How does the coral paperweight serve as a microcosm for Winston world?

Expert Answers
Michael Otis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During one of his excursions to Mr. Charrington's junk shop in the proletarian district of London, Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell's 1984, buys a glass paperweight with a fragile branch of coral encased within. For Winston, it is an improbable symbol of the vanished world before the revolution. Yet it is more than that. After Winston enters upon the mad plan of renting the room above Mr. Charrington's shop, the coral paperweight comes to represent the miniature world, or microcosm, of "Julia's life and his own fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal". In this crystal microcosm, Winston - and Orwell himself - can hope that individual will, fellow feeling, and love can succeed, if only for a moment. But in the moment that Winston and Julia declare, "We are the dead", their microcosm disintegrates, symbolized by the shattered crystal, and the tiny coral, frail, rolling on the carpet, lies exposed to the power of a brutal macrocosm.