We are introduced to the main character of the story, Winston Smith who is
aged 39 and is a member of the Outer Party. We are given an insight into the society of Oceania and it is not far removed from the former Soviet Union or North Korea, or any country under martial law.
Everywhere there are large posters of Big Brother, who is the ruler of this state and under the posters are written the words ‘Big Brother is Watching You’. Other posters display the three main slogans of the Party ‘War is Peace’, ‘Freedom is Slavery’, ‘Ignorance is Strength’.
Winston lives in a dingy flat on the 7th floor of Victory Mansions. He works at the Ministry of Truth, or Minitrue in Newspeak. Minitrue is housed is an enormous pyramid shaped structure which towers above the other buildings in London. There are three other similar Ministries housed in equally impressive buildings, being the Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty and the Ministry of Love, the latter being the most austere building, and the one feared by the populous as this has no windows. There is a high level of security surrounding this Ministry.
Everyone in the Party has a telescreen in their home, which provides
propaganda and programmes for watching, and the Thought Police can also observe its Party members through these devices.
The Thought Police maintain order and ensure that everyone adheres to the policies of Ingsoc.
Winston describes this existence of living under a microscope thus, “you had
to live – did live, from habit that became instinct – in the assumption that every sound you make was overheard, and, except in the darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
We get a real taste of life in this oligarchy (government by a small group
of people), a dull gray world where luxury is having a drink of Victory gin and the main challenge is trying to smoke a Victory cigarette without the tobacco falling out.
Party members had a strict set of rules to follow and we find out that
Winston had acquired a book for writing in from a junk shop in the slummy quarter of town. He decides to keep a diary, and his first entry is “April 4th 1984”. He thinks this is the right date. He has an alcove in his flat where he can write unobserved by the telescreen. He had possessed the book for quite a while, but today he had resolved to start writing in it, and he gives an account of his visit to the cinema ‘flicks’ where he watched the usual war film. We find out that Winston had been, and maybe still was, married. By and large, Winston disliked all women. At his work he had seen a dark-haired girl aged about 27 who wore the emblem of the Junior Anti-sex League. He would cross paths with this girl again. Also that day he had met O’Brien who was a member of the Inner Party. He had a formidable appearance, being burly, thick-necked and with a brutal face. Winston was drawn to this man because he felt, rightly or wrongly, that his political orthodoxy was not entirely sound. He obtained this impression during the day’s usual two minutes’ hate during which time everyone chanted
“B-B!” signifying Big Brother.
Of course, Winston chanted with the rest, it was impossible to do otherwise, but it was impossible not to show how you felt through your facial expression. He glanced over towards O’Brien, who caught his eye, and he knew that O’Brien thought the same as him.
While Winston mused over the day’s happenings he had been involuntarily
writing in his book, and he looked down to see that he had written “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER” five times in large, neat, capital letters. This was a Thought Crime and he had written it down, and no doubt, the
Thought Police would come and arrest him in the night. He was afraid, and just then there was a knock at the door.
The reader might at first find it implausible that a world such as Oceania
could exist, but there are comparable countries today, where the people are in bondage under an unrepresentative government. We already obtain a sense of utter hopelessness from Winston; his pathetic way of
escaping the bonds of his life is to keep a diary documenting his mundane life. He probably knows that he will eventually be caught, but he does show some courage by being willing to take this risk.
He is a classless individual who has achieved membership of the Outer Party. He has practically no friends and does not even know the names of some of his working colleagues, who have shared the same office at the Ministry of Truth for many years.
We are also introduced to O’Brien, who is a member of the Inner Party, and
he clearly is an important person in the Ministry. It will be shown later that his life is luxurious compared to that of Winston.
The book was first published in 1949, some 25 years earlier than 1984, the
year in which this novel starts.
This is Orwell’s view of the future in post-war Britain. In 1984 people are still living in buildings that were built just after the war, which are run down and shabby. Clearly Winston is a unique person, maybe through his solitude, but he has departed from the Party line, and has committed Thought Crimes. The book is about his rehabilitation, which will lead to his destruction.
Orwell recognizes that the way for this society to succeed is through its
children, and the children of Oceania will be brought up knowing only Newspeak. There is also an indication that children will have allegiance only to the Party and will, therefore, spy on their parents and
turn them in to the Thought Police if they commit Thought Crimes.
From the start, the reader will realize that Winston will be caught, and
that is why one continues to read the book