Cite some examples of urban decay that occur in chapter 1 of 1984.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.


teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first chapter of 1984, the "lift" (elevator) in Winston's apartment building is not working. We learn that it seldom does work, whether or not the electricity is on (and often the electricity is not). Winston, therefore, has to climb seven flights of steps to reach his apartment. When he arrives home and looks out the window the landscape appears colorless, except for the Big Brother posters. From the window, he surveys a vast landscape of decay. He wonders if it has always looked this way. He asks himself:

Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with baulks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy  garden walls sagging in all directions? And the bombed sites where the plaster dust swirled in the air and the willow-herb straggled over the heaps of rubble; and the places where the bombs had cleared a larger patch and there had sprung up sordid colonies of wooden dwellings like chicken-houses?

Winston remembers buying his diary in a "slummy" section of town. There are enough of these "quarters" that he can't remember from which one he got the diary.

People are part of an urban landscape, and Winston himself also seems in a state of decay. He has an ulcer on his ankle. He has to rest several times on his walk up the steps to his apartment, and he is described as small, frail, and meagre.