What does Winston trace in the dust at the end of the novel 1984?

Expert Answers

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

Winston's tracing of "2+2=5" in the dust on the table is fraught with great significance. He'd always insisted that, no matter how hard it tried, the Party would never penetrate the core of his inner being. And yet it has. Thanks to the brutal physical and psychological torture he endured at the Ministry of Love, he's internalized the Party edict that whatever it says is true, no matter how blatantly contradictory or absurd.

As Winston traces this impossible equation in the dust, he does so unthinkingly. And that was the whole point of the Party's breaking him, physically and mentally. The Party doesn't want Winston to think; it simply wants him to believe whatever it tells him to believe. And in order to achieve this outcome, it has had to plumb the very depths of Winston's soul, something he was always so certain could never happen.

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

2+2 = 5

It is the ironic reflection of the double-speak Winston had been trying to avoid internalizing his whole life. As he is dying, this is the last thing he does on earth:

Almost unconsciously he traced with his finger in the dust on the table:

2 + 2 = 5

"They can't get inside you," she had said. But they could get inside you. "What happens to you here is forever," O'Brien had said. That was a true word. There were things, you own acts, from which you could not recover. Something was killed in your breast; burnt out, cauterized out.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial