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.
Language Theme Icon

A Clockwork Orange’s ingenious use of language is one of the book’s defining characteristics. Beginning with the novel’s arresting opening, readers are inundated with “nadsat” slang, the part-Cockney, part-Russian patois Alex uses to narrate the story. Alex’s language, like the novel as a whole, is a chaotic amalgam of high and low. Just as the plot juxtaposes grotesque violence with poignant art, Alex melds disparate linguistic influences in his narration: nadsat jargon mingles with archaic formalities into a self-conscious collage. In this way, the book’s specific language is a constitutive part of its overall message—it would not be the same work of art if paraphrased in different words.

The book’s jarring contrasts in speech styles also illustrate how socially marginal the “nadsats” and their niche lexicon are. Characters’ linguistic differences articulate their social differences, and this allows Alex to shrewdly shift between registers of speech to suit his needs. To deceive adults into letting down their guard, Alex affects a “gentleman’s goloss [voice],” an almost laughably courteous mannerism punctuated by “pardons,” “sirs,” and “madams.” Throughout the book, Alex performs an assortment of these golosses, from “shocked” to “preaching.” His judgments about others derive largely from their manner of speaking, as well. This hyper-sensitivity to speech registers allows Alex to mask his insensitivity to other social cues. Much of the time, he relies on his affect to replace genuine emotion. However, although Alex’s linguistic manipulations make him seem cold-hearted and unemotional, Burgess’s clever use of language throughout the novel validates his protagonist’s views: language really is the means by which we understand the world. As the novel itself illustrates, the very words in which something is told are inextricable from its meaning, and this gives us insight into human beings and literature alike.

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Language Quotes in A Clockwork Orange

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

You came back to here and now whimpering sort of, with your rot all squaring up for a boohoohoo. Now that’s very nice but very cowardly. You were not put on this earth just to get in touch with God. That sort of thing could sap all the strength and the goodness out of a chelloveck.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Alex crosses paths with a man who is high on drugs (hallucinogens in the "milk" he's drinking). The man is babbling to the point where he's almost impossible to understand (like Alex's nadsat slang, of course). Alex is dismissive of the man's experience. Though the man suggests that drugs are bringing him closer to a religious experience, Alex calls the man a coward and accuses him of sacrificing all his strength.

Alex's willingness to berate another character for his incoherence suggests his hypocrisy and self-centeredness: there are plenty of people who'd find Alex just as incoherent as the man. But more importantly, Alex demonstrates that he is a man of action: his "drugs" aren't chemical at all (although he is currently drinking milk laced with stimulants); rather, he takes a nearly-religious pleasure in acts of mindless violence.


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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.

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 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.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

This was real, very real, though if you thought about it properly you couldn’t imagine lewdies actually agreeing to having all this done to them in a film, and if these films were made by the Good or the State you couldn’t imagine them being allowed to take these films without like interfering with what was going on.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

As Alex begins his conditioning treatment, he is shown a series of films depicting various horrible acts--gang rape, murder, etc. As Alex watches these films, it occurs to him that the government has actually commissioned the films, and probably commissioned individuals to commit the heinous acts being depicted (the acts are "very real"). Alex is surprised that the government would approve of such crimes being committed: ironically, in order to prevent people like Alex from committing crimes, the government has had to sponsor similar such crimes.

Alex's observation suggests that the government of his country isn't really any more moral than he is: rather, people who work in the government (like the police officers who beat up Alex!) have simply found a convenient outlet for their violence and bad behavior. In short, Alex is a bully and a sadist, but the people who work for the government are bullies and sadists, too.

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 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.

And what, brothers, I had to escape into sleep from then was the horrible and wrong feeling that it was better to get the hit than give it. If that veck had stayed I might even have like presented the other cheek.

Related Characters: Alex (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christianity
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Alex has just finished his scientific conditioning, and to test whether the conditioning has worked, a man hits Alex in the face. Instead of fighting back, as Alex was once apt to do, Alex cowers on the floor--he wants to defend himself, but at the same time he feels a deep sense of pain and disgust, the product of his conditioning.

The passage includes a sly allusion to a famous Biblical verse, in which Jesus Christ urges his followers to "turn the other cheek" if an enemy hits them. Where Christ wanted his followers to choose to be righteous pacifists, Alex has no real choice but to submit to his enemies' authority. Alex is behaving morally, but he's not a moral agent: he's just a puppet, pushed and prodded into submission by the Ludovico technique he's just completed.

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 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 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 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.