What is collective memory, and how does it relate to 1984?

Expert Answers

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

The term "collective memory" refers to the shared memories of a group or a society. The collective memory, like individual memories, can be shared and passed on to future generations. Also like individual memories, the collective memory is not necessarily reliable and often becomes distorted over time.

In 1984, ...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The term "collective memory" refers to the shared memories of a group or a society. The collective memory, like individual memories, can be shared and passed on to future generations. Also like individual memories, the collective memory is not necessarily reliable and often becomes distorted over time.

In 1984, Winston makes it his personal project to discover elements of the collective memory that are in danger of being lost forever. These memories include the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons," which he painstakingly pieces together from the memories of various different people, though it is not so long since many children could have recited the rhyme to him in its entirety.

Opposed to the collective memory is the collective mind of the Party, which O'Brien claims is immortal and determines truth. One of the central principles of English Socialism, or Ingsoc, is the mutability of the past. Winston's own job at the Ministry of Truth involves altering records to ensure that they portray the past in a way that is consistent with Party propaganda. Winston is involved in the project to destroy the collective memory of the society in which he lives. His success in accomplishing this task is evident in his failure to unearth anything significant in his private quest to preserve the collective memory. The erasure of collective memory is, therefore, a major theme of the novel.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team