Alex (A Clockwork Orange)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Alex is the narrator and anti-hero of the novel, in which he does not supply his surname. In the film, Alex's surname is DeLarge. Still, later on in the film, we see several newspaper clippings (showing Alex returning to society after being subjected to the Ludovico treatment) where his name is printed as Alex Burgess, in a clear reference to the novel's author, Anthony Burgess.
Alex DeLarge, as played by McDowell, was named the 12th greatest movie villain of all time in the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains. The character was named the 36th greatest villain in the Wizard Magazine #177 feature "100 Greatest Villains of All Time".
Alex is portrayed as a sociopath who robs, rapes, and ultimately murders for his own amusement. Intellectually, he knows that this sort of behavior is wrong, saying that "you can't have a society with everybody behaving in my manner of the night." He professes to be somewhat puzzled by the motivations of those who wish to reform him and others like him, saying that he would never interfere with their desire to be good; it's just that he "goes to the other shop."
He speaks Nadsat, a teenage slang created by author Anthony Burgess. The language is based on English and Russian words, and also borrows from bits of Romany speech, the Bible and schoolboy colloquialisms. He likes milk spiked with various stimulants ("milk plus") or hallucinogens ("synthemesc"). The book goes into much greater detail about the nature of his drug use, describing how the customers at the Korova Milk Bar go away "into the Land." Alex is very fond of classical music, particularly Beethoven, or, as he calls him, "lovely lovely Ludwig Van." While listening to this music, he fantasizes about endless rampages of torture and slaughter to the point of orgasm.
Novel and film biography
At the beginning of the novel, Alex is 15 years old and already a veteran of several stays in institutions for juvenile delinquents. In the film, to minimize controversy, Alex is portrayed as somewhat older around 17 or 18. He lives with his parents in a bleak, poorly-maintained and heavily-vandalized tower block #18a in an unnamed English city in the near-future.
He is the leader of a gang of Droogs; Pete, Georgie, and Dim. Although the youngest of the foursome, he is clearly the most intelligent and fearless, and the one who comes up with most of the ideas. Georgie, who resents his high-handed ways, sets him up to be caught at the site of one of the gang's crimes, and he is sent to prison for murder.
Alex is sentenced to "14 years in Staja 84F," the word "Staja" being the abbreviation for "State Jail," and given the identity 6655321 (655321 in the movie, perhaps for the ease of annunciation, as they call out "6-double5-3-2-1"). Not following the convict code of ethics, he betrays a fellow prisoner's escape plans to the prison chaplain, knowing that he will report it to the warden. He curries the chaplain's favor by reading the Bible (using it to fantasize about being one of the crueler Roman emperors, or one of the soldiers who tortured Jesus). He is selected for the "Ludovico Treatment" after he and his cell-mates stomp an obnoxious fellow prisoner to death and he incurs all the blame.
The treatment, a form of aversion therapy, involves injecting him with a drug that makes him violently ill, and then showing him films of rape and violence — which will result in him becoming sick at the thought of hurting anyone. While being forced to watch footage from a Nazi concentration camp, Alex notices the soundtrack; his favorite music, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Since he associates Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with violence he similarly gets sick when listening to that particular symphony.
After the Ludovico treatment, Alex's sentence is commuted to time served and he is released. However, he learns that the treatment worked too well: he can't defend himself even when necessary. Upon returning home, he is rejected by his parents, who have rented out his room and turned over his belongings to the police pursuant to a new law compensating victims. In the novel version, he is then nearly beaten to death by a librarian that his gang had previously victimized (a homeless man in the film). When two policemen break it up, they turn out to be none other than Dim, his former associate, and Billy Boy - a former adversary and gang leader whom Alex had bested in the past — who brutalize him further and leave him to die.
Disoriented with pain, Alex stumbles to the nearest house, pleading for help. The owner, a wheelchair-bound writer whom the government calls a "subversive", recognizes Alex from the newspapers and wants to help him. Alex recognizes the writer as well: as a man he and his friends had once beaten nearly to death (hence his paralysis) and forced to watch as they raped his wife (who later died of an illness possibly brought on by the assault). The writer doesn't make the connection at first and treats him well. Eventually the writer overhears Alex in the bath singing the song Singin' in the Rain, which he had been singing when had mercilessly kicked the writer. In the book, the writer realizes who he is dealing with when he says "I thought you didn't have a phone," remembering his wife's excuse for not letting him in the house.
Seeking revenge, the writer drugs Alex, locks him in a room, and forces him to listen to the Ninth Symphony, the effects of which Alex had mentioned in conversation. Wracked with pain, Alex tries to commit suicide by jumping out the window; only to awake in a hospital, where the effects of the treatment are wearing off. His parents arrive to welcome him back home, and the Minister of the Interior — smarting from the bad publicity Alex's case has brought — offers him a government job. In the film and the United States edition of the book, Alex becomes his old ultraviolent self again, thinking sarcastically: "I was cured all right", seconds before his brain buckles due to the neural surgery he recalls as recurrent dreams. The final chapter of the British edition of A Clockwork Orange shows Alex, at the age of 18, in his government job at the National Record Library, growing out of his sociopathy and daydreaming about starting a family.