“1984” is a novel about totalitarianism and the fate of a single man who tried to escape from an overwhelming political regime. The book was written by the British writer and journalist George Orwell in 1948 and had the Soviet Union as a prototype of the social structure described in it.
Events in the book take place in London, a capital of Airstrip One, which is a province of the state of Oceania. The year is 1984, and the world is engaged in an endless omnipresent war. The political regime called Ingsoc (a misspelled abbreviation for English Socialism) constantly seeks out ways to control the minds and private lives of its citizens. The regime is run by the Party, headed by a half mythical Big Brother. The main protagonist of the novel is Winston Smith, an editor in the Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for propaganda. He has doubts about imposed dogmas that are shared by the majority, and at heart, he hates the Party and the Big Brother.
Winston buys a thick notebook where he writes down his thoughts about the reality that surrounds him. In his world, each step of the individual is controlled by the Thought Police, whose main function is to punish people who think differently from what is contained in the official propaganda. Everyone reports on each other, and even children are taught and encouraged to denounce their parents. Winston knows he commits a crime when he denies the Party’s slogan: “War is Peace. Slavery is Freedom. Ignorance is Strength,” but still he writes in his diary: “Down with the Big Brother.”
At work, Winston recalls recent “Two Minutes Hate” periods of time, when all Party members must gather in special rooms where they watch a short film about Emmanuel Goldstein, the former leader of the Party, who betrayed it and organized the underground movement called the Brotherhood. People are obliged to express hatred towards Goldstein’s image on the screen. During one of these periods, Winston fixates on O’Brien—a member of the most powerful Inner Party. For some reason, Winston imagines that O’Brien could be one of the leaders of the Brotherhood. He wants to talk to him, and he even has a dream in which O’Brien’s voice says: “We shall meet at the place where there is no darkness.”
After the Two Minutes Hate, he received a note from a girl named Julia that reads “I love you.” Julia is a member of the Anti-Sex League, so at first, Winston treats her with mistrust, and he even considers her to be a member of the Thought Police. However, she manages to prove to him that she hates the Party too and they start a love affair. It brings Winston to the thought that they are both doomed, because free romantic relationships between a man and a woman are prohibited. Julia is more optimistic about their situation, because she simply lives in the present moment and does not think about the future. They meet in an old second-hand shop in the Prols’ district—a place where people who have not yet joined the Party life. They seem to be more free and light-hearted than the rest of Airstrip’s One population.
Eventually, Winston and Julia get arrested. They are held separately, tortured, and interrogated. Winston is beaten by jailers and he is forced to confess to various crimes, legitimate and fictional. But still, the physical pain is nothing for him compared to the shock that he experiences when he meets O’Brien and finds that he is a loyal servant of the Big Brother. O’Brien uses a special device that causes incredible pain to “re-educate” Winston, make him love the Big Brother and adopt all the Party’s false dogmas. Winston resists and he declares that despite the fact that, under torture, he has betrayed everything he valued and believed in, there is one person that he is still devoted to: Julia. But here, Orwell depicts the Party’s endless possibilities to monitor the thoughts of each citizen in Oceania. The Party knows exactly what Winston fears most, though it is a secret for Winston himself. O’Brien puts a swarm of rats in front of his victim’s face and, driven to panic and horror, Winston finally cries: “Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don’t care what you do to her. Tear her face off and strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me!”
The novel ends with a description of how Winston is sitting in a cafe, drinking gin. Sometimes he meets Julia occasionally, but they dislike each other now because they know that both of them are traitors. Winston looks at the screen, where an announcer gladly informs everyone that Oceania has won the recent war, and he understands that he now loves the Big Brother. The system managed to break and completely remake Winston.
Orwell, George. 1984. London: Penguin Books Limited, 2005. Print.
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Writing a Summary Essay
Winston Smith is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London, in the nation of Oceania. Everywhere Winston goes, even his own home, the Party watches him through telescreens; everywhere he looks he sees the face of the Party’s seemingly omniscient leader, a figure known only as Big Brother. The Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language. Currently, the Party is forcing the implementation of an invented language called Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating all words related to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is illegal. Such thoughtcrime is, in fact, the worst of all crimes.
As the novel opens, Winston feels frustrated by the oppression and rigid control of the Party, which prohibits free thought, sex, and any expression of individuality. Winston dislikes the party and has illegally purchased a diary in which to write his criminal thoughts. He has also become fixated on a powerful Party member named O’Brien, whom Winston believes is a secret member of the Brotherhood—the mysterious, legendary group that works to overthrow the Party.
Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, where he alters historical records to fit the needs of the Party. He notices a coworker, a beautiful dark-haired girl, staring at him, and worries that she is an informant who will turn him in for his thoughtcrime. He is troubled by the Party’s control of history: the Party claims that Oceania has always been allied with Eastasia in a war against Eurasia, but Winston seems to recall a time when this was not true. The Party also claims that Emmanuel Goldstein, the alleged leader of the Brotherhood, is the most dangerous man alive, but this does not seem plausible to Winston. Winston spends his evenings wandering through the poorest neighborhoods in London, where the proletarians, or proles, live squalid lives, relatively free of Party monitoring.
One day, Winston receives a note from the dark-haired girl that reads “I love you.” She tells him her name, Julia, and they begin a covert affair, always on the lookout for signs of Party monitoring. Eventually they rent a room above the secondhand store in the prole district where Winston bought the diary. This relationship lasts for some time. Winston is sure that they will be caught and punished sooner or later (the fatalistic Winston knows that he has been doomed since he wrote his first diary entry), while Julia is more pragmatic and optimistic. As Winston’s affair with Julia progresses, his hatred for the Party grows more and more intense. At last, he receives the message that he has been waiting for: O’Brien wants to see him.
Winston and Julia travel to O’Brien’s luxurious apartment. As a member of the powerful Inner Party (Winston belongs to the Outer Party), O’Brien leads a life of luxury that Winston can only imagine. O’Brien confirms to Winston and Julia that, like them, he hates the Party, and says that he works against it as a member of the Brotherhood. He indoctrinates Winston and Julia into the Brotherhood, and gives Winston a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, the manifesto of the Brotherhood. Winston reads the book—an amalgam of several forms of class-based twentieth-century social theory—to Julia in the room above the store. Suddenly, soldiers barge in and seize them. Mr. Charrington, the proprietor of the store, is revealed as having been a member of the Thought Police all along.
Torn away from Julia and taken to a place called the Ministry of Love, Winston finds that O’Brien, too, is a Party spy who simply pretended to be a member of the Brotherhood in order to trap Winston into committing an open act of rebellion against the Party. O’Brien spends months torturing and brainwashing Winston, who struggles to resist. At last, O’Brien sends him to the dreaded Room 101, the final destination for anyone who opposes the Party. Here, O’Brien tells Winston that he will be forced to confront his worst fear. Throughout the novel, Winston has had recurring nightmares about rats; O’Brien now straps a cage full of rats onto Winston’s head and prepares to allow the rats to eat his face. Winston snaps, pleading with O’Brien to do it to Julia, not to him.
Giving up Julia is what O’Brien wanted from Winston all along. His spirit broken, Winston is released to the outside world. He meets Julia but no longer feels anything for her. He has accepted the Party entirely and has learned to love Big Brother.