As the narrative of 1984 first opens, a scene of urban decay is depicted immediately:
- In the halls of the ironically named Victory Mansions there is "gritty dust" and the smells of boiled cabbage, the food of the poor Irish of the twentieth century, fills the air.
- The electricity is cut off during the daytime as part of the economy drive.
- In the street, whirling dust and torn papers mount in spirals, and everything seems colorless.
- At a little distance is the Ministry of Truth where Winston works; it is white and large above "the grimy landscape."
- Another building, the Ministry of Love, is surrounded by barbed wire. Nearby are "bombed sites where plaster dust swirled in the air."
- Within his apartment, Winston has no food, onlu a "hunk of dark-colored bread" that he must save for the next day.
- Winston's neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, is slovenly, appearing as though she has dust in the lines of her face. Her kitchen is littered with dirty dishes and the room smells of sweat. The clogged sink is nearly full of "filthy greenish water which smelt worse than ever of cabbage."
- People seem to be everywhere. Men ask each other for razor blades, but Winston has a couple which he hoards.
- Back in his apartment, Winston wonders if things have been different from the present time, different from the grimy room with its battered tables and dented trays. Winston smells a "sourish composite smell of bad gin and bad coffee, and "filthy-tasting cigarettes."
Interestingly, critics have compared London in 1984 to the grimy and gutter-filled industrial Victorian London.