Book 1 Chapter 1
The book begins on a cold day in April 1984, in London, Oceania, Winston Smith arrives at his small apartment building (Victory Mansions). He is introduced as a thirty-nine-year-old man, who is very frail. The elevator is always out of service in his apartment building, so he does not try to use it. As he climbs the staircase, he is greeted on each landing by a poster of Big Brother, captioned by the words ‘BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.’
We immediately can see, through Winston’s opinions and actions, that Winston’s London is completely totalitarian. Winston pours himself a large drink and gets out his dairy (an act punishable by death). He believes he is fortunate because a small corner of his apartment is hidden from the telescreen (a device that allows him to be viewed and heard twenty-four hours a day by the authorities, or Big Brother himself).
Winston begins the diary by writing about a recent trip to the movies. While writing this, he has a memory of a significant happening earlier in the week, in which he was simultaneously attracted to and repelled by a young woman working in his building. He also remembers sharing a brief moment with O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party, an encounter in which Winston believes that O’Brien is an enemy of the Party. He continues writing, this time with more substantive material about his feelings on the current environment in which he lives. He is interrupted by a knock at the door. Winston looks down and realises that he has written ‘DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER’ over and over again in his diary. He has therefore committed thoughtcrime (a crime punishable by death). He knows that the Thought Police will take him away sooner or later. He is interrupted by a knock at the door.
1984 is a dystopian novella by George Orwell published in 1949, which takes place in 1984. The Novella explores the ideas of a totalitarian state controlling every aspect of life, even people’s thoughts. The state is called Oceania and is ruled by a group known as the Party; its leader and dictator is Big Brother.
The Novella follows the life of Winston Smith, the central character, is a thirty-nine-year-old man living in London. He is a low-ranking member of ‘the Party’, who is frustrated by the omnipresent eyes of the party, and its ominous ruler Big Brother. He secretly hates the Party and decides to rebel by starting a diary in which he reveals his rebellious thoughts and plans. By owning a diary, Winston commits thoughtcrime and knows that one day he will be discovered by the Thought Police and potentially killed.
Winston is fascinated by the lives of ‘proles’ (the lowest class in the social hierarchy of Oceania). They are the only group allowed to live pretty much as they like without heavy police surveillance. He later befriends a prole, Mr. Charrington (the Owner of shop in the prole district), who shares his interest in the past and life before the rule of Big Brother.
Whilst at work, Winston is approached by a woman who works in another department, she pretends to fall, as a result he helps her up. As he does this, she slips a piece of paper into his hand. It says, ‘I love you.’ Winston is surprised and disturbed by this; any sexual relationship between Party members is strictly forbidden. However, it’s something he’d never seen before, which as a result leaves him intrigued. They later agree to secretly meet in the country, only in places that aren’t under surveillance. He begins a love affair with the woman, who we later learn is called Julia. Winston and Julia eventually rent the room above Mr. Charrington’s junkshop as a long-term private place for the two of them.
A member of the Inner Party, known as ‘O’Brien’, finds an excuse to give Winston his home address, an unusual event. Winston, whilst being quite taken back is overjoyed, as he’d always believed O’Brien may not be like the other members of the party and might share his hatred of the Party. Winston and Julia secretly travel to see O’Brien and he enlists them into the Brotherhood (a secret organisation dedicated to fighting Big Brother). He arranges to give Winston a copy of “The Book,” a document that contains the truth about Big Brother and the development of the super-states. Winston and Julia rush to their room above the junkshop to read the book, hoping to finally confirm their suspicions. Only for the Thought Police burst in to arrest them. They then learn that Mr. Charrington is a Thought Police agent. They are therefore separately taken to the Ministry of Love. There, Winston learns that O’Brien is in fact an orthodox government agent and has deliberately tricked him. O’Brien takes charge of the process of “re-integrating” Winston, by torturing and brainwashing him until he fully believes in the Party and it’s viewpoints. As the final step of this process, Winston is forced to betray his love for Julia, and his feelings for her are destroyed.
Winston is released after all of his torturing, only to live out his final days as a broken man. Soon, the Thought Police will execute him for his crime, the Novella ends with Winston having submitted completely, as he even loves Big Brother.