George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty - Four": Summary and Analysis
Winston Smith who works in the Record Department, Ministry of Truth returns to his flat one afternoon and goes to the alcove where the tele - screen cannot see him and starts his secret diary, writing about a violent film he saw. He realizes later that all he has been writing, concerns "Big Brother" titled: "Down With Big Brother", hence, he becomes afraid, thinking he will be caught. He hears a knock on the door, it is Mrs. Parsons, his neighbor who has come to ask for his help to unblock her sink. She is the wife of a simple but enthusiastic Party member.
After helping Mrs. Parsons, he returns to his flat and tries to continue with his diary but cannot as he is thinking about O'Brien. In a new dream, he sees his mother and his sister in a sinking ship. The dream changes dramatically to a countryside setting. He wakes up and begins to think of the Party's total control of information. The instructiveness on the tele - screen reprimands and then praises him.
Back to the office, he begins to alter newspaper reports and destroying the old records. In particular, he changes an old speech of Big Brother which praises a man who has now been disgraced. In place of the disgraced man, he decides to invent an exemplary Party member whose supposed courageous and fatal exploits are to be reported. At lunch time, Winston meets Syme, a specialist in Newspeak (new language), and begins to think that despite Syme's enthusiasm and hard work, he may still be killed by the authorities on account of his intelligence. He debunks the tele - screen's report that the standard of living has improved or risen, since everything is still in short supply. Back to his diary, he begins to write his encounter with a prostitute. The Party's attitude to sex and marriage begins to worry him as he remembers his estranged wife - Katherine.
In his diary, he writes that hope lies with the Proles who if politically aware, could overthrow the Party. Life, according to him, is worse now than before the revolution, although this cannot be proved since all records have been falsified by the Party which controls all information. All these depress him. His only source of encouragement is O'Brien. In his quest to dig into the past, he enters a junk shop where he bought the diary and buys a paperweight. The shopkeeper, Mr. Charrington shows him a room filled with old fashioned objects. He contemplates renting the room, although it is dangerous. On coming out, he sees the dark - haired girl. He is now sure she is spying on him.
Winston receives a note from the dark - haired girl, stating that she loves him. They both meet at Victory Square and she tells him to meet her at the countryside. While there, she takes him to a secret meeting place where they make love and she tells him that she is totally against the party. Meeting again in a ruined church, Julia (the dark - haired girl) tells him about her background and her work at the Fiction Department. Winston rents the room above the junk - shop and Julia comes there to visit him. The room is rat infested.
Meanwhile, Syme has disappeared while Winston and Julia continue in their affairs. From their discussions concerning the Party, it is clear that they have contrasting attitudes. Julia believes that it is impossible to overthrow the Party, hence, the best thing is to oppose them by small acts of deception. O'Brien gives Winston the address of his flat and offers to lend him a copy of the yet - to - be - published Newspeak Dictionary. This gesture makes him to suspect that perhaps, O'Brien is trying to lure him into a conspiracy against the Party.
Winston wakes up with tears on his eyes and remembers his mother and sister. He also remembers the good old days spent with them, but regrets that the Party has spoiled all those feelings. He and Julia promised not to betray each other. Both then visit O'Brien and declare their intention to help in overthrowing the Party. They also agree to partake in violence. To this end, O'Brien informs them about the Brotherhood - an organization and secret society, led by Goldstein, aimed at plotting against the Party. He receives from O'Brien a copy of Goldstein's book which he later finds out, contains no new knowledge. Guards enter his room and gets Julia well beaten and taken away. He finds out that Mr. Charrington is a member of the Thought Police. Winston is arrested. In the cell are Ampleforth and Parsons, and then O'Brien whom he finds out has deceived him. In fact, O'Brien is in charge of the torturing squad who have severely tortured him. Julia too has deceived him.
Winston is tortured and humiliated by O'Brien who later told him that he will be reintegrated after being 'cured'; made to learn; and made to understand. After so long in prison, he begins to understand the Party's idea of reality. He still thinks of Julia, although his mind has surrendered, he still hopes to keep his innermost feelings hidden. He openly tells O'Brien that he hates Big Brother, hence, he is taken to the highly dreaded Room 101 which is full of rats.. He therefore, pleads for Julia to be kept there instead.
Finally, he is released and sees how useless it was to resist. At last, he is able to admit that he loves Big Brother.
With regard to time, the novel is set in post - Second World War Britain (Oceania). Orwell writes - "And the bombed sites where the plaster dust swirled in the air and the willow - herb straggled over heaps of rubble".
Bomb sites, certainly were a familiar feature of the British scenery in the late 1940s, immediately after the Second World War (1939 - 44). Britain is therefore its general area setting under the name Oceania. Specifically, the following locations are mentioned:
- Ministry of Truth;
- The Canteen;
- Victory Square;
- The Prison; amongst others.
Four main themes can be seen in the novel. They include:
1. Betrayal -
The novel is replete with stories of betrayal. Winston eventually betrays his lover Julia in Room 101 who had earlier betrayed him selling him out to the Thought Police after their blissful relationship.
Further more, O'Brien who has been "a friend", but who was actually a member of The Though Police, betrayed Winston after gathering enough evidence to prove that he was against the Party. He earlier pretended to be against the Party himself, thereby making Winston to play into his hands.
He tortured Winston greatly in prison. Even Charrington the shopkeeper who assisted Winston to rent a room later turned out to be a traitor. There are set - ups and falsehood all over.
2. Dictatorship and Totalitarianism -
Dictatorship is a system of government where the leader is vested with absolute authority which makes him do whatever he likes, no matter what people say or how they feel.
On the other hand, totalitarianism is another system of government where everything is under the control of one authority, and there is no opposition, which is what George Orwell had predicted for Britain and Russia in the future.
In the introductory part of the novel, it is written:
"... the reader is introduced to a frightening world where every aspect of life is rigidly controlled. The dehumanization of society is ruthlessly explored. There is no personal freedom. All actions are observed (spied) by the ever - present tele - screens and there is constant fear of being reported to the Thought Police for supposed crimes against the State".
From birth, children are taught to believe in the ruling Party and pay absolute loyalty to it. This of course continues until adulthood. The authorities came up with a regular meeting called "Two Minutes Hate", where children are taught to love the Big Brother (The Head of State) and hate his enemies. The authorities also introduced a regular week - long celebration of anger towards the country's (Oceania) enemies, called "Hate Week".
Thus, in Oceania, "living conditions have deteriorated and technological development is centered, not on the improvement of life, but on the creation of better weapons".
Altogether, people seen as anti - government are arrested, tortured and made to confess their 'sins' and forced to love the Big Brother. The novel shows clearly, a powerful warning against the evils of totalitarianism which cannot be overthrown once established.
3. Rebellion and Capitulation -
Winston, the tragic hero of the novel started by showing hatred for the entire system and the man at the center - Big Brother, although, he did it secretly. At the end however, after being arrested, tortured and re - oriented, he capitulated and eventually regretted his earlier stance, declaring his love for Big Brother.
It will be recalled that he started his small rebellion against the State by keeping a secret private diary.
4. Humiliation/Dehumanization -
Winston, the hero, or anti - hero or tragic - hero of the novel represents society as a whole, hence, his punishment, betrayal and humiliation are symbolic of the breaking of the human spirit of the society.
With the destruction of his personality, the impression is that the society is totally dehumanized and the spirit of humanity is forever wiped out.
- Metaphor -
Phrases such as Big Brother and Room 101 are simply metaphoric. The former refers to overbearing and impersonal authority of the Head of State who is more or less a god that no one can challenge. The latter refers to a place of torture and nightmarish anguish; a notorious place, so to say.
- Satire -
The novel could be seen as a criticism of Stalinism, Josef Stalin being a former Russian dictator. For example, the description of Big Brother as he appears on the posters bears resemblance to Josef Stalin, although the events in the novel cannot be directly linked to those in Russia. The satirical nature of the book also extends to Nazi Germany where the authorities were also terribly dictatorial.
- Divisions -
The novel is divided into three parts. The first part deals with a society where every aspect of life is rigidly controlled and the society is dehumanized. There is no personal freedom or privacy as everything anyone does is monitored or observed by the tele - screens mounted everywhere.
Part two of the book is more positive. It brings out the growing relationship of Winston and Julia which signifies the possible survival of human relationships when faced with odds.
Part three deals with punishment, betrayal and humiliation.
- Contrasts -
Members of the Party are cold and impersonal, relationship to them being a matter of duty instead of love and affection; while the Proles who are of the lower class are warm and humane.
Again, there is contrast between the attitudes of Winston and Julia. Winston is older and more aware of the past and knows very well how the present society is manipulated by the Party. His concern is to rebel and change the society for the good and benefit of all.
On the other hand, Julia believes totally whatever the Party says and is not perturbed by the Party's basket of lies. Her own rebellion is restricted to minor private offenses such as her sexual relationship with Winston.
Finally, the Dull City where people are totally dominated is contrasted with the beauty and relative freedom of the countryside.
George Orwell, Ninety Eighty - Four, "Penguin Books".
I. M. Ameachi, Comprehensive Literature In English, "A Johnson Publishers LTD"