1984 by George Orwell Part One Summary

Part One, Chapter One Summary

It’s a cold day in April, and Winston Smith is just getting to his home at Victory Mansions in London. (London is in a region named Oceania, which consists of the Americas, England, Australia, and several other regions near the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.) He walks up the stairs since the elevator is broken, as usual. Every floor boasts a domineering poster of a middle-aged and rugged-looking man, under which the caption reads: “Big Brother is watching.” In his apartment, there is the familiar telescreen, which watches Winston’s every move, even though Winston knows the real threat is the Thought Police, capable of seeing into his mind. From his apartment, there is a clear view of the Four Ministries, which tower over the other buildings in London: the Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Love, and Ministry of Plenty. On the Ministry of Truth, also called the Minitrue (in Newspeak), are the three slogans of the Party: “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.” (There is also the ever-present term “Ingsoc” which is Newspeak for English Socialism. For reference, there is a Newspeak guide in the Appendix.)

Having left work early that day, Winston misses lunch and makes do with a cup of gin. He situates himself in his living room, in a special corner where he has discovered the telescreen cannot see, and begins to start a diary – an act that carries serious punishments in the eyes of the Party. Nonetheless, Winston continues, starting by writing down the date: “April 4th, 1984.” He then pauses in confusion, first wondering for whom he is even writing the diary and then whether the reader will heed his advice in the diary. Suddenly, Winston begins to write furiously and recounts his trip to the movies last night, to a showing of a graphic war film. He stops writing again and recalls an encounter that morning, which spurred his desire to start the diary. It happened during the Two Minute Hate, a daily experience where Party members shout furiously after being incited by propaganda directed against Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People and the Traitor of the Party. During the Hate, Winston catches the eye of his colleague, O’Brien from the Inner Party, and realizes suddenly that O’Brien might have the same resentment towards the Party! Winston is inspired, especially by the idea that the Brotherhood, an underground anti-Party organization, might really exist. Winston emerges from his reminiscing and realizes that he has written “Down with Big Brother” all over his diary. He fears being discovered, but he knows there is no escape from the Thought Police and makes no attempts to cover up his writing. Suddenly, there is a knock at the door.

Part One, Chapter Two Summary

Winston realizes that he has not hidden his diary, but he still opens the door, to reveal his neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, who asks if Winston might help her unclog her sink. Winston grudgingly follows to help, although he does not want to, and comes across the Parsons’ children, who are disappointed and restless since they cannot attend the hangings of some Eurasian prisoners that evening (the group with which the Party is engaged in war). Parsons is Winston’s colleague as well, and Winston laments that one day, the Parsons’ children will probably turn on them and report them to the Party for disloyalty. Winston is quick to leave.

Back in his apartment, Winston remembers a dream where a figure says to him, “we shall meet in the place where there is no darkness” and he concludes that it must have been O’Brien who spoke to him in his dream. Winston quickly writes a passionate greeting in his diary, warning himself that thoughtcrime (which he is committing) means death. He then washes his hands of ink, a tell-tale sign of his treachery, and hides his journal.

Part One, Chapter Three Summary

Winston dreams about his family, who, through vague recollections, he understands have died so that he may remain alive. He is sad but he knows that tragedy and tragic feelings are remnants of the past and exist rarely today in the rigid Party society. He also dreams about an attractive dark-haired girl who works in the Fiction Department for the Party, but he is rudely awakened by an ear-splitting whistle from the telescreen. A woman appears on the screen and starts to rouse all Outer Party members in their daily exercise routine, the Physical Jerks. As Winston pains over the regimen, he thinks about the duplicity of the Party, who can control the past as well as the future, one of the central tenets of “doublethink.” He knows that their current situation of war has not also been like it is, although the Party is quick to cover up any such allegations. Winston is then rebuked by the exercise leader through the telescreen, and he is ashamed at having shown emotion on his face which might have attracted her attention. He throws himself painfully into full concentration on the morning’s exercise.

Part One, Chapter Four Summary

At work in the Records Department, Winston unravels his next few assignments. They are written in Newspeak and all refer to altering historical documents to correspond to Party desires. Winston sets about rectifying any inconsistencies and falsifies evidence by narrating new versions of “history” into the speakwrite. Winston’s duties are not at all atypical of the Party, which commits itself to ensuring the purity of all documents and media formats. Winston even justifies his actions by telling himself that he is just substituting one piece of nonsense with another and not committing forgery at all. For example, when he is assigned the task of re-writing an order written by Big Brother that now makes reference to “unpersons” (likely removed by the Thought Police), Winston launches into a grandiose creation of a fake character, Comrade Ogilvy. After he is finished, he sends the assignment papers through the pneumatic tube, which whisks away all evidence that any falsification might have occurred. Winston steals a glance at his co-worker in a nearby cubicle, likely to be doing the same assignment as Winston. Winston is struck by the irony that he could create fake dead men but not real living men.

Part One, Chapter Five Summary

At lunchtime, Winston heads to the canteen and meets a fellow comrade, Syme, who asks Winston if he has any spare razor blades. Winston lies and says no, even though he has a couple more, since he knows that razor blades have been, of late, very hard to find. While they eat, Syme recounts his current assignment of writing a Newspeak dictionary, a language which fascinates Syme for its incessant desire to simplify the English language. Why have various synonyms for words, when all is needed is one defined word, like “good” whose opposite is simply “ungood”? As Syme talks, Winston thinks to himself how Syme will probably be vaporized by the Party, despite his apparent loyalty. There are rumors that Syme frequents the Chestnut Tree Café, a local haunt of past traitors of the Party. Just then, Parsons joins them and begins to boast about his children discovering a foreigner and turning him over to the Party patrols. Parsons also mentions the upcoming Hate Week celebration, for which he is collecting a quarter’s share of each person’s salary for the entire block.

A voice over the loudspeaker announces that the Party has had a productive cycle, and that the chocolate ration will be increased. Winston is amused at how quickly everyone accepts the news, especially since he had just altered the history which misquoted Big Brother’s prediction about productivity, meaning that the “increase” was in fact a decrease from the original “unaltered” amounts.

Winston is pulled out of his reverie when he realizes that a dark-haired girl from the Fiction Department, whom he hates for her pure Party loyalty, is staring at him. He is flushed by the possibility that she is an agent of the Thought Police and that he has just committed facecrime, by showing unorthodox emotions on his face. Just then, there is a loud whistle, signaling the time to return to work.

Part One, Chapter Six Summary

Winston is writing in his diary again, recalling a sexual encounter he has with one of the “prole” prostitutes. The Proles are assumed to be the uneducated lower classes, adhering to but not a part of the Party, and although the Party forbids consorting with prostitutes, it is sometimes excusable if discovered, so long as it is joyless and with inferior women. Though he can see that she is an old woman, he has crude sex with her anyway. In between writing, he stops to think about his wife, Katharine, about whom he knows very little now. The Party did not permit divorce, only separation in cases where there are no children, so Winston believes that he is probably still married to Katharine, though they have been separated for over a decade. Their marriage had been one of joyless sex, to which Katherine submitted to only in the hopes of bearing children, as part of her “duty to the Party.” (Party women were trained to deplore sex from their childhoods, where chastity was ingrained into them.)

Part One, Chapter Seven Summary

Winston writes in his diary, “If there is hope it lies in the proles.” They were massive enough to begin the opposition, and the Party was too strong to be overthrown from within. Winston remembers how he once thought a revolution by the proles against the Party had started, but was disappointed to learn that it was only an innocent commotion at the market. The Party claimed to have alleviated great burdens from the proles, by rescuing them from the capitalism of history, but otherwise, the Party did not concern itself too often with the proles.

Winston continues to write in his diary, about his notions of “capitalism” from the past, which the Party rose up against. He is unsure of how much is truth, if any, and admits that quite possibly all of it may have been falsified. He remembers one time, he is in a café sitting next to three of the last survivors of the original Revolution: Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford, who had been arrested early, reformed, and released by the Party. After Winston sees them that day, they are re-arrested and executed for their crimes. However, at his job, Winston soon comes across a photo which proves that the men could not have committed the crimes of which they were accused, but fearful that he might be guilty of thoughtcrime, Winston quickly disposes of the photo into the memory hole, lest he dig any further into this inconsistency, and struggles to keep an expressionless face. Winston is overwhelmed by the Party’s overarching supremacy and writes, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.” Winston knows that he is writing the diary for O’Brien and is adamant in his rejection of the Party’s incessant invasiveness. Winston is determined not to lose hold of the truth and swallow Party lies. Two and two make four, and nothing else.

Part One, Chapter Eight Summary

Winston ditches spending an evening at the Community Center and decides instead to walk through a prole neighborhood. The Newspeak word “ownlife” referred to something which Party members were assumed not to have, that is, a life outside the Party. Winston knows that there is likely to be suspicion on him. Nonetheless, he continues his walk, repeating to himself, “If there is hope it lies in the proles.” Suddenly, he is warned that a “steamer” (bomb) is about to be dropped, not an uncommon occurrence in this area of town. Winston emerges unharmed after the explosion, although he sees a severed prole hand, which he kicks into the gutter.

He enters a little pub, and though it is slightly odd for him to be there, especially in his Party uniform, he is accepted and sits down for a drink. He tries to engage an old man in a discussion about the old days of capitalism, but the man gives too incoherent answers to make any point to Winston. He tries to press the old man further, asking if life was better then or now, but the man sheds no light in his garbled responses. Winston gives up and leaves.

He stops by the same shop where he had purchased his diary, and the owner, Mr. Charrington, recognizes him. Though Winston does not have any object in mind, he spots a beautiful heavy lump of glass over coral which he immediately buys. Mr. Charrington shows him what is upstairs, a room with several antique objects and no telescreen, which Winston notices right away. He is attracted to a painting of St. Clement’s Dane, an old church building, and Mr. Charrington teaches him a childhood rhyme about the church and its bells. Winston leaves the story, repeating the rhyme to himself, and resolves to return and buy the painting someday soon. However, he is jolted into reality when he sees the same dark-haired girl from the Fiction Department walking towards him! Winston is sure that he has been discovered by the Though Police and has rash thoughts of killing her first before she can report his disloyalty.

Winston finally makes his way home, fearing how the Thought Police might emerge at any time to whisk him away and destroy any evidence of his existence, as they often did during the night to suspected enemies of the Party. He sits still in his apartment, with the diary in front of him, and then slowly thinks about O’Brien and the “place of no darkness” which must be the future. He is immersed by the image of Big Brother, and staring at a coin with BB’s face, Winston once again thinks about the three Party slogans.

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