Last Updated on March 10, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1102
Winston sits on a bench in a bright white, windowless cell that he thinks must be in the Ministry of Love. The only other things in the cell are a door, a lavatory pan, and four telescreens. His stomach aches with hunger; though he isn’t sure how many hours ago he was arrested, he has not been fed since. He sits as still as possible before giving in to the temptation to fish for breadcrumbs in the pocket of his overalls, at which point a voice from the telescreen yells for him to keep his hands out of his pockets. Keeping still again, Winston remembers the first place he was brought after his arrest, an ordinary prison cell that resembled his current one except that it was dirty, noisy, and crowded with ten to fifteen people at a time, including both Party members and proles. While the Party prisoners looked terrified and said nothing, the prole prisoners seemed not to care about their situation, fighting with or trying to bribe the guards and yelling at the telescreens. Most of the proles expected to be sent to forced-labor camps where violent common criminals would form a privileged class and political prisoners would do the dirty work. At one point, the guards hauled in a huge, kicking, yelling woman of about sixty and dumped her on top of Winston. The woman slid off Winston’s lap, apologizing, then vomited on the floor. She seemed to like Winston and drew him nearer. When she found out his last name was Smith, she exclaimed that that was her last name too and that she could be his mother. Winston thought to himself that this was actually possible, considering how years in a forced-labor camp might change a person. No one else spoke to Winston, and the other Party prisoners seemed terrified of speaking at all, though Winston did overhear two women Party members whispering about something called “room one-oh-one.”
The pain in Winston’s stomach brings him back to the present. When the pain grows worse, all he can think about is his hunger, but when it recedes, he is seized by panic at the thought of the torture he will be made to endure. He knows that he loves Julia and won’t betray her, but he doesn’t feel love for her and is unable to concentrate on thinking about her. Instead he thinks of O’Brien and hopes the Brotherhood will send him a razor blade, although he isn’t sure he would use it if they did. Winston knows the lights will never be turned off in this cell and realizes that this is the “place where there is no darkness” from his dreams.
A group of guards brings in a new prisoner: Winston’s old coworker Ampleforth, the poet. Ampleforth is shoeless, unshaven, and troubled-looking. He only notices he isn’t alone in the cell when Winston says his name. Ampleforth explains that he has also been accused of thoughtcrime—the “one offense”—and he thinks it may be due to the fact that he once left the word “God” in a poem by Rudyard Kipling. The two men talk for a few minutes until a voice from the telescreen tells them to stop. After a while the guards return and send Ampleforth to “Room 101.” Alone again, Winston thinks repetitively of the pain in his stomach, the piece of bread he longs to eat, the torture in his future, O’Brien, Julia, and the razor blade. These thoughts are interrupted by the return of the guards, who bring a miserable-looking Parsons into the cell. Winston is shocked to see him. Parsons believes he will receive a fair hearing and hopes to be sent to a forced-labor camp rather than shot. He does, however, fully admit to being guilty of thoughtcrime and is unable to imagine the Party would arrest an innocent person. He explains that he was denounced by his own daughter, who heard him repeating “Down with Big Brother!” in his sleep. Parsons is proud of his daughter and plans to thank the Party for saving him from his crimes. He is removed some time later, and other prisoners continue to come and go from the cell. Eventually there are six prisoners, including a man who resembles a large rodent. Then an emaciated man with a skull-like face and a look of hatred in his eyes is brought in. Winston realizes with horror that this prisoner is starving to death. The rodent-like man offers the starving prisoner a piece of bread from his overalls but is immediately stopped by a shout from the telescreen. The guards return, and one knocks the rodent-like man across the room with a blow to the mouth. The next time the guards enter, they take the starving man to Room 101. The prisoner begs not to be taken there, asking the guards to send him to a labor camp, kill him, or even kill his family instead. He offers to denounce anyone they want and accuses the man who offered him the bread of being the real traitor, then holds on to the leg of the bench with all his strength. The guards are only able to break his grip and silence his howls by breaking his fingers. The starving man is then led away.
Hungry, thirsty, aching, and dizzy, Winston is left alone for a long time. He tells himself he would double his own pain in order to save Julia, but it is a thought without any feeling behind it: all he can feel in this cell is pain and the knowledge of more pain to come. He wonders if it will even be possible to wish for his own pain to increase when he is made to suffer it. Then Winston hears the guards returning and O’Brien comes into the room. Winston is shocked to see that the Party has “got him” too, but O’Brien replies in an ironic tone that the Party got him a long time ago. A guard holding a truncheon steps into the cell from behind O’Brien, who tells Winston not to pretend he didn’t always know, deep down, that O’Brien was loyal to the Party. Winston admits to himself that O’Brien is right. The guard deals a crippling blow to Winston’s elbow with the truncheon, and Winston falls to his knees in agony. He realizes now that it is impossible to be a hero in the face of physical pain, which he believes is the worst thing in the world.
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