What crime does the main character commit in 1984?

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There are no laws in Oceania. As Winston Smith understands, as the novel opens, "nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws."

Nevertheless, Winston Smith commits crimes. He knows from the moment he opens his journal that even thinking of keeping a private diary is a thought crime. It is a crime because it never should occur to him, as an orthodox Party member, to act in such a way. A thought crime, he knows, is punishable by death—or, at the very least, twenty-five years in a forced labor camp.

Winston, however, goes past mere thought crimes, actually conspiring against the state. He and Julia are lured by O'Brien into what they think is a group of conspirators who are plotting rebellion. They are caught on tape saying they would like to overthrow the government and telling O'Brien that they are willing to commit the following crimes to do so:

"You are prepared to cheat, to forge, to blackmail, to corrupt the minds of children, to distribute habit-forming drugs, to encourage prostitution, to disseminate venereal diseases—to do anything which is likely to cause demoralization and weaken the power of the Party?"


"If, for example, it would somehow serve our interests to throw sulphuric acid in a child’s face—are you prepared to do that?"


Winston, of course, is not charged with anything specific when he is arrested and brought to the Ministry of Love, but he has obviously stepped over many lines in his desire to rebel against the Party and its totalitarian worldview.

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Winston Smith commits thought-crime in the novel 1984.  This is a type of crime in which the offender's thoughts conflict with or defy the current laws or beliefs of the society.  The thought-police identify this crime through the actions of the offender either through the sophisticated and widespread surveillance of the society or through another individual turning that person in.

Thought-crime is hard to define and equally hard to prevent.  Winston's thoughts eventually manifest themselves in his desire for a forbidden physical relationship, his desire for personal reflection through his diary, and his desire to join an underground movement against Big Brother.

He is punished as all thought-criminals are:  through a terrifying visit to the Ministry of Love, Room 101.  While some thought criminals are completly vaporized both physically and historically, Winston is, after torture, brainwashed to reintegrate harmlessly into society.


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