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, and Alex becomes the poster boy for the government’s reclamation program. After a humiliating public demonstration showing Alex as incapable of inflicting violence and at which he gets sick at the very thought of sexual arousal, Dr. Brodsky proclaims Alex a “true Christian,” not understanding that a true Christian must be able to choose between good and evil. Realizing that he can no longer listen to the music of his favorite classical composers, which accompanied the Nazi footage, without getting sick, Alex protests that they have turned him into “a clockwork orange,” a mechanized vegetable.
In part 3 of the novel, the “reformed” Alex is released into a violent world, newly innocent, unprotected, and helpless against violent attacks. The irony is that he encounters his old enemies and former victims. Things have changed in the outside world while Alex was in prison. He is rejected by his parents, who have taken in a lodger to replace him.
Back on the streets, Alex is recognized by old men he had once brutalized, and they beat him. He is rescued by police officers who turn out to be his old “droogie” Dim, whom Alex had abused, and his old enemy Billyboy. Dazed and further beaten, Alex ends up at the home of the writer, F. Alexander, he had victimized. The writer calls Alex “a victim of the modern world,” which is true enough, and Alex learns that the writer’s wife died after having been raped and beaten. Alex makes a number of mistakes by reverting to his distinctive slang, and Alexander recognizes his houseguest.
Alexander turns Alex over to opponents of the gov-ernment, who torture Alex further while attempting to reverse his conditioning. They drive him to desperation by locking him in a room and making him listen to classical music. Driven beyond tolerance, Alex attempts suicide by jumping from a window, but he survives the fall. He awakes in a hospital to discover that he has been “cured” and is hailed by the press as the victim of a criminal reform scheme. Now a celebrity, Alex is reconciled with his parents and is able to return home. The novel ends with Alex asking to hear Beethoven’s “glorious Ninth.” Recalling the violent fantasies he used to associate with that music, he declares, “I was cured all right.”
(The entire section contains 3000 words.)
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