What is the penalty for thoughtcrime?  

4 Answers

sciftw's profile pic

sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Readers learn about “thoughtcrime” in chapter one of the book.  Winston writes “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” over and over again until he fills at least half of a page.  Winston experiences a brief moment of fear because of what he wrote, but he realizes that is stupid.  Readers learn that it doesn’t matter if Winston wrote the words or not.  He thought the thought, and the Thought Police will eventually find out about his thoughtcrime.  

Whether he wrote DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER, or whether he refrained from writing it, made no difference. Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed — would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper — the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it.

A thoughtcrime is the criminal act of holding unspoken beliefs that oppose or question the Party.  By thinking “down with Big Brother,” Winston is thinking negatively about the Party.  That is a thoughtcrime.  Shortly following the previous quote, readers learn that the punishment for thoughtcrime is death.  We are told that the criminal is abducted at night and never seen from or heard from again.  Their name and all documented history is erased too.  It’s like the person never existed.  Winston knows this and quickly writes down what he believes will happen to him.  

theyll shoot me i don't care theyll shoot me in the back of the neck i dont care down with big brother they always shoot you in the back of the neck i dont care down with big brother

Winston is eventually caught; however, Winston is not killed in the novel.  The novel ends with Winston physically alive and well, so his punishment wasn’t a physical death.  During Winston’s imprisonment he is physically and mentally tortured.  In room 101, Winston is confronted with his worst fears until he betrays Julia.  At this point, Winston has basically been reconditioned to love the Party and Big Brother.  He now no longer exists as a thinking individual. He exists only as a puppet of the Party.  The Party successfully erased the parts of Winston that it needed to erase.  Winston now no longer harbors any malicious feelings against the Party.  Unfortunately, Winston also is incapable of any love, lust, or joy either.  He might be physically alive, but he is emotionally dead; therefore, based on Winston’s experience, the punishment for thoughtcrime is torture that is designed to reprogram a person to fully support the Party. The end of the novel implies that he will physically be killed soon.

Sources:
pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In general, the penalty for thought crime is death.  That is, after all, what happens to Winston.

We also know that this is the case because Winston knows that he is dead as soon as he starts writing in the diary.

However, the penalty is not just death.  When they catch Winston, they don't just bring him off somewhere and shoot him.  Instead, they torture him first.  They do this so that they can get him to actually stop believing in his "criminal" thoughts.  It is only after that that they kill him.

acompanioninthetardis's profile pic

acompanioninthetardis | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on

Basically its room 101 , which is where a person is tortured using their worst fears and eventually if they dont submit into big brother ...death. 

sciencehour's profile pic

sciencehour | College Teacher | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted on

 Since this question is tagged with history i will start from it .Thinking and thoughts in human history have never been banned or considered crimes, except for some conservative religions or some science fiction novels. In fact thinking is the main way of progress for mankind, and people were never been convicted for thoughts but for their actions .

However the term thoughtcrime appears in George Orwell's novel 1984 where the state government try to control even the thoughts of their citizens. Forbidden thoughts are punishable by death, or as the main character Winston Smith wrote - were death.