1984 Study Guide

1984

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.

Chapter 8 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston travels to the prole section of town rather than going to the Community Center on his designated night. While enjoying the night air, a bomb is dropped on several houses nearby, killing and injuring several people. After avoiding the gathering crowd, he notices an old man who he follows into a pub to ask about life before the Revolution. He buys the man a beer and makes an unsuccessful attempt to get information from the man. Winston leaves the bar and finds himself in front of the same antique shop from which he bought the journal. He browses through the store and winds up purchasing a glass and coral paperweight. The owner of the shop invites him to a bedroom on the second floor that is entirely decorated in antiques and without a telescreen. An old print on the wall inspires the proprietor to partially recite an old nursery rhyme about various London churches. Winston inquires about the different churches mentioned before leaving the shop. As he steps out to the street, he sees the dark-haired girl walking towards him. He hurries back to his flat where he makes another entry into his diary and obsessively wonders about what will happen to him when the Thought Police finally arrest him.

Detailed Summary

Winston then wanders through the prole section of town which isn't monitored by the Thought Police. This is the third week that he has skipped his night at the Community Center, but wants to take advantage of the beautiful evening. He tries to be inconspicuous but his blue overalls make him easily identifiable as a Party member. As he is walking, the area is bombed demolishing numerous homes and killing several people. He sees a severed hand of one of the victims and kicks it out of his path before scurrying down a side street to avoid the gathering crowd. On his way to a pub he passes two men arguing about the Lottery. Managed by the Ministry of Plenty, the Lottery is a method of distracting the proles from thinking too deeply about their social condition. Large prizes are paid out to fictitious people while actual winners only receive small sums.

Just outside the pub Winston notices an old man who he believes can tell him about life before the Revolution. He is even more inspired when he hears the old man order a pint from the bartender. After being told that the pub only serves liters, the man grows angry and exclaims We didn't 'ave these bleeding liters when I was a young man (87). When the bartender insults the old man's age, Winston intervenes with an offer to buy him a drink. He then walks the man over to a quiet table where he attempts to engage the man in a conversation about life prior to Big Brother's and the Party's rule. He is unsuccessful, though, because the man cannot focus on the directed questions Winston poses. He leaves the pub disappointed and annoyed as soon as the man rushes to the restroom.

Winston continues to wander through the prole section of London when he suddenly finds himself in front of the same shop from which he purchased his journal. Panicked, he enters the shop believing it to be a better alternative to running the risk of getting caught loitering by the Thought Police. While browsing through the store, he chats with the owner Mr. Charrington. A table loaded with interesting boxes and trinkets draws Winston's attention. His eye is captivated by a glass paperweight in which a piece of coral is embedded. Having never seen coral before, Winston asks what it is. Enchanted by the coral's beauty, he buys the paperweight for four dollars.

Pleased by the sale, Mr. Charrington invites Winston to a room located on the second floor. The upstairs room is a bedroom furnished with antiques of which Winston notices an old bed with a mattress (something that Oceanians no longer use) and a glass clock with a twelve-hour face (Oceania uses military time). He also notices that there is no telescreen hanging on the wall. Winston is filled with nostalgic awe and considers renting the room, but quickly dismisses the idea as wild and reckless. Mr. Charrington draws Winston's attention to a framed print hanging on one side of the fireplace. It is a picture of the St. Clement's Dane Church which stood opposite of the Palace of Justice before being bombed many years ago. Mr. Charrington offers to unscrew the frame from the wall, but Winston declines the offer. The shop owner then recites an old nursery rhyme about the many churches that were in London: Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clemens! You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martins- (99). He cannot remember the rest of the rhyme but does recite its last line: Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a chopper to chop off your head (98). The two men discuss the churches named in the rhyme before he leaves the shop, planning to return to purchase the print of St. Clement's Dane. Just as he exits the shop, Winston sees the black-haired girl walking towards him. He turns in the other direction, plotting either to kill her or go to the Community Center in order to create an alibi for the night. He returns home instead to make another entry into his diary. His mind wanders to the torture he would endure when the Thought Police capture him.

Chapter 8 Analysis

Orwell uses Chapter 8 to not only introduce the reader to the world of the proles, but to also begin Winston's frustrating and futile quest for an absolute historical truth. The world of the proles and that of the Party members are strikingly different. Winston sticks out in his blue overalls and boots while the people around him are dressed in what can be considered vintage clothes. Now, the reader can assume that Winston has invested his faith in the proles and begins his search in the prole section because they are, in a sense, trapped in a time warp. Their lives have not changed significantly since capitalism was replaced by Ingsoc (English Socialism). They still must work in factories or perform some other menial labor and as stated before they continue use Oldspeak. However, the reader must also remember that the proles have been deliberately prohibited from intellectually evolving. Winston is mindful of the inherent contradiction to his faith in a group whose arrested development is a product of Party doctrine. For example, his hope slightly falters when he passes two men arguing over the Lottery, a confidence game created specifically to distract the proles. It is important to note another issue regarding Winston's hope for the prole revolt. As he passes two women, they eye him suspiciously and halt their conversation. Winston experiences similar reactions to his uniform. Although Winston realizes the difficulty in inciting a prole rebellion, he has failed to realize that his position as an Outer Party member makes him their enemy rather than their ally; therefore, he would not be a beneficiary of a prole revolt.

The futility of his search becomes more apparent when he invites an old man to have a liter of beer with him. Winston expects the man provide him with the historical information he is seeking, but is easily disappointed by the old man's answers. The interesting aspect of Winston's interview is that he is using the Party's version of history as a foundation for his questions. For example, he cites the Party's portrayal of capitalist attire: top hats and coat tails. Upon hearing this, the old man tells Winston that he wore a top hat to his sister's funeral. Rather than listening to the man's story and gleaning the clues it provided, Winston dismissed it as unimportant. However, if he listened carefully, he would have discovered information that proved the fallaciousness of the Party's version of life before the Revolution. Herein lays another point regarding Winston's search. He admittedly knows nothing about life before the Revolution, hence is quest for the absolute truth. Yet, as is demonstrated by his vague and incoherent memories, he has been indoctrinated to such a degree that he is not willing to listen to the proles unless it is to confirm information that he naively believes to be true. It is fair to say that Winston has cultivated a romantic view of pre-Revolution life that has adopted aspects of the Party's false history. He is so desperate to believe that the quality of life was better before Big Brother and he is desperate to satisfy this belief. Winston manages to obtain some relief when he enters Mr. Charrington's shop again and is able to touch the relics from a past he blindly laments. Like a child begging his mother for sweets, Winston speaks to Mr. Charrington about the various items in the shop, many of which he has never seen before. Winston's hope for a better past is heightened by the tangible nature of the shop. The coral and glass paperweight that he purchases epitomizes the world that he remembers : a world that may have been simpler and more beautiful.

You'll need to sign up to view the entire study guide.

Sign Up Now, It's FREE