In Orwell's classic novel 1984, Winston Smith lives in the dystopian nation of Oceania, where life is completely controlled by Big Brother and individuality is virtually nonexistent. In this restrictive, totalitarian nation, Winston attempts to maintain his humanity and exercise his independence by carrying on an affair with Julia and renting an apartment above Mr. Charrington's antique shop. In Oceania, nearly everything from the past is viewed as contraband or no longer exists. In Book One, chapter eight, Winston purchases an antique paperweight from Mr. Charrington's shop. Orwell writes,
"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 thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness, though he could guess that it must once have been intended as a paperweight" (121).
The glass paperweight is a remnant of the past and is a delicate, rare piece of art. Winston recognizes that possessing the object could get him arrested but is inspired to purchase the paperweight. Later on, Winston brings the paperweight to the apartment above the antique shop and tells Julia,
"I don’t think it’s anything—I mean, I don’t think it was ever put to any use. That’s what I like about it. It’s a little chunk of history that they’ve forgotten to alter. It’s a message from a hundred years ago, if one knew how to read it" (Orwell, 183).
Orwell's description and Winston's analysis of the glass paperweight contribute to its symbolic significance. One could argue that the glass paperweight symbolically represents the past before Big Brother and the fragment of coral inside represents Winston's love for Julia. In the dystopian nation of Oceania, the Party is determined to completely erase the past and make joyful human experiences obsolete. Similar to the past, which is constantly manipulated and destroyed by the Party, the glass paperweight is fragile and eventually broken by the Thought Police.
In addition to symbolically representing the past, the glass paperweight also represents Winston and Julia's isolated world inside Charrington's apartment, where they live a fairytale existence before they are arrested. Similar to the coral inside the paperweight, Winston and Julia's love is rare, exotic, and beautiful. Tragically, their relationship ends when they are arrested by the Thought Police and the glass paperweight is shattered into tiny pieces.