1984 Questions and Answers
by George Orwell

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In 1984, what are examples of Winston's thoughtcrime?

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Thanh Munoz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As the term indicates, a person does not have to "do" anything in order to be guilty of thoughtcrime: it is a purely mental process that the Party has labeled as criminal. At no point in the story do we not find Winston committing thoughtcrime. He knows from the start that the worldview presented by the Party is based on lies and on its own power lust. His own personality is, understandably, driven by resentment of the Party's control of the population and by his awareness, based on his distant and admittedly vague memories, that life was better before the rule of the Party began. All of this represents thoughtcrime, of which Winston is guilty even before he decides to keep a diary and he writes the words DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER.

Interestingly, when Winston begins the diary, he tells himself that this is technically not an illegal act, that nothing is actually illegal because "there are no longer any laws." The concept of thoughtcrime is based, therefore, on doublethink. Law is the basis of civilization, and the absence of it is the hallmark of a dictatorship or totalitarian regime. So the idea of anything being specifically criminal is a kind of self-contradiction in such a society, in spite of the fact that nobody can do (or think) anything without the fear of arrest, imprisonment, or "vaporization." We are also never told whether the Party really does have a specific technology enabling it to read people's minds and to know they are thinking heretical thoughts. Winston's assumption is that the mere fact of his having such thoughts will land him in prison, and in this he's correct.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Any thought or expression, even in a dream, that deviates in any way from Party orthodoxy is thoughtcrime.

As Winston is well aware, his act of buying an old, blank diary and pen from Mr. Charrington's junk shop is a potential thoughtcrime. Sitting in his alcove, away from the view screen, and writing in this diary is a definite thoughtcrime. It is one that Winston knows will carry at the very least a twenty-five year sentence at a hard labor camp or, more likely, the death penalty.

Once he takes his first step into transgression by writing in the journal, Winston commits thoughtcrime upon thoughtcrime. He questions the Party's version of history, gets involved in an affair with Julia, and hopes to participate in an underground conspiracy to overthrow the government. From the point of view of the regime, he is a dangerous political criminal.

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Thomas Mccord eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In 1984, thoughtcrime is the name given to negative or unorthodox thoughts about the Party. In Oceania, it does not matter that these thoughts are unspoken; merely thinking something bad about the Party is a crime in itself. 

In Part One, Chapter One, Winston commits thoughtcrime when he writes DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER in his diary. This is a criminal act because he is expressing his desire to see the Party destroyed, and as a Party member, he should think the very opposite.

In the next chapter, there is another example of Winston's thoughtcrime:

To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone—to a time when truth exists.

This is another of Winston's diary extracts in which he imagines a free, almost utopian society in which independent thought and behavior are encouraged. Again, he is expressing his discontent with life under the Party, and, as he later acknowledges, this makes him a dead man walking. 

Further Reading:

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timbrady eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Most of Winston's thoughts are thoughtcrimes.  His entire relationship with Julia is a crime because he is indulging in a relationship that is not in keeping with the state's idea of the purpose of sex and indulging in the crime of having his "ownlife."  Orwell makes it clear when he tells us that "Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act."  Winston also insists that 2 + 2 = 4.  He claims that no matter what the party says, this will always be true; believing that there is a truth outside the party is an example of thought crime.  Collecting the little shell from Charrington is another thought crime because it values something from the past.  And his biggest thoughtcrime is obtaining a copy of and reading the test of "The Theory of Oligarcic Collectivism."  This text, created by the inner party, is an attack on everything the Party stands for.  It has no practical value, but does offer the Party a way to single out the most rebellious in the population.

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