Nineteen Eighty-Four is set in Oceania, one of three intercontinental super-states. The story occurs in London, the „chief city of Airstrip One“, itself a province of Oceania that „had once been called England or Britain“. Posters of the ruling Party’s leader, „Big Brother“, bearing the caption BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, dominate the city landscapes, while two-way television (the telescreen) dominates the „private“ and public spaces of the populace. Oceania’s people are in three classes — the Inner Party, the Outer Party, and the Proles. The Party government controls the people via the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), the workplace of protagonist Winston Smith, an Outer Party member. As in the Nazi and Stalinist regimes, propaganda is pervasive; Smith’s job is rewriting historical documents to match the contemporaneous party line, the orthodoxy of which changes daily. It therefore includes destroying evidence, amending newspaper articles, deleting the existence of people identified as „unpersons“.
The story begins on 4 April 1984: „It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen“. The date is questionable, because it is what Winston Smith perceives. In the story’s course, he concludes it as irrelevant, because the State can arbitrarily alter it; the year 1984 and its world are transmutable.
The novel does not render the world’s full history to 1984. Winston’s recollections, and what he reads in The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein, reveal that after World War II, the United Kingdom fell to civil war, becoming part of the Oceania superstate. Simultaneously, the Soviet Union annexed mainland Europe, forming the nation of Eurasia. The third super-state, Eastasia, comprises the east Asian countries around China, Korea and Japan.
Winston also recalls an atomic war taking place during his early childhood (around 1949-53), fought mainly in Europe, western Russia, and North America. It is unclear what occurred first: the civil war wherein the Party assumed power, the United States‘ annexation of the British Empire, or the war during which Colchester was bombed. However, the increasing clarity of Winston’s memory and the story of the break-up of his family would suggest that the surprise atomic attacks came first (when the Smith family took refuge in a tube station) followed by civil unrest („confused street fighting in London itself“) and the reorganising of postwar society that would retrospectively be called the Revolution.
Ministry of Truth bureaucrat Winston Smith is the protagonist; although unitary, the story is three-fold. The first describes the world of 1984 as he perceives it; the second is his illicit romance with Julia and his intellectual rebellion against the Party; the third is his capture and imprisonment, interrogation, torture, and re-education in the Ministry of Love.
The intellectual Winston Smith is a member of the Outer Party who lives in the ruins of London and grew up in the post-World War II United Kingdom during the revolution and the civil war. As his parents disappeared in the civil war, the English Socialism Movement („Ingsoc“ in Newspeak) put him in an orphanage for training and employment in the Outer Party. His squalid existence consists of living in a one-room apartment, eating a subsistence diet of black bread and synthetic meals washed down with Victory-brand gin. He is discontented, and keeps an ill-advised journal of dissenting, negative thoughts and opinions about the Party. If the journal or Winston’s errant behavior were to be discovered, it would result in his torture and execution at the hands of the Thought Police. However, he is lucky enough to have a small alcove beside his telescreen where he cannot be seen, where he can keep his own private secrets.
In his journal he explains thoughtcrime: „Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death.“ The Thought Police have two-way telescreens (in the living quarters of every Party member and in every public area), hidden microphones, and anonymous informers to spy potential thought-criminals who might endanger The Party. Children are indoctrinated to informing; to spy and report suspected thought-criminals — especially their parents.
Winston Smith is a bureaucrat in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, revising historical records to match The Party’s contemporaneous, official version of the past. The revisionism is required so that the past reflects the shifts of the day in the Party’s orthodoxy. Smith’s job is perpetual; he re-writes the official record, re-touches official photographs, deleting people officially rendered as „unpersons“. The original or older document is dropped into a „memory hole“ chute leading to an incinerator. Although he likes his work, especially the intellectual challenge of revising a complete historical record, he also is fascinated by the true past, and eagerly tries to learn more about that forbidden truth.
One day, after helping up a woman who fell over on the street, she surreptitiously hands him a note. She is „Julia,“ a dark-haired mechanic who repairs the Ministry of Truth’s novel-writing machines. Before that day, he had felt deep loathing for her, based on his assumptions that she was a brainwashed, fanatically devoted member of the Party; particularly annoying to him is her red sash of renouncement of and scorn for sexual intercourse. His preconceptions vanish on reading a handwritten note she gives him, which states „I love you.“ After that, they begin a clandestine romantic relationship, first meeting in the countryside and at a ruined belfry, then regularly in a rented room atop an antiques shop in the city’s proletarian neighbourhood. The shop owner chats with Smith, discussing facts about the pre-revolutionary past, sells him period artifacts, and rents him the room to meet Julia. The lovers believe their hiding place paradisaical (the shop keeper having told them it has no telescreen) and think themselves alone and safe.
As their romance deepens, Winston’s views change, and he questions Ingsoc. Unknown to him, the Thought Police have been spying on him and Julia. Later, when approached by Inner Party member O’Brien, Winston believes that he has come into contact with the Brotherhood who are opponents of the Party. O’Brien gives him a copy of „the book“, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, a searing criticism of Ingsoc said to be written by the dissident Emmanuel Goldstein, the leader of the Brotherhood. This book explains the perpetual war and exposes the truth behind the Party’s slogan, „War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.“
The Thought Police later capture Winston and Julia in their sanctuary bedroom and they are separately interrogated at the Ministry of Love, where the regime’s opponents are tortured and killed, but sometimes released (to be executed at a later date). Charrington, the shop keeper who rented them the room, reveals himself to be an officer of the Thought Police. After a prolonged regimen of systematic beatings by prison guards and psychologically draining interrogations by Party loyalists, Winston is subjected to electroshock torture by O’Brien, who tells Winston it will „cure“ him of his „insanity“, which O’Brien claims undeniably manifests itself in the form of Winston’s hatred for the Party. During a long and complex dialogue, O’Brien reveals, in what is the most important line in the book, that the motivation of the Inner Party is not to achieve a future paradise but to retain power, which has become an end in itself. He outlines a terrifying vision of how they will change society and people in order to achieve this, including the abolition of the family, the orgasm, and the sex instinct, with the ultimate goal of eliminating anything that may come between one’s love of Big Brother and Ingsoc. It will be a society that grows more, not less merciless as it refines itself, and a society without art, literature, or science, so that there are no distractions from their devotion to the Party, or any unorthodox thought, which is also meant to be achieved through the eventual eradication of Modern English, or „Oldspeak“. Winston asks O’Brien if the brotherhood actually exists, O’Brien responds by telling Winston that he will never know so long as he shall live, that it will be an unresolvable riddle in his mind. During a session, O’Brien explains that the purpose of the ordeal at the Ministry of Love is to alter Winston’s way of thinking, not to extract a confession, and that once Winston unquestioningly accepts reality as the Party describes it, he will be executed.
One night, as Winston lies dreaming in his cell, he suddenly wakes, yelling: „Julia! Julia! Julia, my love! Julia!“, whereupon O’Brien rushes in and doesn’t question him, and then sends him to Room 101, the most feared room in the Ministry of Love. Here a person’s greatest fear is forced upon him or her for the final re-education step: acceptance. Winston, who has a primal fear of rats, is shown a wire cage filled with starving rats and told that it will be fitted over his head like a mask, so that when the cage door is opened, the rats will bore into his face until it is stripped to the bone. Just as the cage brushes his cheek, he shouts frantically: „Do it to Julia!“ The torture ends and Winston is returned to society, brainwashed to accept Party doctrine. During the brainwashing, it is noted that O’Brien somehow was always aware of what Smith was thinking and in a way was reading his mind. It can be interpreted as either the Thought Police had devised a mechanism of reading people’s thoughts or O’Brien understood Smith completely and was able to predict his chain of thought perfectly.
After his release, Winston encounters Julia in the park. With distaste, they remember the unauthorized and unorthodox („ungood“ in Newspeak) feelings they once shared for each other and acknowledge having betrayed each other. They are apathetic about their reunion and each other’s experiences. Winston, happily reconciled to his impending execution, and accepting the Party’s depiction of life, celebrates the false fact of a news bulletin reporting Oceania’s recent, decisive victory over Eurasia. It is at this moment that he sincerely loves Big Brother for the very first time — a metaphorical bullet entering his brain. Thus the book ends on a bitter note, with Winston Smith’s inner transformation finally complete. Not resolved is whether Winston is ever actually executed, or whether his mental capitulation is considered enough.
The telescreen is the executive organ of big brother. It‘s the thing that makes a free live impossible, a thing that constantly reminds you that you have to act the way the party wants you to. It shows the danger you‘re in and it seems to say: You can‘t escape. The telescreen is a symbol for the totalitarian state that has constantly an eye on you – symbol for the constant surveilliance – no escape
The paperweight is a link to a past that Winston never experienced – a symbol for the better times – for the little resistance that is still in everyone – the freedom of the mind – bought it shortly before Julia appeared – was destroyed when they were caught – better time with art – place for beautiful things that are made for the soul
is a symbol for the safety – the last bit of privacy – the place without a constant eye – freedom – feeling to be home – the bunker
the forbidden knowledge – everything the party doesn‘t want you to know – the thing that will destroy it all – the ultimative weapon – the thing that the enemy wrote
they‘re like the forts of the party – the places where it‘s all controlled – the heart of the party – the things that give it a reason because nobody knows what‘s really happening in there – the things of biggest cruelty and ultimative luck
the place that everyone is scared of – the evil center of the ministry of love – the worst penalty – the thing that nobody really knows but everybody is scared of
War is Peace
says that the party is trying to keep the war constant because that is the thing that keeps the people peaceful and under control – they admit with it that the war is artifical, but because of the principles of doublethink everybody just realizes the slogan and does not think about it
Freedom is slavery
this slogan tells the people that if their free to do what they want their life will be harder – again it‘s quite obvious that the party tells you that you‘re not free – people don‘t complain because if doublethink
Ignorance is strenght
it tells the people that they should ignore what is obvious and believe only in the party – it is a good quality to be ignorant – tells them how the party works – says that you should doublethink
Message of the book
the book show that it is possible to influence what people think – that you can defeat the rationality and the logical thinking – you can make people do what you want them to – can modify their brain – book shows a single case of a man who shows resistance and how they change his mind
at the beginning Winston seems like the only who is against the system – the only one who can still think rational – methods of party don‘t work – you start to believe that he is the hero that will free them all – but at the end he is just another one who wouldn‘t let himself influence by the party but who breaks down
she is the forbidden temptation – a little piece of freedom – Winston can allow his humanity full bent with her – link to a better past – a little bit of paradise –
he‘s the one person that still seems rational to Winston and that‘s why he adores him – if he‘s the enemy or not – Winston is so happy to know that there is still someone who is intelligent, who thinks that he likes every word that comes out of his mouth – he‘s like his strict father that always tells the truth – certain aura
I think the motive of the book is to make it clear to the people that a state can change one‘s mind – the motive of winston was to revolt against the state.