1984 Study Guide


1984 by George Orwell

Nineteen Eighty-Four is an allegorical dystopian novel about the dangers of police states, groupthink, and surveillance of the public. It follows the hapless government employee Winston Smith as he dreams secretly and fruitlessly of rebellion against the all-powerful Big Brother and the Inner Party. Smith's England has been renamed Airstrip One, its citizens stripped of their individuality, its world locked in a constant state of manufactured war. It is a grim vision of the future intended as a commentary on the policies of England at the time of its writing.

Chapters 2-4 Summary

Chapter 2 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston is called into his neighbor Mrs. Parsons's apartment to help unclog a drain. The Parsons's apartment is covered in posters and banners of the Party and Big Brother. Her two children, who are overzealous believers in INGSOC, attack Winston physically and verbally. They accuse him of being a though-criminal and hit him with a pellet from a sling shot. Winston sees the dangerous potential to become exemplary Party members in the children and how this wears on Mrs. Parsons. Mrs. Parsons claims the children are acting out because they cannot attend the public hanging of Eurasian Prisoners-Of-War. Winton recalls a dream he had seven years ago in which O'Brien tells him that they will meet in the place of no darkness.

Detailed Summary

Winston leaves his diary open when he goes to answer the door so as not to smudge the ink. His neighbor Mrs. Parsons asks him to unclog a drain in the kitchen sink because her husband, with whom Winston works, is not home. Their much larger apartment is as filthy and dilapidated as the city with posters of Big Brother and banners from various Party organizations decorating the wall. While there, the two Parsons children ironically accuse him of being a traitor and a thought-criminal. They are typical of the new generation of Oceanian youth who are enthusiastic members of such organizations as the Spies that teach them how to monitor for unorthodoxy. The children's overzealousness is owed to their being upset by being unable to attend the public hanging of captured Eurasian soldiers.

As he leaves the Parsonses' apartment, the children physically assault him. He realizes that Mrs. Parsons must live in terror of the children and their potential to report her as a thought-criminal because they are so indoctrinated into the Party's ideology. The assault also causes him to remember a seven year-old dream in which O'Brien tells him We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness (25). Wondering, again, about who may read the diary in some unimaginable future, he makes one final diary entry Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death (28).

Chapter 3 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston has a dream about his mother and sister dying while he watches. In the same dream he sees the dark haired girl from the Two Minutes Hate running towards him through a field. He is awakened by the telescreen ordering all citizens to prepare for the Physical Jerks. While exercising, Winston's mind wanders to the past again. He tries to remember life before the Revolution. Everything has changed, including world geography. He is disturbed by the dubiousness of the history taught by the Party as well as by the lack of evidence, including his own memory, to prove the Party's historical claims as false.

Detailed Summary

That night Smith dreams of his mother and sister sinking in a ship as he watches from above. He is unsure of what happened to them thirty years ago, though he believes they were among the many to be vaporized during the first great purges of the Fifties (29). He also dreams of the young, dark haired girl who he first saw at the Two Minutes Hate and who works with him in the Ministry of Truth. She is running towards him through a field he calls the Golden Country (30) while casting off her clothes with a gesture that could destroy Big Brother and his minions.

He is awakened by a shrieking voice from the telescreen commanding the Oceanian citizens to begin their daily Physical Jerks which are morning exercises to keep them fit and disciplined. Vague memories of the time just before the Revolution flood his mind while he is exercising. He ruminates on the absence of a historical record for events after the late Fifties. Everything has changed, including the names of countries and their borders. He is particularly concerned about the lack of reference to the present war with Eurasia, one of the three supernations.

The Party claims that Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia, although Smith recalls that at least four years ago they were at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. However, as far as he can remember, Oceania has always been in a state of war from street fighting to atomic bombings. He is disturbed by his inability to prove his memories true. He cannot even prove that Big Brother's reign is fairly recent since not only does the Party claim that Big Brother has been the leader since the Revolution destroyed capitalism but no written record exists stating anything to the contrary. As one of the Party's slogans states Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the present (35).

Chapter 4 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston goes to work at the Ministry of Truth where he works in the Records Department, one of the many departments and sections in the Ministry, all of which deal with altering various texts to be aligned with Party ideology. Winston's specific job requires him to alter news items all day. He must change the content of articles and speeches in such a way as to ensure that Big Brother always appears right in his predictions and exceedingly efficient in his management of Oceania. He changes three minor pieces about the war and goods production. He is then given a major story about a recently vaporized Party member. He must create a character for the new article so that no attention is brought to the dead comrade.

Detailed Summary

Winston goes to work at the Ministry of Truth where he spends the day in the Records Department altering news items. This is only a small aspect of both work done in the Records Department and the Ministry of Truth as a whole. There is a section for faking photographs, a section of clerks who draw up lists of reading material to be recalled for correction, and a Fiction Department for creating ideological texts of various purposes for both Party members and proletarians under which there was a subsection specifically for pornography.

Winston's specific job is to rewrite in Newspeak previously published articles that contradict present circumstances in the Party. Some of the pieces with which he begins his day refer to a war campaign in Africa, the output of consumption goods, the reduction of the chocolate ration, and people who have since been vaporized. His specific job is to change the official record to reflect positively on Big Brother before it is reprinted for the public. For example, Big Brother predicted that the Eurasian army would launch an attack in North Africa; however, it attacked from South India. Winston alters the original prediction so that it reflected what actually happened. As soon as Smith has finished altering a record, he is to throw the original article into a memory hole (38), a receptacle that leads to furnaces somewhere in the Ministry.

Despite the pride taken and effort applied in his work, Smith realizes the futility of his job because [d]ay by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date (40) and [m]ost of the material that [he is] dealing with ha[s] no connection with anything in the real world (41). Often he must make up numbers, events, and people to make and authentic forgery. An example of this is the biography of Comrade Ogilvy who Winston concocts to cover up the references to Comrade Withers, a recently vaporized member of the Inner Party and FFCC which has suddenly been dissolved. Winston presumes that Withers has committed heresy against the party and, therefore, he can no longer exist on public record. Once a former party member has been vaporized, (s)he becomes an unperson (46) and no reference may be made to them either verbally, visually, or in print.

Chapters 2-4 Analysis

The first point the reader should note in this chapter is Winston's seeming absentmindedness with regards to closing his diary before answering the door. Leaving it open on the desk is an invitation to report him to the Though Police and he knows this. One can only assume that beginning the diary has increased Winston's indifference to being arrested and subsequently vaporized. As he mentions in the previous chapter, he has already committed thought-crime; therefore, nothing else he does (including keeping a diary) can have a worse consequence. Then there is also the possibility that Winston wishes to be reported to end what can easily be described as sheer misery.

The primary purpose of Chapter 2 is to briefly give the reader a candid look into the world of an indoctrinated family. One would assume that a family's apartment would not only be larger, but also well appointed as a reward for fulfilling their obligation to the Party. However, the Parsons's apartment is filthy and in disarray. There are toys scattered across the floor, the same smell of boiled cabbage from the corridors pervades their living quarters and the reader is already aware of the poor plumbing in the apartment. In terms of dcor, the Parsons's apartment is decorated in typical Party bravado style with posters of Big Brother and banners of the various Ingsoc organizations hanging on the walls. Now a casual observer can easily overlook the disarray of the apartment, but it is important for the reader to take notice of it and particularly of the scattered toys. Orwell has set the scene as a way of preparing the reader for the Parsons's children. They are the perfectly indoctrinated children of the Party and just as they will rule Oceania in the future, they rule the household. This is demonstrated by the manner in which they tear through the apartment and leave their toys scattered about. Mrs. Parsons is clearly exasperated by them and their orthodoxy. For example, they misbehave when they are not permitted to attend the public hanging of recently captured Eurasian soldiers.

Chapter 3 is yet another brief introduction, only it introduces us to the Winston's dream world which becomes a key theme throughout the text. The dream begins with his mother and sister sinking away from him and ends with a young, dark-haired girl running through the Golden Country towards him while tearing off her clothes. Although the reader is not given many details about either Winston's mother or the identity of the young girl, we can assume that the dream implies some sort of departure from a traumatic past to a more contented future. In a sense the dream becomes another driving force in Winston's obsession with the past, his memories of it, and the absence of a verifiable historical record. The reader is then ushered into the Oceanic daily routine beginning with the Physical Jerks.

The daily routine is continued in Chapter 4 which introduces the reader to the Ministry of Truth and the work performed there. Orwell uses Chapter 4 to provide the reader with a clue to understanding Winston's obsession with the past. His job in the Records Department requires him to falsify news items that are then republished for the public. As discussed in the summary, Winston not only must alter news items but he also must either erase people from public record or create people who never existed. Once he is done with an original document he must discard it in a memory hole. Being aware of as well as involved in such deception has had an unfortunate and perhaps dangerous influence on his developing interest in learning more about life before the Revolution and the Party.

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