On what page does Winston say that "freedom is the ability to say that two plus two equals four"?

If you are reading this Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition of George Orwell's 1984, then the quote appears on page 77. It's the last thing before the start of chapter eight. Be careful, though, as the quote reads: "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four." While we're talking about this famous line, you might want to think about its context and what it's saying about both the vulnerability and resilience of the human mind.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There’s many editions of 1984, as it's one of the most widely-read books of all time. If you are reading the more recent Houghton Mifflin Harcourt edition, then you will find the quote on page 77, right before the start of chapter eight.

Be careful about quoting, though: Your quotes reads: "Freedom is the ability to say that two plus two equals four." What Winston Smith writes in his diary is: "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two equals four."

While you're thinking about this quote, you might want to consider what was going on in the story. Winston was examining a history book for children and examining the picture of Big Brother. Orwell writes:

It was as though some huge force were pressing down on you—something penetrated inside your skull, battering against your brain, frightening you out of your beliefs, persuading you, almost, to deny the evidence of your senses.

These lines should help us realize how all-powerful and mighty Big Brother is. Think about your identity and how much of your identity relies on the autonomy of your thoughts and feelings. Big Brother throws that autonomy out the window. As Orwell writes, "In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it."

Indeed, Orwell might be alluding to the fragility of the brain and the vulnerability of knowledge and freedom. We can learn that two plus two equals four, but we can also unlearn it and be harassed into believing that two plus two equals five.

You might also want to think about how Winston’s quote applies to our present environment where, it could be argued, the ability to read, see, and hear only what we want leads many of us to say "two and two made five" even when we think we're saying "two plus two equals four."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Part One, chapter 7 of the online Planet Ebook Edition of 1984, Winston writes in his diary, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four" (Orwell 103). As Winston is contemplating the extensive authority and power of the Party, he recognizes that the government will soon make citizens believe that two plus two equals five using the concept of doublethink, which is when a person believes and accepts two contradicting ideas simultaneously. Winston realizes that despite the Party's overarching control of society, he is able to maintain his independence by thinking logically and rejecting the Party's manufactured perspective of the world. Unlike the majority of citizens in Oceania, Winston rejects the Party's propaganda and knows that government agents have been effectively altering history in the Ministry of Truth. The Party is essentially practicing reality control in order to make every citizen perfectly orthodox and ensure the Party's reign for eternity. In such a controlled, regulated society established on government propaganda, Winston writes down the important axiom to express his desire to think independently and not passively accept government propaganda.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In 1984, this quote appears at the very end of Part One, Chapter Seven, on page 84. To put this quote into context, Winston writes in his diary that the proles could overthrow the party, if they wanted to. The only obstacle to rebellion is the proles themselves: "Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious."

In this chapter, Winston also remembers a time when three party members were arrested for treason. Winston knew that they were innocent, having seen a photograph of them at a function when they were supposedly committing their crimes. But they were arrested and confessed publicly to all manner of horrible crimes. The men were eventually released and allegedly reinstated to senior party positions but Winston saw them in a cafe in the prole district about a year later. 

These two instances are very important in understanding the above quote. They demonstrate how the party is able to control people's concept of truth and manipulate their understanding of reality. The proles, for instance, are socially ousted by the party and portrayed as inferior. Over time, they have come to accept this status as truth and so they never pose a real threat to Big Brother.  Similarly, Winston destroys the photograph which proves the innocence of the three men. Though he does this through fear, it is illustrative of his job, more generally. He rewrites history, on the party's behalf, and erases  all historical events which the party does not want people to remember. The point is, then, that the party are capable of manipulating the truth to suit their agenda. If they say, for example, that 2 + 2 = 5, who will stand up against them and say that it is wrong? People are too afraid of the Thought Police and Room 101 to question what the party tells them and so, over time, they will come to accept whatever the party says as truth. As Winston says: "The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command." In other words, the party are the creators of truth. 

In this understanding, then, it is only by avoiding the party's indoctrination that a person can truly be free. Winston uses the example of '2 + 2 = 4' to illustrate this point but, arguably, any idea that we conceive as 'truth' can be used. It is not the example which matters but the ability to develop one's own thoughts and to express them openly, without fear of violence. That is what Winston truly seeks and why he has become a rebel against Big Brother.

Please note that my copy of 1984 is the Penguin Classics, published in London in 1990, and the page number may differ slightly to yours.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team