Last Updated on March 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 789
Winston begins his work at the Records Department, where rolls of paper bearing messages in Newspeak are deposited on his desk through a tube. Each message pertains to an article that needs to be altered, or “rectified,” to reflect the infallibility of the Party and the accuracy of Big Brother’s predictions. Past inaccurate economic forecasts, predictions about the war, and promises that there would be no reduction in the chocolate ration are all edited so that it appears the Party was never wrong. Winston rectifies each article through a device called a speakwrite before dropping each message through one of the countless “memory holes” in the Ministry of Truth—slits in the walls through which waste paper is sent to be burned. Every kind of record, document, literature, and image is subject to being altered in this way. In many cases, one completely made-up fact is simply replaced by another. One of Winston’s coworkers, Ampleforth, alters classic poems to reflect the Party’s ideology. The main function of the Ministry of Truth, however, is the production of every kind of information and entertainment, both for the Party and, separately, for the proles. One subsection called Pornosec deals exclusively in the production of pornography that is sold to the proles; no other Party members are permitted to see it.
Despite Winston’s reservations about the Party, his life’s greatest pleasure is his work, particularly when he is assigned complicated tasks like the one he receives after that morning’s Two Minutes Hate. The assignment is to rewrite an article about a man called Comrade Withers who was awarded a medal by Big Brother but has since been vaporized and made into an unperson—someone who has not only been executed but officially made to have never existed at all. In his new version of the article, Winston imitates Big Brother’s style and replaces Withers with a fictional soldier called Comrade Ogilvy who lived and died for the Party. This job leads Winston to reflect on the ease with which historical “facts” can be produced.
In the canteen on his lunch break, Winston runs into his acquaintance, a philologist named Syme. Syme asks Winston if he has any extra razor blades, which are currently in extremely short supply; Winston lies and says he doesn’t. As the two men eat the revolting stew and drink the harsh Victory Gin provided, Syme tells Winston about the new edition of the Newspeak dictionary he is helping to compile. Most of Syme’s work consists of destroying words, restricting the possibilities of language and consciousness so much that thoughtcrime will become impossible. He predicts that Oldspeak will have completely disappeared by 2050, except among the proles, whom Syme does not consider human. Meanwhile at a nearby table, one man is rapidly, mechanically spewing Party doctrine to a young woman. Syme explains that in Newspeak this kind of unconscious, quack-like speech is called duckspeak. Though when applied to an opponent the term is an insult, when applied to a Party member it is a term of praise. Winston thinks to himself that in spite of Syme’s orthodoxy and Party loyalty, the philologist is too intelligent; he even frequents the “ill-omened” Chestnut Tree Café, where discredited former Party leaders used to gather. True orthodoxy, as Syme himself says, is unconsciousness. Winston is sure Syme will eventually be vaporized.
The two men are joined by Winston’s neighbor Parsons, a large, boyish, incredibly sweaty man who collects money from Winston for their building’s Hate Week display. Parsons then approvingly talks of his children’s enthusiasm for the Party, including his young daughter’s reporting of a possibly foreign man she spotted on a hike with the Spies. The telescreen then delivers an announcement from the Ministry of Plenty about the rise in the standard of living and that day’s spontaneous demonstrations by grateful workers. Parsons asks Winston for razor blades, but Winston again lies. While smoking a Victory Cigarette, Winston thinks about how Syme, Mrs. Parsons, O’Brien, and he himself will all eventually be vaporized, but Parsons, the quacking man, and the girl with dark hair will be spared due to their unquestioning orthodoxy. He realizes then that the girl with dark hair is sitting nearby and staring at him. When they meet eyes, she looks away, but Winston is seized by fear as he becomes convinced that she is watching him, either as an amateur spy or an agent of the Thought Police. Resigning himself to his fate in the cellars of the Ministry of Love, Winston listens to Parsons ramble on about his children’s enthusiasm for spying and violence until the telescreen summons everyone back to work.
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