A Clockwork Orange

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Themes and Colors
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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.
Conformism Theme Icon

In any society, individuals forfeit some of their autonomy in exchange for protection against a world that is too dangerous to navigate alone. The universe of A Clockwork Orange is no exception. Throughout the book, Alex is forced to reconcile his arrogant individualism with his inability to live completely self-sufficiently. Droogs band together to protect themselves from other gangs, and Alex's selfish individualism alienates his own droogs to catastrophic results. Prisoners band together to protect themselves, and when Alex is singled out from his cellmates he is forced to undergo Reclamation Treatment. Society as a whole forces its members to balance moral considerations with their own self-interest—the prison chaplain, for example, initially does not speak out against Reclamation Treatment because he worries about his career. And, of course, the tension between absolute self-assertion and socialized life is at the center of Alex's maturation as a human being.

Some characters, like Dim and Billyboy or Dr. Brodsky, find ways to bend rules and manifest their inappropriate impulses while still remaining within the realm of the socially acceptable. For Alex, this tension is finally resolved at the end of the book, when, as a somewhat older person, he concludes that the benefits of socialized life are in fact worth the constraints it imposes on individual autonomy. He understands that to live peacefully and settle down with a family he must in turn subscribe to some aspects of socialized life that he might previously have considered oppressive. Now that he has matured, however, Alex recognizes that the benefits of social assimilation far outweigh the costs.

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Conformism Quotes in A Clockwork Orange

Below you will find the important quotes in A Clockwork Orange related to the theme of Conformism.
Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

But poor old Dim kept looking up at the stars and planets and the Luna with his rot wide open like a kid who’d never viddied any such things before, and he said:
“What’s on them, I wonder. What would be up there on things like that?”
I nudged him hard, saying: “Come, gloopy bastard as thou art. Think thou not on them. There’ll be life like down here most likely, with some getting knifed and others doing the knifing. And now, with the nochy still molodoy, let us be on our way, O my brothers.”

Related Characters: Alex (speaker), Dim (speaker)
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex's follower, Dim, looks up at the stars and moon (Luna) and asks, half rhetorically, what might be on other planets. Alex dismisses Dim's question and urges his gang members to focus on the "here and now."

The passage is important because it reminds us why Alex is the leader of the gang, not just another member. Even Alex's followers, like Dim, seem to find it difficult to experience so much violence and bloodshed without, at the very least, taking a break--Dim seems to look up to the stars because he's wearying of beating up innocent people. Alex, on the other hand, seems to never tire of violence and sadism, and as a result, he acts as the leader and role model for his gang of Droogs.


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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."

Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

Just because the police have not picked you up lately doesn’t, as you very well know, mean you’ve not been up to some nastiness.

Related Characters: P.R. Deltoid (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 42-43
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex is interviewed by his post-corrections officer, P.R. Deltoid. Deltoid has been keeping a close eye on Alex: he's eager to have Alex arrested for breaking the law. Nevertheless, Deltoid has yet to witness any of Alex's crimes. Deltoid himself acknowledges his problem: he knows very well that Alex has been up to no good, but has no evidence that can be used to put Alex away.

Unbeknownst to Alex, Deltoid's statement foreshadows the "solution" to the problem of violence that the government will attempt in the second part of the book. Left to his own devices, a young, reckless hoodlum can be a danger to other people--moreover, no amount of surveillance or law enforcement can ever completely control such a person. But if Alex is conditioned to avoid violence--i.e., if his mind and spirit themselves are constantly being surveilled and monitored--then there will be no more "nastiness."

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

More, badness is of the self, the one, the you or me on our oddy knockies, and that self is made by old Bog or God and is his great pride and radosty. But the not-self cannot have the bad, meaning they of the government and the judges and the schools cannot allow the bad because they cannot allow the self. And is not our modern history, my brothers, the story of brave malenky selves fighting these big machines? I am serious with you, brothers, over this. But what I do I do because I like to do.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 44-45
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Alex offers a strange justification for his actions. Alex claims that he has been "born this way"--i.e., born to be violent, dangerous, and yet totally free. Because "God" (or perhaps the devil, "Bog") has created Alex with the gift of free will, Alex has the ability to hurt and kill other people--because that's what he likes to do. Alex is, one could say, the very embodiment of free will in all its glory.

And yet Alex also points out that there is a constant conflict between free will and authority figures. Governments, judges, and schools--in short, civilization--want to limit free will. Civilization cannot tolerate people like Alex, who rape and pillage without any self-restraint. As a result, society establishes laws, police officers, and education as means of controlling man's natural capacity for freedom and violence.

In short, Alex draws a contrast between man in his natural state of free will, and society with its natural inclination to subdue man's freedom.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Bog murder you, you vonny stinking bratchnies. Where are the others? Where are my stinking traitorous droogs? One of my cursed grahzny bratties chained me on the glazzies. Get them before they get away. It was all their idea, brothers. They like forced me to do it. I’m innocent, Bog butcher you.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker), Dim, Pete, Georgie
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex is arrested by the police for robbing a house and savagely beating the two owners of the house. He has also been attacked by his former allies, the droogs: they've beaten him up so that he can't run away before the police arrive. In one fell swoop, Alex loses his position in society altogether: he's betrayed by his gang members (who have become irritated with Alex's bullying manner and arrogance) and arrested by the police.

Amusingly, Alex howls his innocence, even claiming that "they," the droogs, forced him to rob the house and beat the occupants. Alex's protests are a far cry from his previous speech (see the quote above!), in which Alex boasts of his freedom and individual agency. When it's convenient for Alex to be free, he's free--but when it's convenient for him to have been "forced" to do something, Alex claims that he was forced.

Part 1, Chapter 7 Quotes

“Righty right, boys, we’ll start off by showing him that we know the law, too, but that knowing the law isn’t everything.”

Related Characters: Alex
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Alex is arrested for robbery and assault and taken into a police station. The police officers in the station are amused when Alex cockily says that he wants his lawyer: they decide to teach Alex a lesson about "the law." The officers attack Alex, proving that they don't abide by the traditional laws of prisoners' rights. It would seem that many of the people in Alex's society are just as violent and amoral as Alex himself--they just hide it better by conforming to society's rules. In Alex's world, there are strong people and weak people, and the law barely counts for anything. Up until now, Alex has always been one of the strong--now, however, the shoe's on the other foot.

The passage is interesting because it shows Alex as a victim. Strangely, the biggest "bully" in the novel isn't Alex himself--it's the mysterious, corrupt state that controls England in Burgess's dystopian future. Alex will be thrust into a battle of wills between his self and the English state--and at times, we'll be forced to throw our support to Alex.

Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

…and that was the end of traitorous Georgie. The starry murderer had got off with Self Defence, as was really right and proper. Georgie being killed, though it was more than one year after me being caught by the millicents, it all seemed right and proper and like Fate.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker), Georgie
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex receives a visit from his parents during his time in jail. During the visit, Alex learns that his old droog, Georgie, has been killed in self-defense by a homeowner whom Georgie was trying to rob. Alex is satisfied with Georgie's death, since Georgie was one of the droogs who turned on Alex by betraying him to the police. Alex is so self-centered (narcissism is, after all, one of the classic marks of a psychopath) that he sees no contradiction in objecting to his own punishment for robbery but rejoicing in Georgie's.

It's also interesting that Alex is willing to bring in a concept like Fate without much hesitation. Previously, Alex has cited the principles of freedom and free will--in prison, however, he seems to become more comfortable with the larger, more abstract concepts of Fate and destiny, a foreshadowing how Alex's own free will be compromised soon.

Himself has grave doubts about it. I must confess I share those doubts. The question is whether such a technique can really make a man good. Goodness comes from within, 6655321. Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.

Related Characters: The Prison Chaplain (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex is preparing to volunteer for a complicated treatment called the Ludovico technique. Such a technique can condition a human being to avoid bad behavior of any kind--rape, violence, etc. Alex's Chaplain (the "charlie," as Alex calls him, an allusion to Charlie Chaplin) points out that the Ludovico technique only appears to make its subjects good. In reality, true goodness of the soul (the kind the Chaplain is concerned with) can never be the product of conditioning: one can only choose to be good or bad, voluntarily.

The Chaplain's words illustrate the tension between control and freedom in the second part of the novel. Scientific conditioning can foster the appearance of perfect morality, yet it does so by tyrannizing the spirit, forcing its subject to behave a certain way against their will.

Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

Common criminals like this unsavoury crowd…can best be dealt with on a purely curative basis. Kill the criminal reflex, that’s all. Full implementation in a year’s time. Punishment means nothing to them, you can see that. They enjoy their so-called punishment. They start murdering each other.

Related Characters: The Minister of the Interior (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex is introduced to the Minister of the Interior, a government official who gives the go-ahead to experiment with violent prisoners like Alex. The Minister gives a quick explanation of the problem, as he sees it. The Minister's job is to reduce crime. But the traditional methods of reducing crime—sending criminals to jail—don't really work for everyone. There are some, like Alex, who will never be rehabilitated, because they genuinely enjoy violence; moreover, they seem to genuinely enjoy being sent to jail, since jail is just another opportunity for violence. As we'll see, the Minister's solution to the problem will be to send Alex and his peers to be conditioned with the Ludovico technique, thus removing their very freedom to choose and enjoy criminal behaviors.

Part 2, Chapter 5 Quotes

I do not wish to describe, brothers, what other horrible veshches I was like forced to viddy that afternoon. The like minds of this Dr. Brodsky and Dr. Branom and the others in white coats, and remember there was this devotchka twiddling with the knobs and watching the meters, they must have been more cally and filthy than any prestoopnick in the Staja itself. Because I did not think it was possible for any veck to even think of making films of what I was forced to viddy, all tied to this chair and my glazzies made to be wide open.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker), Dr. Brodsky, Dr. Branom
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
Alex refuses to comment on the other films that he is forced to watch as a part of his conditioning treatment. The content of the films is so horrific that Alex didn't know such filth was humanly possible. Interestingly, Alex observes that the doctors who made him watch the films are seemingly worse than any of the people he encountered in his prison, in that they don't seem to mind witnessing such horrors. Subtly, Burgess implies that the government officials who sponsor Alex's conditioning aren't any more moral than Alex himself: they've simply found ways of indulging in their own desires for cruelty and sadism, without the repercussions of the law. Alex's observations also underscore the point that the government isn't truly interested in conditioning Alex for moral reasons at all: rather, the government is conditioning Alex for the practical reason that it wants to cut down on crime and save money.
Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

He will be your true Christian…ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly.

Related Characters: Dr. Brodsky (speaker), Alex
Related Symbols: Christianity
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to the Prison Chaplain's objection that Alex's scientific conditioning has rendered him incapable of making the most basic free decisions, Dr. Brodsky--one of the men responsible for organizing and supervising Alex's treatment--offers a spirited defense. Brodsky, recognizing that the Chaplain is attacking the Ludovico treatment from a Christian standpoint, insists that Alex has become the perfect Christian. Brodsky argues that Alex will be selfless and moral at all times--he'll "turn the other cheek," as Christ urged his followers to do.

Brodsky's words are ironic and contradictory on many different levels. As we know very well, Alex's instinct to "turn the other cheek" is a bastardization of Christianity. Alex doesn't choose to be selfless, as Christ advocated; rather, he's forced to behave morally by a physical sense of disgust and pain. In a broader sense, then, Alex's inability to exercise free will contradicts the strong emphasis on individual freedom that has always been a cornerstone of the Christian faith (in most denominations). Finally, it's important to remember Dr. Brodsky's sadistic attitude during Alex's treatment--he enjoyed causing Alex pain, and even seemed to enjoy watching some of the films that caused Alex disgust. Brodsky is hardly a "true Christian," making his sanctimonious speech particularly hard to swallow.

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

You’ve made others suffer…It’s only right you should suffer proper. I’ve been told everything that you’ve done, sitting here at night round the family table, and pretty shocking it was to listen to. Made me real sick a lot of it did.

Related Characters: Joe (speaker), Alex
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, we're introduced to Joe, the lodger who lives with Alex's parents after Alex is arrested for robbery and murder. Joe has heard everything about Alex and Alex's crimes. So when Alex returns to his old home, Joe immediately attacks Alex for causing so many other people pain and suffering.

Joe isn't a major character in the novel, but he embodies the iron law of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Joe believes that pain must be balanced out with pain--every one of Alex's crimes must be inflicted upon Alex for the sake of "justice." The problem with the "eye for an eye" rule, as we've already seen, is that it gives rise to a sadistic middleman: the executioner whose job is to inflict the proper punishment upon the criminal. As bad as Alex is, his jailers, doctors, wardens, and supervisors are in some ways worse--and yet these "middlemen" have found a way to channel their cruelty into the socially acceptable form of law enforcement.

Part 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

It is not right, not always, for lewdies in the town to viddy too much of our summary punishments. Streets must be kept clean in more than one way.

Related Characters: Billyboy (speaker)
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex "reunites" with some old droogs, Billyboy (his former rival) and Dim (his former follower). To Alex's surprise, Dim and Billyboy have found a new line of work: they've become police officers. As officers, the former droogs take a clear delight in beating up the weak and defenseless, just as they always have. The difference is that now, the law is on their side: nobody can arrest them for their cruelty or sadism.

When Billyboy and Dim find Alex, they naturally take the opportunity to beat him. As Billyboy explains, he and Dim will take Alex to a "private area," where they'll be able to hurt Alex without anyone knowing about it. Billyboy's speech illustrates the full corruption and hypocrisy of Alex's society: it condemns one kind of violence (the unlawful kind practiced by Alex and his droogs) and yet permits another kind of violence (the legal kind practiced by law enforcement officers)--even when it's being practiced by exactly the same people, Dim and Billyboy.

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 6 Quotes

Oh it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final sentences of this chapter, Alex recovers from his conditioning. He's no longer afraid of classical music, rape, or violence--in short, he's returned to the state of mind he was in before being sent to prison. As Alex rejoices in his liberation from the Ludovico technique, he seems to pick up right where he left off: with thoughts of rape and murder, backed up with an ecstatic experience of beautiful classical music.

While Burgess criticizes the tyrannical government that strips Alex of his free will, that doesn't mean that Alex is automatically the hero of the book. On the contrary, Alex is just as brutal and sadistic as the government that imprisons him--the only difference is that the government is big and powerful, while Alex is one man. There is, in short, no real morality in Alex's society: the only law is that the strong will dominate the weak. Alex beats up drunk old men; later, the state, the police officers, and F. Alexander hurt Alex; and finally, when he is cured of his conditioning, Alex prepares to get back to beating up drunk old men.

(Notice that Burgess never actually shows Alex returning to his old ways; only preparing to return to them. In the final chapter of the book--included in the British edition only--Burgess will show Alex turning a new leaf altogether.)

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.