interest in religion to get on the good side of the prison chaplain. He schemes to get out of prison by volunteering to be a subject for an experiment in psychological conditioning designed to make subjects violently ill at the very thought of sex or violence. The chaplain, understanding the nature of sin, advises Alex against this experiment, which will deprive him of free will, stating that “When a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man.” Alex is interested only in release from prison, and he gets his wish.

Alex is chosen for the Reclamation Treatment administered by Dr. Brodsky, whose work is sponsored for political reasons by the minister of the interior. Alex is given drugs to make him sick while watching violent pornography and “nasty” films showing German and Japanese torture during World War II. The treatment works,...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


City. Unnamed future British city where Alex and his “droogs,” or friends, roam. The landscape is cheerless and industrial; echoes of the past and its culture can be seen, but these are largely decayed or corrupted. Streets are named for twentieth century British writers, and Alex and his gang wear masks of “historical” figures including Peebee Shelley (Percy Bysshe Shelley) and Elvis Presley. The Public Biblio, or library, is frequented only by the old and the poor, and the Filmdrome, or cinema, is decaying from lack of use. Giant housing developments, such as the Victoria Flatblocks, are home to most of the population. Past the flatblock developments is Oldtown, where Alex and his friends go in search of valuables to steal. Like its aged but elegant houses, the people of Oldtown seem to represent an earlier Britain. They include old men with sticks and old “ptitsas,” or women, with cats. While robbing the Manse, a house in Oldtown, Alex beats and kills an old woman. The fifteen-year-old criminal is sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

Staja 84F

Staja 84F. State prison in which Alex is imprisoned for robbery and murder. In this overcrowded, depersonalizing environment, he is addressed by number rather than by name. When a seventh man is thrown into Alex’s cell, originally built for three, it sparks a brawl that ends with the new man dead and Alex again accused of murder. Ironically, this incident wins Alex his freedom. Alex is chosen as a subject for Ludovico’s Technique, a conditioning treatment designed to reform criminals. Given drugs to make him physically ill, he is forced to watch violent films, accompanied by classical music. Within...

(The entire section is 699 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

In 1961, the year after Burgess had written his first draft of A Clockwork Orange, he and his wife took a trip to...

(The entire section is 503 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Nadsat, which means "teen" in Russian, is the language spoken in A Clockwork Orange. It is a mixture of Russian,...

(The entire section is 294 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1960s: Following years of heated protests and demonstrations, the United States passes the Civil Rights Act. The Act enforces the...

(The entire section is 257 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

The setting for Burgess's novel is a dystopian society. What are some of its dystopic elements? Does the United States share any of these...

(The entire section is 293 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

A Clockwork Orange (1971) was adapted as a film by director Stanley Kubrick and stars Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee, Adrienne Corri,...

(The entire section is 46 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Like A Clockwork Orange, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1939) and George Orwell's 1984 (1949) explore what a future...

(The entire section is 150 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

"Books of the Times," in New York Times, March 19, 1963.

Burgess, Anthony, A Clockwork Orange,...

(The entire section is 385 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Coale, Samuel. Anthony Burgess. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1981. A general discussion of Burgess’ work, including an examination of the philosophical issues in A Clockwork Orange.

Morris, Robert K. The Consolations of Ambiguity. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1971. Compares A Clockwork Orange to The Wanting Seed (1962), another of Burgess’ dystopian novels.

Petix, Esther. “Linguistics, Mechanics, and Metaphysics: A Clockwork Orange.” In Anthony Burgess, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. Defines the author’s dualistic...

(The entire section is 161 words.)