Detailed summary of George Orwell Novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) by Colette COLMERAUER :
The story of Winston Smith begins on a bright cold day. He works for the Ministry of Truth, which deals with news, education, entertainment and art. There are three other Ministries: the Ministry of Plenty dealing with Economic Affairs, the Ministry of Love dealing with law and torture, and the Ministry of Peace which deals with war and defence.
Everywhere in London there are giant posters of a dark eyed man with a moustache and a motto “Big Brother is looking at you”. Winston comes back home from work to his one room apartment. In this room a big telescreen transmits and receives non-stop information, so that you can be watched or listened to at anytime. But there is an alcove besides where he believes he cannot be seen. So he sits there and begins writing a journal, on an old book bought in an antiques shop. He writes the date: 4 April 1984. He remembers his encounter with Julia, a young woman, in the morning during the Two Minutes Hate of Emmanuel Goldstein, the public enemy. Julia is a member of the Junior Anti-Sex league and Winston believes she is a spy.
He is interrupted by a neighbour, Mrs Parson, asking him to give a hand for her sink. Mr and Mrs Parson are nice people but they have two children already endoctrinated to inform about thought criminals especially their parents.
Soon after Winston learns that his country Oceania won an important battle against Eurasia. He knows that the mere fact he can think condemn him to death. He puts some white dust on his journal to be sure nobody will touch it.
Winston is dreaming about his parents and his sister who died when he was eleven or ten, when a violent whistle wakes him up at a quarter past seven, followed by a strenuous gym class on the telescreen.
While exercising Winston remembers his childhood, around the 50’s, when war started and never stopped. The party pretended that Eurasia was the enemy of Oceania, but he knew that, only four years ago, Oceania was allied with Eurasia against Estasia. A lie could become truth. That was the reason why nobody could tell if Big Brother was real or had been invented.
Winston’s work at the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth consists in revising historical records, to make the past conform to ever-changing party line. The facts are always changed to conform to Big Brother’s speeches and prediction. An issue of the newspaper Times can be changed a dozen times if necessary.
He also deletes references to unpersons, people who have been “vaporised”, i.e. not only killed by the state but denied existence even in history or memory. The original documents are incinerated in a place called “memory holes”. On the opposite Winston also has to invent characters, like a certain Comrade Ogilvy, 23, who displayed great heroism by leaping into the sea from a helicopter so that the dispatches he was carrying would not fall into enemy hands.
Winston becomes fascinated by the true past and tries to learn more about it.
Winston meets his friend Syme at the cafeteria. Syme works on the eleventh edition of Newspeak Dictionary. This artificial language is meant to ideologically align thought and action with the principles of Ingsoc (English Socialism) by “making all other modes of thought impossible”. Words are destroyed by the hundreds, day after day, to make sure that they will not be used to think differently. Winston believes that Syme is too intelligent and that he will be eliminated because he knows too much about Newspeak.
At one moment Winston looks at Julia, the dark haired girl, and now he is convinced she is a spy. Everybody is spying everybody.
Winston is remembering his wife Katharine. Marriages had to be authorized by a committee, in order to procreate: any sexual attraction was strictly forbidden. In doing so, the party tried to denature sexual instinct. Their marriage lasted fifteen months, and ended because Katharine could not bear children. Katharine had no intelligence and no sensuality.
Winston believes that the only hope can rise from proles, 85 per cent of Oceania population who are despised by the party. They are only asked to work and procreate, so they are relatively free. Winston thinks they will be able to revolt when they become conscious, but they can be conscious only when they have already revolted…
Revolution pretends to have abolished capitalism, but the proletarian conditions have hardly changed. Has capitalism really existed? History falsifications are so huge, it’s impossible to know for sure. What did London look like before Revolution ? Nobody knows.
Winston is strolling in London streets. He likes to be alone, which is foolish, as Party members should enjoy being with others. Pubs are crowded with proles: Winston follows an old man inside, because he wants to ask him questions about his youth, to know more about the time before Revolution. He offers him several beers and listens to his memories, but they are not interesting.
Then he goes on, and visits the antiques shop where he had bought the old book he uses to write his journal. He also visits upstairs a room full of old furniture. He intends to take it for rent from its owner, Charrington.
When he comes back home, he meets the dark haired girl who pretends not to see him: he is sure she is following him to spy him.
Four days later, in the Ministry of Truth, he bumps the black haired girl who hands him surreptitiously a note written with “I love you”. He gets very excited and decides to talk to her at the cafeteria.
But he has to wait when she is alone, and far away from a telescreen. It takes one week to get this opportunity and they decide to meet at Victory Square. Then another meeting is set next Sunday outside of London.
After a long railroad trip, Winston meets Julia and they go into a forest. Julia, like himself hates the Party but lets nobody know it. They hide from all the microphones, and they make love, which is a strong political act, against the Party as the Party condemns any sexual desire.
When they depart they take different routes. During May they meet secretly several times. Julia works for the Fiction Department, she has a very good reputation and she was authorized to work during one year at Pornosec, producing pornography for the proles.
She hates the Party but she never heard about the Brotherhood and does not believe in it. The lovers know fully well that they will soon be detected and arrested, and Julia observes: "everybody always confesses. You can't help it."
Winston is waiting for Julia to come in his room, atop Mr Charrington antiques shop. He feels tenderness for her now. When Julia arrives, she is perfumed and she has make up on: she also brings good bread, jam, sugar and true coffee, not “Victory “coffee which is a substitute. They make love and fall asleep holding each other.
When they wake up, Julia chases a rat out of the room and Winston scared to death confesses his phobia about rats.
One morning Syme has disappeared, he “vaporised”. His name was deleted from the members list of the Chess Club, so Winston infers he became an “unperson”, he was too intelligent for his task.
Everybody is preparing to celebrate the “Hate Week” to stimulate Oceania's populace further into enraged frenzy against all enemies.
But Julia and Winston enjoy being together in the small room, but they know it will not last for ever.Winston believes there exists Brotherhood, a secret organisation (conducted by Emmanuel Goldstein) that intends to destroy the Party, but Julia does not.
When Inner Party member O'Brien drops a hint that he is a member of the mysterious anti-Party Brotherhood, and gives him his personal home address, Winston is very happy and tells Julia.
Winston wakes up after a dream with his mother. His father died young, and he was left alone with his mother and a younger sick sister: one day, he stole a bar of chocolate and ran away. When he came back his mother and sister had disappeared, since then he feels guilty. He explains the situation to Julia.
Winston decides that the most important thing is not to stay alive, but to stay human. The Party can force him to say anything, but it cannot read his thoughts and make him believe anything.
O'Brien invites Winston and Julia to his flat where, as a member of the Party elite he lives in comparative luxury: the lifts function properly, he can offer them wine, and he can switch off the telescreen.
O'Brien presents himself as a member of the "Brotherhood, whose chief is Goldstein, then he extracts a series of pledges from the couple that they are prepared to do anything to serve the Brotherhood, except (at Julia's protest) to separate from each other. He promises Winston to lend him Goldstein book.
Winston is exhausted by the demonstrations during the Hate Week. After five days, the enemy suddenly changed: Eurasia becomes an ally and Eastasia is the declared enemy.
Winston knows that at the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) they will get a lot of work changing all the written stuff for the last five years. All the Ministry employees work hard, eighteen hours a day, they sleep on mattresses in the corridors.
When Winston gets an afternoon off he goes to his room atop Charrington antique shop and starts reading Goldtstein book.
The first chapter is called “Ignorance is Strenght” and explains the class hierarchy of Oceania which has three levels: the upper-class Inner Party, the elite ruling minority, who make up 2% of the population, the middle-class Outer Party, who make up 13% of the population and the lower-class Proles who make up 85% of the population and represent the uneducated working class.
Another chapter explains that “War is Peace” and that three perpetually warring totalitarian super-states control the world:
Oceania, its core territories are the Western Hemisphere, the British Isles, Australasia, and Southern Africa. Its ideology is Ingsoc, that means English socialism.
Eurasia its core territories are Continental Europe and Russia, including Siberia. Its ideology is Neo-Bolshevism.
Eastasia its core territories are China, Japan, Korea, and Indochina. Its ideology is Obliteration of the Self, that is Death Worship.
These states fight in the arctic wastes and a disputed zone comprising the sea and land from Tangiers, Nort Africa to Darwin North Australia.
The superstates' ideologies are alike and the public's ignorance of this fact is imperative so that they might continue believing in the detestability of the opposing ideologies. The only references to the exterior world for the Oceanian citizenry (the Outer Party and the Proles) are Minitrue maps and propaganda ensuring their belief in "the war".
The book also explains that the purpose of the unwinnable, perpetual war is to consume human labour and commodities, hence the economy of a superstate cannot support economic equality (a high standard of life) for every citizen. By using up most of the produced objects like boots and rations, the "proles" are kept poor and uneducated so that they will not realize what the government is doing and they will not rebel.
Goldstein also details the Oceanian strategy of attacking enemy cities with atomic rockets before invasion, yet dismisses it as unfeasible and contrary to the war's purpose; despite the atomic bombing of cities in the 1950s the superstates stopped such warfare lest it imbalance the powers.
When Julia arrives Winston reads again the first chapter aloud. The
three social classes are strictly divided, the upper class is the Inner Party, a ruling elite, its purpose is not only to abolish private property but to keep it in their hands. They want to stay atop, the middle class wants to take its place and the lower class wants to be egalitarian.
At the same time, the proles are freer and less intimidated than the middle class Outer Party; they are subject to certain levels of monitoring but are not expected to be particularly patriotic. "The Book" indicates that this state of things derives from the observation that the middle class, not the lower class, traditionally started revolutions. The model demands tight control of the middle class, with ambitious Outer Party members neutralised via promotion to the Inner Party or "reintegration" by Miniluv, while proles can be allowed intellectual freedom because they lack intellect.
All members of the Party are under surveillance by the Thought Police. They have to block in their minds any dangerous thought. And even more they have to practice “double think”.
The keyword for “double think” is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. Julia falls asleep.
When Winston and Julia wake up a metallic voice can be heard from the wall, the painting falls and discovers a telescreen. Uniformed men capture Winston and Julia. Charrington is not an old prole anymore, but a 35 years old officer of the Thought Police.
Winston thinks he is imprisoned in the Ministry of Love, but he is not sure. The room has no window, only four telescreens on the white walls. He feels hungry.
Other prisoners come to his cell, then go to “room 101”. Among them the poet Ampleforth, emprisoned for leaving the word “God” in a Kipling poem, and Parsons because his daughter had reported him to the Thought Police after overhearing him speak against Big Brother whilst he slept.
O’Brien arrives, he does not belong to Brotherhood, he is really a faithful Party member and torturer for the Thought Police.
Winston is beaten and tortured. He confesses to crimes he did and did not commit, implicating anyone and everyone. But it does not matter as for the Party there is no difference between the thought and the action. Winston is attached on a bed and receives electroshocks.
O’Brien stands besides him to explain there is one and only one truth, the Party truth. If Winston has other memories, that means he is insane and gets hallucinations, he has to be cured.
O’Brien tells him that Julia has betrayed him, immediately, unreservedly, “a perfect conversion”.
Reintegration is done in three steps: study, understand, accept. Winston is entering the second step.
O’Brien explains the Inner Party’s motivation: complete and absolute power, mocking Winston’s assumption that it was somehow altruistic and “for the greater good”. “Always, at every moment there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless, imagine a boot stamping on a human face- forever.”
O’Brien asks him to undress and look at himself in the mirror, how thin and weak he became. He persuades him that one day, Winston will “cure” himself of his “insanity”. Then he will be shot.
Winston is recovering. He discovered that the Thought Police had been looking after him for seven years. When O’Brien enters his cell, he asks how he feels about Big Brother. Winston says he hates him so he is sent to room 101.
Room 101 is the final stage of reeducation, the most feared room in the Ministry of Love, which contains each prisoner’s worst fear. As a wire cage holding hungry rats is fitted onto his face, Winston shouts “Do it to Julia” betraying her.
After being reintegrated into Oceania society, Winston encounters Julia in a park. She reveals that she was also tortured, and each admits betraying the other.
Later, Winston sits by himself in a cafe, troubled by memories which he is convinced are false. A news bulletin announces Oceania's "decisive victory" over Eurasian armies in Africa. A raucous celebration begins outside, and Winston imagines himself a part of it. As he looks up in admiration at a portrait of Big Brother, Winston feels he has at least ended his "stubborn, self-willed exile" from the love of Big Brother – a love Winston happily returns.
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