In 1984, Winston secretly begins to write in the diary he is starting. Why is this action not ''illegal''? What consequences could it have?

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

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In Part One, Chapter One of 1984, Winston begins writing in a diary that he has recently purchased. As Winston explains, this action is not illegal since there are no laws in Oceania. The Party erased all the laws when it took power so, in theory, nothing is illegal. Despite this situation, Winston would be punished if someone found out about his diary. According to Winston, he could expect to serve twenty-five years in a forced-labor camp. This is a harsh punishment designed to deter anyone from keeping a diary and, therefore, from expressing themselves and their feelings—or keeping a written record.

That there are no laws in Oceania gives the impression that the people are free to live as they choose. But as this punishment shows, this state is nothing more than a façade that gives the Party absolute control over its citizens.

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d-horley1's profile pic

Douglas Horley | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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In the exposition, Winston begins to write a diary in a writing book that he has bought. Even as the purchase of the book is described, we begin to learn more about the highly repressive nature of the society in which Winston lives. Technically he is not supposed to go into 'ordinary' shops in the first place, and even though it has nothing written in it, the book is still considered to be a "compromising possession" (p. 8).

It is intriguing for the reader to learn that whilst Winston's action of starting a diary may not be considered 'illegal' in Oceania, it still could incur consequences of the death penalty or twenty-five years hard labour. We can relate to this as the harshest of harsh penalties in our society as meted out by our justice systems, yet it appears that this society does not even have a justice system to systematically mete out such a penalty. Instead we are told that "nothing was illegal, since there are no longer any laws" (p.8). This foreshadows that instead the government of Oceania must use state apparatus in highly innovative ways in order to hold complete sway over its people. It also suggests that Winston, an unfit and somewhat confused bureaucrat, may well be doomed from the start if he has any plans for subversion.  

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