What does the coral paperweight symbolize in 1984?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The coral paperweight symbolizes Winston's desire to escape into the time before the Party took over. He longs, in an idealized way, to recapture some of what normal life was like in those former days. As Winston thinks when he buys the artifact:

What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one. The soft, rainwatery glass was not like any glass that he had ever seen.

The coral paperweight also symbolizes the special world that Winston attempts to create with Julia separate from the everyday world of the Party they both must function in. As Winston thinks: 

The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost as transparent as air. It was as though the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. He had the feeling that he could get inside it, and that in fact he was inside it, along with the mahogany bed and the gateleg table, and the clock and the steel engraving and the paperweight itself. The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.

By gazing at the glass, Winston can indulge in the fantasy that he and Julia can escape into a magical world all their own that will never change, that will be eternal. It becomes the projection of their desired utopia. It represents all their longings for a different kind of life.

The paperweight also symbolizes the fragility and vulnerability of the world Winston and Julia have tried to create. The paperweight is easily smashed. It is shattered at the very moment Winston and Julia's private world is shattered by the intrusion of the secret police. Winston thinks, as he looks at the coral:

The fragment of coral, a tiny crinkle of pink like a sugar rosebud from a cake, rolled across the mat. How small, thought Winston, how small it always was!

He and Julia have always been equally small and vulnerable, as Winston will find out from O'Brien. Like the paperweight and the old-fashioned values it represents, they too will be crushed.

clane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Not only does it foreshadow what is to come, but Winston looks at the tiny piece of coral that is lying on the floor and he thinks to himself how the beauty of it has somehow been lost now that it isn't surrounded by glass. He thinks to himself how small it looks without the glass to magnify it. This also represents or symbolizes how minute their love for one another is and what they were trying to do in comparison to the Party which is too large and powerful ever to stop. They believed that the acts they were committing against the Party would somehow lead to its eventual downfall and they felt powerful (like the paperweight in its glory). They find out as the book transitions to its third part how small they actually are (just like the piece of coral that has lost its luster).

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The paperweight is something from the world before the Party.  It represents that other world, and it also represents the beauty of the love Julia and Winston have found even though love is forbidden in Oceania.  The paperweight is delicate, and clear glass except for the coral in the center.  Like Winston and Julia's love life, the coral is obvious and clearly visible from all sides.  The couple were "loving" in a fishbowl so to speak, and they did not realize they were so vulnerable and obvious.  When the thought police come to the apartment to take them in for questioning, one of the police throws the paperweight across the room and it shatters into tiny shards of what it once was.  This foreshadows what will become of Winston and Julia's relationship.

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The paperweight symbolizes something that has no value except for its beauty.  The search for or involvement with the beautiful but useless places emphasis on the individual and his/her appreciation of the beautiful.  Individuality in their world is the enemy, however. They call it ownlife, which is the tendency toward the solitary, the individual, or the subversive. The callousness with which it is destroyed indicates how successful the society has become in squashing individuality.

syleepandora | Student

Paperweights are known to keep the paper from blowing in the breeze. I agree that the paperweight symbolizes Winston's struggle to reconnect with the past because psychological manipulation has been taking place in 1984, by the Party. The paper, itself, might represent the fragile memories of the past while the breeze may represent the members of the Party. 

parama9000 | Student

It symbolizes the little acts of rebellion by Winston and Julia against Big Brother. They feel their actions, however small, were big and could and would cause the downfall of Big Brother. However, from a larger perspective, and after a certain period of time, they realize the significance of their acts are small and not very effective at all.

parama9000 | Student

The coral paperweight is somewhat one of its kind, which shows that individualism does not exist in Winston's world. Also it portrays how Winston wants to protect a precious but fragile Julia.

jenny-bby | Student

its also a link into the past. It's completly useless but for winston just having something that is from the past is a rush to him

dkalloch | Student

Unlike the unsafe and unsecure world that the members of the Party live in, the coral paperweight symbolizes a beautiful, safe and secure environment.

Winston longs for a safe haven to live in, similar to the glass dome in which the piece of coral is encased.  A place where he can be free to love Julia. This is why he chooses to let the room above the store.  It symbolizes the safe haven of a glass dome paperweight where he can care for and protect Julia and they can be free.  Julia is like the beautiful piece of coral. In his room, he can protect her like the piece of coral in its glass enclosure.