Last Updated on March 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1012
Winston struggles to write down a memory that torments him in his diary. As he does, he reflects that a person’s nervous system is his or her own worst enemy, as any involuntary physical sign of tension could betray a person to the Thought Police. Winston’s memory is of a time three years ago when he slept with a prole prostitute, an act that is forbidden but usually only punished by imprisonment in a forced-labor camp rather than death. What the Party truly discourages is sexual relationships between Party members. Although it isn’t a publicly stated goal, Winston is aware that the Party aims to eradicate, or at least to distort, sexual desire. To this end, marriages are only approved between Party members who show no sign of physical attraction to one another. Though they have been separated for about a decade, Winston himself is married to a woman named Katharine. He remembers her as unquestioningly loyal to the Party and devoid of independent thought. What made his life with her unbearable, however, was the utterly joyless sex she insisted they have every week. Katharine clearly took no pleasure in the act but believed they had to do their “duty to the Party” by attempting to have a child. This proved fruitless, and the couple separated after a little over a year.
Winston resents the fact that this abhorrence of sex has been so ingrained in the women of the Party and that his only other possibilities for sexual fulfillment lie in equally joyless encounters with prostitutes. A real love affair, he thinks, would constitute a rebellion, and he wishes he could awaken desire in a woman just once in his life. With these thoughts in mind, he sets again to the painful task of finishing the confession in his diary entry. He recalls how when he clearly saw the prostitute he was about to sleep with in the lamplight, he realized she was an old woman and, most horrible of all, had no teeth. Winston slept with her anyway and now finds that writing down this memory has not helped to free him from it at all.
Chapter seven begins with Winston writing in his diary, “If there is hope it lies in the proles.” The proles make up eighty-five percent of Oceania’s population, and Winston believes they have the power to defeat the Party if they rebel. He has his doubts about this uprising, however; he remembers thinking once that a group of prole women were starting a riot against the Party, only to realize they were simply upset over a market stall’s having run out of saucepans. Though the Party claims to have liberated the proles from the oppression they suffered under the capitalists, its members regard the proles as animal-like inferiors. The Party doesn’t bother to indoctrinate the proles with its own ideology, choosing instead to control them by keeping them ignorant, poor, supplied with entertainment, and free to engage in sex, crime, and religion.
Winston starts to copy into his diary a passage describing the evils of the capitalists from a children’s history textbook he borrowed from the Parsons. He reflects on the impossibility of knowing whether or not the version of history in the textbook is true, though he feels instinctively that life can’t be better now than it was before the Revolution. Contrary to the glittering, triumphant vision of life in Oceania promoted by the Party, life in the London of 1984 is a dingy, depressing affair where the buildings are dirty and decaying and the people are poor, hungry, and tired. Winston has only once seen undeniable, after-the-fact proof that the Party has falsified the historical record. The story of this falsification begins during the purges of the mid-1960s, when all the original leaders of the Party disappeared or were executed as traitors after confessing at public trials—all except Goldstein, who fled, and Big Brother. In 1965, three original Party leaders named Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford were arrested. After vanishing for a time, they reappeared to confess to crimes against Big Brother and were subsequently pardoned and reinstated in the Party, though it was clear they would eventually be executed. Winston saw them once in the Chestnut Tree Café and thought he remembered having heard of them long before Big Brother. He noticed that Aaronson and Rutherford both had broken noses and that Rutherford, a political cartoonist, wept at an oddly mocking-sounding song that played from the telescreen. Shortly after that day all three men were rearrested, then executed after confessing anew.
Five years later, Winston found half a page of the Times among the documents deposited onto his desk. The page showed a photograph of Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford at a Party function in New York, contradicting the men’s avowal that they had conferred with the Eurasian enemy in Siberia that day and thereby proving that their confessions had been false. Winston dropped the photograph down the memory hole, but he thinks that today he would have kept it. He wonders if it actually makes a difference that this piece of evidence once existed when the past is continually being rewritten. What most torments Winston is that he doesn’t know the ultimate purpose of this continual altering of history and that he might not only be insane but wrong in his perception of the past. The Party encourages people to deny their common sense in order to accept the official version of reality, even if it is an absurd statement like “Two plus two equals five.” If reality exists only in the mind and the Party is able to control people’s minds, then their power is absolute. Winston is given courage by his belief that O’Brien is on his side and that his diary, even if no one ever reads it, is addressed to O’Brien. Holding fast to his faith in unalterable truth and external reality, Winston writes, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.”
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