What is the importance to the rhyme Oranges and Lemons in 1984?

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winston-smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rhyme “Oranges and lemons” is significant to George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 it acts as foreshadowing throughout the novel. It foreshadows that Charrington will be the one to bring down Winston. It also foreshadows the inevitability of death for those who seek knowledge. The rhyme’s final act of foreshadowing is the last line mirrors the arc of the novel.

Charrington provides the beginning. “Oranges and lemons,/ Say the bells of St. Clement's.”Julia provides the next section. “You owe me five farthings,/ Say the bells of St. Martin's.”O’Brien provides the next section, “When will you pay me?/ Say the bells of Old Bailey./ When I grow rich,/ Say the bells of Shoreditch.”The next section is not mentioned in the text. “When will that be?/ Say the bells of Stepney./ I do not know,/ Says the great bell of Bow.”Charrington in his original rememberance notes the ending. “Here comes a candle to light you to bed,/ And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!”The last line is not mentioned in the text. “Chip chop Chip chop the last man is dead.“

Winston is introduced to the rhyme by Charrington a shop keeper. Winston has twice shown his anti-social behavior to Charrington by first buying the journal and second by purchasing the paper weight. Charrington lures Winston in further by showing the room for rent and providing the first few lines of the rhyme both act as a lure to draw Winston in further. Winston’s inability to let the rhyme go foreshadows the questioning that will lead him to his death. Winston will spend much of the novel seeking the refuge of the room and the completion of the rhyme. Winston feels at some point that he has the respite of the room and the completed rhyme but he is mistaken on both accounts.

Though Charrington is drawing Winston into his trap, he does warn Winston saying, “I do know it ended up, ‘Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.’” The warning being when enlightenment comes then you will die. The rhyme is a puzzle a seeking of light, knowledge an understanding and this understanding will only come as the person is about to die. This foreshadows that once Winston understands he will be about to die.

Though never mentioned in the novel the final line “Chip chop Chip chop the last man is dead” foreshadows Winston’s ultimate death and destruction. The rhyme states that “the last man is dead” and O’Brien himself says, “If you are a man, Winston, you are the last man.” If Winston is the last man then he is dead.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The significance of "Oranges and Lemons," a traditional English rhyme, is that people cannot remember it in its entirety. It is symbolic of the ways in which Big Brother has wiped out traditional English culture (or most of it) that had existed for centuries before. Winston and Julia try, but fail, to remember the lines to the rhyme, and Julia doesn't even know what a lemon is. In another scene, Winston is convinced that O'Brien is a sympathizer when he reveals that he knows the last line to the rhyme. Of course, this is a ruse, and by the end of the book, it is clear that the rhyme will not survive another generation.