1984 Additional Summary

George Orwell


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nineteen Eighty-Four, a grim satire directed against totalitarian government, is the story of Winston Smith’s futile battle to survive in a system that he has helped to create. The novel is set in 1984 (well into the future when the novel was written) in London, the chief city of Airstrip One, the third most populous of the provinces of Oceania, one of three world powers that are philosophically indistinguishable from, and perpetually at war with, one another.

Smith, thirty-nine, is in marginal health, drinks too much, and lives alone in his comfortless apartment at Victory Mansions, where he is constantly under the eye of a television surveillance system referred to as Big Brother. Smith’s wife, Katharine, who lived with him briefly in a loveless marriage—the only kind of marriage permitted by the government—has long since faded from Smith’s life, and his day-to-day existence has become meaningless, except insofar as he has memories of a time in his childhood before his mother disappeared. In the midst of this meaningless existence, Smith is approached clandestinely by Julia, a woman who works with him in the Ministry of Truth. She passes him a note that says, “I love you.”

The next several months are passed with “secret” meetings between Winston and Julia. From Mr. Charrington, a shopkeeper from whom Winston has bought a diary and an ornamental paperweight, they secure what they believe is a room with privacy from Big Brother’s surveillance. During these months together, Winston and Julia begin to hope for a better life. Part of this hope leads them to seek out members of the Brotherhood, an underground resistance movement purportedly led by Emmanuel Goldstein, the official “Enemy of the People.” In their search for the Brotherhood, Winston and Julia approach O’Brien, a member of the Inner Party, a man who they believe is part of Goldstein’s Brotherhood. Smith trusts only Julia, O’Brien, and Mr. Charrington. He feels that he can trust no one else in a society in which friend betrays friend and child betrays parent. Both he and Julia know and articulate their knowledge that, in resisting the government and Big Brother, they have doomed themselves. Still, they seem to hope, much as the oppressed animals in Orwell’s Animal Farm embrace hope in a hopeless situation.

Winston and Julia’s small hopes are destroyed...

(The entire section is 980 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Externally, Winston Smith appears well adjusted to his world. He drinks the bitter victory gin and smokes the vile victory cigarettes. In the morning, he does his exercises in front of the telescreen, and when the instructor speaks to him over the two-way television, he bends with renewed vigor to touch the floor. His apartment is dingy and rickety, but at thirty-nine years old, he is scarcely old enough to remember a time when housing had been better. He has a decent job at the Ministry of Truth because he has a good mind and the ability to write newspeak, the official language. He is a member of the outer ring of the Party.

One afternoon, after giving up his lunch at the ministry, Winston has a little free time to himself. He goes to an alcove out of reach of the telescreen and furtively takes out his journal. It is a noble book with paper of fine quality, unobtainable at present. It is an antique, bought on an illicit trip to a secondhand store run by old Mr. Charrington. Although it is not illegal to keep a diary—there are no laws in Oceania—it makes him suspect. He writes ploddingly about a film he had seen about the valiant Oceania forces strafing shipwrecked refugees in the Mediterranean.

Musing over his writing, Winston finds to his horror that he had written a slogan against Big Brother several times. He knows this act is a crime, even if the writing is due to his drinking gin. Even to think of such a slogan is a crime. Everywhere he looks, on stair landings and on storefronts, are posters showing Big Brother’s all-seeing face. Citizens are reminded a hundred times a day that Big Brother is watching their every move.

At the Ministry of Truth, Winston plunges into his routine. He has the job of rewriting records. If the Party makes an inaccurate prediction about the progress of the war, or if some aspect of production does not accord with the published goals of the ninth three-year plan, Winston corrects the record. All published material is constantly changed so that all history accords with the wishes and aims of the Party.

There is a break in the day’s routine for a two-minute hate period. The face of Goldstein, the enemy of the Party, appears on the big telescreen, and a government speaker works up the feelings of the viewers; Goldstein is accused of heading a great conspiracy against Oceania. Winston loudly and dutifully drums his heels as he takes part in the group orgasm of hate.

A bold, dark-haired girl, wearing a red chastity belt, often seems to be near Winston in the workrooms and in the commissary. Winston is afraid she might be a member of the thought police. Seeing her outside the ministry, he decides she is following him. For a time, he plays with the idea of killing her. One day, she slips a little note to him, confessing that she loves him.

Winston is troubled. He is married, but his wife belongs to the Anti-Sex League. For her, procreation is a Party duty. Because the couple...

(The entire section is 1217 words.)


(Novels for Students)

Part One
In George Orwell’s 1984 Winston Smith, a member of the Outer Party from Oceania (a fictional state...

(The entire section is 1225 words.)