Alex sits in the Korova Milkbar with his three new droogs: Len, Rick, and Bully. As the oldest member of the group and a minor celebrity, Alex gives the orders—though he suspects that Bully may desire more control. Alex now works in the music department of the National Gramodisc Archives, which provides him with a decent salary and free music discs. A drunk man babbles nearby. The droogs spot three attractive girls at the bar, and Bully tries to convince the others to leave Len behind, while Len advocates a one-for-all spirit.
Alex’s current situation is clearly meant to parallel the book’s opening. If Alex has simply reverted to his depraved self after the Reclamation Therapy has been nullified, then Burgess presents a fairly cynical picture of humankind. Especially distressing is the fact that Alex’s actions have actually raised his social station—this suggests that cooperating with society can reward even someone as evil and sadistic as Alex.
A wave of restlessness comes over Alex; he claims he has recently felt “bored” and “hopeless.” He punches the nearby drunk in the gut and the droogs exit into the winter night. As they walk down the street, Bully, Len, and Rick assault and rob a passing man. The droogs then go to the Duke of New York for a drink, where they encounter the same old women Alex bribed at the beginning of the story. Alex is initially reluctant to buy the women drinks with his “hard-earned” cash, but he eventually relents. His droogs are puzzled by his behavior, and Alex says he has “some thinking to do.”
Although his behavior still recalls his earlier barbarism, Alex seems more reluctant than usual to engage in his familiar brutality. The eerily familiar setting in particular highlights Alex’s change in demeanor. Alex’s commitment to his job suggests that he has assimilated into society more than he had at the beginning of the book, but whether this assimilation can conquer his sadistic tendencies remains to be seen.
Alex pulls some money out of his pocket. In doing so, he accidentally pulls out a cute picture of a baby that he had been carrying around, which he had cut out of a magazine. His droogs notice the picture and tear it up derisively, while Alex struggles to recover it. After some contemplation and banter with his droogs, Alex decides that he doesn’t feel up to carrying out mischief that night. He tells the others to continue with their plans to rob a store and then leaves the bar.
This scene shows Alex in a striking moment of vulnerability. For the first time in the entire novel, he shows himself to be motivated by conventional human emotions. It’s hard to imagine the cold-hearted Alex from the beginning of the novel treasuring a picture of an adorable baby, so perhaps he truly has matured out of his mischief-making stage.
Now walking alone, Alex reflects that the culture of “ultra-violence” is being diminished due to a heightened police presence. He also reveals that he has started to become “soft”—he has lost interest in violence, and even his musical preferences have acquired a romantic bent. He comes across a coffee shop filled with harmless, law-abiding citizens, and decides to enter. Inside, a wholesome-looking girl catches his eye, and he recognizes the boy with her as Pete, his former droog, who is now nineteen.
Alex’s habits are changing with his values, and his entrance into the mainstream coffee shop signifies his assimilation into a less marginal branch of society. Never before had he associated with “soft,” bourgeois citizens before, and his decreased appetite for ultra-violence is what allows him to enjoy the benefits of socialized life. The emphasis on Pete's age, and by extension Alex's, suggests that Alex is growing up and his diminishing interesting in committing violence is a part of that growing up.
Alex and Pete converse, and Alex is aghast to learn that Pete’s female companion is his wife. Pete now speaks in a grown-up voice, and his wife giggles at Alex’s “funny” manner of speaking. After Pete briefly describes his tame, married life, he and his wife leave to go to a wine and word-game party at a friend’s house. Alone again, Alex wonders if he, too, is outgrowing his lifestyle.
While Alex may be showing some signs of maturity, Pete’s transformation shows just how full a droog’s redemption can be. Pete is now a full-fledged adult—his metamorphosis is underscored by his changed manner of speaking—and his example further illustrates to Alex the appeal of adhering to societal conventions.
After he leaves the café, Alex walks the winter streets and thinks about his future. He is struck by an appealing fantasy: he envisions himself at home, with a wife and infant child. “Youth must go,” he opines, and compares being young to being a mechanical wind-up toy. Alex reflects that he will likely be unable to prevent his own son from behaving like him. He then resolves to find himself a wife.
The comparison Alex makes between youth and mechanical toys is an interesting one in light of A Clockwork Orange’s subject matter. Alex’s analogy suggests that he was as much a slave to the impulses of his youth as he was to the impulses imbued in him by Reclamation Treatment. This opens a larger question of whether or not it is appropriate to hold youth accountable for their actions, when they may be compelled to act as they do by biology that borders on clockwork.
To conclude the story, Alex addresses the reader directly. He is not young anymore, he explains; he has grown up. Alex’s next journey is one he will take on his own. He mixes reverent appreciation for the world with brash nadsat put-downs, and implores readers—his “brothers”—to “remember sometimes thy little Alex that was.”
Alex has certainly undergone a heartening change in character, but his diction shows that he is still in many ways the droog that he was at the beginning of the novel. By speaking in a collage of registers, Alex symbolizes the competing influences working within him. His conventional speech shows his new urge to enter normal society, but his nadsat refrains imply that he has not completely forsworn his past identity despite growing beyond it.