Download 1984 Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Part 1, Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

Winston skips an evening at the Community Center for the second time in three weeks and strolls aimlessly through the city instead. In so doing, he runs the risk of being accused of ownlife, Newspeak for the “individualism and eccentricity” associated with a taste for solitude. As he walks through the slums, he reflects on the words he wrote in his diary: “If there is hope, it lies in the proles.” His Party uniform (a set of overalls) draws wary looks from the people he passes, and if a patrol were to see him here, it would raise the suspicions of the Thought Police. Suddenly everyone runs for cover as a “steamer,” or rocket bomb, falls nearby, destroying a group of houses. Winston walks on past the rubble, kicking aside a severed human hand lying in the street. The proles seem unaffected by the explosion, and Winston overhears two men arguing about the Lottery, the largely imaginary public event managed by the Ministry of Plenty; it consumes the proles’ attention. He soon realizes he is in the vicinity of the junk shop where he bought his diary. Seeing an old man go into a pub, Winston realizes that only a prole who had reached adulthood before the Party took power could answer his most urgent question: Was life better or worse before the Revolution? He decides to follow the old man and question him.

In the pub, Winston buys the old man a beer and asks him if what he has read about pre-Revolutionary London is true: that the majority of people were impoverished, starving, and terribly oppressed by the capitalists. Unfortunately, the old man keeps going off on confused tangents and is unable to give a satisfactory answer to this or to the question of whether life was better or worse before the Revolution. Winston realizes that he won’t learn anything useful from the man or from any of the survivors of the pre-Revolutionary or “ancient” time: all they remember is scattered details. Nothing exists to contradict the Party’s claims, not even memories. Winston leaves the pub and walks on, eventually finding himself outside the junk shop. Although he swore he would never enter the shop again, he ducks inside. He is greeted by the proprietor, a soft-spoken, intellectual-seeming man of about sixty. Winston ends up buying an antique glass paperweight, drawn by its obvious origin in another, entirely different era and its very un-utilitarian beauty. The proprietor then shows him an old-fashioned upstairs room that Winston is amazed to realize doesn’t have a telescreen. On the wall is a print of what is currently the Palace of Justice. The proprietor explains that it was once a church...

(The entire section is 690 words.)