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 5-7 Summary

Chapter 5 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston remains in the Ministry's canteen for his lunch of unappetizing stew. He is joined by Syme, a philologist working in the Records Department. Syme shares the unpleasant details of the public hanging with Winston who is not interested in discussing its specifics. He asks inquires about the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak dictionary, a project on which Syme has been working. Excitedly, he relates the impressive nuances and potential of Newspeak and how both will change the face of the Party and its mission. Parsons, Winston's neighbor joins them at the table to collect the two dollar subscription Winston owes for Victory Mansions' show during Hate Week. He also apologizes to Winston for his children's poor behavior. They are interrupted by an announcement from the Ministry of Plenty lauding the efforts of Big Brother to improve the quality of life by increasing production: all false reports. At the end of the announcement, Winston catches the black-haired girl from the Two Minutes Hate and his dream staring at him. He wonders if she is working as a spy for the Thought Police.

Detailed Summary

At lunch time, Smith takes his lunch in the canteen where he is met by Syme, a philologist in the Research Department at the Ministry. Syme asks Winston for spare razor blades, but Winston lies, claiming he has none for himself. There is a razor shortage as there is with virtually every item necessary to maintaining one's hygiene and appearance. Syme then asks Winston if he attended the public hanging, a question to which Winston also answers no. He tells Syme that he will see in the movies. Syme believes that to be an inadequate alternative to witnessing the spectacle live. Syme hints to Winston that he knows the reason for his not attending the execution and proceeds to describe it in the gory details that he most appreciates.

After picking up their trays they sit down to eat the stew with an unidentifiable meat substance. Winston inquires into the progress Syme is making with the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak dictionary. His lunch companion then enters into a lengthy diatribe about the virtues of Newspeak: the new language created by the Party to limit the range of thought and render though-crime impossible. Syme informs Winston that eventually [e]very concept...will be expressed by exactly one word with a rigid definition. All other meanings will be destroyed, something to which Syme looks forward with zeal. He continues his discussion of Newspeak with predictions concerning the inevitable change the ideology of the Party will experience as a result of Newspeak's development. This brazen statement coupled with Syme's penchant for frequenting the Chestnut Caf (a bohemian style bar where former Party leaders met before becoming unpersons themselves) lead Winston to think that Syme's intelligence and indiscrete discussion of Party orthodoxy will result in his vaporization.

They are joined by Parsons who is the Hate Week Treasurer for Victory Mansions. He reminds Smith about the two dollar subscription he must pay to support the Mansions role in the pseudo-festivities. He then apologizes for his children's ill behavior the day before and relates a story in which his daughter reported a suspicious looking man for thought-crime. They are interrupted by an announcement from the Ministry of Plenty regarding the production increase of consumption goods. It is also announced that the chocolate ration has been increased to twenty grams per week and that workers demonstrated in celebration of the Big Brother's hard work to improve the quality of life. Smith remembers that only yesterday the chocolate ration had been reduced to twenty grams from thirty. He begins to wonder if he is the only one with memory because the people surrounding him accept the news despite its obvious discrepancies. He looks at the ugliness of the canteen and its inhabitants, asking himself if things have always been so intolerable and unpleasant. He is pulled out of his introspection by the end of the announcement when he sees the dark-haired girl from his dream staring intently at him. He believes she is possible following him around because she sat behind him during the Two Minutes Hate yesterday. He wonders if she is a member of the Thought Police or an aspiring spy for them.

Chapter 6 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston attempts to make another entry in his diary, however the memory he wishes to record is one that he wishes to forget. The shameful nature of his memory creates a violent rage in him as well as the desire to scream obscenities aloud. His mind wanders to his wife Katherine, from whom he is separated. He remembers her absolute devotion to the Party and its espousal of sex as a means fulfill the duty of procreation. Winston believes Katherine was not only ignorant for her submission to orthodoxy but also devoid of any intelligence for not seeing the absurdity of a husband and wife mating rather than making love. Remembering Katherine permits him to finally confess the embarrassing incident in which he had an illegal encounter with an ugly, middle-aged woman in a basement kitchen.

Detailed Summary

At home, Smith attempts to write another entry in his diary as a mode of therapy. He wants to confess a disturbing crime he committed with a prostitute. Smith experiences an inner-rage that makes him want to scream expletives and throw his belongings around the living room. The memory of the prostitute evokes memories of his wife Katherine. Soliciting sex with prostitutes or any woman without the sole purpose of procreating is illegal and can result in a five-year sentence in a hard-labor camp; however, the worst crime is promiscuity among Party members. Eroticism in general is to be abolished so as to prevent the creation of loyalties to anyone/thing besides Big Brother and the Party. All marriages must be approved by the Party and a separation is encouraged in the event that no children are produced. This was the outcome of Smith's and Katherine's marriage. She was a loyal Party member who believed sex to be nothing more than her duty to the system. She did not enjoy intercourse and cringed when Smith touched her with even a semblance of love. His unfortunate experience with Katherine created a deep hatred for women in Smith. He no longer believes in the possibility of a true love affair. After ruminating on his relationship with Katherine, he manages to confess the rest of the incident with the prostitute. She was a middle-aged woman, heavily made-up to disguise her aging face, and without a tooth in her mouth. Much to his shame and embarrassment, Smith slept with her anyway.

Chapter 7 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston begins reading a children's history primer as he is making another entry into his diary. He is writing about the proles and their potential to be the hope for the future. However he knows that unless they become conscious of the Party's misdeeds against them, they will never rebel against the Party. As he continues reading, Winston realizes the futility of determining the lies from the truth. With his unreliable memory and without incontrovertible evidence to prove the Party's teachings false, Winston cannot be certain that life is any worse than prior to the Revolution. The one time he was in possession of a piece of evidence, a photograph of three unpersons accused of unorthodoxy, he disposed of it. However, he knows that the apparent evidence cannot prove anything without cooberration, which is virtually impossible considering the perpetual falsification of history.

Detailed Summary

He begins reading a children's history primer that is produced by the Ministry of Truth. It tells of a fictional past in which the Party freed the people from the slave driving capitalists and much worse standard of living. He begins to think of the proles as the hope for the future although he realizes that his belief is a leap of faith because they neither know nor understand what is happening. Winston realizes that Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious (70). The Party, although claiming that INGSOC and the Revolution liberated them from the evils of capitalism, continues to treat them like natural inferiors who must be kept in subjection, like animals, by the application of a few simple rules (71). However, as long as they continue to work and bare children, the proles are not bothered by the Party.

As he continues to read the history book, it becomes apparent to Winston that he can neither be certain that the Party's version of history is all lies, nor can he be certain that life before the Revolution was better than life under Big Brother. He can only rely on his questionable memory and his intuition. He remembers, though, having briefly held a photograph that proved the Party's falsification of history. It was a picture of three of the original leaders of the Revolution: Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford. All three had been arrested, vanished shortly thereafter only to return to confess to committing crimes against the state. Their confession resulted in a Party reinstatement, yet they spent most of their time in the Chestnut Caf. Winston saw them there on night and noticed that Aaronson and Rutherford had broken noses. Under the spreading chestnut tree/I sold you and you sold me:/There they lie and here lie we/Under the spreading chestnut tree (77) erupted from the telescreen causing Rutherford to cry. The three men were re-arrested and subsequently vaporized. The picture of the three men came across Winston's desk five years later and it was dated the same day they supposedly were in Eurasia committing treason. Winston disposed of it in a memory hole despite the credibility is lent his beliefs about the Party. However, today Smith doubts the strength of the photograph as evidence because the past is altered so often it would be difficult to determine fact from fiction. He realizes that it would be difficult, even, to disprove that 2+2=5 if the Party taught that it was true and has always been true. Without proof to the contrary, one must believe it. Winston wants to understand why Big Brother and the Party continue to manipulate time and history and why they insist on the unwavering acceptance of historical fabrications by the citizens of Oceania.

Chapters 5-7 Analysis

Chapter 5 provides the reader with a more detailed view of the world under Party control. Orwell uses the canteen as metaphor for the environmental tone of the novel. Like the rest of Oceania, the canteen is drab and cold. From its location underground, one can assume that there are no windows. The food served in the canteen is barely recognizable and leaves much to be desired. Essentially, the canteen is a reflection of the living conditions under which Oceanians must live. Orwell uses the lack of razor blades to emphasize the intolerable living conditions. Something as small and insignificant as a razor blade has become nearly as vital as water. Its scarcity forces Winston to lie about being in possession of one. However, Orwell is careful to draw the reader's attention to the fact that razor blades are not the only basic needs that are in high demand. He's making a statement about the failure of the Party to provide even the essentials for their citizens. The absurdity is made more noticeable by the fallacious Ministry of Plenty announcement regarding an increase in the chocolate ration. Although everyone knows they do not have enough on which to live, they continue to laud Big Brother and the Party for the increase in production of goods of which they never seem able to get a hold.

Orwell also uses this chapter as an introduction to three types of Party members. There is Winston, who is dangerously on the verge of unorthodoxy, though he is already guilty of committing thought-crime. He questions everything and believes in the power of the proles to topple the Party from power. There is Syme who is resolutely orthodoxy and yet he recognizes the absurdity of Party doctrine. For example, his references to Newspeak and its ultimate goal, though true, are dangerous references to make under surveillance. This is particularly true of his unwavering and arrogant belief that the work he is doing on Newspeak will change the nature of Party doctrine and its implementation. As the reader learns later in the novel, besides hating Big Brother, questioning the Party and its teachings is the worst offense one can commit within the scope of thought-crime. Then there is Parsons who is the model Party member. Not only does he blindly accept the teachings of the Party, but he also has raised children whose indoctrination is so complete they would report Mr. and Mrs. Parsons for unorthodoxy. Interestingly enough, despite the striking differences in adherence to orthodoxy, the passivity exhibited by all three men is responsible for the sustainability of the Party. Winston wants to revolt, but is waiting for the proles who do not have the consciousness required for a revolt. Syme knows that Newspeak and Party doctrine are exercises in thought manipulation, but he continues to participate in their development. Parsons's passivity is evident in his refusal to question that which the Party teaches and demands of its citizens. These three archetypes are prevalent in varying degrees throughout the text.

The reader learns the Party's attitude towards sex and personal relationships in the following chapter. Although the focus is on sex and sexual relations, Orwell's purpose for including this chapter is to speak to the strategies employed by the Party to control its citizens. By preventing the development of romantic relationships between people and by interfering with the healthy development of familial relationships, the Party is preparing a citizenry of automatons. To be more specific, Oceanians that have no emotional loyalties to individual people are more inclined to develop loyalty to the Party and Big Brother; therefore, helping to sustain their control and power. This chapter also serves to explain Winston's violent and misogynistic attitude towards women. The dysfunction his marriage to the devout Party member Katherine led him to pursue sexual gratification from women and in places that shamed rather than satisfied him.

Chapter 7 delves deeper into Winston's world and his inner-conflict with the teachings of the Party and his memories. Not only is Winston obsessed with learning about life before the Revolution, but he is also obsessed with the supposed power the proles possess. The two are intrinsically connected in that the proles as a social group provide living proof of life before Big Brother and the Party. The proles do not speak Newspeak, they do not dress in the Party uniform of overalls and boots, and they are not subject to the same level of surveillance to which Party members must submit. However, it is a catch-22 because the Party's seeming lack of interest in the proles is a method of control. By allowing the proles to continue living as they always have and by preventing them from becoming politically involved, the Party is diminishing the proles' capacity to critically think about their social conditions. Only through that process will they find the impetus to revolt.

However, Winston knows that he can never be certain of a historical truth and this plagues him. Yet, he believes that an absolute truth exists and upon finding it, he will understand the conditions under which he lives. However, the Party's continuous manipulation and falsification of history makes it impossible for him to discover what has happened. The photograph of Aaronson, Jones, and Rutherford speaks to this further. Winston, though he would have kept the photograph is he had another chance, knows that it is of little value to history. The picture is merely another piece of paper containing questionable information. Essentially Orwell is showing the reader that under a totalitarian regime, the only absolute truth is that of the ruling power. One can neither trust his eyes nor his memory.

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