Nineteen Eighty-Four is Orwell’s final and most famous full-length work of fiction, published in 1949.
In Animal Farm, Orwell had realized his goal of making political writing an art. (Although later generations would judge that he had already achieved that goal in an earlier book, Homage to Catalonia, the recognition of that achievement did not occur in his lifetime.) The beast fable had provided him an ideal form to expose the Stalinist regime and to emphasize the danger of revolutionaries who are motivated by the lust for power rather than for justice. He chose to end Animal Farm with a parody of the Teheran Conference in 1943. The conference marked the first meeting of the Big Three, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt, who convened to discuss Allied strategy for the remainder of the war, which by that time (October/November 1943) pointed to victory in Europe within the next two years. But there surfaced in the course of the conference significant differences, over wartime strategy to be sure, but also over the nature and extent of the spoils to be claimed by the victors. It was clear that Stalin had designs on Eastern Europe, not as part of an overt empire, but as nominally independent countries with communist governments.
To Orwell, this move was a portent of the future, roughly outlined by the political theorist James Burnham, who had predicted that most of the globe would be controlled by three superstates, with totalitarian governments ruled by a managerial class, “the Party.” Although Orwell rejected most of Burnham’s conclusions, he accepted the principle of the three superstates and the notion that they would be regularly at war with one another. In a 1948 letter to his editor Roger Senshouse, he discussed his intention in writing the book:
What it is really meant to do is to discuss the implications of dividing the world into zones of influence (I thought of it in 1944 as a result of the Teheran Conference), & in addition to indicate by parodying them the intellectual implications of totalitarianism.
With Animal Farm, his target had been an existing, historical development. Here was a future prospect, one sufficiently dark and ominous to engage fully both his imagination and his intellect. He crafted a satire, designed not to predict the future but to zero in on a phenomenon that may have existed in the past in one form or another, but which had emerged full-blown in the twentieth century: totalitarianism.
One feature of totalitarian societies that particularly enraged Orwell was their systematic, organized lying. Having worked for the BBC as a propagandist during the war, he recognized and accepted the fact that all governments lie, but he also saw the distinction between the big lies and the little ones, and not only governments’ lies but the conspiracy of lying he encountered among the English Left during the Spanish civil war, which imbued him with a lifelong rage. In Nineteen EightyFour, he imagines an all-out assault on truth by a government dedicated to controlling thought and language to the extent that a dissident thought would become literally inconceivable. His message for his readers is that preventing totalitarian rule is much easier than eradicating it after it has established itself. As Orwell himself pointed out, the critical turning point in Animal Farm occurs when the pigs claim the cow’s milk for themselves and the other animals allow them to do it. There lies the first denial of the commandment that “All animals are equal.”
Fueling Orwell’s fear was the threat of a hot war between Anglo-America and the Soviet Empire that, in the end, would be inconclusive, leaving behind wrecked economies, such as Germany endured in the 1920s, which paved the way for Hitler’s totalitarian takeover. One glance at England in 1948 gave a succinct preview of the aftershocks of war: a dreary, dispirited world of shortages, including scarcity of food, fuel, clothing, and manipulative wartime euphemisms like Victory Gin and Victory Coffee. In such a situation, the descendants of the present Labour Party, “tougher types” than the present leadership, while representing themselves as socialists (INGSOC) might in fact be sowing the seeds of totalitarian thought, particularly those committed to the belief that, as in the Soviet Union, the party’s ends justified its means.
As has often been noted, Orwell did not have to look very far in imagining the London of Nineteen Eighty-Four. He found it in the London of 1948. As Peter Lewis describes it, “the era of post-war austerity, severe rationing, unrepaired bomb damage, shabbiness, weariness and shortages of such things as razor blades and cigarettes forms the dingy background of 1984” (112). The war had effectively bankrupted England and the new Labour government had to face enormous problems as it began its efforts to nationalize major industries, such as coal and transportation.
In the broader context of international affairs, England aligned itself with Western Europe and the United States in the cold war against the Soviet Union and their Eastern European satellites while at the same time undergoing the process of dismantling its colonial empire. Adding to the dreariness and deprivation of the postwar world in the novel is the remembrance of the recent war itself. The periodic buzz bombs (V-1, V-2) that fell on England in 1944–45 (one of which destroyed the Orwells’ flat while they were absent) left many Londoners with the sense that the war would never end. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, it never does. But a deeper concern had emerged: the prospect of an atomic war. For Orwell, the atomic bomb had done more than establish a new context for international military conflicts. As Orwell argued, nuclear warfare had also had increased the possibility of totalitarianism, since the acquisition of complex, expensive weaponry had historically tended to increase the power of the centralized state. The recent history of Italy, Germany, and Japan, along with the ongoing example of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites, had settled the question of whether totalitarian rule was possible. Still open— particularly in England, where a recently elected moderate socialist party had come to power, and in the United States, where the specter of James Burnham’s “managerialism” loomed large—was the question of whether totalitarianism was inevitable. To make the public acutely aware that it could happen here, “here” being postwar England and its superpowerful Big Brother on the other side of the Atlantic, Orwell set the novel in London, an outpost of Oceania, where the basis of the currency is the dollar.
Chapter 1, Part 1
On a chilly, windy April afternoon, Winston Smith returns to his apartment complex, called Victory Mansions. The elevator being, as usual, out of service, he climbs the seven flights to his apartment, noting on each landing the huge poster, depicting the face of a man of about 45 with a black mustache and eyes that seem to follow you as you move. The caption beneath it reads: “Big Brother Is Watching You.” As he enters his apartment, the telescreen is on, as it always is. The telescreen is a two-way transmitter device capable of seeing and hearing activity in the apartment.
Gazing out his window, he can see, less than a mile away, the Ministry of Truth, towering over the shabby buildings surrounding it. This is the city of London, the capital of Airstrip One, an important province of Oceania. Winston works for the Ministry of Truth, one of the four ministries that dominate the London skyline. The four ministries constitute “the entire apparatus of government”: the Ministry of Truth, in charge of news, entertainment, and education; the Ministry of Peace, which conducts wars; the Ministry of Love, in charge of law and order; and the Ministry of Plenty, which deals with the economy. As rendered in Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, the ministries’ names are Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty.
Winston has used his lunch hour in order to return to the apartment, and to offset his hunger, he gulps down a teacup of a nasty, acrid alcoholic drink known as Victory Gin. He then moves to a small table nestled in a tiny alcove that is out of range of the telescreen. From the table drawer he takes out an old, blank book that he surreptitiously bought in a junk shop in a disreputable quarter of town. When he bought the book, he had no conscious use for it, but now that he has it, he realizes that he intends to keep a diary. He begins to write the day’s date: April 4, 1984, although he is not even certain of the year. He begins by describing a film he saw the previous evening, a war film depicting horrific death and destruction, wildly applauded by the audience, except for one Prole woman who protested the idea of showing ntic, Orwell set the novel in London, an outpost of Oceania, where the basis of the currency is the dollar. such scenes to children. Winston stops writing because he has developed a cramp, but as he does he is aware that the reason he has started the diary today. It has something to do with an incident that occurred at work this morning. Winston had taken his seat along with all the other ministry workers to participate in the Two Minute Hate. Just before the hate began, he noticed two people sitting in the room. The first was “a bold-looking girl,” wearing over her uniform a red sash, signifying her membership in the Junior Anti-Sex League. In the past, she had given him an intense glance that filled him with a mixture of uneasiness and fear. The other person was an important Inner Party member named O’Brien, to whom Winston was attracted because something in his manner suggested that he was not a typical party member. The hate began, as always, with the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, projected on a large telescreen. Goldstein had been a leader in the party in the early days, but he betrayed the party and managed to escape from Oceania. “Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies . . . perhaps even—so it was rumored—in some hiding place in Oceania itself.” He was said to lead an underground terrorist network, known as the Brotherhood, and to have written a book filled with foul lies about Big Brother, proclaiming his betrayal of the revolution. Behind his image on the screen marched a vast army of enemy Eurasian troops. Those sights unleashed in the audience a pent-up fury that swept like a wave over everyone. The girl who had glanced at Winston became so caught up in the mass frenzy, she threw a book at the screen, hitting the image of Goldstein in the face. Even stolid, unemotional O’Brien was sitting with his face flushed and his breast heaving. Winston found himself caught up in the furor, alternately venting his hatred of Goldstein and then of Big Brother. He managed as well to switch his hatred to the young girl behind him, whom he imagined beating to death, or raping, cutting her throat “at the moment of climax.” He realized that he hated her because she was pretty, young, and desirable, and yet wore the sash of chastity. Finally, Goldstein’s face faded, replaced by the figure of a Eurasian soldier, firing a machine gun, but that image faded as well, replaced by the calm, powerful image of Big Brother and the three slogans of the party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.
The audience now responded by chanting “B-B! B-B!” repeatedly. Although Winston joined in the chant he was always repulsed by this aspect of the hate, which showed in his eyes as he locked glances with O’Brien.
I am with you, O’Brien seemed to be saying to him. I know precisely what you are feeling, I know all about your contempt, your hatred, your disgust. But don’t worry, I am on your side!
The connection is broken immediately, but it is enough to suggest to Winston that he is not alone in his hatred of the party. Perhaps there is even some truth behind the myth of the Brotherhood.
Now looking down at his diary, he finds that he has written unconsciously the words “Down with Big Brother” over and over. His first instinct is to destroy what he had written, but he realizes that it is too late. His writing it is irrelevant; the crime lay in thinking it. Thoughtcrime was the word for it, and the Thought Police would inevitably catch him. They would yank him from sleep one night and he would disappear. His name would be erased from any record testifying to his existence. He would be, in a word, vaporized. He defiantly scribbles in his diary that he doesn’t care that they will shoot him in the back of the neck: “Down with Big Brother.” At that moment, he hears a knock at his door and, his heart pounding, he gets up to open the door.
Chapter 1, Part 2
To Winston’s relief, the person at the door is a neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, the washed-out wife of a colleague of his at the Ministry. She has a clogged drainpipe in the kitchen and is asking Winston for help. He clears the drain, after which he has to deal with the Parsons’ children, a boy and girl who are acting up because they couldn’t go to the public hanging of some Eurasian soldiers in the local park. As he leaves their apartment, in the hall he is hit by a projectile in the back of the neck. He turns in time to see the Parsons boy, slingshot in hand, being dragged into the apartment by his mother. The boy shouts out to Winston, “Goldstein!” The Parsons boy and girl are typical of today’s children, fiercely loyal to the party and suspicious of their parents, quite capable of denouncing them to the Thought Police.
Back in his apartment, he thinks again of O’Brien and of a dream he had seven years ago, when a voice in the dark had said, “We shall meet in a place that has no darkness.” The voice was that of O’Brien. The telescreen announces a glorious victory against the Eurasians, which Winston recognizes as the prelude to bad news: The chocolate ration would be reduced to 20 grams. As he ponders the dreary hopelessness of his situation, he takes some solace in the fact that he is a thoughtcriminal. He is a dead man, but “. . . it became important to stay alive as long as possible.” Washing his finger clear of a possibly incriminating ink stain, he returns to work, putting a grain of dust on the cover of his diary to determine whether it has been discovered.
Chapter 1, Part 3
Winston dreams of his mother, who, along with his father, disappeared in the early 1950s, victims in one of the purges of that decade. In the dream, his mother is cradling his sister in her arms as the two of them sink deeper below water while he looks down on them from above. There was a tragic dignity to her and his sister’s deaths, one that would be impossible to duplicate in today’s world governed by fear, hatred, and pain.
The dream shifts to a pasture near a hidden stream. The girl from the Fiction Department is walking toward him and, as she does, she tears off her clothes with a graceful defiance that seems to obliterate the world of “Big Brother” and to invoke another time. “Winston woke up with the word ‘Shakespeare’ on his lips.” He comes awake to the sound of the telescreen alarm, which is followed by the summoning of 30- to 40-year-olds to calisthenics, “The Physical Jerks.” Even before he begins, he is subject to a coughing fit that leaves him breathless. As he goes through the motions of exercise, in his mind he struggles to summon up the past. He dimly recalls the outbreak of a war, which included the dropping of an atomic bomb on an English city. Since that time, Oceania had always been at war, either with Eurasia or East Asia, but at the moment, the official party line is that we have always been at war with Eurasia. Winston knows that Eurasia had been an ally until four years ago, but there is no evidence to support that idea. All the records have been changed to agree with the party line. The party’s view of the past is summed up in the slogan “Who controls the past, controls the future.” The present intrudes itself on Winston when the telescreen barks at him that he must make a greater effort to touch his toes without bending his knees.
Chapter 1, Part 4
With a sigh, Winston begins his day on the job. It consisted primarily of rewriting “misreported” newspaper accounts, that is, any statements issued by the government that turned out to be false. Winston’s revisions would then be collated with others from that day’s paper and the revised issue would be printed and filed, while the original would be consigned to “memory holes,” which lead to a furnace in the bowels of the buildings. As a result, the official record makes it clear that the party is always right. In another section of the Ministry, books are altered in a similar fashion. For Winston, the irony of all this falsification was that, when it came to statistics, the original figures were as false as the revisions.
Winston recognizes that he is merely the smallest of cogs in an enormous machine. His section, the Records Department, large as it was, was only one branch of the Ministry, which included, in addition to the ongoing reconstruction of the past, the production of a vast array of entertainment and information aimed at the proletariat population.
Winston’s main task this morning is to revise a speech by “Big Brother,” five months earlier, in which he conferred an honor on someone who is now an unperson, someone who never existed. The characterization “unperson” means that the individual has been executed for some unknowable reason, and his identity must be obliterated. Winston rewrites the copy by inventing the fictional figure “Comrade Ogilvy,” whom he depicts as an ordinary soldier who had died in battle. Winston creates a brief biography for his mythical hero, a paragon of devotion to the cause. As he finishes his story, he is struck by the fact that this fiction will be transformed into a historical fact. He had had the godlike pleasure of creating a human being out of nothing.
Chapter 1, Part 5
Winston queues up for lunch at the Ministry’s cafeteria. There he meets his friend Syme, who works in the Research Department. Syme is one of a vast army of linguistic scholars engaged in compiling the “Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary.” The two men receive their daily ration of “pinkish grey stew” and some bread, cheese, and coffee. For an additional dime, they purchase a cup of Victory Gin. Syme explains how the work on the dictionary is going. He and his colleagues are actively engaged in eliminating words, “cutting the language down to the bone.” With adjectives, for example, they can eliminate both synonyms and antonyms. He cites good as an example, “if you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well . . .” He goes on to observe that if you want a stronger word than good, you can use plusgood or, even stronger, doubleplusgood. Syme concludes his praise of Newspeak by claiming that its goal is the narrowing of thought, so that thoughtcrime will be impossible because the words that express it will no longer exist, words like freedom. It suddenly occurs to him that Syme is going to be vaporized, “he sees too clearly and speaks too plainly. The Party does not like such people.” Winston and Syme are joined at their table by Parsons, who proudly relates how his daughter recently denounced a stranger to the Thought Police. Their conversation is interrupted by an announcement from the Ministry of Plenty claiming that the standard-of-living index has risen by 20 percent and that the chocolate ration was being raised to 20 grams a week. Winston is stunned to see that no one in the cafeteria seems aware that the ration had been reduced to 20 grams only yesterday. He wonders if he is the only one left with a memory.
Suddenly, he becomes aware that someone is staring at him from the next table—the dark-haired girl from the Fiction Department.
Chapter 1, Part 6
Winston is writing in his diary about his encounter with a prostitute three years ago, but it is interrupted by the thought of Katharine, his ex-wife. They have been separated for 11 years. Katharine was a perfect example of a party woman, having been carefully schooled in the antisex credo of the party. The party insisted that the function of the sex act is solely for reproduction, rightly recognizing that sexuality is a difficult force to control, an affirmation of sensual pleasure outside the party’s control. Katharine insisted that they have sex regularly, but only as a duty to the party to have children. The physical act itself repels her. When they were not able to produce children, they separated. What was left to Winston was this furtive, fearridden encounter with a painted prostitute who turned out to be a toothless old woman.
Chapter 1, Part 7
Winston writes in his diary: “If there is hope, it lies in the proles.” The proles, who represent 85 percent of the population, are the only class with the power to rise up and overthrow the existing tyranny. But they lack the consciousness to do so. The proles live in freedom, relative to members of the Outer Party. They live their lives unhampered by telescreens, secret police, and government spies because the party sees them as harmless, their minds dulled and inactive. While they focus on beer and football and raising children, they unthinkingly accept the party’s depiction of the past as a time when proles were ruthlessly exploited by people called capitalists. They are continually told how much better off they are now, and there is no way of knowing whether that is true, Winston thinks, because the past has been erased.
He recalls one instance where he knew for certain that the past had been falsified. In the 1960s, the government had conducted sensational purges, in which one leading party member after another confessed to conspiring with Goldstein to overthrow Big Brother. The last of these so-called traitors were Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford, who confessed to a wide range of heinous crimes. They were not executed, however, but released from prison. From that point on, they spent every day at the Chestnut Tree Café, sitting slumped before their gin glasses. Winston had seen them there once, listening to a song about betrayal. Rutherford had tears in his eyes, and Winston noted that Aronson and Rutherford had broken noses. The three were later rearrested and executed. Some years later, on the job, Winston came across a picture of the three men from a 10-year-old newspaper, showing them at a party conference in New York. The date of the paper was the same day that the men had confessed they were conspiring with the enemy in Siberia. Winston, completely fearful at the time, dropped the clipping down the memory hole. The recall of the incident reawakens in him a basic question about the falsification of the past. He records his dilemma in his diary, “I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.” The Party’s ultimate goal is “to deny the evidence of your senses.” He imagines that the party will one day proclaim “that two and two make five, and you would have to believe it.”
The party operates on the assumption their greatest enemy is common sense, the belief in objective reality. But suppose everything is in the mind, and the mind can be controlled. This prospect suddenly raises the image of O’Brien before him. He instinctively feels that O’Brien agrees with him. He realizes that he is writing these thoughts “For O’Brien—to O’Brien.” O’Brien would understand that, despite the sophisticated arguments that might be lodged against him, “they were wrong and he was right.” He makes a final assertion in his diary that he feels summarizes his position: “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
Chapter 1, Part 8
Winston is walking through an unfamiliar area in London, realizing that he should be spending his time at the community center. Taking a walk by yourself would arouse suspicion of individualism, a heresy which, in Newspeak, was called ownlife. As he walks through the slums of a prole neighborhood, a rocket bomb explodes, and he is forced to fling himself down on the street coming close to being hurt. As he continues his walk, he remembers that he is near the junk shop where he bought his diary. As he walks on, he spots an old man entering a pub. The man must be at least 80 years old, and Winston is suddenly impelled to follow him into the pub and ask him about life before the revolution in the past. He gets no satisfactory answers from the old man and moves out into the street again, where he finds himself in front of the junk shop. Without looking for anything in particular, he enters the shop. The owner, Mr. Charrington, a man of some 60 years, remembers him but complains that there are few antiques left. As Winston looks around, he spots a small glass dome with a piece of coral inside, which he buys. The owner then suggests that there are more objects upstairs. As he enters the upstairs, he sees a place that looks ready to be lived in, featuring a large mahogany bed. The proprietor points out a framed picture of an old church, St. Clement’s, which reminds Winston of a children’s street game that named all the churches in London. As he leaves the junk shop, he spots a figure coming down the street. It is the girl from the Fiction Department. She looks at him squarely in the face and moves on down the street. He is convinced that the girl is spying on him. He has a momentary fantasy of following her and smashing her head in with the glass dome he is carrying. Instead, he returns home, anticipating the arrival of the Thought Police.
Chapter 2, Part 1
At work, Winston, on his way to the men’s room, encounters the same girl with dark hair again. With her arm in a cast, she stumbles and falls and Winston, although still suspicious of her, stoops to help her up, seeing that she is in real pain. As he does, she slips a small scrap of paper into his hand and proceeds on her way. He is profoundly unsettled by this move, still suspecting that she is a Thought Police spy—he makes no attempt to read the note until he is back at his desk after mixing it with a pile of papers. When he finally does read it, he is startled to discover the message: “I love you.”
It is only when he is lying in the dark at home that he is able to consider the situation rationally. He believes she is telling the truth, a fact that leaves him determined to stay alive as long as he can. He must get in touch with her quickly but without being detected on the telescreen. He determines that the safest way to communicate with her is at the cafeteria. A week goes by before the opportunity ever presents itself, when he trips up a man who is headed for the table where she is sitting alone. Without looking at each other, they agree to meet after work at Victory Square, where there is always a large crowd. At the square, the crowd is exceptionally large, having come to see a truck convoy carrying Eurasian prisoners of war. Crushed together by the crowd, they arrange to meet on the following Sunday afternoon in the countryside outside of London. Their hands lock together for a full 10 seconds before they part.
Chapter 2, Part 2
On Sunday, the two meet at the appointed spot but do not speak until she leads him further into the woods to an enclosed clearing. The woman, named Julia, speaks of the party with complete contempt. When Winston asks her why she chose a middleaged, unprepossessing man like him, she replies that it was something in his face. She knew just looking at him that he was “against them.” As he surveys this spot in the woods, he realizes that it is the “Golden Country” of his dream, confirmed by her when she says there is a stream nearby filled with big fish. They return to the clearing and she, as in the dream, tears her clothes off. As they proceed to have sex, Winston asks her if she has done this before, and she answers “hundreds of times— well, scores of times”—always with members of the Outer Party, and the answer delights Winston, realizing that the party, too, has its inner weakness. After sex, they fall asleep. Winston awakens first and, looking at her naked body, perceives that their lovemaking had been more than pure love or pure lust. It had been a victory over the party. “It was a political act.”
Chapter 2, Part 3
Before parting, they arrange to meet after work at an open market. At this and subsequent meetings, they speak to each other, strolling along as if they were looking at the wares on sale. Their next sexual encounter occurs in the belfry of an abandoned church tower in the countryside. There she tells him of her work in the Fiction Department, where novels are produced by machines. She also offers a theory of the party’s politics of antisexuality:
“When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour.”
Winston tells her of his marriage to Katharine and of the opportunity he once had to push her over a cliff. When Julia asks why he didn’t do it, he says that in the long run it would not have made a difference. Julia protests that he is too pessimistic. He counters that from the moment you set yourself up against the party, you should think of yourself as dead. Julia answers that as long as you are alive, you should feel alive.
Chapter 2, Part 4
Winston is in the room above Mr. Charrington’s junk store. Throwing caution to the wind, he has rented the room where he and Julia can conduct their affair. While he awaits her arrival he watches a sturdy prole woman hanging out diapers on a clothesline, singing as she works. The lyrics of the tune she sings are the product of a machine, called a versificator, which cranks out popular songs for the prole audience, but she sings it so well, it is transformed into something genuine. He thinks again of the folly involved in renting this room, virtually guaranteeing that they will be caught. His fears fade as he greets Julia, who has brought all sorts of delicacies, like real coffee and tea, leftovers from Inner Party members. As an added treat, she dons makeup she has bought in a prole shop, and the two fall into the room’s large mahogany bed. Later Julia spots a rat and hurls a shoe at it. The presence of the rat has a traumatizing effect on Winston. He is subject to a recurring nightmare in which he is confronting in the dark some unbearable reality. He always wakes up without discovering what the horrible object is, but Julia’s mention of a rat has triggered the same response. There the two luxuriate in the taste of the coffee Julia has brought. Winston, explaining to her why he loves the paperweight. “It’s a little chunk of history they’ve forgotten to alter.” When Julia asks about the picture of St. Clement’s, Winston mentions the children’s rhyme. To his surprise, Julia recalls a couple of lines, taught to her by her grandfather. Winston takes up the paperweight again and reflects that the room he was in is the glass dome, and he and Julia are the coral set in its heart.
Chapter 2, Part 5
At the Ministry, Syme has disappeared. On the first day of his absence, some people noted it. By the second day, no one mentioned him. Everyone is working overtime preparing for Hate Week. And at Winston’s apartment house, Victory Mansions, preparations under the leadership of sweat-smelling Parsons are feverish. Meantime, the rocket bombs falling on London have increased, stirring anger against the Eurasian enemy. A huge poster of a Eurasian soldier firing a machine gun directly at the viewer is plastered over the entire city. Despite the frenzied pace, Winston and Julia have managed to escape to their hideout over the shop as much as seven times in the month of June. Winston’s health is improving. The ulcerous vein above his ankle is less painful and his bronchial condition improved. Just knowing their secret room exists makes life endurable. On arrival at each visit, he has a brief chat with Mr. Charrington, who retrieves from his fading memory fragments of old nursery rhymes.
In bed, the two cling together, knowing that they will soon be discovered. On occasion, they speak of actively rebelling against the party. Winston tells her of his feeling about O’Brien, and she, operating on the assumption that everyone secretly hates the party, considers it possible, but she doubts the existence of an underground Brotherhood, regarding it as another fiction created by the party along with the myth of Goldstein. She even doubts the existence of the war against Eurasia, suggesting that the rocket bombs dropping on London were being fired by the government. But she is a pragmatic, here-and-now person, not upset by or even interested in Winston’s account of the Rutherford, Aaronson, Jones affair. Winston tries to convince her that the past has been constantly revised so that history no longer exists. “Nothing exists except an endless present in which the party is always right.” He speaks of the need to preserve some sense of reality to pass on to the next generation, but she answers that she has no interest in the “next generation. I’m interested in us.” He replies, “You’re only a rebel from the waist downwards,” a remark that gives her great pleasure. Winston concludes that people like Julia manage to stay sane by ignoring or failing to understand the implications of party doctrine.
Chapter 2, Part 6
As Winston is walking down a corridor at the Ministry, he senses someone behind him. Turning, he sees O’Brien, who falls into step with him, chatting amiably about Winston’s interest in Newspeak and his writing in general. O’Brien suggests that Winston might be interested in seeing the latest edition of the Newspeak Dictionary, of which he has an advance copy. He stops to write down his address, suggesting that Winston stop by his flat some evening. They part with Winston aware that he will visit O’Brien and that meeting will have fateful consequences.
Chapter 2, Part 7
In bed in their room, Winston awakes from a dream, his eyes filled with tears. The dream took place inside the dome of the glass paperweight and a gesture made by his mother and by the woman in the newsreel who tried to protect a young boy. Now, upon his awakening, it suddenly comes back to him that he thought he had murdered his mother. The experience he now suddenly recalls occurred in the 1950s. He was about 10 years old, living with his mother and younger sister. His father had disappeared some time earlier. It was a time of desolation caused by air raids, roaming street gangs, cities reduced to rubble and widespread starvation. He remembers himself as a sniveling, wheedling drain on his mother’s nerves, determined to whine his way to more than his share of the family’s drastically reduced rations. His desperate hunger had no regard for the needs of his mother or his baby sister, a two-year-old frail and ailing child. One day, a chocolate ration, the first of its kind in a long while, was issued. He insisted on being given the entire piece, whining and incessantly nagging until his mother finally broke the chocolate, giving him three-quarters and the baby the rest. Winston grabbed the piece out of the baby’s hands and ran out the door—as he looked back, he saw his mother draw her arm around the child and pressed her to her breast. Somehow, as he fled from the house, he knew his sister was dying. When he later returned to the flat, he found that they were gone, vanished like so many others then and now. He sees his mother as one of the people of the past, one of those “governed by private loyalties. . . . What mattered were individual relationships. . . . not loyalty to a party or a country or an idea, they were loyal to one another.” Now only the proles retain these values. “The proles had stayed human.”
Julia wakes, and they discuss what might happen when they are caught by the Thought Police. He says the important thing is that neither one of them betrays the other. By betrayal he does not mean confessing. Confession is merely an act; what matters is feelings. If they could make the two stop loving each other, that would be betrayal. Julia agrees that they can never do that. They can get you to “say anything—anything—but they can’t make you believe it.” Winston is resolute, confident that whatever else they do, they cannot alter the feeling residing in the “inner heart,” the “impregnable” part of the self.
Chapter 2, Part 8
The moment of decision has arrived. Winston and Julia are standing in O’Brien’s study, having decided, somewhat rashly, to visit him together. Looking around them, they are clearly intimidated by the room as well as by the man sitting behind a large desk. After he dispenses with some routine work, he rises from the desk and presses a button, shutting off the telescreen. The act impresses Winston sufficiently to have him assert bluntly that they have come because they believe that O’Brien is part of a conspiracy against the party and that the two of them want to join this movement. He is interrupted by O’Brien’s servant carrying a decanter containing a liquid, which they learn is wine. O’Brien fills their glasses including one for the servant, Martin, and proposes a toast “to our leader: to Emmanuel Goldstein.” O’Brien then outlines the nature of the Brotherhood and begins asking questions to determine the lengths they will go to in pursuit of the overthrow of the party. To all of his questions, Winston answers yes, until he asks them if they are ready to separate and never see each other again, at which point Julia breaks in to say “No!” After an indecisive pause, Winston repeats Julia’s “No.” O’Brien appears to accept their answer. He then dismisses Martin, but not before asking him to memorize Winston and Julia’s faces.
O’Brien then gives a brief and profoundly pessimistic account of the party’s almost invisible structure and of their individual fates. “You will work for a while, you will be caught. You will confess, and then you will die.” Their only hope lies in some indeterminate future.
Now it is time to leave. Julia will go first. Before she leaves, O’Brien proposes one more toast, asking what it should be—to the death of Big Brother, or to humanity, or to the future. Winston proposes “to the past.” O’Brien agrees that the past is even more important. He suggests that the two of them leave separately. After Julia leaves, O’Brien inquires about their hiding place and Winston tells him of the room above the junk shop. O’Brien then tells him that he will shortly be surreptitiously receiving a copy of Goldstein’s book. As they part, O’Brien suggests that if they do meet again it will be . . . Winston, recalling his dream, finishes O’Brien’s thought “. . . in the place where there is no darkness.” O’Brien invites Winston to ask one more question before he leaves. He asks O’Brien if he knows the old rhyme “Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s.” And O’Brien completes the last line. As Winston leaves, O’Brien gives him a small white tablet to disguise the smell of wine on his breath.
Chapter 2, Part 9
On the sixth day of Hate Week, the day before the scheduled execution of 2,000 Eurasian prisoners, the word came down that Oceania was not at war with Eurasia, and had never been at war with Eurasia, a trusted ally—the enemy was East Asia. The consequence for Winston and the other members of the records department was a massive task of rewriting events with an entirely new cast of villains and geographical locations. Winston had to work 90 hours in five days, sleeping on cots in the Ministry. In the meantime, the Goldstein book had been delivered to him, but he had not time even to open it. Now that the crisis was over, he is free for 15 hours. He heads for Mr. Charrington’s shop. Despite his fatigue, he is filled with anticipation. In their room, he opens the book, The Theory of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein. The title of the first chapter is “Ignorance is Strength.” Its opening sentences proclaim that throughout history there have been three classes of people, “the high, the middle, and the low,” and that these groups are “entirely irreconcilable.” Winston then jumps around to chapter 3, “War Is Peace.” It describes the events that followed World War II, when the Soviet Union gained control of Europe (“Eurasia”) while the British Empire was absorbed by the United States (“Oceania”). A decade later, after continued fighting, “East Asia” emerged as a third superstate. These three powers are constantly at war, but the sides are always shifting, so today’s ally may be tomorrow’s enemy. The reasons for this continuous state of war are radically different from those of wars in the past in that none of these three superpowers can be beaten. They are all too evenly matched. The real basis for war rests on the fact that it is destructive. It is destructive of materials that would contribute to the welfare and comfort of the mass of human beings, to the elevation of their standard of living. That elevation would free people from drudgery, leaving them the opportunity to develop their intelligence and become socially and politically active. Such a movement would threaten the existing oligarchy. The other virtue of war is that it requires massive amounts of labor expended without bringing any material benefit to the society. It produces “a state of scarcity.”
War serves one of the two principal goals of the superstate; first, to conquer the world. The second goal is “to extinguish once and for all, the possibility of independent thought.” In pursuit of these two goals, the party enlists the aid of scientific research, in the first case to help create weapons of such destructive power that millions of people can be annihilated at a single blow; and in the attempt to wipe out independent thought, it looks to science to “get inside another human being and discover what he/she is thinking.”
All three superpowers possess atomic bombs, and in the wars of the 1950s, they were frequently used, but the three governments soon realized that continued use would create a global wasteland in which their own power would be extinguished. As a result they continued to stockpile their weapons while tacitly agreeing not to use them. As a result, limited wars are conducted with the old weapons, with the exception of rocket missiles instead of bombers. But the important point is that these wars will never end. Permanent war ensures the status quo within each superstate. That is the true message behind the slogan “War Is Peace.”
Winston’s reading is interrupted by the arrival of Julia. After making love, Winston begins to read the book aloud to a sleepy Julia. After the opening passage in chapter 1, the chapter goes on to chart the history of the various ideologies that developed around the question of achieving an equitable social arrangement other than the high-middle-low structure. Socialism claimed to offer a solution, but various attempts to implement it resulted in the abandonment of the principles of equality and freedom. However, a quiet revolution took place in what were to become the three superstates. A new class, drawn from the middle and the upper strata of the low, came to power: the professionals, who brought technical skills and managerial expertise to the seats of power. A major source of this new power was the new tchnology, enabling the ruling class to shape the thinking of the public and “to keep its citizens under constant surveillance” through the use of various collecting devices, and most important, via two-way televisions.
The new superstates reconstituted themselves on a nominally “socialist” basis—“the abolition of private property”—but in fact, the party owns everything. The pyramidal structure of Oceanic society is as follows: At the top is Big Brother, omnipotent, all-seeing and immortal. Because he is not an individual, he is a symbol, the embodiment of the party. Beneath him are the Inner Party members, the brains of the party, two percent of the population. Below them are the Outer Party, about 12 percent of the population, the “hands” of the party. Finally there are the proles, 85 percent of the population, the blood and brawn of the party. One does not gain admission to the inner party by inheritance. A party member must have an instinctive sense of the party’s will, but that sense can be enhanced by education. As a child, the future Party member first learns the technique of crimestop, the ability to abort any thought that is headed in a dangerous direction. From here the child moves on to acquire the skill known as blackwhite, the ability to assert that black is white in the interests of Party discipline, but also to believe that such is the case and “to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.” These two educational steps are essential to the process known as doublethink, crucially related to the party’s sense of the past. For the party, the past is not fixed and permanent; its reality is evident only in records. Thus the past is always being recreated to serve the interests of the party. As for people’s memories, one can learn to “control reality,” that is, to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both, “which is the basic definition of doublethink.” Doublethink is the foundation on which the party’s power rests. The only question that remains is to examine the motive behind the development of “doublethink and the Thought Police and continuous warfare . . .”
At this point, Winston stops reading, realizing that Julia has fallen asleep. Reflecting on what he has read, he thinks that he understands how the present system came into being, but he has yet to learn why. One thing that has reassured him that he is not insane. He has been right in opposing the regime. With that thought, he falls asleep.
Chapter 2, Part 10
He wakes to the sound of a prole woman singing. Julia awakes and the two dress and move to the window to watch the prole woman at her clothesline. As he watches the woman, he becomes convinced that “if there was hope, it lay in the proles.” The proles are still alive, but we are the dead. He says these words to Julia and she repeats them, when suddenly they hear a voice coming form behind the picture of St. Clement’s on the wall, saying, “You are the dead.” The voice orders them to stand still with their hands behind their heads, while the room is invaded by men in black uniforms, followed by Mr. Charrington, only now he has discarded his disguise of being an old man. He is a middle-aged man, alert and cold, a member of the Thought Police.
Part 3, Chapter 1
At first, Winston was brought to an ordinary prison, thrown in with regular criminals, thieves, drunks, prostitutes and black marketeers, along with a few political prisoners like himself. Now he is somewhere in the Ministry of Love in a cell, sitting on a long narrow bench under constant surveillance form four telescreens. At one point he is joined by the poet Ampleforth, guilty of leaving the word God in a Kipling poem he was editing, because he couldn’t find a suitable substitute. Ampleforth is taken out shortly after, slated to go to room 101. Later, Winston is joined in the cell by Parsons, who was overheard by his daughter crying out “down with Big Brother” in his sleep. His daughter reported him to the Thought Police, for which, Parsons says, he is proud of her. After Parsons leaves, a number of prisoners come and go, including one skull-faced man who is clearly starving to death. When another man, Bumstead, tries to give him a piece a bread, a voice from the telescreen commands him to stop where he is. Then a guard enters and brutally beats Bumstead. Meanwhile, the starving man is told he must go to Room 101. Sometime after that, a door opens and O’Brien walks in. Winston thinks that O’Brien, too, is a prisoner, but then O’Brien steps aside to let a guard deliver a paralyzingly painful blow to Winston’s elbow. O’Brien tells him not to deceive himself, that he has always known who O’Brien really was.
Part 3, Chapter 2
He is lying strapped down on a high cot. O’Brien is standing next to him with another man, holding a hypodermic syringe. He has endured an extraordinary range of pain, and he has confessed to a host of crimes. But he has not denied the reality of an objective past. Winston insists that some memory is involuntary, that it can’t be controlled. O’Brien insists that Winston has failed to exercise the selfdiscipline that would make him capable of that control. O’Brien asserts that objective reality is an illusion: “Reality exists in the mind and nowhere else.” He then reminds Winston that he wrote in his diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.” O’Brien holds out four fingers and asks Winston how many fingers he sees. When Winston answer “four,” O’Brien tells him that it is five, “What do you say?” When Winston answers four, he feels a jolt of pain. O’Brien repeats the question and with another answer of four, the escalating pain becomes so intense that Winston says “Five,” but O’Brien is not satisfied. Eventually, the pain reaches a level that Winston really cannot determine how many fingers he sees. At that point, O’Brien cuts off the current and Winston experiences an injection that immediately replaces the pain with a blissful warmth. At that moment he feels an overwhelming love for his torturer. O’Brien then asks Winston why he thinks the party brings people here to torture them, explaining that it is done to cure them. The party does not make the mistakes of past torturers, the Inquisition, the Nazis, the Communists—they all created martyrs, who inspired more people to rise up against them. O’Brien explains that the party converts its heretics and turns them into genuine believers. His function is to convert the heretic to “make him one of ourselves before we kill him.” Then, O’Brien’s attendants place two large moist pads against Winston’s temple. He experiences a blinding flash of electricity and a feeling inside his head as if a portion of his brain had been removed. O’Brien asks him a series of questions designed to determine if the treatment has worked and he is satisfied with Winston’s answers. He now allows Winston to ask him some questions. His first question concerns the fate of Julia, and O’Brien replies that she was “a perfect conversion, a textbook case.” His next two questions, about the existence of Big Brother and of the Brotherhood, receive ambiguous responses. Winston’s final question is “What is in Room 101?” And he is told only that he already knows what is in Room 101. A needle is then inserted into Winston’s arm, and he immediately falls into a deep sleep.
Part 3, Chapter 3
O’Brien explains to Winston that he has just completed the first stage of his “cure.” The first stage is the learning phase, which must be followed by understanding and finally by acceptance. The second stage begins with Winston’s being once again strapped down but tighter than before. O’Brien reminds him of his question about understanding the “how” but not the “why.” Now he asks Winston to tell him why he thinks the party wants power. Winston realizes that O’Brien expects to hear an explanation based on the belief that humankind needs security, not freedom. The average person is incapable of self-government. As soon as he attempts this answer he feels an electric shock through his body. Then O’Brien gives him the correct answer, “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.” He adds that the party is historically unique precisely because of its willingness to acknowledge this fact. The Nazis and Stalinists employed many of our methods but they were too cowardly to face up to their true motives: “The object of power is power.”
Winston looks at O’Brien and sees fatigue registered in his face. O’Brien, reading his thoughts, tells Winston that the fatigue and decay he sees in O’Brien do not contradict what he is saying: The individual is merely a cell in the larger organism that is the party. Power resides in the collective, not in the individual. But if one can submit his individual will to the will of the party, the person becomes a part of a whole that is all-powerful.
A second point is that power is power over other human beings, not simply their bodies, but their minds. When you control the mind you control reality; “Reality is inside the skull.” When Winston insists that you can’t control the laws of nature, he is told, “We make the laws of nature.” And, thanks to doublethink, we can contradict those laws anytime we please. Winston tries to think of the term for the fallacy inherent in O’Brien’s logic. O’Brien, again reading his mind, supplies the term Winston is looking for, “solipsism. Collective solipsism, it you like”—but he denies its application to his ideas.
As O’Brien sees it, the future will consist of an increasingly more brutal world, in which humanist values will be suppressed under the reign of power. “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” Pushed to his limit, Winston finally asserts that eventually the party will be be defeated by the “spirit of Man.” O’Brien explains to Winston that he is the last man. He orders him to take off his clothes and stand before a three-sided mirror. When he looks at his emaciated, devastated face and figure in filthy rags, the image overwhelms him and moves him to tears. When O’Brien asks him if he can think of a single degradation he has not been reduced to, he answers that he has not betrayed Julia. O’Brien agrees, and when Winston asks when they will shoot him, O’Brien says not for some time yet, but “in the end we shall shoot you.”
Part 3, Chapter 4
For Winston, life is becoming relatively easy. Still in a cell—an improved, more comfortable one, he is eating regularly, gaining weight, wearing clean clothes, and slowly acquiring the new knowledge O’Brien has imparted, accepting with equanimity all the party slogans, even formulating one of his own, “God Is Power.”
On one occasion, he falls into a reverie in which he is walking in the Golden Country and has a momentary hallucination which causes him to cry out aloud Julia’s name. Shortly after, O’Brien comes to his cell. He tells Winston that he has improved considerably on an intellectual level, but emotionally he has made no progress. He asks him if he loves Big Brother and when Winston replies that he hates him, O’Brien says that it is time for Winston to enter the final phase of his cure: He must love Big Brother. O’Brien pushes Winston toward the guards and instructs them: “Room 101.”
Part 3, Chapter 5
Room 101 is located deep on the bottom floor of the Ministry of Love. The room contains, besides the chair to which he is strapped, two small tables. O’Brien enters. He tells Winston that the answer to his earlier question about what was in Room 101 is “the worst thing in the world,” which varies according to the individual. The door opens and a guard enters carrying a case, which he sets down on one of the tables. For Winston, O’Brien explains, “the worst thing happens to be rats.” O’Brien moves the box to a table next to Winston close to his face while clicking something on the cage. He explains that he has unlocked the first lever on the rat cage. When he places the cage over Winston’s head he will release the second lever, freeing the two rats to attack his face. As the cage is descending over his face, Winston understands what he must say: “Do it to Julia, do it to Julia.” Although he had the sensation of falling a great distance, Winston is conscious of hearing a click and knowing that the cage is being closed, not opened.
Part 3, Chapter 6
Winston is sitting in the Chestnut Tree Café, drinking Victory Gin and watching the telescreen. The news is not good. The war with the Eurasians (the war has always been with the Eurasians) was not going well on the African front. Winston spends most of his time at the café. One day he had run into Julia in the park and the two spoke to each other, each admitting that he/she had betrayed the other. She described the process which was exactly how Winston had experienced it: Don’t do this thing to me, do it to the other. After that there is no love. The two walked away from each other, having nothing else to say.
He had a token job at the Ministry of Truth, but it was meaningless, a subcommittee’s subcommittee charged with the task of determining whether to put commas inside or outside of quotation marks. The other members were people like him, ghosts who had gone through the cure. At the café, he has a brief recollection of playing Snakes and Ladders with his mother, but he pushes that “false memory” away. On the telescreen comes a great announcement: The conflict on the African front has resulted in a great victory for Oceania. Winston stays seated but he would like to be out in the streets celebrating. His great climactic moment has arrived. Gazing up at the majestic visage of the Leader now appearing on the screen, he has finally triumphed over himself. “He loved Big Brother.”
Nineteen Eighty-Four begins quietly but ominously. The opening paragraph sends us indirect signals that something is not quite right, if not rotten:
It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.
The reference to April might suggest spring, new beginnings, as it does, for example, in the famous opening line of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. On the other hand, readers might be reminded of a more recent opening line, from T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land: “April is the cruelest month . . .” As the story unfolds, both connotations surface: April proves to be a new beginning for Winston, but, ironically, one that ends for him in the cruelty of Room 101. The clocks striking “thirteen” indicates an alteration of language, the adoption of a more military terminology, a movement reinforced by the reference to Victory Mansions, while the “vile wind” and “gritty dust” hint that here the outer penetrates the inner, anticipating the telescreen in Winston’s apartment as well as the basic strategy of a government that aims to invade and control the interior life of its citizens.
We are also given the name of the character Winston Smith. Smith offers no problem. It is the name of everyman. In the United States, Joe Smith was and is a common term, even a cliché, for an ordinary citizen. As for the first name, although it is logical that the 39-year-old Winston, born in England in 1944 or 1945, would have been named Winston, after the wartime prime minister, it also suggests that our Smith is a man of the past, a political figure who is also something of a writer and historian, perhaps the last of a dying breed. (From the vantage point of 1948, with a Labour government firmly in control after their electoral victory three years earlier, the ex-prime minister might easily have exemplified a dying breed.)
The stage is set for a dramatic conflict. In simple terms: It is Winston against the party. He takes a step which he recognizes as fatal when he begins to record his feelings in his secret diary. Keeping the diary seems to be simply an act of despair, a record that no one will read, destined to be vaporized along with its author. But he also knows, subconsciously at least, that this is not quite true. As he comes to recognize later, he is writing the diary “to and for O’Brien.” He will have his reader.
In his entry, he records watching a movie newsreel the previous evening. He inadvertently draws a picture of people brutalized and filled with hate by the daily diet of war and cruelty they have been fed. His conditioning is such that he shares the audience’s view. He describes their laughing at “a wonderful shot,” the sight of a helicopter dropping a bomb on a lifeboat filled with children, and of a Jewish woman in the boat trying to protect a screaming child, her arms cradling the boy to her breast. The one exception in the audience is a prole woman, who is heard to cry out that such violence and cruelty should not be shown to children. It is a measure of Winston’s own conditioning that he dismisses the woman’s protest: “. . . the police turned her out and I don’t suppose anything happened to her nobody cares what the proles say. . . .” Later, Winston recognizes that if there is any hope at all, it lies with the proles. But at the beginning, his rebellion is essentially a private and convenient form of suicide.
That there is something more to him is hinted at in the dream he has that evening, in which he watches from above as his mother and younger sister sink beneath the water. This part of the dream has been clearly triggered by the newsreel of the woman in the lifeboat. In the contrast between the newsreel and the dream, he recognizes the difference between today’s world of “fear, hatred and pain” and the lost world in which death could be faced with tragic dignity “when there were still privacy, love, and friendship. . . .”
Thus a good portion of the novel is devoted to the application of the party slogan, “who controls the past, controls the future.” Winston has been an active participant in this control. Part of him— the Smith in him, the wordsmith—even enjoys the challenge of creating, for example, a completely fictional character, Comrade Ogilvy, for whom he invents an imaginary, heroic life and death in order to replace an account of someone who is now an unperson.
Winston’s conflict with the state moves to a second, deeper stage when he begins his affair with Julia. Julia had appeared in the same dream as his mother. She had approached him in a country setting, throwing off her clothes as she neared. The reckless, freedom-loving gesture seems enough to abolish the whole oppressive world he lives in. The dream is harshly interrupted by the voice of the telescreen summoning Winston to participate in the daily morning calisthenics required of all Outer Party members. When, thanks to Julia’s courage and daring, they finally do meet and make love, he understands that, as an expression of freedom, sex is a political act. In the affair, “Winston discovers the supreme importance of uncomplicated human love and loyalty.” When the affair is solidified by the seeming good luck of finding their own private room, a flicker of hope illuminates Winston’s consciousness, associated with the strength and beauty of a prole woman who is singing while hanging out the wash. He has a second dream, dominated by the encircling maternal arm of his earlier dream, attempting to protect a child from being strafed and bombed by an enemy plane. This dream has triggered a childhood memory. After being given three-quarters of a chocolate ration, he had grabbbed the other quarter from the hands of his starving baby sister. He ran out of the room, but looking back, he saw his mother cradling his sister to her breast. It is clear that, on the personal level, the past is not the idyllic time imagined by George Bowling in Coming Up for Air or hinted at by Orwell in some of his essays, hints that caused Cyril Connolly, who knew him from childhood, to describe Orwell as “a revolutionary in love with 1910.”
Only once in his dialogue with O’Brien does Winston have a chance to express an opinion that O’Brien accepts. When the latter proposes a toast at the meeting in his house, he suggests possible objects of the toast “. . . To humanity? To the future?” At this point, Winston interjects, “to the past,” and O’Brien agrees, “the past is more important.” A touch of that idyllic past seems to be present in the references to the old London church bells and children’s street songs, but these allusions turn out to be simply tactics employed by Charrington and O’Brien to further ensnare Winston. The party controls the past.
For Winston personally, the past is also a source of guilt that needs to be expiated. That need may be a primary motive for his increasing recklessness as he moves from the diary to the affair with Julia, to approaching O’Brien about joining the Brotherhood. These rash acts are conducted in the spirit of nothing left to lose, but they also express the sense of something to atone for. But now the suicidal impulse has been replaced by a defiant affirmation, not simply a “no” to the party’s war on the individual, but an assertion that it just might be possible to activate a resistance that could catch the attention of the proles.
The first step, he believes, is to move beyond flirtation with O’Brien, after the latter sends him a signal that appears to be unmistakable. The scene in which the lovers are initiated into the mysterious Brotherhood is layered over with religious symbolism, including the wine and the white wafer, ostensibly designed to cleanse one’s breath, and the importance attached to “the book,” i.e., Goldstein’s treatise on oligarchical collectivism, the bible of the Brotherhood movement. Of course, their underground world, even the book itself, turns out to be an illusion constructed by the party to bring dissidents to a level of consciousness and conviction that will make them enemies worthy of being crushed, a suitable sacrifice to the god of power. For O’Brien, personally, Winston must seem a special challenge, particularly since he exhibits the instinct that is the most difficult to erase, a capacity for love. The challenge, however, is not to eliminate Winston’s love but to transform it into the love of Big Brother. This is the reason that led the philosopher Richard Rorty to suggest that “after Winston and Julia go to O’Brien’s apartment, 1984 becomes a book about O’Brien, not about twentieth century totalitarian states” (Rorty, 171).
Even allowing for the fact that Rorty may be overstating the case, it is certainly true that O’Brien is the second-most important character in the novel, after Winston. Therefore the question as to his human credibility is important, even if his essential role is symbolic. (Moby Dick, as it is said, has to be a believable whale before it can be anything else.) In this respect, O’Brien is given a distinctive feature, one that Winston finds particularly attractive, resettling his glasses on his nose. It is a very human gesture, and perhaps Winston sees in it a sign of flexibility, a recognition of the need to adjust, to acknowledge that he may not be seeing quite clearly. This is entirely the opposite of the raving fanatic we see in Room 101. Between the two extremes, O’Brien negotiates reality through his mastery of doublethink.
But while doublethink may provide us with a description of O’Brien’s skill, it does not penetrate within; it does not give us a picture of O’Brien resettling the glasses of his mind. The argument that we should move from O’Brien’s Irishness to his Catholicism and from there to his Jesuitical character is plausible but at a triple remove, tenuous. Even more that we should move from the first letter of Eileen’s maiden name (O’Shaughnessy) to the first letter of O’Brien’s as “a vehicle of guilt” (Porter, 70). In this respect, V. S. Pritchett’s metaphorical description of Orwell’s technique, “. . . he knows exactly where on the new Jesuitism to apply the Protestant whip” (Pritchett, 291) would be literally correct as well as metaphorically vivid.
The third important character is Julia, important not only individually but as the vehicle for the theme of sexual politics. Feminist critics have criticized Orwell for his characterization of Julia. To begin with, we are never given her last name, whereas all the male characters, except for Winston, Parsons, Syme, Charrington, Bumstead, Jones, Aaronson, Rutherford, and most notably, O’Brien, are known in the best British public-school tradition, only by their last names. The one exception is O’Brien’s mysterious servant, Martin. One can justifiably deduce from this that first names are for women and the lower classes. More substantively, Orwell’s depiction of Julia suggests that she is “. . . every man’s most potent sexual fantasy . . . sexually liberated, healthy, a creature of instinct and emotion, but not intellect, a man-identified woman . . .” (Mellor, 118). Winston only confirms this view when he refers to her as “a rebel from the waist downwards,” which she then confirms by laughing and hugging him. It, of course, in no way extenuates the case against Orwell to suggest that he modeled Julia on his soon-to-be wife Sonia, a sexual rebel whose most overt rebellious act was a habit of spitting at nuns in retribution for her repressive convent-school education. On the other hand, some feminist critics overlook the positive aspects of Julia. She takes the lead in the early stages of the affair and shows ingenuity and intelligent planning in trying to evade the thought police. It is Winston, not she, who conceives the rash idea of visiting O’Brien, and, once there, she, not he, who gives a resounding “no” to the question of whether they would, in the interests of the Brotherhood, be willing to separate and never see each other again. Only after a considerable pause does Winston ratify her “no.” On the other hand, neither Julia nor Winston hesitates to acquiesce when O’Brien asks them if they would be willing to throw sulfuric acid in a child’s face. This marks them as precisely the type of revolutionaries who become brutalized by the revolutionary act, propelled by the fatal doctrine that the end justifies the means.
Her response touches on the theme of sexuality and love in the novel. The principle, articulated by Winston but embodied in Julia, is that sex “. . . was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.” Julia is a hedonist, to be sure, but she is also a pragmatist, personally courageous, appropriately distrustful of abstract ideology. Thus, she falls asleep listening to Winston reading aloud from Goldstein’s book. But, as John Newsinger points out, here she is a model for the many readers who skip this section of the book, some no doubt, even having trouble with the title “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.”
It is not clear that O’Brien is telling the truth when he claims to have been one of its authors. It would be consistent with his tendency to assert that the party is always one jump ahead of its enemies. Goldstein’s treatise is, as Winston discovers, an admirably clear example of how the party maintains its power, but on the brink of discovering “the central secret,” the why, Winston stops reading and falls asleep. It is left to O’Brien to reveal that secret—power—or “power for power’s sake.” But O’Brien has a distinctive definition of power: “Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in shapes of your own choosing . . . power is not power over things but over men.” For some readers, that answer leads to a deeply pessimistic conclusion. If power hunger is rooted in human nature, then despair would seem to be the logical reaction. Richard Rorty offers another possibility. He maintains that in O’Brien, Orwell is giving us a picture of the function of the intellectual in a future totalitarian state. For Rorty, the “central sentence of 1984 is O’Brien’s statement ‘the object of torture is torture.’ That is, given the conditions operative in a state like Oceania, the only satisfaction available to a master of doublethink such as O’Brien is to engage non-doublethinkers with a similar intellectual orientation, in order to feel the pleasure of twisting and breaking the special, hidden, tender parts of a mind with the same gifts of his own” (187). Rorty maintains that “the last third of 1984 is about torturing, not about being tortured” (180).
Another extraordinary example of the continuing relevance of Nineteen Eighty-Four, is that the subject of torture, long delegated to peripheral organizations like Amnesty International, as restricted to despotic third-world governments, should reemerge as a tactic and topic of discussion, as a tool in allegedly furthering the goal of spreading democracy.
Rorty’s interesting argument notwithstanding, many critics have seen the last part of the book, beginning with the arrest of Winston and Julia, as seriously flawed. Orwell himself agreed in a letter responding to a review of the book by Julian Symons: “You were right of course about the vulgarity of the ‘Room 101’ business, but I didn’t know another way of getting somewhere near the effect I wanted.” The question that emerges from that quotation relates to Orwell’s intention. The presumed answer is to demonstrate how the party can get inside individuals, to transform them in thought as well as in deed.
The other attack on thought is through the manipulation of public language, and for that reason the novel has two endings: One focusing on the ravaged face of Winston and the other, near the conclusion of the Newspeak Appendix, when the anonymous author quotes the opening of the Declaration of Independence, indicating that the author of the appendix was living in a world where the Newspeak project has not succeeded and the principles of democracy were still alive.
Orwell believed that “all literature is political,” but he also acknowledged that some is more overtly political than other literature, and he certainly included Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four in that category. But he never imagined that these two works would have the powerful impact they did, an impact that was not only political but broadly social and cultural. As a result, in the avalanche of commentary that Nineteen Eighty-Four has provoked, there lies ample evidence to suggest that it is the most influential novel of the 20th century. In discussing the meaning, significance, and value of the work, literary critics have shared the stage with historians, political commentators, sociologists, psychologists, legal experts, philosophers, theologians, and linguists, all taking the novel’s measure from their particular perspectives.
To this has been added the fact that Nineteen Eighty-Four, largely as a result of its “required reading” status in high school and college curricula, has emerged as “a linchpin of popular culture.” From rock bands, whose repertoires are certain to include at least one reference to the book, to Big Brother T-shirts, the novel has secured a seemingly permanent place among the world of young adults. And not only in England and the United States, but in many countries in Europe and Asia. (A notable exception: Myanmar [Orwell’s Burma], where it has been banned by the military dictators of that unhappy nation.) Its popularity raises an interesting hypothetical question: What would Orwell, whose essays on popular culture pioneered that field of study, have made of the popular phenomenon of Nineteen Eighty-Four?
With the fall of the Soviet Union, Orwell’s principal but not sole target, the interest in the book might have reverted to the literary world, but that has not been the case. As the editors of a recent, largely nonliterary essay collection (On Nineteen Eighty-Four: Orwell and Our Future ) have put it, “Orwell did not lose his power with the collapse of the Soviet system. Indeed, the new era of ever vigilant technology seemed to give new relevance to his ideas just when their specific political occasion had apparently vanished . . .” (Gleason, Nussbaum, 1). As its title suggests, the anthology’s contributors deal with the question of what, if any, light Nineteen Eighty-Four sheds on the future development of issues as wide-ranging as the objectivity of truth, torture as a political weapon, thought control, technology, the invasion of privacy, and the relation of sexual repression to political repression, specifically the repression of women.
Clearly, the original source of the novel’s enormous influence was the common tendency, particularly in the United States, to regard it as a prophecy. Orwell had specifically disavowed this “prophetic” interpretation in a press release he dictated from his hospital bed to his publisher Fredric Warburg. Warburg’s notes read as follows: “I don’t think 1984 is what will happen—but I do think, allowing for the fact that the book being parody, that something like it could happen . . . moral is, don’t let it happen” (Warburg, 118). But Orwell’s qualifications were overwhelmed by the sense that the book was predicting a future near at hand. Since 1984 was within the range of most reader’s lifetimes, the accuracy of its so-called predictions would be easily verifiable. Critical in this respect was the book’s title, providing not just a “near future” but a specific date. As a result, it took on a life of its own. The year 1984 became “an allpurpose target date” (Rodden, 258), as if it would mark an historical watershed. Indeed, a few religious groups viewed the date as confirming a biblical apocalypse, seeing August 1984 as the date set for the end of the world. Some Jewish Kabbalists, operating from the fact that in the Hebrew calendar 1984 corresponds to 5744 and that in the Kabbalist letter-for-number system, 5744 spelled out the word destruction, feared a similar final calamity (Rodden, 259–262).
When the fatal year came and went in pedestrian fashion, the prophetic interpretation receded in significance but was not completely dismissed. Two places where that lessening of interest did not occur were West and East Germany. Rodden provides an interesting account of German writers’ reaction to Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Reading it surreptitiously right after Animal Farm, East Germans generally looked at Oceania as a portrait of their present condition; West German writers made similar connections, while at first repressing comparisons to Hitler’s Germany. Two decades later, a new generation proved more open to acknowledging the novel’s relevance to the Nazi regime while at the same time shifting their focus to the threat that technological progress represented for a democratic society. One German writer who repeatedly called attention to the peril of forgetting the ideological-historical context of Nineteen Eighty-Four was Gunther Grass. “It was Grass who described the 1980s as ‘The Orwell Decade’” (Rodden, 301–303). Grass’s recent selfrevelation of his own past adds a piquant note to his reaction to the novel.
The story of how Nineteen Eighty-Four entered and altered the popular imagination of England, the United States, and, in a more restricted but perhaps more powerful way, eastern Europe during the cold war, has been successfully recorded in two books by John Rodden, The Politics of Reputation (1989) and Scenes from an Afterlife: The Legacy of George Orwell (2003). Rodden’s accounts deal with the phenomenal growth of Orwell’s reputation (or mythification) as a whole, but not surprisingly, Nineteen Eighty-Four plays the major role in that process.
Nineteen Eighty-Four first sounded a responsive chord along a broad range of Anglo-American culture. The original response was rooted in the fear of totalitarianism in general and communism or, more precisely, Stalinism, in particular. As with Animal Farm, the roles played by the British Information Research Department (IRD) and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) were significant but by no means crucial in the achievement of that popularity. In one case, the CIA-sponsored 1954 film of the novel was a failure, both commercially and as a propaganda weapon, while the nonideological BBC television production in the same year attracted what at the time was the largest audience in the history of British television. The BBC production created a perfect storm of controversy, not over its political message but on account of the brutality of its torture scenes and the candor of its sexual scenes. The upshot of this controversy was a series of debates in Parliament. Here, too, the debates centered not on politics but on topics such as “Orwell, the novel, broadcasting censorship, and the lines between television violence and criminal behavior” (Shaw, 155). Thus, Nineteen Eighty-Four first surfaced among the “acknowledged legislators,” ironically enough in relation to three issues that might be peripheral in the novel, but happened to be subjects of interest to Orwell: torture, representations of violence in popular culture, and censorship. Here was an early example of what has consistently been true in speaking of the influence of this work—how issues that appear in the background of the novel later emerged as significant in the culture and which the novel helps to clarify.
Thus when the Nobel Prize–winning economist Kenneth Arrow discusses “the economics of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he brings a fresh viewpoint, looking at such seemingly inevitable drawbacks as unemployment under capitalism and shortages of goods under socialism. Although both systems have their inequities, capitalism has shown more flexibility. Socialism’s challenge is to decentralize economic control, and by that standard, “the economy of Nineteen Eighty-Four is a miserable failure . . . Orwell caught beautifully certain trends imminent in our world and exposed them without complications” (Arrow, 45, 47). In “The Death of Pity,” the philosopher Martha Nussbaum focuses on the “embracing maternal arm” in Winston’s dreams and the “death of pity” not only in the novel, but in the post–September 11 posture of America in relation to the rest of the world.
One of the most chilling examples of the “misuse” of Nineteen Eighty-Four emerges in the accounts written by the prominent Stanford social psychologist Philip Zimbardo. In two long articles, written two decades apart, Zimbardo makes a strong case for his thesis that Jim Jones, leader of the of 1978 Jonestown experiment, which culminated in the mass suicide of more than 900 of its followers, “modeled his mind control tactics directly on those he learned from George Orwell’s handbook for mind-controllers Nineteen Eighty-Four” (Zimbardo, 146). According to a former member of Jones’s inner circle, “Jim talked about Nineteen Eighty-Four all the time.” The group’s leading entertainer composed and wrote a song titled “Nineteen Eighty Four,” which was a Jones favorite. Zimbardo recounts the total mind control exercised by Jones in Jonestown. One example, echoing Winston’s rat torture, occurred when a Jones follower confessed to a fear of snakes. He later was punished by being stripped and bound, so that snakes might crawl over him. Zimbardo suggests that as Jones treated Orwell’s warning as an “operations manual,” the Bush administration has “taken another leaf from Orwell,” both in the conception and conduct of the Iraq war as illustrated by its manipulation of language and the scandal of Abu Ghraib prison. He concludes with a direct question: “Dear Mr. Orwell, did you really have to get so much right on what is proven so wrong for America?” (Zimbardo, 154). From this point of view, Orwell’s warning has turned out to be something of a prophecy after all.
A colleague of Winston’s at the Ministry of Truth. Winston encounters Ampleforth in prison, to which Ampleforth has been consigned. His crime: While preparing a Newspeak edition of Rudyard Kipling, he had not changed the word God in the original text because he needed a rhyme for Rod.
The all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful leader of Oceania. Big Brother’s appearance takes two forms. The first is as the face on enormous posters that dominate the city of London, posters on which the eyes of Big Brother seem to follow you as you move. The other appearance is on the telescreen at the climax of the Two-Minute Hate sections. As the hated Goldstein’s face recedes, Big Brother’s appears, saying something reassuring although the actual words cannot be heard. His appearance provokes a rapturous, religiously intense response followed by the the rythmic chanting of “B-B! B-B!” that Winston regards as subhuman. Goldstein’s forbidden book asserts that Big Brother does not actually exist. He is a symbol that embodies the Party.
A prisoner in the Ministry of Truth who is viciously beaten after he tries to give a crust of bread to another prisoner, who is starving. He shares the last name of Dagwood Bumstead a character in the cartoon and film series Blondie. Orwell reviewed a Blondie film during his stint as a film reviewer from 1940–41. Dagwood was famous for his midnight snack, which always consisted of an enormous sandwich.
The proprietor of an antique junk shop, who appears to be a frail, aged man in his sixties. In his shop, Winston purchases a blank book, which he uses as a diary. He returns, buying a domed paperweight, and he examines a furnished room above the shop. The two men seem to share a reverence for the past, and Charrington agrees to rent out his room to Winston and Julia. Upon their arrest in the upstairs room, Winston discovers that Charrington is a young, fierce 35-year-old officer in the Thought Police.
A semimythical figure who functions as the all-purpose scapegoat for INGSOC propaganda. He is described as having “a long Jewish face, with a great fuzzy aureole of white hair and a small goatee beard . . .” He was a prominent member of the party, who betrayed its principles and is living in exile somewhere. In these details, he is clearly modeled, as is the character Snowball in Animal Farm, on the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Goldstein has apparently written an attack on the party, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, which Winston reads. The equivalent book by Trotsky was The Revolution Betrayed (1936). Winston is told later that the book he has read is a forgery, written by O’Brien and other members of the inner party.
Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford
A trio of disgraced former members of the inner party, who were arrested in 1965, confessed to their crime and waited out their inevitable execution sitting in front of a chess board at the Chestnut Tree Café. Eventually they were rearrested and executed. Winston once saw a newspaper photograph of the three men in New York at an international convention. The date of the newspaper corresponded to the testimony of the three men that they were in Siberia plotting with Goldstein on that date. The fate of the men clearly parodies the Stalinist purge trials of the 1930s.
The girl from the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth, with whom Winston has a passionate, doomed love affair. She is described as an attractive, “bold looking girl of about twenty-seven, with thick dark hair, a freckled face, and swift, athletic movements.” On the surface she is a zealous member of the Anti-Sex League and an obstreperous participant in the Two-Minute Hate sessions. In fact, however, she is a “rebel from the waist down,” sexually promiscuous and filled with contempt for the party’s discipline, very skillful in covering her tracks for secret trysts with Winston. A true hedonist, she is not interested in history or politics but in the love that develops between her and Winston. When the two are captured and separately tortured, each betrays the other, effectively killing the love they shared. After release from prison, they encounter each other in a park, two hollowedout strangers anxious to be rid of one another. In some respects, Julia is thought to be modeled on Orwell’s second wife, Sonia Brownell Orwell, who was in her youth a sexual rebel against her repressive Catholic boarding-school background.
O’Brien’s inscrutable servant, who brings in the wine and joins the group after O’Brien assures Winston and Julia that “Martin is one of us.”
A powerful member of the Inner Party, whose bearing and intellect exert an almost hypnotic effect on Winston. O’Brien arranges to have Winston visit his flat, thereby hinting that he supports Winston’s opposition to the party. When Winston and Julia arrive at his house, they declare their true feelings and ask to be recruited into the underground movement known as the Brotherhood. O’Brien welcomes them as new recruits and tells Winston that he will soon receive surreptitiously a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein’s forbidden book.
When, after his arrest, Winston first sees O’Brien, he thinks that O’Brien has been arrested as well, only to discover that his mentor will be his chief torturer, who will bring about Winston’s “cure,” which consists in bringing him to the point of loving Big Brother. The importance of O’Brien in the novel is strikingly asserted by the philosopher Richard Rorty. “After Winston and Julia go to O’Brien’s apartment, Nineteen Eighty-Four becomes a book about O’Brien, not about twentieth century totalitarian states” (171). In other words, O’Brien represents what the intellectual might become in a future totalitarian world. In this respect, he is, in Rorty’s opinion, “as terrifying a character as we are likely to meet in a book” (183).
Winston’s colleague at the Ministry of Truth and neighbor at Victory Mansions. Parsons is a zealous party member who works tirelessly on the preparations for Hate Week. He is arrested by the Thought Police when his young daughter hears him muttering anti–Big Brother slogans in his sleep. Parsons’ devotion to the party is so total that he is proud of his daughter for betraying him. Parsons, Mrs. A harried housewife and mother who asks her neighbor Winston to unclog a drainpipe in her kitchen. Mrs. Parsons is memorably described as giving “the impression that she has dust in the creases of her face.” She is intimidated by her two vicious children, who belong to the police spies, which encourages them to report any politically incorrect behavior on the part of their parents.
An anonymous prisoner in the Ministry of Love. He is starving to death, and when another prisoner, Bumstead, tries to give him a crust of bread, guards rush in and beat Bumstead. Then they inform the skull-faced man that they are taking him to Room 101, whereupon the man becomes hysterical, screaming that he would rather watch his wife and three children have their throats cut than to go to Room 101. According to Bernard Crick, this scene “verges on the ludicrous” (Crick, 38).
The separated wife of Winston, a woman who has been shaped by the party’s puritanical repression of sex. Despite her frigidity, she insists that she and Winston have regular joyless intercourse since it is her “duty to the party” to produce children. By mutual agreement, the two live separately.
An employee in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, whose work consists of revising and rewriting records and previously published reports, bringing them into conformity with the current thinking of the ruling party. At 39, Winston is an unprepossessing, frail figure, bothered by an ulcerated vein in his ankle and a persistent chest cough. Despite his frailty, Winston has taken a decisive step in opposition to the prevailing government. He has started to keep a diary. In addition, he begins an affair with a fellow employee, Julia, who shares his detestation of the party. Both are aware that it is only a matter of time before they will be arrested and killed, but they persist, thanks to Winston’s discovery of a convenient trysting place above an old junk shop. Acting on hints given to Winston by O’Brien, a high-ranking government official, the lovers visit O’Brien’s home and announce their intention to join the antigovernment underground. Deceived into thinking O’Brien is on their side, they are later arrested. In jail, Winston is tortured and lectured to by O’Brien, who explains that the party is motivated by one goal, power for the sake of power, and that the instrument of power is torture. Winston and Julia are both broken and reconstituted as empty shells. Finally, Winston succumbs to the condition that O’Brien has been driving him to: loving Big Brother.
A colleague of Winston in the Ministry of Truth, Syme is a linguist, employed in the construction of the definitive edition of the Newspeak Dictionary, which, when completed, will render a discussion of heretical ideas impossible. Syme is enthusiastic about the progress of Newspeak and its capacity to “narrow thought.” Syme speaks eloquently and intelligently about his project, but Winston thinks that he is too intelligent not to run afoul of the authorities. Shortly after his discussion, it becomes clear that Syme has been vaporized.
A colleague of Winston at the Ministry of Truth who sometimes receives the same assignment, so that there exists a rivalry between them.
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