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We’re taking a break from the essays and giving you the plot summary of the George Orwell book 1984.
Plot Summary of 1984
Winston Smith – A minor member of the ruling Party in near-future London, Winston Smith is a thin, frail, contemplative, intellectual, and fatalistic thirty-nine-year-old. Winston hates the totalitarian control and enforced repression that are characteristic of his government. He harbors revolutionary dreams.
Julia – She is Winston’s lover, a beautiful dark-haired girl working in the Fiction Department at the Ministry of Truth. Julia enjoys sex, and claims to have had affairs with many Party members. Julia is pragmatic and optimistic. Her rebellion against the Party is small and personal, for her own enjoyment, in contrast to Winston’s ideological motivation.
O’Brien – A mysterious, powerful, and sophisticated member of the Inner Party whom Winston believes is also a member of the Brotherhood, the legendary group of anti-Party rebels.
Big Brother – Though he never appears in the novel, and though he may not actually exist, Big Brother, the perceived ruler of Oceania, is an extremely important figure. Everywhere Winston looks he sees posters of Big Brother’s face bearing the message “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU.” Big Brother’s image is stamped on coins and broadcast on the unavoidable telescreens; it haunts Winston’s life and fills him with hatred and fascination.
Mr. Charrington – An old man who runs a secondhand store in the parole district. Kindly and encouraging, Mr. Charrington seems to share Winston’s interest in the past. He also seems to support Winston’s rebellion against the Party and his relationship with Julia, since he rents Winston a room without a telescreen in which to carry out his affair. But Mr. Charrington is not as he seems. He is a member of the Thought Police.
Syme – An intelligent, outgoing man who works with Winston at the Ministry of Truth. Syme specializes in language. As the novel opens, he is working on a new edition of the Newspeak dictionary. Winston believes Syme is too intelligent to stay in the Party’s favor.
Parsons – A fat, obnoxious, and dull Party member who lives near Winston and works at the Ministry of Truth. He has a dull wife and a group of suspicious, ill-mannered children who are members of the Junior Spies.
Emmanuel Goldstein – Another figure who exerts an influence on the novel without ever appearing in it. According to the Party, Goldstein is the legendary leader of the Brotherhood. He seems to have been a Party leader who fell out of favor with the regime. In any case, the Party describes him as the most dangerous and treacherous man in Oceania.
- Winston Smith returns to his home, a dilapidated apartment building called Victory Mansions
- Thin, frail, and thirty-nine years old, it is painful for him to trudge up the stairs because he has a varicose ulcer above his right ankle
- elevator is always out of service
- he is greeted on each landing by a poster depicting an enormous face, underscored by the words “Big Brotheris Watching You”
- Winston is an insignificant official in the Party, the totalitarian political regime that rules all of Airstrip One—the land that used to be called England—as part of the larger state of Oceania
- his life is still under the Party’s oppressive political control
- In his apartment, an instrument called a telescreen—which is always on, spouting propaganda, and through which the Thought Police are known to monitor the actions of citizens
- From his window he sees the Ministry of Truth, where he works as a propaganda officer altering historical records to match the Party’s official version of past events
- Winston thinks about the other Ministries that exist as part of the Party’s governmental apparatus: the Ministry of Peace, which wages war; the Ministry of Plenty, which plans economic shortages; and the dreaded Ministry of Love, the center of the Inner Party’s loathsome activities.
- Winston opens the door fearfully, assuming that the Thought Police have arrived to arrest him for writing in the diary
- it is only Mrs. Parsons, a neighbor in his apartment building, needing help with the plumbing while her husband is away
- In Mrs. Parsons’ apartment, Winston is tormented by the fervent Parsons children, who, being Junior Spies, accuse him of thought crime
- The Junior Spies is an organization of children who monitor adults for disloyalty to the Party, and frequently succeed in catching them; Mrs. Parsons herself seems afraid of her zealous children
- The children are very agitated because their mother won’t let them go to a public hanging of some of the Party’s political enemies in the park that evening. Back in his apartment, Winston remembers a dream in which a man’s voice-O’Brien’s, he thinks—said to him, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” Winston writes in his diary that his thought crime makes him a dead man, then he hides the book
- He feels strangely responsible for his mother’s disappearance in a political purge almost twenty years ago
- dreams of a place called The Golden Country, where the dark-haired girl takes off her clothes and runs toward him in an act of freedom that annihilates the whole Party
- It is time for the Physical Jerks, a round of grotesque exercise (high-pitched whistle)
- Winston has no physical records such as photographs and documents
- According to official history, Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia, but Winston knows that the records have been changed
- No one heard of Big Brother, the leader of the Party, before 1960, but stories about him now appear in histories going back to the 1930
- As Winston has these thoughts, a voice from the telescreen suddenly calls out his name, reprimanding him for not working hard enough at the Physical Jerks
- Winston breaks out into a hot sweat and tries harder to touch his toes
- Winston goes to his job in the Records section of the Ministry of Truth, where he works with a “speakwrite” (a machine that types as he dictates into it) and destroys obsolete documents
- He updates Big Brother’s orders and Party records so that they match new developments—Big Brother can never be wrong
- Even when the citizens of Airstrip One are forced to live with less food, they are told that they are being given more than ever and, by and large, they believe it
- Winston must alter the record of a speech made in December 1983, which referred to Comrade Withers, one of Big Brother’s former officials who has since been vaporized
- Comrade Withers was executed as an enemy of the Party
- Winston invents a person named Comrade Ogilvy and substitutes him for Comrade Withers in the records
- Comrade Ogilvy is an ideal Party man, opposed to sex and suspicious of everyone
- Ministry of Truth; where thousands of workers correct the flow of history to make it match party ideology, and churn out endless drivel—even pornography—to pacify the brutally destitute proletariat
- Winston has lunch with a man named Syme, an intelligent Party member who works on a revised dictionary of Newspeak, the official language of Oceania
- Newspeak aims to narrow the range of thought to render thought crime impossible
- If there are no words in a language that are capable of expressing independent, rebellious thoughts, no one will ever be able to rebel, or even to conceive of the idea of rebellion
- Parsons, a pudgy and fervent Party official and the husband of the woman whose plumbing Winston fixed in Chapter II, comes into the canteen and elicits a contribution from Winston for neighborhood Hate Week
- apologizes to Winston for his children’s harassment the day before
- message from the Ministry of Plenty announces increases in production over the loudspeakers
- Winston reflects that the alleged increase in the chocolate ration to twenty grams was actually a reduction from the day before (no one is suspicious)
- Winston feels that he is being watched; he looks up and sees the dark-haired girl staring at him
- He worries again that she is a Party agent
- Winston records in his diary his memory of his last sexual encounter, which was with a prole prostitute (old and ugly)
- He thinks about the Party’s hatred of sex, and decides that their goal is to remove pleasure from the sexual act, so that it becomes merely a duty to the Party, a way of producing new Party members
- Winston’s former wife Katherine hated sex, and as soon as they realized they would never have children, they separated
- Winston desperately wants to have an enjoyable sexual affair (ultimate act of rebellion)
- realizes that recording the act in his diary hasn’t alleviated his anger, depression, or rebellion
- Winston writes that any hope for revolution against the Party must come from the proles
- believes that the Party cannot be destroyed from within, and that even the Brotherhood, a legendary revolutionary group, lacks the wherewithal to defeat the mighty Thought Police
- The proles, on the other hand make up eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania, and could easily muster the strength and manpower to overcome the Police
- The proles lead brutish, ignorant, animalistic lives, and lack both the energy and interest to revolt; most of them do not even understand that the Party is oppressing them.
- Winston looks through a children’s history book to get a feeling for what has really happened in the world
- The Party claims to have built ideal cities, but London, where Winston lives, is a wreck: the electricity seldom works, buildings decay, and people live in poverty and fear
- Lacking a reliable official record, Winston does not know what to think about the past
- The Party’s claims that it has increased the literacy rate, reduced the infant mortality rate, and given everyone better food and shelter could all be fantasy
- Winston suspects that these claims are untrue but has no way to know for sure
- Winston remembers an occasion when he caught the Party in a lie
- In the mid-1960s, a cultural backlash caused the original leaders of the Revolution to be arrested
- One day, Winston saw a few of these deposed leaders sitting at the Chestnut Tree Café, a gathering place for out-of-favor Party members
- A song played—“Under the spreading chestnut tree / I sold you and you sold me”—and one of the Party members, Rutherford, began to weep
- photograph that proved that the Party members had been in New York at the time that they were allegedly committing treason in Eurasia
- Winston destroyed the photograph, but it remains embedded in his memory as a concrete example of Party dishonesty (terrified)
- he is sure that O’Brien detects a strain of independence and rebellion in him, a consciousness of oppression similar to Winston’s own
- Winston realizes that the Party requires its members to deny the evidence of their eyes and ears
- He believes that true freedom lies in the ability to interpret reality as one perceives it, to be able to say “2 + 2 = 4”
- enters a pub in the prole district where he sees an old man—a possible link to the past
- talks to the old man and tries to ascertain whether, in the days before the Party, people were really exploited by bloated capitalists, as the Party records claim
- The old man’s memory is too vague to provide an answer
- Winston laments that the past has been left to the proles, who will inevitably forget it
- Winston walks to the secondhand store in which he bought the diary and buys a clear glass paperweight with a pink coral center from Mr. Charrington, the proprietor
- Charrington takes him upstairs to a private room with no telescreen, where a print of St. Clement’s Church looks down from the wall, evoking the old rhyme: “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s / You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s
- Winston sees a figure in blue Party overalls—the dark-haired girl, apparently following him
- He hurries home and decides that the best thing to do is to commit suicide before the Party catches him
- He realizes that if the Thought Police catch him, they will torture him before they kill him
- Troubled, he takes a coin from his pocket and looks into the face of Big Brother
- He cannot help but recall the Party slogans: “War Is Peace,” “Freedom Is Slavery,” “Ignorance Is Strength.”