1984 By George Orwell - Summary and Analysis
1984 By George Orwell
Summary and Analysis by Chapter
Part 1: Chapter 1 to Chapter 8
The story is told from the point of view of a man, George Winston, who works for the government’s Ministry of Truth at a time in the future when the world’s politics and way of life are very different from our own. The reference in the opening sentence to a clock “striking thirteen” is an immediate clue that the story takes place in a setting unlike any we have ever known. There are also immediate clues that this future is not a pleasant one. It is cold, and as Winston lets himself into his apartment buildings (ironically named Victory Mansions), he is eager to escape the “vile wind” outside.
Throughout the building (and throughout the city, for that matter) are posters of the apparent leader of the government, accompanied by the slogan “Big Brother Is Watching You.” It is clear from the start that this new form of government monitors the lives of its citizens very closely. Police in helicopters hover outside of the building, looking into apartments. A far greater concern, however, are the Thought Police, who monitor an individual’s actions through a device called a “telescreen,” which serves as both a television (one that is always on) and a camera. The telescreen’s programming is a mix of government reports and music, often military and patriotic in nature.
The story takes place in London—now no longer a part of England, but one of the major cities in a country called Oceania that is involved in an ongoing conflict with countries such as Eurasia and Eastasia. The Oceania government is divided into four ministries whose names don’t quite seem to match their missions. In addition to the Ministry of Truth (news, entertainment, education, and fine arts), there is the Ministry of Plenty, devoted to economic affairs. The business of war is conducted by the Ministry of Peace, and law and order are maintained by the Ministry of Love; it is this last ministry that seems to frighten Winston most of all. His own workplace, the Ministry of Truth, is a massive white pyramid-shaped building inscribed with the three slogans of the Party running the government: “War Is Peace,” “Freedom Is Slavery,” and “Ignorance Is Strength.”
Winston has decided to come home for lunch. Instead of eating, however, he pours himself a glass of bad-tasting gin and lights a cigarette. It is clear that he is trying to build up courage for something. It turns out that his apartment has an unusual layout in which there are a number of blind spots that the telescreen cannot “see.” He sits down at a table just out of the view of the telescreen, takes out an old-fashioned notebook, and begins a diary. He isn’t completely sure what the year is, or how old he is, or even to whom he is writing. Still, the reader gets the clear sense that an act that might seem harmless to us is, in this day and time, a significant rebellion. In fact, Winston thinks to himself, if caught he would likely be punished by death or a long sentence in a forced labor camp.
At first, Winston is unsure what to write. The reader senses that self-expression is not an acceptable thing in this world. Eventually he begins a long, rambling account of attending a movie the previous night, a war movie focusing on a group of refugees at sea—strangely, the audience took great pleasure in seeing the refugees attacked and killed. An audience member labeled a “prole” is the one person to object to the material, but she is soon ejected by the police.
This random memory triggers another memory for Winston, one related to his desire to start a diary. The workday is regularly interrupted by a strange and disturbing ritual called the Two Minutes Hate. As his co-workers assemble, Winston spots a woman with sandy hair who works at a nearby cubicle, and a dark-haired woman he doesn’t know but whom he somehow finds unsettling. They all gather in a common space and watch a video that almost always features Emmanuel Goldstein, a former member of the Party who has since rebelled and become the Enemy of the People. With the image of the equally feared and despised Eurasian Army in the background, Goldstein’s words and face stir up an almost violent reaction in the audience. Even Winston, who does not like the Party and is looking for a way to rebel, is overcome by feelings of hatred. Just as the Two Minutes Hate reaches an almost fever pitch, the image of Goldstein is replaced by that of the Party leader, Big Brother, and the workers begin chanting “B-B” in his honor. Just at this moment, Winston catches the eye of a highly placed Party official, O’Brien. Winston has always been intrigued by the man, and at this moment believes he sees in O’Brien signs of the same skepticism and independent thinking stirring inside of him.
Recalling this powerful memory, Winston finds himself writing “Down with Big Brother” over and over in his diary. Just then he is interrupted by a knock on the door.
Winston is at first worried that the knock on the door means that the Thought Police are already after him. However, it just a woman in his building, Mrs. Parsons, who needs help with a clogged kitchen sink. Her husband Tom also works at the Ministry of Truth. Winston regards him as the kind of unquestioning “drudge” on whom the Party depends: He doesn’t think for himself, and is constantly volunteering for various community activities. Tom is good at fixing things, but is away at work. Winston follows Mrs. Parsons to her apartment, which, like every other apartment in the building, is shabby and smells of boiled cabbage.
Winston quickly clears the clogged pipe, but the disturbing theme of this chapter is the behavior of her young son and daughter. Winston has observed that, more and more, children are brainwashed by the Party at a very young age. They love the songs and rallies and slogans; it is all a game for them. They channel their youthful energy and aggression toward real or imagined enemies of the state, sometimes even reporting their own parents to the government. The Parsons children are especially antsy on this day, disappointed they cannot attend a public hanging of captured Eurasian traitors. (Their delight at such a gruesome public spectacle mirrors the audience’s reaction to the film in the previous chapter.) Playfully, they pretend that Winston is a traitor and threaten to arrest him. Yet there is a dark edge to their play, and Winston (who has, in fact, just made himself a traitor) wonders if they might sense something. On his way out the door, Winston is struck in the back of his neck by a play bullet, and the boy yells “Goldstein!” (the Enemy of the People) at him.
Back in his apartment, Winston thinks once more of O’Brien, the Party official with whom he believes he has made a connection. He recalls a dream seven years earlier when a voice he later identified as O’Brien’s spoke to him about meeting “in the place where there is no darkness.” Winston holds onto this memory, almost as a kind of prophecy, a reason to hope. In the background, the telescreen reports on a distant military victory, followed by news of a reduction in the rations for chocolate. Winston is overcome by an intense feeling of loneliness and a sense that, in starting his diary, he has signed a warrant for his own death. Yet, in recognizing that he is in a way already dead, he lets go of his fears and feels a new sense of freedom. He writes some more in his diary and then prepares to return to work.
Much of this chapter takes place in Winston’s mind, giving Orwell a chance to widen the reader’s understanding of this unfamiliar world of the future. Winston is part of a transitional generation: He was born before the Party had come to power, and before the world’s political landscape had been fundamentally altered. His parents belonged to the old world, and though he mostly belongs to the new world, he has vague memories of an earlier time. For instance, he seems to remember that London was once part of a country called England. He has a highly symbolic dream that plays out a distant sacrifice he can’t clearly remember: He only knows that his mother sacrificed herself so that he could survive. Both parents were victims of a political purge that took place some 30 years earlier. A sister was involved in that sacrifice, as well. His mother’s sacrifice was rooted in a private kind of loyalty no longer possible in the current world. Winston also finds himself dreaming of an idyllic pastoral landscape he calls the Golden Country. He imagines spotting the dark-haired woman coming toward him across the field. In a gesture that is not sexual but powerful nonetheless, she strips off her clothes. It is a gesture that belongs to another time, and Winston wakes up with the word “Shakespeare” on his lips.
He is woken, as he is every day, by a piercing alarm from the telescreen. Shortly thereafter, a woman appears on the screen to lead all Outer Party members (as opposed to the more elite Inner Party members, such as O’Brien) in a series of morning exercises called the Physical Jerks. The mindless routine allows Winston to return to his dream and ruminate on how the current world came to be. He remembers a time of peace, and then the dropping of an atomic bomb that helped usher in a new era. The reality of the previous world exists only in memory, in his mind, but the official history sanctioned by the government never acknowledges a time before the Party rose to power. In the same way, the official word is that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia, even though Winston clearly recalls a time when the opposite was true. This is a world, the reader starts to realize, without real history: Everything that exists now is treated as if it has always been that way. The fact that Winston knows differently, and yet can never prove it, is part of a mental hall of mirrors called “doublethink.”
This chapter builds on the previous chapter by introducing the reader to the elaborate process whereby history is rewritten and adjusted on a daily basis. Making these adjustments is, in fact, Winston’s job at the Ministry of Truth, in a division called the Records Department. Any discrepancy between a proclamation by the Party or Big Brother and later developments must be corrected. If a speech by Big Brother, for example, predicts a certain development in the war that does not come to pass, it is the job of Winston and others to “rectify” the original speech so that it matches perfectly with future events. Again, history as we understand it no longer exists.
This process of adjustment and correction is massive and ongoing. People who have been arrested for political crimes and then killed or “vaporized” must be eliminated from any past records; it is as if these people (now referred to as “unpersons”) never existed. Novels and poems are also corrected if found to be “ideologically offensive.” The Ministry of Truth produces a vast output of news and entertainment for the public, including a lower level of trashier product intended for the commoners.
Winston’s current task is to rewrite a speech by Big Brother that makes reference to a man and an entire government organization that have since fallen out of favor and been eliminated from history. Winston’s solution to the problem is to write an entirely different speech praising an entirely fabricated character who exemplifies all the qualities the Party and Big Brother hold in high esteem. Strangely, while Winston secretly detests the Party and sees himself as a rebel of sorts, he gets lost in the details of such fabrication and takes great pleasure in his work. This seems to be yet another manifestation of “doublethink.”
In this chapter, the reader for the first time sees Winston engaged in routine daily interaction with his fellow workers. He at first refers to one man, Syme, as a “friend,” but then quickly corrects himself—the reader senses that Winston is not truly close to anyone. A big reason for this lack of connection is that members of this society must always be conscious of how they appear: to others, to the telescreen, and of course ultimately to Big Brother, who they know is always watching. Winston is keenly aware of the fact that, unless he is alone and out of the telescreens’ view, he can never let his guard down. Every situation calls for an appropriate attitude and a corresponding facial expression, worn almost like a mask. In fact, to show an inappropriate facial expression is itself a crime, one called “facecrime” in Newspeak.
Though he knows that he must watch himself, and does not truly see Syme as a friend, Winston enjoys talking with him because he is intelligent and makes interesting observations. At lunch inside the Ministry of Truth, they discuss Syme’s work, which involved developing an updated and authoritative dictionary for Newspeak, an evolving new language the government is pushing as a replacement for traditional English, referred to as Oldspeak. Newspeak has been referred to previously, but this is the first detailed explanation of its nature and purpose. The goal is to eliminate vagueness, ambiguity, and “unnecessary” shades of meaning. A necessary part of Newspeak, therefore, is the elimination and destruction of words as language is pared down to the bare essentials. The ultimate objective is to narrow the range of thought. Imperfect thoughts (those that run counter to the teachings of the Party) are only possible with imperfect language. Thus, when the language is perfect, the Revolution will be complete.
Though Syme supports the Party and is genuinely enthused about his work, Winston suspects that he will eventually make a misstep and be vaporized. He lacks the qualities Winston believes are necessary for survival in this rigid and paranoid society: “discretion, aloofness, a sort of saving stupidity.” Syme is a complete contrast to Parsons, who later joins them at the lunch table. His support for the Party is more unthinking. He is constantly raising money for community improvement efforts and for patriotic events like the upcoming Hate Week. Parsons apologizes for the incident where his boy struck Winston on the back of the neck—yet he admires what he calls the “keenness” of his two children, who are always on the lookout for traitors.
This chapter constantly reminds the reader of how grimy and lacking in physical pleasure this world is. Everyone wears the same uniform. The trays are greasy, and the coffee mugs are chipped and worn; grime makes its way into every little crack. The food and drink don’t taste good. “Always in your stomach and in your skin,” Winston thinks, “there was a sort of protest, a feeling that you had been cheated of something you had a right to.”
The lunch is interrupted by an announcement from the Ministry of Plenty on the “progress” the economy is making (even though Winston can see through the government’s lies). Afterward, he notices that the girl with dark hair is at the next table, and she glances briefly at him with a look of “curious intensity.” In a rush of panic, Winston wonders whether she is following him and might be a member of the Thought Police.
Writing in his new diary, Winston recalls an encounter three years ago with a prostitute. This memory is an opportunity for the reader to learn more about Winston’s past, and for Orwell to shed light on the nature of sexual relationships in the world of the novel. Sexual desire is seen as a dangerous, uncontrollable impulse; therefore, the Party does everything it can to take the joy out of sex and made it a drab and unappealing obligation, the only purpose of which is to produce children. Marriages must be approved by the Party, which rejects any relationship with strong sexual chemistry. Relationships with other Party members outside of marriage are strictly prohibited and harshly punished. Promiscuity with members of the proletariat is also officially prohibited, but is not harshly punished—the implication is that the occasional fling with a member of the underclass is accepted as a way to blow off steam.
It turns out that Winston was once married to a woman named Katharine. It seems that they were a poor match: She accepted the Party’s teachings and slogans mindlessly and without question. There was no pleasure or chemistry in their sexual relationship, either. They failed to produce a child, the one acceptable reason for ending a relationship, and eventually Winston and Katharine parted. He has no idea what became of her.
Once every few years, Winston finds himself wandering through the proletariat section of town and venting his sexual desire in a brief and joyless hook-up, compensating the woman with a small amount of cash or a bottle of gin. This latest encounter is difficult for him to think about, but he forces himself to write the memory down. After initially being drawn to the woman because of her painted face and her scent (members of the Party are not allowed to wear perfume), he comes to realize that she is in fact a much older woman, and has no teeth. He is repulsed but goes through with the act nonetheless.
The memory of Winston’s sexual encounter with a proletariat woman triggers a series of reflections on the “proles,” as they are known. It turns out they account for 85% of the total population. Members of the Party have very little interaction with the proles, who are a large and mostly invisible underclass. The proles go about the tough business of daily survival in their own self-contained world, with very little interference from the government. Thought Police roam the proletariat neighborhoods to cut off any possible rebellion before it gets started. Yet a revolt appears unlikely: The proles don’t seem to have any political consciousness, and any brief flare-up of anger isn’t directed at those in power. In spite of this fact, Winston holds out hope that the proletariat could be the key to a successful rebellion. While they are not politically aware, they are not brainwashed by the Party, which views them as animals.
According to official Party history, the proles were even worse off before the Revolution, when they were virtual slaves serving a small capitalist elite. Winston has borrowed a children’s history book from Mrs. Parson’s and examines its simplified and whitewashed account of history. Winston suspects that most or all of it is untrue, but he keeps running up against the same obstacle: There is no way of knowing for sure what life was like before the Party. Only once did he ever have concrete, tangible proof that the history released by the Party was a lie. He found a newspaper article on his desk disproving one of the charges made against three men who were initially part of the Revolution but then tried and convicted of treason and counterrevolutionary activity—but he quickly destroyed the paper by putting it into a disposal chute called the “memory hole.”
Winston is left with a fundamental dilemma: He knows in his bones that the Party lies, but can never know for sure what is true. If he is alone in his suspicions, he might as well be a lunatic. If the Party were to declare that two plus two equals five, he would eventually have to give in. Yet in the midst of this hopelessness, Winston finds himself thinking of O’Brien, the Inner Party official he is somehow convinced thinks like him. He is suddenly more convinced of this than ever, and now sees his diary in a new light: He is writing it for and to O’Brien.
On a night he is scheduled to spend at the Community Center, Winston instead goes on a long and rambling walk that takes him deep into a proletariat neighborhood. There are many risks involved. For one thing, it is wise to keep up appearances and stay active in approved community-oriented activities. Even more importantly, spending time on a long solitary walk is inherently suspicious. Any such expression of individuality—or “ownlife,” as it is called in Newspeak—is considered unorthodox and could result in punishment. Winston takes the risk anyway, compelled by his instinctual belief that the proles are the key to a revolt and a new future. He takes in the smells and sounds of the neighborhood. He briefly has to take cover to avoid one of the rocket bombs (or “steamers,” as they are called) that periodically fall on London—it is unclear who is responsible for them.
After walking for a while, Winston impulsively follows an older gentleman into a drinking establishing still called a pub—a holdover from earlier times. He is obsessed with idea of knowing what life was like before the Revolution. There are very few older Party members; nearly everyone from that age group has been the victim of one of the periodic purges. His only hope is to steal a conversation with an older prole, however dangerous that may be. Inside the pub, he buys the old man a beer and attempts to engage him in conversation, but the man’s stories are rambling and incoherent.
Out on the street once more, Winston finds himself outside of the same shop where he had bought the notebook he is now using as a diary. Though it is growing late, the owner, Mr. Charrington, remembers Winston and invites him to look around the shop. Winston buys an old paperweight with a piece of coral suspended inside; it is both old and beautiful—qualities the Party finds suspect, and which therefore attract Winston. The owner shows Winston an upstairs apartment he used to share with his wife, and Winston has a passing fantasy about renting the room out as a kind of hideaway.
As he is leaving the shop, Winston once more spots the dark-haired girl, who looks at him for a moment and then continues on her own. Winston is now sure that she is following him, whether as a member of the Thought Police or an amateur spy. Either way, it is almost certain that she will report him and he will be picked up. He briefly considers following her and smashing her on the head with the paperweight, but can’t go through with it. He returns to his apartment, sick with fear. In his heart, he has always known that once you start thinking forbidden thoughts, your days are numbered. Now it was only a matter of time.
Part 2: Chapter 1 to Chapter 10
Following the low point of the previous chapter, something entirely unexpected happens. As he is coming out of the bathroom at work, Winston sees the dark-haired girl approaching him in the hallway. She has been injured, and her arm is in a sling. Just as they are getting ready to pass one another, she stumbles and falls on her arm. Winston knows that he should fear and maybe even hate her, but instead feels tenderness. He helps her up, and she slips a note into his hand. Knowing that he must not betray himself, Winston puts it away. He is now sure that the woman is not a member of the Thought Police; she might even be part of the rebel group called the Brotherhood. He returns to his desk and, after waiting a few minutes, he peaks at the note. “I love you,” it says.
Winston destroys the note but can barely contain himself. He focuses on his work. He realizes that he has misjudged her as a mindless follower of the Party. That night, he faithfully reports to the Community Center, motivated more than ever not to give himself away. Whereas in the previous chapter he thought himself as good as dead, now he wants to live. Several painful days go by. Finally he has a chance to speak to her while they are alone at a table during lunch. They quickly make plans to meet after work in a public square. At the appointed time, Winston looks for a chance to approach her without drawing attention. Luckily, a caravan of political prisoners streams by, and a crowd forms to watch them. Camouflaged by the crowd and the distraction of the caravan, Winston and the girl stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and she gives him directions to a place where they can safely meet. Briefly, they hold hands—the novel’s first moment of true intimacy.
That Sunday afternoon, as agreed, Winston follows the girl’s directions. He has a feeling that she has arranged secret meetings before and knows how to do so without getting caught. He is early, and waits in a shady lane in the countryside. When she finally arrives, she motions for him to be silent. Even in the countryside, microphones are hidden in random locations to catch anyone breaking the rules. She leads him to a clearing surrounded by tall trees. She stumbled on it once after getting lost on a community hike, has met there before, and is reasonably sure it is safe. They embrace and kiss passionately but awkwardly, and then talk. She is 26, while Winston is 39; he is self-conscious about his age, his slight physique, and his varicose ulcer, and wonders why should would be attracted to him. She could tell that he was against the Party, and that is all that matters to her.
Over the course of the afternoon, Winston learns about her. Her name is Julia, and she has been living a double life for some time. She keeps up appearances as a good Party member, going beyond the call of duty to volunteer for a variety of community activities. Privately, meanwhile, she has been engaging in forbidden sexual encounters since she was 16. Far from being repulsed by her history, Winston delights in it. Her “corruption” is the ultimate rebellion against the purity and goodness and virtue the Party preaches. Having sex with her is, he feels, a political act.
With the more experienced and savvy Julia taking the lead, she and Winston steal time when they can, meeting for brief conversations in the street, where they make arrangements for future get-togethers. If they appear to be a couple, they will attract attention and suspicion, so on the street their conversation is a fragmented conversation “in installments.” Their next full afternoon together doesn’t take place for a while, and is in the tower of an abandoned church.
Winston learns that Julia is a very different type of rebel. She despises the Party but has no illusions about defeating it. Her rebellion is to grab as much enjoyment and pleasure as she can—not resisting the Party’s authority, but simply evading it. She has turned maintaining a good front into a science, and Winston follows her example by putting in more volunteer time. Though Winston still looks pessimistically on their future and declares them as good as dead, Julia proposes a more joyful embrace of the moment.
Julia is not political in the sense that Winston is. Still, she has a keen insight into the ultimate purpose of the Party’s sexual repression. They seem to realize that they can never fully control sexual desire, so instead they channel it. Because Party members are denied a satisfying sexual life, their bottled-up passion is transferred into the fervor of their support and enthusiasm for the Party and its activities, along with their hatred of the Party’s enemies. Winston realizes that there is thus an “intimate connection between chastity and political orthodoxy.”
It is often difficult for Winston and Julia to find time together and a safe place to meet. One factor is the flurry of activity leading up to Hate Week—though a month away, it requires additional work from everyone. Finally Winston decides to rent the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop. They both know it is a tremendous risk, but are willing to take it.
Winston is early for their first date in the apartment, and when Julia finally arrives, she has smuggled into her work bag a stash of delectables she somehow acquired on the black market: real coffee and sugar, bread, and jam. Before she and Winston undress to make love, Julia puts on makeup and perfume; in a society that insists on women being sexless “comrades,” this is both a risky indulgence and an act of rebellion.
Toward the end of their afternoon together, Julia spots a rat, which prompts Winston to recall a vaguely remembered but disturbing nightmare. Julia, who seems to be handy with tools, promises to plug the rat hole on their next visit. As they prepare to leave, Winston begins singing an old ditty Mr. Charrington taught him, and is surprised when Julia joins in; it turns out that she learned the song from her grandfather before he disappeared, presumably in one of the purges.
As Winston had suspected, one day Syme (his colleague who specialized in Newspeak and seemed to lack a necessary discretion) stops showing up at work. When his name is struck from the list of the Chess Committee, Winston is sure that Syme has been eliminated. The weather is hot, but the city is in a frenzy of preparation for Hate Week. Parsons in particular is elated with all the communal activity. Adding to the tension is an increase in the number of rocket bombs, prompting new demonstrations against Goldstein, the Eurasians, and other presumed enemies of the state. Posters of a fierce-looking Eurasian soldier have been plastered over the city and outnumber those of Big Brother. Even the proles, normally apathetic politically, have been caught up in the wave of patriotic fever.
Julia and Winston have managed to meet at the apartment a handful of times in the month of June, and Winston has never been happier. He is drinking less gin, has put on some weight, and his varicose ulcer has started to heal. The couple knows that their bliss won’t last forever, but having the apartment as their refuge sometimes creates the illusion that this reprieve could last. They occasionally discuss the political situation, and though Julia hates the Party just as much as Winston, she has no belief in the possibility of organized (as opposed to individual) rebellion.
Winston is perplexed by what he sees as her inconsistencies. On some issues she is remarkably clear-sighted; for example, to her it is a very real possibility that there is no war at all, and that the bombings and the stories from the front are a fabrication to keep people afraid. On the other hand, she accepts the Party’s claim, for example, to have invented airplanes; moreover, she doesn’t think that the truth of their claim really matters. Her politics are intensely individual. Winston, by contrast, is nearly obsessed with the impossibility of knowing for sure what really happened in the past. He believes that history is important, and finds it enormously disturbing that the Party has succeeded in essentially abolishing the past and stopping history.
One day at work, O’Brien, the Inner Party official Winston feels a connection with, stops Winston in the hallway and compliments him on his “elegant” use of Newspeak in his rewritten articles. O’Brien says that others share his opinion of Winston’s work, and makes a veiled reference to Syme, who of course by this time has disappeared and officially ceased to exist. It is a politically incorrect reference that only Winston could be expected to get, leading Winston to assume it is a kind of code telling him what he has hoped for all along: that they indeed share an understanding, that O’Brien is like-minded, perhaps even part of a rebellion. Moreover, O’Brien goes on to point out that occasionally Winston uses a word no longer in the revised Newspeak dictionary. When Winston points out that he is still using the old one, as the new edition has not yet been released, O’Brien invites him to stop by his flat sometime to pick up a copy. The conversation comes off as casual and innocent, in full view of a telescreen. However, Winston is sure that O’Brien’s purpose is to provide him with his address so that the two can talk in private in a way they could never hope to at work. He is excited at the prospect—but, just as with his stolen time with Julia, he realizes that he is also bringing himself one step closer to death.
While sleeping with Julia, Winston wakes up from a disturbing, highly symbolic dream about his mother that—as he lies in bed crying, recovering from the dream—triggers the memory of the circumstances under which his mother actually disappeared. He was less than 10 years old at the time, and his memory of that time is murky and uneven. His father had already disappeared, leaving his mother, Winston, and his sickly baby sister. There was great upheaval in the world: bombing, air raids, and severe food shortages. His sharpest memory of the time is of being hungry. At mealtimes he impatiently asked for more, not understanding the full situation and insensitive to the needs of his mother and sister. Mealtimes were always a source of conflict, and his mother had to guard their meager food supplies in between meals or Winston would attempt to take extra. Though he was in constant conflict with his mother over food, Winston remembers her as a woman of great dignity.
One day an extra chocolate ration is issued, and instead of going along with the fair solution of splitting the chocolate in three, Winston demands all of it. When the mother gives him three-quarters and hands the rest to the young girl, even this is not enough for Winston, who grabs his sister’s chocolate and races out the door. It is the last time Winston sees either of them. When he returns, they are gone. It is clear that they have been taken—a fate his mother appeared resigned to for some time.
Winston has ever since been burdened with a sense of responsibility for their disappearance and likely death. In his imagination he has combined his last memory of his mother—cradling the daughter protectively in her arm—with an image from the war movie he saw earlier of a Jewish refugee woman protecting her daughter even as they were about to be shot. The audience had laughed at the woman, because her efforts were futile. Winston, however, sees great dignity in his mother’s gesture, even though it may also have been futile. He realizes that the people of older times were governed by private loyalties, and not the government’s verdict as to what would or would not be entered into its official history. He acknowledges that the proles continue to live according to this older code, and are in a sense more human than those in the Party. The important thing, he says to Julia, is for them to hold on to what makes them human, even if they are captured and forced to confess. Being human is the one thing the government can’t take away from you.
One night, in a bold and reckless move, Winston and Julia show up at O’Brien’s apartment together. The apartment building of an Inner Party official, they quickly realize, is very different from their own world. Everything is clean, the elevators work, the rooms are spacious and elegant, and everyone has servants. Moreover, the smell of good food and good cigarettes is in the air—quite a contrast from the stink of boiled cabbage in Winston’s building. Most remarkable of all, O’Brien has the privilege of turning off the telescreen, at least for a while, granting them total privacy.
At first intimidated by the situation, Winston soon blurts out the reason they are there: They believe O’Brien is part of a conspiracy against the Party, and they want to be involved. With the truth out in the open, O’Brien offers them a glass of wine, a luxury unknown outside of Inner Party circles. He acknowledges that he is indeed a member of the Brotherhood, and the three sit down with Martin, a member of the Brotherhood only pretending to be O’Brien’s servant. They raise a toast to Goldstein, public enemy and leader of the Brotherhood, and O’Brien outlines just what they are getting themselves involved in. He presents a very unglamorous picture of the resistance. They have to be willing to do or sacrifice almost anything. In return, nothing is promised. They may well see no results in their lifetime. They will only meet a few fellow members of the Brotherhood. If captured, as is likely, they will not be assisted. The strength of the Brotherhood is that, because it is not an organization in the traditional sense, no one can betray it—not even Goldstein. Winston and Julia agree to all of O’Brien’s requests except one: They are not prepared to be separated from one another.
They share a cigarette and prepare to leave. O’Brien cannot have the telescreen off for too long without raising suspicion. He has Julia depart first. He then tells Winston that he will soon arrange to provide him with a copy of a book by Goldstein outlining the Brotherhood and its mission. He asks if Winston has any questions, and he has none—except he is curious if O’Brien knows the missing lines from the old ditty Charrington taught him. It turns out that O’Brien does in fact know the song, and the missing lines.
Six days into Hate Week—an endless series of speeches, marches, rallies, and military demonstrations—Winston is handed a briefcase containing Goldstein’s book. It is several days more before he is finally able to take a look at it, however, because an extraordinary circumstance intervenes. In the middle of a huge public rally against the despised Eurasian enemy, with an Inner Party member whipping the crowd into a frenzy of loathing, the country’s foreign policy is suddenly and inexplicably reversed. The speaker is handed a note, and when he resumes his speech, everything sounds the same—except that the enemy is now Eastasia, and Eurasia is Oceania’s ally. In a way that is startling but entirely in keeping with this society and its principle of “doublethink,” not only is the country’s foreign policy turned on its head, but everyone—speaker and crowd alike—acts as if it has always been this way. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, just as, five minutes earlier, it had always been at war with Eurasia. Winston had previously remarked on a similar reversal several years earlier. This time, however, the reader witnesses such a shift as it takes place, and the sudden, decisive, and unquestioned nature of the shift is remarkable.
Without even having it explained to them, Winston and the other workers at the Ministry of Truth know the overwhelming task before them: They must rewrite history to make it square with what has just happened. Every written record, speech, and newspaper report must be adjusted to fit the new reality that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia. The massive undertaking requires five days of nearly continuous work.
Having worked ninety hours in five days, Winston finally returns to his apartment to shower and shave, and then proceeds to the apartment above Mr. Charrington’s shop, where he can rest with Julia and finally read Goldstein’s book. Despite his exhaustion, Winston spends the next few hours reading through parts of the opening chapters of a book entitled The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. It is a dense and difficult theoretical explanation of the practice and principles of the society and world in which he now lives. In a way, there is nothing new here: Winston had already sensed the basic principles intuitively. What Goldstein does is elaborate on the theory and history of how this society came to be.
Boiled down to its essence, Oceania, and particularly its core principle of “doublethink,” operates according to a kind of “organized insanity.” While inequality had been unavoidable for most of human history, the technological advances of the early twentieth century for the first time made actual equality a real possibility. In order to obtain and then maintain power, a new ruling class that emerged in the middle of the century developed a set of radical and apparently contradictory strategies. They mimicked the egalitarian rhetoric of movements like socialism, but in fact had no interest in eliminating inequality. Control of resources was, over the course of the Revolution, shifted from capitalists to a new ruling class, the Party. Because this new ruling class owns resources collectively, they are, in a sense, invisible.
One of the central dilemmas facing the Party was what to do about the material wealth generated by new technological advances. If there was enough wealth to go around for everyone, society could not be kept hierarchical, or unequal—with a clear distinction between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” So, a situation of permanent war was created to absorb and essentially waste all the surplus production that would otherwise go to the people. Permanent war results in ongoing hardship and shortages for most everyone, as well as poverty and ignorance for the vast majority, thus making it easier for a ruling elite to maintain control. Permanent war also generates a certain mentality in which hatred for the enemy and loyalty to country are the prime motivating factors. Finally, the state of permanent war is possible only because war is no longer of any great consequence. Three superpowers rule the world, all with roughly the same resources and the same style of government. Despite public perception to the contrary, little is to be gained and little lost in their ongoing and shifting battles. The main function of permanent war is to enable a permanent ruling class. The Party pretends to make war on its enemies, but in fact makes war on its own people.
The most difficult and elusive aspect of this new society is its core principle of “doublethink.” It is, in Goldstein’s words, “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” The Party knows, for example, that it is constantly rewriting and fabricating history, but at the same time sincerely believes in that history. Truth is seen as a constantly adjustable thing. Thus, sudden and radical revisions, such as the shift during Hate Week from being at war with Eurasia to being at war with Eastasia, are a necessary part of maintaining the status quo. The related concept of “blackwhite” is relevant here: It involves “the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.” Party members are cut off from any objective measure of reality or history, thus perpetuating the system of control. Furthermore, unlike with many other hierarchical systems of the past, those at the top are even more susceptible to the system’s ideology than those at the bottom.
After finally putting the Goldstein book down and getting some sleep, Winston and Julia awake to the sound of a proletarian woman in the yard below singing the words of a popular song and doing her laundry by hand. They look down at her together, and the large, thickly built woman suddenly strikes Winston as beautiful. She was tireless and could not be defeated. He once more returns to the thought that has been with him for some time: “If there was hope, it lay in the proles!” Though he has yet to finish Goldstein’s book, he is sure that is his message, as well. Winston is overcome with a kind of mystical wonder. He thinks about the bird who sang for him and Julia: “The birds sang, the proles sang, the Party did not sing.” The proles are alive, while he and everyone else in the Party are dead.
He speaks this thought aloud, and Julia echoes him—when suddenly an iron voice behind him repeats the same words. It is coming from a framed picture on the wall. The voice orders them not to move. The framed picture crashes to the floor, revealing the telescreen that has been there all along. Soon the room is full of men in black uniforms. They strike Julia and haul her away. Into the room steps the shop owner, Mr. Charrington, now with an altered look and accent. He is not, Winston realizes, a humble proletarian shop owner, but a member of the Thought Police.
Part 3: Chapter 1 to Chapter 6
Winston awakens in a large, brightly lit holding cell with a telescreen on each wall. He has no idea how long he has been there, but only that he has not eaten since he was captured and that he is painfully hungry. Earlier he had been in a temporary holding cell, filthy and crowded with both political prisoners and common criminals from the proletariat. Now, he suspects, he is somewhere in the Ministry of Love. He knows he is supposed to sit still on the bench, yet his hunger drives him to reach into his pocket to see if there might be a crust of bread there, and he is immediately rebuked by a voice from the telescreen.
After some time, Appleforth, a poet he knows vaguely, is ushered into the cell, and they discuss the charges against them. He is taken away, and some time later Parsons joins him. Despite being an enthusiastic Party member, Parsons was heard mumbling the phrase “Down with Big Brother” in his sleep—and turned in by his young daughter, no less. He is genuinely remorseful and wants to be “cured” so that he can again be in good standing with the Party. A series of other prisoners joins Winston in the cell. One is near starvation, and when a fellow prisoner attempts to share a crust of bread with him, he is beaten brutally by the guards. Then Winston is alone again. He loses track of time.
Eventually the door is opened, and O’Brien walks in. At first, Winston assumes that he, too, has been caught by the Thought Police. Then, however, he realizes that O’Brien has always been loyal to the Party. He reminds Winston that he somehow always knew he would be caught. A guard strikes Winston harshly on the elbow, and he blacks out.
Following O’Brien’s visit is a seemingly endless stretch of torture, during which Winston is beaten, interrogated, forced to confess, then beaten again. The goal is to break his will. After a certain point, the brutal beatings by the black-clothed guards cease, replaced by a different kind of humiliation. Small, round intellectuals and Party officials berate and slap and question and cajole him; the abuse this time is more psychological than physical.
After a long while, Winston is brought back once more to face O’Brien, who he realizes has been orchestrating everything. He realizes, too, that “the place where there is no darkness”—the place where O’Brien had in his dreams promised to meet him, a meeting Winston had anticipated in a hopeful, almost mystical way—is in fact the prison cells and torture chambers of the Ministry of Love. Winston is strapped down to a table equipped with a device capable of delivering enormous pain, and O’Brien begins questioning him, inflicting Winston with ever-increasing doses of pain whenever his responses are unsatisfactory.
O’Brien tells Winston that he is mentally deranged, and that he intends to cure him. Winston’s basic problem, O’Brien says, is that he holds on to his own individual conception of the truth, rather than trusting the Party. There is no objective, external truth, but only the truth that exists in our minds. The only real truth—the only reality—is that which exists in the collective mind of the Party. If the Party insists that two plus two equals five, Winston must learn to accept that. O’Brien holds up four fingers and asks Winston if he is prepared to see five fingers if that is how many the Party says there are. Winston cannot accept this, and O’Brien increases the dose of pain until he passes out.
When Winston comes to, O’Brien explains to him that even though the Party will eventually have to kill Winston, it wants to change him first. Control over thought is the Party’s supreme objective, and to kill a rebel whose thoughts are still in opposition to the Party is not victory. “It is intolerable to us,” O’Brien says, “that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be. Even in the instant of death we cannot permit any deviation.” They will cure him, convert him, make him one of them—and only then will they kill him.
O’Brien raises the pain to an almost intolerable level, and then asks Winston to accept the Party’s reality. He says that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and Winston nods yes. He holds up four fingers and asks Winston if he can see five and, for a moment, he can. As their session ends, Winston is allowed to ask a few questions. He finds out the Julia, too, has been tortured. The one question O’Brien refuses to answer definitively is whether the Brotherhood exists. That question will remain, forever, an unsolved riddle.
As their sessions continue, O’Brien explains to Winston that there are three stages in his “reintegration”: learning, understanding, and acceptance. They have reached the second stage. O’Brien begins talking about the Goldstein book, which he himself had a part in writing. Its description of how the Party operates, he says, is fairly accurate. Goldstein’s belief in a revolution led by the proletariat, however, is nonsense.
O’Brien then goes on to explain in brutal terms the nature of the Party’s motivations. Previous attempts at mass control pretended that power was simply a means for a higher objective. For the Party, he explains, power is the end as well as the means. God is power, and Party members are the priests of power. Because the Party’s power is collective, the individual on his own is doomed to failure. He must submit utterly to the Party. Thus, the phrase “Freedom is Slavery” (or the reverse, “Slavery is Freedom”) is not a contradiction but a higher truth.
O’Brien is brilliant and relentless in his logic when it comes to the question of controlling the human mind. This is, in fact, the Party’s supreme art. Yet on other matters, he reveals the extent to which the Party has narrowed his own thinking. When Winston challenges his assertion that the Party’s power is absolute—pointing out the vastness of the universe, and the impossibility of controlling all of its natural laws—O’Brien insists that there truly is no reality outside of the human mind. Thus, there was no universe before humans, and humans are the center of that universe.
However, these broader questions are ultimately irrelevant, O’Brien concludes. In the end, all that matters is how one man can control another. He does so by making him suffer. Thus, as the Party evolves, it will grow increasingly merciless. Civilization will be ruled by such things as pain, hatred, victory over the enemy, and the intoxication of power. No other pleasures will matter.
O’Brien realizes that Winston is still holding onto a shred of his own self: a belief in some more noble human good that will inevitably rise up and triumph. If that was indeed a former characteristic of humanity, O’Brien says, Winston is its last representative. He shows Winston how reduced and degraded his human form is—how weak the old humanity is when compared to the immortal power of the Party. Eventually, O’Brien assures him, Winston will give in. He will break completely, even betraying Julia, the one true aspect of his humanity he had promised never to let go of. Then, O’Brien says, he will be cured—and when he is cured, he can be shot.
After being brought to such a staggering low point, for a while Winston is treated better and allowed to heal. The beatings and torture stop, and he is given better food. He puts on weight and regains some of his strength. The impulse to rebel seems dead in him. He is ready, intellectually, to accept the Party’s reality.
When he wakes from a dream shouting his love for Julia, however, he realizes that, emotionally, he still resists the Party. He is prepared to obey the Party, but not to love it. He hates the Party, and hates Big Brother. He confesses this to O’Brien because he knows he cannot successfully hide it.
The final stage of Winston’s “reintegration” brings him to Room 101. He has heard talk of Room 101 from the beginning of his imprisonment. The mere mention of the room inspires a great fear in most prisoners. He has asked about it and been told that deep inside, he knows what awaits him there.
It turns out that Room 101 is different for every prisoner. It is the stuff of their nightmares, the thing that cannot be endured, which brings a suffering that goes beyond pain. For Winston, it is rats. They have been at the edge of some of his worst dreams, even though they are never seen and never named. He is strapped to a chair and shown a kind of mask that is also a cage containing two rats, each in its own separate compartment. It can be placed over his head and, once a certain lever is lifted, the rats will have access to his face. They are fearsome and hungry rats, and O’Brien assures Winston that they will show no mercy—going for his eyes, or perhaps his cheeks, or his tongue. They will essentially eat him alive.
Pushed to his breaking point, Winston betrays Julia in a way he has not yet done. Yes, he has told them everything he knows about her, reported on everything they did and said together. Now, however, he begs O’Brien to unleash the rats on her instead of him. It is the ultimate degradation, the ultimate humiliation. Winston has been completely broken.
As the Party sometimes does when it has finally broken a political prisoner, it has released Winston for a time—he can’t know for how long—until the day he is taken again, perhaps tried again, and perhaps forced to confess again before finally being shot. It is not a show of mercy. It is a demonstration of the Party’s complete victory, its complete control over him: They can afford to release Winston because he no longer poses any threat. He spends his days in a gin-soaked fog. He spends hours each day at the Chestnut Tree, a café where he once spotted three renowned traitors he’d assumed were dead, but who reappeared for a short time, shadows of their former selves. The waiters know Winston and make sure his gin glass is always full. The Party gives him occasional, meaningless work, but mostly they leave him alone.
He has seen Julia, once. She, too, has been broken. They recognized one another and sat for a while on a bench together. There was no warmth between them. They acknowledged that they had each betrayed the other. Then they parted.
At the café, Winston tries to focus on a chess problem in the paper. He is briefly stirred by a memory of playing a board game with his mother. Mostly, though, he is riveted by updates about the war coming from the telescreen. He identifies intensely with the fate of Oceania’s troops. He sees the map of the war as if it were a chessboard, and a game he is playing himself. Finally there is news of a decisive victory, and he is overcome with emotion. He stares at a poster of Big Brother, a face he now sees as a symbol of all that is good in the world. He realizes that the final stage of his cure, his healing, has taken place. He loves Big Brother.