The phrase, “What’s it going to be then, eh” is a recurring motif in A Clockwork Orange
. Each of the book’s three parts opens with these same seven words, and Burgess often repeats this question within chapters, filtered through different characters’ voices. Although the phrase’s exact wording is preserved in each appearance, its meaning is never exactly the same. The question is deployed in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from Alex’s restlessness anticipation of a night of violence, to the prison chaplain’s chastising of an unruly group of inmates, to addressing the reader’s uncertainty about Alex’s fate in prison. By showing that an identical linguistic phrase can serve so many different purposes, Burgess reinforces his theme of the versatility and power of language and speech contexts, which is a central focus of the book.