Alex, the narrator and main character, is a fifteen-year-old menace to society. Each night he leads his gang of droogs, or pals, on sprees of “ultra-violence”—beating, robbing, and raping for fun. An only child, Alex lives in an apartment with his meek and loving parents, who appear unaware of his criminal lifestyle. Alex’s only interest, other than violence, is classical music, which arouses him in the same way that violence does. He seems to view both music and violence as a form of art, a thing of great beauty and an expression of his highest passions. Alex has no conscience or remorse for his crimes, and he sees no reason to justify them. To Alex, being bad is as natural as being good, and the government has no right to stop him from expressing his natural tendencies.
In the second part of the book, Alex is arrested for murder and put through an experimental Reclamation Treatment to make him incapable of doing wrong. At the end of the treatment, deprived of the ability to make moral choices for himself, Alex becomes the image of the title—a clockwork orange, something that appears natural but is actually only a machine of the State. Naïve and vulnerable, Alex becomes a pawn for two opposing political groups, the powerful established government and the radicals who hope to supplant it. In the end, his free will restored, Alex makes the choice to grow up on his own.
F. Alexander, a writer and anti-government activist, is the author of A Clockwork Orange, a book about the importance of free will. In the first part of the novel, Alex and his droogs burst into F. Alexander’s home and tear up his manuscript, then beat him and rape his wife. In the third part of the novel, Alex returns to his home by accident and is exploited by F. Alexander and his fellow dissidents as a tool to further their “cause.” At the end of the story, F. Alexander is thrown in prison by the government, presumably forever.
The similarity between their names invites a comparison between Alex and F. Alexander. While F. Alexander is devoted to a greater cause for humankind, Alex has no cause other than himself and his own desires. F. Alexander is an intellectual, while Alex acts on his emotions. Both men, however, have the potential to topple governments.
F. Alexander acts as a father figure toward Alex, so the F in his name may stand for “father.” Their relationship has Freudian overtones, since Alex raped the wife of his father figure, seemingly fulfilling his Oedipal urges to sleep with his own mother.
Andy works in a record store and helps Alex find the classical music that he likes. When Alex returns from jail, he is dismayed to find Alex no longer working there, as the store appears to be taken over by pop music aficionados. The disappearance of Andy hints at the disappearance of high culture that will occur as the totalitarian government increases its control.
Billyboy is the leader of a rival gang whom Alex and his droogies fight at the beginning of the novel. In the fight, Alex slices off Billyboy’s clothes and carves up his face, calling him a “fat stinking billygoat.” Later, Billyboy becomes a police officer partnered with Dim, and is only too pleased to get his revenge on Alex.
Dr. Branom is Brodsky’s assistant. Alex likes him immediately because of Branom’s friendly manner, with his shining white teeth and smiling blue eyes. Later, however, he feels Branom is insincere since, like Brodsky, he appears to get some enjoyment out of watching Alex suffer.
Dr. Brodsky is the chief psychologist in charge of the experimental Ludovico’s Treatment for Alex. Alex describes him as short and fat, with curly hair, a “spuddy” nose, and very thick glasses, wearing a fashionable suit. Brodsky is depicted as callous and even sadistic, as he laughs at Alex’s suffering. With his cold, clinical mind, Brodsky thinks of classical music only as a “useful emotional heightener,” and motives and ethics as mere “subtleties” in the process. After the procedure is finished, Brodsky triumphantly presents Alex as “a true Christian … Joy before the angels of God!” His words are obviously hypocritical, as he has taken away Alex’s soul.
Bully, Rick, and Len
These three are Alex’s new droogs in the third part of the novel.
The Cat Lady
The Cat Lady is a rich old woman who lives in a mansion in Oldtown, a section of the town with historic homes, alone with her many cats and kittens. Alex and his droogies intend to rob her house of valuables, but Alex ends up killing her instead, for which he is sentenced to 14 years in prison.
The prison chaplain, or “charlie,” a burly, red-faced man who drinks too much, is the moral voice of the novel. He tries to warn Alex against the Ludovico Technique, explaining, “Goodness is something chosen. When a man cannot choose he ceases to be a man.” The chaplain hoped to advance his career in the prison system, but after seeing what has been done to Alex, he resigns his position at Staja 84F and preaches against the Ludovico Technique.
The Chief Chasso is the head guard at Staja 84F. He treats the prisoners harshly, shouting at Alex, “Shut your filthy hole, scum!” when Alex tries to answer a question. He dislikes Alex, warning Dr. Branom that Alex is “a right brutal bastard, in spite of all his sucking up to the Prison Chaplain and reading the Bible.”
P. R. Deltoid
Deltoid is Alex’s Post-Corrective Adviser, a tired and overworked man assigned to monitor Alex’s behavior. He warns Alex not to get into any more trouble lest he land in jail. Deltoid cannot understand why Alex continues to get into trouble when he has a good home, loving parents, and a brain. When Alex fails to listen and does end up in jail, Deltoid spits in his face.
Dim, the dumbest and most brutish of Alex’s droogs, serves as a foil for Alex. Dim is a valued member of the gang because he is tough and fights with a chain. However, he continually embarrasses Alex with his vulgarity. Dim becomes a police officer and continues his thuggish ways, now beating people in the name of the State.
Z. Dolin, Rubinstein, and D. B. da Silva
These three are political dissidents who work with F. Alexander. Burgess satirizes them as radicals who care more about “the cause” than the individuals to whom the cause belongs.
The drunk is an old homeless man whom Alex and his friends find singing in the street. They beat him badly. The drunk is the only one who is not afraid of the gang. He says that they may do whatever they like, as the world is no place for an old man any longer, as there is no more law and order.
Georgie is one of Alex’s droogs. After Alex attacks Dim, Georgie tries to position himself as the new leader. Georgie claims that he has better ideas about how to make money; he would like to start robbing the homes of the rich. While Alex is in jail, he learns that Georgie has been killed in a botched robbery.
The Governor of the Staja 84F is a traditionalist who believes in “an eye for an eye.” He does not approve of the Ludovico Method, but the Minister of the Interior has given him no choice in the matter.
Joe the Lodger
Joe is the lodger who rents out Alex’s room while Alex is in prison. Alex describes him as about thirty or forty and very ugly. When Alex returns, Joe refuses to leave, declaring that he will not allow the “young monster” to take further advantage of his parents.
Marty and Sonietta
These two girls are not even ten years old, but they wear padded bras and lipstick, and ditch school to go to the record store. Alex decides to give them a real education, and brings them to his house where he rapes them.
Minister of the Interior
The Minister of the Interior (or Inferior, as Alex calls him) is a “very new broom” or reformer, in a government that is now becoming increasingly totalitarian. He is the force behind the implementation of the Ludovico Technique in the State jails, believing the new technology will help free up prison space the government will need for political offenders. He has no concern for the ethics of the procedure, saying, “the point is, it works.” The Minister is very pragmatic, quick to have Alex’s conditioning undone when he sees that it will help the government win the election.
Pee and Em
Alex’s parents, whom he calls Pee and Em (P and M) for Pop and Mom, are typical middle-class people. They live in a Municipal Flatblock and work ordinary jobs, his father at a dyeworks and his mother at a Statemart, or government-controlled supermarket. They are timid and passive, afraid to venture outside the house after dark and fearful even of their own son, to whom they continually defer. Alex’s bold and exuberantly fierce nature contrasts with his parents’ mousiness.
Pete is the peacemaker among Alex’s droogs. After Alex attacks Dim, he defends Dim. He says he wants to have things “more democratic like” in the gang. At the end of the novel, Pete has grown up, married, and moved on to an adult life when Alex sees him by chance at a teahouse. Seeing Pete’s contentedness, Alex decides that he, too, is ready to settle down.
Rex is the police officer partnered with Dim and Billyboy.
Alex and his friends meet the schoolmaster-type man (whose name is later revealed to be Jack) as he is leaving the Public Biblio with science books in his hands. They rip up the books and beat him up, tearing off his clothes as well. Later the schoolmaster and his friends get revenge on Alex when they spot him in the library.