Using specific and detailed references to the text of 1984 please explain the significance of "two and two make five." 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the controlled world of Oceania, Winston Smith is virtually alone in his individuality and ability to reason. Even though he realizes that he commits thought crime, Winston begins to write in a diary that he has purchased. When Big Brother comes upon the telescreen from which Winston hides himself, he almost automatically prints repeatedly in large letters, "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER."

As he ponders the control that Big Brother has upon people, Winston contemplates the "huge force" that exerts itself against the intellect and the core of one's beliefs. Winston formulates this as the pressure to deny a person the evidence of his senses--to alter reality. In Part I, Chapter 7 Winston ponders,

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it.

Of course, this thought portends what happens to Winston in the final chapters. But, before this chapter concludes, the independent thinker Winston rebels against this thought control in which a person is made to deny the evidence before his eyes. Feeling that he is putting forth "an important axiom," Winston writes in his diary,

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

Interestingly, it has been proposed that Orwell derived this imperfect conception from Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goring, Hitler's propagandist, who in an exaggerated demonstration of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, pronounced, "If the Fuhrer wants it, two and two make five!"

Clearly, then, Winston Smith fights in his heart for truth and reality. His desire for what is real is so strong that he defiantly strives for "the freedom to say that two plus two make four." However, after his acts of rebellion become known to the Party, he is arrested and falls victim to the physical and psychological torture of O'Brien. In Book III, Chapter 2, Winston is given jolts of electricity as he is asked how many fingers are being held before his face. 

"Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four!"

When he does reply "Five" because the pain is too great, O'Brien tells him,

"No, Winston that is no use.  You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?"

Later, O'Brien tell him that sometimes there are five; sometimes there are three....You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane." He tells Winston he has been brought to the Ministry of Love in order to be "cured." Sadly, later in Book III, Chapter 4, Winston has capitulated and writes on his slate, "TWO AND TWO MAKE FIVE," realizing his own insignificance now. But, Winston must still learn to love Big Brother, so he is subjected to his worst horror: rats. 

After all this torture, Winston's mind has been tamed and he practices "crimestop," which is Newspeak for ending any subversive thought. Having been released, the defeated Winston spends much of his time drinking victory gin with "Something... killed in [his] breast; burnt out, cauterized out." In the dust of the chess table, Winston, who has betrayed Julia and himself, almost unconsciously traces with his finger, "2+2=5."

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