Winston Smith knows there is something wrong with the world. Surely it hasn’t always been tasteless food, gray, stringy clothing, a dispiriting job, and always the same fear and suspicion of everyone around you? But if life did used to be different, how does he know it was? What makes him question Big Brother, who is always watching, and the Party, who is always right? Why does he instinctually avoid the all-knowing tele-screen, and secretly abhor the Two Minute Hate that everyone else revels in?
These are the questions that plague Winston’s mind constantly. He knows he’s different, but doesn’t know why, and doesn’t know how to find out without detection. The world as he knows it is filled with hate, anger, and fear, but deep down he longs for answers, and for beauty. He’s always wondering about the past, and whether the facts that Big Brother comes out with daily are the truth, or nothing but lies. The past is constantly being rewritten by the Party, and it’s Winston’s job to help change the facts to suit the current day’s needs. He both loves and is horrified by his job but sees nothing he can do about it.
Winston can’t take the monotony anymore and one day starts a very small rebellion of his own by starting a diary, which is forbidden (and punishable by death). A chance meeting with a dark haired girl at the Ministry where he works slowly leads to an illicit affair, which awakens feelings in him he never knew existed. He is filled with love and lust for Julia, and their passionate romance awakens another feeling- all out rebellion against the party. They meet secretly as often as they can, talking about the world and making love in secret rooms. To Winston, it’s paradise.f
Another chance meeting leads him to O’Brian, an Inner Party member he believes to be associated with a conspiracy against the Party, part of a secret society known only as the Brotherhood. He and Julia immediately join, and promise to do whatever they can to help the Brotherhood. O’Brian promises them that nothing will ever happen in their lifetime, and their service with the Brotherhood will most certainly lead to torture and death by the Party. This doesn’t bother them in the slightest.
It doesn’t take them long to get caught, however (betrayed, ultimately, by a kindly shopkeeper they trusted, who turns out to be a member of the Thought Police), and they’re both taken to the Ministry of Love for torture and interrogation.
Winston is held there for months, getting tortured by O’Brian himself, who turns out to be a member of the Party. He holds out against him and his brainwashing for a long time, but in the end he betrays Julia, and himself. He submits to their brainwashing and learns to love Big Brother, and Big Brother only. He has no individualism, no thoughts that are not approved by the party, and no love for his fellow man. He is released from his prison, considered a “perfect specimen” by the Party and safe for society.
1984 Character List
Winston is the main character in 1984. He works in the Records department at the Ministry, rewriting the past as quickly as the Party can provide new facts to replace the truth with. He is constantly questioning reality as he knows it, and in his mind secretly abhors Big Brother and the Party. He knows, somehow, that things should be different, but he doesn’t know why.
Julia is a fellow Ministry worker who catches something of Winston’s thoughts when she looks at him. Somehow she knows he hates the Party, and decides to start an illicit affair with him. She hates the Party herself, and they meet secretly as often as they can, talking about the world and making love.
O’Brian is an Inner Party member who Winston believes is part of a conspiracy against the Party. Something in O’Brian’s eyes makes him think that he’s part of a secret society called the Brotherhood, and by a chance meeting they arrange to meet in O’Brian’s home. O’Brian, it turns out, is really a Party member and turns out to be Winston’s torturer when he gets caught.
Syme is a coworker of Winston’s who is responsible for rewriting the dictionary using only Newspeak words, and destroying oldspeak. Winston is horrified by the new language, which takes out the adjectives and leaves only one word to describe things.
Mr. Charrington owns a shop in the prole section of London, where Winston buys his diary. Mr. Charrington rents Winston and Julia a room above his shop where they can meet, but he turns out to be a member of the Thought Police, and had been deceiving Winston the entire time.
1984 Chapter Summaries
As Winston Smith enters his flat, he’s grateful to be in from the cold world outside, but it’s not much better inside. The tele-screen (an instrament the Thought Police use to monitor everyone) is on (and can’t be turned off), and as he gazes out the window at the gray world outside he tries hard to remember if London was always this way.
From his flat he can see the Ministry of Truth, which concerns itself with news, entertainment and the like, the Ministry of Peace, which is involved with war, the Ministry of Love, which maintains law and order, and the Ministry of Plenty, which is involved with economic affairs.
Winston is starting a diary, an act that, if not punishable by death will at least land him 25 years in a labor camp. The date is April 4, 1984, but once he’s written that is down he’s not sure where to begin.
After an uncertain start he begins to write in earnest about something that happened at work today, during the Two Minute Hate, a show that appears on the tele-screen every day featuring Emmanuel Goldstein, the biggest traitor to the Party that there ever was. The Hate, as always, features Goldstein making speeches about freedom, the awfulness of the Party, and the evilness of Big Brother. Everyone who watches the Hate is worked into a frenzy and vehemently wants to kill Goldstein after the first 30 seconds.
Although Winston can’t help himself, he follows the others, alternately loving Big Brother and hating Goldstein, and then, at moments, wondering about Goldstein and his message. Before the chanting of the group at the end, however, he catches the eye of another man, O’Brian, and he knows suddenly that they’re both thinking the same thing.
As Winston comes out of his reverie he realizes he’s committed Thoughtcrime, and written “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” all over the page, a crime punishable by death and one that he knows he’ll be caught for eventually. Suddenly, there is a knocking at his door.
Thinking he’s about to get arrested, Winston is relieved to find out it’s only his neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, wanting to know if he could come fix their kitchen sink. Winston goes, only to be disgusted by the filth of the place and her savage children, who have turned the Thought Police into a horrific game they play. Most kids these days terrify their own parents, and as he’s leaving the boy lobs him in the back of the neck with a catapult and calls him a traitor.
Back at his apartment, he comes to grips with the fact that he is almost certainly a dead man now that he has actually written in a diary. At least, he muses, he’s taken a decisive step for once. He scrubs the ink off his hands to make sure no one knows he’s been writing, and heads back to work.
An ear splitting whistle wakes Winston up the next morning when it’s time for office workers to get up, and after his routine coughing fit it’s time for exercises. As he’s doing what’s called the Physical Jerks, he begins to think back to his earliest memories, back when Airstrip One had been called England, and bombs rained from the sky.
As the instructress on the tele-screen urges him forward in his exercises, Winston begins to think of the present, and how Oceania (his country) is currently at war with Eurasia and aligned with Eastasia. But, he knows that only 4 years ago Oceania was aligned with Eurasia, even though the Party said this never happened. He begins to wonder that if the Party has no written record of the alliance, and they control everyone’s thoughts and perceptions, they can actually change the past and invent it as they go along. It’s a terrifying thought, and makes his blood run cold.
Winston starts his workday as he always does, “rectifying” the newspaper by changing facts and figures as the Party sees fit. For example, on the 17th of March Big Brother had given a speech predicting that the South Indian front would remain quiet and that a Eurasian offense would shortly be launched in North Africa. What had actually taken place was that the Eurasian Higher Command had launched their offensive in South India and left North Africa alone. Winston’s job is to therefore rewrite Big Brother’s speech to make him predict the event as it had actually happened. He changes the past. This is done daily, and every single record, from the newspapers down to the smallest leaflet, is constantly updated and the original destroyed. In a small way, Winston takes pleasure in his work, although he knows that everything is a lie.
At lunch he sees his friend (or, comrade, as the Party prefers them to say) Syme, who asks him if he went to the hanging yesterday. Winston, of course, says no.
Syme is working on the 11th dictionary edition of Newspeak, and speaks with pleasure about the old words he is destroying as he makes new ones up. For example, in Newspeak the word “good” is sufficient, and words like “excellent” and “splendid” completely obsolete. If you want to say something is bad, you simply say “ungood”, and if you want to say something is really good, you say “plusgood”. Syme takes great pleasure in his work, but Winston is secretly horrified by it.
As he eats his bland lunch he begins to wonder, again, if things had always been this way. There is never enough food, never enough heat, never good cigarettes or warm socks or furniture that isn’t battered. He must have known something else at one time in his life, he muses, or else he wouldn’t wonder at anything different.
He’s a little unnerved to notice a dark haired girl looking at him. She sat behind him yesterday at the Two Minute Hate, but he can’t figure out why. He wonders briefly if she is spying on him.
As Winston writes his next entry in his diary, he remembers a time two years ago when he went with a prostitute, which is forbidden by the Party. This memory leads him to memories of his wife, Katherine, whom he’s been separated from for years. Life with her had been cold and joyless, and the sex, if he could even call it that, was the worse. She considered it “duty to the Party” to make a baby, and that’s all it was for. Winston was horrified by her submissive coldness, and came to dread the act. All he wanted was love, and desire, but those things were forbidden and Katherine couldn’t comprehend what they were anyway.
Finally, they agreed to separate, and Winston had been on his own ever since.
As Winston continues to write, he realizes that if there is to be any kind of revolution from the Party, it must come from the proles (the extreme lower class). They’re considered inferior animals, but they make up 85% of Oceania’s population. They’re largely unsupervised by the Party, and don’t even have tele-screens in their homes.
With bitterness he thinks of his life, slogging through his dreary job and mundane chores. The Party’s goals of war and machines are terrible, and Winston’s life is nothing like the Party broadcasts on the tele-screen.
He also remembers the one and only time he held proof in his hands that the Party was lying to the public. The year was 1973, and there were 3 rebels that had been imprisoned by the Party, and then set free once they had confessed their crimes. They’d been arrested again, however, for collaborating against the Party and had been executed. One day at work Winston had unwittingly come across a picture and newspaper article that proved that the 3 men’s confessions had all been lies. It made him wonder, even after 11 years, if he was a lunatic.
It’s a warm, April evening and Winston, unable to face the required evening at the Community Center, has taken off, walking the streets of London with abandon. If he’s not careful, he’ll be accused of ownlife, which is Newspeak for being apart from the group.
He spots an old man entering a bar, and decides to follow him in and see if he can ask him about the old days, if things used to be different. It’s a very dangerous act, but he feels reckless and decides to do it.
The old man can’t tell him anything useful, however. His memory is nothing but tiny details, and he can’t seem to tell Winston if life was better before the Revolution or not. Winston, feeling hopeless, goes back out into the street.
He doesn’t pay attention to where he’s wandering to, and suddenly realizes he’s in front of the shop where he bought his illegal diary. He goes inside to feel less conspicuous and finds a piece of coral embedded in a piece of glass, which he finds beautiful. The shopkeeper, an elderly, intellectual type, sells it to him for $4.
As he’s walking home, thinking about the odd, cozy shop and the kindly owner, his heart stops when he sees the dark-haired girl from the Fiction Department at his work. He knows now that she’s spying on him, and he quickly turns around and loses her. All he wants to do is go home.
Days later Winston is walking towards the lavatory at work when he passes the dark haired girl. She trips and falls right in front of him, her arm in a sling, and even though he believes that she is spying on him he can’t help but be concerned for her. Her arm is obviously in pain, so he helps her up, asking if she is ok. Before he can even register what has happened she slips something into his hand, thanks him for his kindness, and walks back down the hall.
Knowing that he is almost certainly being watched by the tele-screens, Winston waits a good while back at his cubicle before opening the message, which says “I love you”. Winston is shocked, as it’s the very last thing he expected the note to say. The rest of the day’s work is complete torment as he tried to keep his face and his thoughts neutral.
That night he decides the only way he can possibly get in touch with her safely is at the canteen, during lunch. With those three words he now wants to stay alive desperately, and wants the girl more than he’s ever wanted anything. The next week he waits, trying to see her, and finally one day she’s at a table alone. In very low voices they decide to meet in Victory Square that evening.
In the midst of a large crowd she gives him detailed descriptions on their next meeting, which will take place far away, outside the city. Just before Winston leaves, she grasps his hand.
Winston has no trouble on the journey to meet the girl. He likes being out in the country, and even picks some flowers to give her. She appears suddenly by his side and he follows her wordlessly into the woods. After they get to the clearing Winston can’t believe that all this is happening. Before he even knows what to think she is in his arms, and he’s touching another human being for the first time in years.
As they talk together he finds out her name is Julia, and that she hates the Party. She confesses that she saw something in his face that made her realize that he, deep down, hated the Party too, and that’s why she contacted him.
They walk a bit and come across a small bird that is singing in the sunshine, just for the sake of singing. It evicts a wild joy in Winston, and suddenly he wants Julia, and wants her now. They quickly go back to the clearing where it is safe, and she tells him that she has had scores of men here. Winston is thrilled with the idea of her rebellion, of her being with so many men, and loves the idea of her corruptness. Their sex is a protest against the Party, and he loves it.
When it is time to go home Julia becomes much more businesslike, arranging the details of their return journey so that they will not be detected. Winston realizes that she is much smarter than he is, and follows her directions carefully. They arrange to meet in a crowded market 4 later.
That month they succeed only one other time in making love. All their other meetings must take place on the streets, where they talk “in installments” in between tele-screens.
As time goes by Winston begins to learn more and more about her. She simply wants to have a good time, and the Party doesn’t. She spends a great deal of her time volunteering on various clubs and committees that are dear to the Party’s heart so she can avoid detection for being a rebel.
They discuss at length why the Party doesn’t want people to enjoy sex. Julia thinks it’s because sex can lead to political orthodoxy. The Party wants all people’s energy for themselves, and by them taking the joy out of sex they can control them better. Instead of seeking each other, men and women seek and follow the Party. It’s a grim way to control the world.
Winston is waiting for Julia in the cozy room above the antique shop. He knows that this is their biggest folly of all, that they’ll almost surely be caught, but he can’t help it. This room, with its real bed and cozy carpet, is like life used to be, he’s sure.
He realizes that he’s falling in love with Julia, that their relationship isn’t just about sex but also about affection.
When Julia shows up she’s ecstatic about the presents she’s brought for the both of them. Real bread, real sugar, real tea and jam, and even real coffee. Winston can’t believe it. All of those things are black market items, and he has no idea how she managed to get them.
When he turns around he receives another shock; Julia has gotten hold of some makeup and painted her face. He can’t believe how pretty and feminine she looks. Normally on a Party member makeup is forbidden, but here in their secret room no one will see. He’s delighted with her.
Syme, Winston’s comrad at work, has vanished. As Hate Week approaches preparations are in full swing, and both Winston and Julia are busy at work getting ready. As often as they can they meet in the little room, which has become paradise for them.
Winston begins to realize that he’s in better health since he met Julia than he’s been in his whole life. He’s stopped drinking, his ulcer and his cough have gone away, and the whole process of life has stopped being an intolerable burden. For the first time ever, he wants to live.
Both he and Julia know that they’re living on borrowed time, however. They’re going to be found out, and it’s only a matter of when. They spend a great deal of time talking about the Party and Winston is surprised to learn that Julia does not think that the war with Eurasia exists at all. She actually spends very little time thinking about the Party, and what’s true or not true. Things only impact her when they touch her own life. Winston, on the other hand, spends a great deal of time thinking about the lies of the Party, and how they are creating their own past by destroying what really happens day by day.
Finally, one day at work, it happens. O’Brian starts to talk to Winston. With hidden signals and meanings, he communicates to Winston in ways the tele-screens wouldn’t pick up as being suspicious. He is able to let Winston know his address in a legal way, and lets him know that if he wants to come talk, he can.
Winston is thrilled, because now he knows that the conspiracy he always dreamed of really does exist. He knows that, eventually, he’ll show up at O’Brian’s house.
Lying with Julia, one day Winston dreams of his mother, and what really happened when she and his sister disappeared years ago. He remembers vividly when he was 12 that food was in very short supply. He raged against her day after day, wanting more and more food, and even stealing it from her and his little sister. He didn’t care that he was starving them. He always wanted more. One day an extra chocolate ration was issued, and Winston boomed that he should be given the whole piece for himself. After much arguing, his mother gave him most of the bar and saved only a tiny piece for his little sister. Before Winston can think he grabs the chocolate from her and runs out of the apartment, shoving it in his mouth. Later, ashamed of himself, he goes back, only to find them both gone. He never saw them again, and this weighs heavily on him.
As he talks with Julia he tells her that although they’re certain to be caught, tortured and killed, it won’t stop him from loving her. That, in itself, is a rebellion against the Party since they can’t take that away from either of them. What’s in their hearts, stays there, and both agree never to betray the other to the Party.
Julia and Winston are sitting in O’Brian’s study, and he’s terrified that they’ve made a horrible mistake by coming here. O’Brian has said nothing so far, and suddenly, shocking both of them, he turns the tele-screen completely off. Both Winston and Julia had no idea they could be turned off.
Winston suddenly confesses to O’Brian that he believes him to be part of a conspiracy against the Party, that he and Julia want to join, and that they are both adulterers. O’Brian looks at them impassively, and hands them a glass of wine, which neither of them has ever had before. Winston’s taste buds, charred by the filthy gin the Party gives out, can barely taste it.
O’Brian begins to question them about how far they are prepared to go to help the Brotherhood. Winston answers all his questions honestly, saying that he will commit murder, steal, or do anything else that is required of him, but that he and Julia will not separate.
O’Brian tells them that, although they will be full members of the Brotherhood, they will know almost nothing about it, in the event that they are caught and tortured. They will have only 3 or 4 contacts, and they will never know how many people are part of the conspiracy. He tells them that in all likelihood they will work for the Brotherhood a while, get caught, get tortured, and die. No change will be seen in their lifetime. Winston agrees to this, knowing that their work is for future generations and not their own.
Hate Week is finally over and suddenly, the Party reveals on the last day that Oceania is not at war with Eurasia they’re at war with Eastasia. There is no admission of change, or that they were wrong, suddenly it just is. The crowd that had assembled during Hate Week was suddenly furious, and the Hate continued just as it had been before, only with a change of target.
Because of this dramatic change Winston is suddenly buried at work. Every fact, every snippet that has ever been published about Oceania being at war with Eurasia must be changed. Now, everything must reflect that Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. It’s a daunting job, and everyone is working 18-hour days to get it done.
Once the mammoth job is completed, the Records Department is given almost a whole day off. Winston is on his way to their secret room. He’s been slipped a copy of the book by a member of the Brotherhood, and he’s off to read it. It explains how their current world came into being.
It begins by saying that the 3 superstates that are now in existence, Oceania, Eastasia, and Eurasia, have nothing really to fight about anymore. They’re evenly matched in power, and by now are self-contained units. There is no real need to fight over money or resources.
As Winston keeps reading Julia shows up at the room, and he begins to read the book to her. Predictably, she falls asleep.
As Winston stares out the window of their little room he sees a prole woman, old, who has given birth to many children. He’s seen her before, out doing her laundry, just as she’s doing today. Even though her life is nothing but cooking, scrubbing, and tending her children she’s still singing to herself as she’s hanging clothes. He finds her beautiful in her own way. Again, he knows that if there is any hope for the future it’s in the proles.
Suddenly, an iron voice speaks to them from the picture, telling them to stand in the middle of the room and not move until they are ordered. They know that at last, they are caught.
As the soldiers come upstairs they carry off Julia. Winston is frozen in the room. Mr. Charrington, the kindly old man who owns the shop and has been renting them the room, comes upstairs as well, but he is not the same man. Suddenly, Winston knows that he is a member of the Thought Police, and has been this whole time.
Winston has no idea where he is, or how long he’s been in captivity. There are 4 tele-screens in his cell, and they yell at him if he makes even the smallest movement.
Winston hardly thinks of Julia in his cell. His thoughts turn more often to O’Brian.
The poet, Ampleforth, who works at the Ministry, is suddenly shoved in Winston’s cell. He’s not sure why he was arrested. After a short while a young officer comes back to the cell and takes Ampleforth to room 101. Winston is again alone, but not for long. Suddenly the door opens again and Parsons, Winston’s neighbor and fellow worker, is shown through the door. Parsons admits he’s in because of thoughtcrime. He was caught talking in his sleep by his daughter. He was saying “Down with Big Brother”, and is horrified that he would do such a thing.
Eventually Parsons is removed, and more prisoners come and go. Winston hears a few more times about room 101, but has no idea what it is. All he knows is that when it’s mentioned, people beg not to go there.
To his horror O’Brian walks in, they hit Winston, and everything goes black.
Winston’s consciousness goes in and out. He knows he’s been beaten, numerous times, but he has no idea for how long, or where he’s at now. He knows he’s confessed to things he did, and didn’t do, just to make them stop.
He’s strapped to a plank, and O’Brian is standing over him. He is sending waves of pain through Winston’s body, but Winston can’t see what he is doing. Winston can barely register the fact that O’Brian is a true member of the Party.
O’Brian begins to question him about all the thoughts Winston has had in the past that reflected things that were not true, thoughts that were against the Party. Winston at times forgets that O’Brian has the ability to cause him immense pain, and yells that they can’t control his memories. O’Brian tells him that it’s Winston that is not controlling his memories, that he doesn’t have the correct self-discipline. Whatever the Party says is true, IS TRUE. There is no past except what the Party says.
O’Brian works on him a long while, asking questions and inflicting pain. He tells Winston that it’s not the Party’s goal to kill, or to get confession, or to torture without reason. He tells Winston that he is insane, and that it’s the Party’s goal to make him sane again.
He also tells Winston that although he (Winston) will be destroyed in the end, he will not be killed until he is “sane” again, until he has submitted fully to the Party and thinks exactly as they want him to think. If O’Brian holds up 4 fingers and tells Winston that he’s really holding up 5, Winston must say, and believe, that there are 5 fingers. O’Brian tells him openly that when he’s done with Winston, he will never be able to feel any human emotion ever again. And he will be destroyed.
Winston does not know how many sessions there has been with O’Brian, but he is not yielding to him fully just yet. O’Brian tells him that they control matter because they control the minds of everyone, that reality is only truly in the mind. O’Brian tells him that the earth is the center of the universe, that the sun and the stars go around it. Winston can say nothing to this, but he knows that he is right and that O’Brian is wrong.
O’Brian tells him that total control is destroying the emotions of people, making them suffer. No one trusts anyone anymore. Emotions that are acceptable are fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Nothing else. The Party’s goals are to abolish sex completely, abolish love, abolish art. There will be nothing except love for the Party, triumph over the fallen enemy, and loyalty towards Big Brother.
Winston is horrified at O’Brian’s spiel, and tells him that such a society would never endure. In spite of the pain, he insists that somehow, some way, the Party will be beaten by the human spirit.
O’Brian, to prove that this will never happen, shows Winston what he looks like by now. Winston stands in front of a mirror and sees with horror what he has become. He is nothing but skin and bones, with sores all over his body. His hair and teeth are falling out. He has been there much longer than he thought. O’Brian tells him that he will break eventually, and Winston tells them that he hasn’t broken because he hasn’t betrayed Julia.
The cell he’s in now is slightly better than the one he was in. He’s gaining weight, and is able to wash frequently. He’s given a tablet to write on, and he scribbles “Freedom is Slavery” on it.
He accepts now that the Party is always right, that they can change the past, and that 2+2=5. He accepts these things, but then one night has a dream about Julia. He still loves her, and suddenly realizes that he must try and hide the thought of his dream. O’Brian knows, however, and Winston does not lie when he comes. He tells O’Brian that he hates Big Brother, and O’Brians nods. He knows, and sends him to room 101.
In room 101 is the worst thing in the world. The worst thing in the world, O’Brian says, is different for every person. For Winston, it is rats, and that’s just what is brought in to him. O’Brian says that they will eat him alive, and Winston panics to the fullest degree. He knows that only one thing will save him, and he gives her up. He screams to O’Brian to let the rats loose upon Julia, but not on him.
Winston is at a café, listening to the tele-screen and not thinking much of anything. He comes to the café often, having plenty of money and a good job since they released him.
He thinks back to the day last March, when he had seen Julia again. She had changed. He had followed her, knowing that no one would take any interest in them. She tells him tonelessly that she betrayed him, and he reveals that he betrayed her as well. Everything about her is different, he thinks. She is coarse, and hard, nothing like she was. He “accidently” loses her while walking to the Tube together, and goes back to his usual table at the café. He feels nothing for her.
As he listens to the victory speech over the tele-screen he gazes at the face of Big Brother, and the smile of understanding he always wears. He loves Big Brother, and knows he has won a hard victory over himself. He is “cured”.