A Clockwork Orange

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Themes and Colors
Language Theme Icon
Sadism and Society Theme Icon
Free Will vs. the “Clockwork Orange” Theme Icon
Art and Humanity Theme Icon
Conformism Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Clockwork Orange, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Art and Humanity Theme Icon

Burgess’s malevolent protagonist is humanized, somewhat, by his reverent appreciation for the fine arts. Even though Alex is a bloodthirsty sociopath and a public menace, he is not utterly nihilistic. The sound of his favorite classical music seems to induce a more humane, respectful temperament in him. For example, when Dim behaves boorishly in a diner while a girl sings nearby, Alex punches him and reprimands him harshly. This altercation precipitates the droogs’ betrayal of Alex. In this way, Alex’s reverence for music ends up distancing him from his inhumane lifestyle as well as his inhumane tendencies.

Accordingly, when the Reclamation Treatment deprives Alex of the fundamental human characteristic of free will, he is also robbed of his fundamental human ability to treasure music. When Alex hears music after being administered the treatment, it causes him so much anguish that he attempts suicide. “I slooshied [listened] for two seconds in like interest and joy, but then it all came over me, the start of the pain and the sickness, and I began to groan deep down in my keeshkas [guts],” he narrates. This scene demonstrates that art taps into the same fundamental aspect of the human psyche as the violence Alex was conditioned to abhor. Humanity is a complicated concept in Burgess’s novel: it is simultaneously the best and the worst in Alex. The free will that compels him to murder and rape is also what fosters his earnest, edifying esteem for masterful art. Without this free will, Alex is a clockwork man—which, it seems, is hardly a man at all.

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Art and Humanity Quotes in A Clockwork Orange

Below you will find the important quotes in A Clockwork Orange related to the theme of Art and Humanity.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

He’d taken a big snotty tashtook from his pocket and was mopping the red flow puzzled, keeping on looking at it frowning as if he thought that blood was for other vecks and not for him. It was like he was singing blood to make up for his vulgarity when that devotchka was singing music. But that devotchka was smecking away ha ha ha now with her droogs at the bar, her red rot working and her zoobies ashine, not having noticed Dim’s filthy vulgarity. It was me really Dim had done wrong to.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker), Dim
Page Number: 32-33
Explanation and Analysis:

Alex and his gang of droogs have come to a bar. There, they hear a girl singing a song from an opera of which Alex is quite fond. Because his follower, Dim, is making obscene jokes and interfering with the music, Alex punches him in the mouth. Dim is surprised and seemingly a hurt by Alex's violence. Meanwhile, Alex continues listening to the singing, which--much to his relief--has continued on, just as it was before.

Notice that Alex claims that he, not the singer, was the real victim of Dim's "vulgarity." Burgess suggests's Alex's extreme narcissism, but also his near-religious devotion to certain kinds of art (notably music). Dim has ruined Alex's experience of the music, not the music itself, so Dim's "crime" is against Alex. Also notice the obvious irony in Alex's critique of Dim's vulgarity--after a night of brutal violence, it's a couple dirty jokes that qualify as "vulgar."


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Oh, bliss, bliss and heaven. I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds. Oh, it was gorgeousness and gorgeosity made flesh. The trombones crunched redgold under my bed, and behind my gulliver the trumpets three-wise silverflamed, and there by the door the timps rolling through my guts and out again crunched like candy thunder. Oh, it was wonder of wonders. And then, a bird of like rarest spun heavenmetal, or like silvery wine flowing in a spaceship, gravity all nonsense now, came the violin solo above all the other strings, and those strings were like a cage of silk around my bed. Then flute and oboe bored, like worms of like platinum, into the thick thick toffee gold and silver. I was in such bliss, my brothers.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Alex savors the classical music playing from his record player. He praises the music with effusive, imagistic language, much of which is barely comprehensible. Nevertheless, it's clear that Alex conceives of the classical music in physical, often violent terms: words like "guts," "cage," and "crunch" illustrate the connection that Alex makes between high art and physical cruelty.

Alex, as we've realized by this point, is a bizarre, self-contradictory character. He loves cruelty and violence, yet he's also a fan of classical music and goes into raptures over experiencing beauty. What makes Alex so frustrating for reader is that while we're disgusted with his violence, we can't entirely "dismiss" his point of view: his love of music humanizes him. Alex is, in short, the perfect antihero: we hate him, but we feel a strange, perverse bond with him nonetheless.

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

Stop, you grahzny disgusting sods. It’s a sin, that’s what it is, a filthy unforgivable sin, you bratchnies!... Using Ludwig van like that. He did no harm to anyone. Beethoven just wrote music.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Alex is forced to watch one more film: footage of Nazi war crimes, accompanied by the music of Beethoven. Alex, who previously loved classical music, is horrified by the use of his favorite composer for such a horrible film. He cries out that it is a "sin" for the scientists to use Beethoven as a part of his conditioning.

After a hundred pages of bullying, robbing, raping, and killing, Alex is--out of nowhere--portrayed as the voice of morality, the most "moral" person in the room. Notice how Alex uses words like "sin" and "unforgivable" to criticize the doctors for their sadism. Naturally, it's hard to take Alex totally seriously (he seems more upset about the bastardization of music itself than about the specific crimes he's watching). And yet Alex has a point: the scientists who are subjecting Alex to the torture of the Ludovico technique are in some ways less moral and "human" (because they lack appreciation for music and beauty) than Alex himself. Unlikely as it might be, Burgess portrays Alex as both the victim and the moral authority of the chapter.

Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

It was that these doctor bratchnies had so fixed things that any music that was like for the emotions would make me sick just like viddying or wanting to do violence. It was because all those violence films had music with them. And I remembered especially that horrible Nazi film with the Beethoven Fifth, last movement. And now here was lovely Mozart made horrible.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker), Dr. Brodsky, Dr. Branom
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Alex discovers that his conditioning has left him incapable of enjoying classical music. During the procedure, Alex was made to listen to Beethoven's music--as a result, he's come to associate all music (not just Beethoven) with pain and nausea.

It's possible to pity Alex and despise him at the same time. On one hand, Alex has been unfairly punished for his crimes: the sadistic scientists who administered his treatment have deprived him of his ability to commit acts of violence, but they've also stolen away his free will and ability to appreciate beauty. This certainly doesn't mean that Alex is innocent and the doctors are guilty; rather, it suggests that society is divided into the strong and the weak. When he was a strong man, Alex bullied those who were weaker than he. Now that Alex is weak, the strong have treated him cruelly and sadistically, depriving him of his love for music and therefore of his love for life.

Part 3, Chapter 4 Quotes

You’ve sinned, I suppose, but your punishment has been out of all proportion. They have turned you into something other than a human being. You have no power of choice any longer. You are committed to socially acceptable acts, a little machine capable only of good. And I see that clearly—that business about the marginal conditionings. Music and the sexual act, literature and art, all must be a source now not of pleasure but of pain.

Related Characters: F. Alexander (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex ends up back in the house that he broke into in the first part of the novel. The house's owner, F. Alexander, recognizes that Alex must have been a dangerous criminal, but doesn't realize that Alex was the very man who raped and (unknowingly) murdered his wife.

Ironically, F. Alexander acts as Alex's protector, delivering a long speech in which he criticizes the government for depriving Alex of his free will--something far more precious than a lower crime rate. Alexander, an artist, is especially moved that Alex has been conditioned to despise music of all kinds--as Alexander sees it, Alex's newfound hatred of music is proof of the barbarism of his scientific conditioning. The question now becomes: what will Alexander do when he discovers that Alex was the man who killed his wife? In other words, does Alexander really value Alex's free will more highly than Alex's ability to commit crimes, when such crimes become intimately personal to Alexander's experience?

Part 3, Chapter 5 Quotes

When I woke up I could hear slooshy music coming out of the wall, real gromky, and it was that that had dragged me out of my bit of like sleep. It was a symphony that I knew real horrorshow but had not slooshied for many a year, namely the Symphony Number Three of the Danish veck Otto Skadelig, a very gromky and violent piece, especially in the first movement, which was what was playing now. I slooshied for two seconds in like interest and joy, but then it all came over me, the start of the pain and the sickness, and I began to groan deep down in my keeshkas. And then there I was, me who had loved music so much, crawling off the bed and going oh oh oh to myself and then bang bang banging on the wall creching: “Stop, stop it, turn it off!”

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 186-187
Explanation and Analysis:

It's now clear that F. Alexander suspects that Alex was the man responsible for killing F. Alexander's wife. (F. Alexander recognizes Alex's nadsat slang, and, it's implied, he finally realizes that Alex knew Dim, one of the other droogs responsible for Alexander's wife's death). Previously, F. Alexander was willing to treat Alex as a respected guest--he pitied Alex for his conditioning. F. Alexander always knew that Alex was a dangerous criminal, but now that F. Alexander knows that Alex murdered his wife, he's determined to get his revenge. Sadistically, Alexander plays music, knowing that Alex now responds to all music with nausea and intense pain.

The scene is important because it suggests the interplay between personal and abstract motives. F. Alexander had piously claimed that free will is more valuable than a low crime rate, and therefore, Alex's conditioning is "immoral." But now that F. Alexander seems to know the full truth about Alex, he can't be so pure--in short, his personal motives override his abstract commitment to justice. At the same time, F. Alexander finds a clever way to kill two birds with one stone--he tortures Alex in an especially sadistic way, thus arranging for Alex to commit suicide. In this way, F. Alexander will avenge his wife's rape and murder (personal motive) while also turning Alex into propaganda against the government (abstract motive).

Part 3, Chapter 7 Quotes

Tomorrow is all like sweet flowers and the turning vonny earth and the stars and the old Luna up there and your old droog Alex all on his oddy knocky seeking like a mate. And all that cal. A terrible grahzny vonny world, really, O my brothers. And so farewell from your little droog. And to all others in this story profound shooms of lipmusic brrrrrr. And they can kiss my shames. But you, O my brothers, remember sometimes thy little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel (at least in the British edition), Alex claims to have turned a new leaf and "gone soft." He renounces violence and sadism altogether and prepares to begin a calmer, more peaceful way of life. Alex's behavior suggests that his "ultraviolence" was just a youthful phase, one which all people, even bloodthirsty Alex, outgrow sooner later.

The passage--the final paragraph of the novel--underscores why it's so important to allow people the freedom to choose what to do. The government's justification for conditioning Alex was that Alex was incurably violent and cruel. But as Burgess shows, Alex isn't incurable at all--on the contrary, he matures into a calm, seemingly peaceful man. Free will is humanity's most important gift--it enables people to change from hopelessly violent into peaceful and voluntarily obedient. Of course, it's been suggested that Burgess is being ironic: the fact that Alex's final words are delivered in nadsat (the same youthful slang he's been speaking all along) might suggest that Alex hasn't really changed that much after all--perhaps, like the doctors who conditioned him, he's just found new, socially acceptable outlets for his violence.