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.

Chapter 2 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston is in another cell in the Ministry. Despite having disjointed memories, Winston does recall being severely tortured by several Inner Party members. He also recalls being forced to confess to crimes regardless of whether he committed them. He believes that O'Brien had been with him throughout the initial interrogation, directing the severity of the torture and degree of pain Winston would feel. Apparently, O'Brien had been watching Winston for seven years, waiting to cleanse him of his unorthodoxy. O'Brien runs the second interrogation alone. Winston is strapped to an electrocution machine that O'Brien uses each time he believes Winston does not answer a question truthfully. After an indefinite period of time, O'Brien wipes Winston's brain clean of memories and fills them with new, falsified memories. Before being carried out of the cell, Winston learns two things: 1) Julia betrayed him during her interrogation; 2)Big Brother may not exist though he will never die.

Detailed Summary

Winston is lying on a bed surrounded by O'Brien and a doctor holding a syringe. He is unsure as to the time of day or how long he has been unconscious. Though his memories are disjointed, he does recall the initial interrogation to which all prisoners are subjected. He had been viciously tortured by a group of Inner Party members while being forced to confess to crimes of sabotage, espionage, and murder as well as implicate others. Winston has memories of being strapped in a chair and being rolled down a corridor from his cell to Room 101.While being wheeled to the room, Winston began shouting confessions and laughing hysterically. He also related his entire life story to those already familiar with his personal history. Winston feels as though O'Brien had been by his side, directing the entire interrogation. It was O'Brien who decided when the guards would assault Winston and whether they would kill him. He decided the level of pain to which Winston would be subjected as well as when he would be given a rest from the torture.

Winston remembers hearing O'Brien confess that he has been watching him for seven years. O'Brien told Winston I shall save you. I shall make you perfect (244). Lying on the bed, Winston tries to remember when the interrogation has ended, but he can only concentrate on his body's immobility. O'Brien is standing over him with a grave look in eyes and his hand on a levered machine. O'Brien reminds Winston that he told him they would meet here if they ever met again. Suddenly pain floods Winston's body as O'Brien electrocutes him. After releasing the lever, O'Brien explains to Winston that he has the power to inflict as much pain on him as he requires for extracting a confession. He threatens to use the machine at any point during this section of the interrogation if Winston lies to him.

O'Brien proceeds to tell Winston that he hallucinates as a result of insanity. For example, the photograph of Aaronson, Rutherford, and Jones was a delusion. O'Brien shows Winston a copy of the same photograph before throwing it in a memory hole. He tells Winston it does not exist, never existed, and he does not remember it. This is doublethink, or reality control: the small effort Winston must make in order to cure himself of insanity. O'Brien lectures him on his lack of self-discipline and the nature of reality. O'Brien sternly tells Winston that reality does not exist as an objective, external thing. Rather it is a subjective, internal object of the Party's mind. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality without looking through the eyes of the Party (249).

To emphasize his point, O'Brien references a line from Winston's diary regarding freedom as the ability to say two plus two equals four. He then holds up four fingers and demands the Winston not only see five fingers, but believe there are five fingers because the Party has told him there are five instead four. Winston refuses to say there are five fingers and is subsequently and repeatedly electrocuted for his refusal. Finally Winston submits to the pain and claims that he actually doesn't know the number of fingers O'Brien is showing him. Somewhat satisfied with this answer, O'Brien allows Winston some respite from the pain and asks him if he knows the purpose for bringing people to the Ministry of Love for interrogations. Winston presumes they are brought here in order to extract a confession from them while making them suffer. Appearing animated, O'Brien tells Winston that they are not interested in the petty crimes, only in the thought. They wish to change their enemies, not merely destroy them because destruction alone only leads to martyrdom which, in turn, leads to rebellion. Changing enemies means washing their minds clean of unorthodoxy and breaking them down to such a low level that they no longer be capable of human feelings. As empty shells, all enemies are then filled with Party doctrine and then destroyed.

Winston is connected to another part of the machine that erases his memory. O'Brien begins telling him new memories about the war with Eastasia, the invented photograph, and the five fingers he showed him earlier. Winston accepts all the information as truth. Before being removed from Room 101, Winston asks O'Brien what has happened to Julia. He learns that she betrayed him almost immediately. He then inquires into the existence and mortality of Big Brother. O'Brien tells him Of course he exists. The Party exists. Big Brother is the embodiment of the Party (259); however, he will never know if Big Brother physically exists as he does. All that Winston will know is Big Brother will never die.

Chapter 2 Analysis

Winston endures a torture process that, although violent, is far more subtle than he is aware. To accentuate the effect of his suffering, Orwell suspends Winston in a dreamlike and semi-chaotic emotional state. This also lends itself to the possibility that Winston can only survive the extreme violence committed against him by divorcing himself from the reality of the extreme pain. Interestingly, O'Brien proves to be the one factor that anchors Winston to the events. He recalls his captor being present throughout, wielding control over the duration and level of pain to which Winston was exposed. In a strange but logical way, O'Brien assumes the role of a father figure who must severely yet tenderly discipline a wayward child. The tone of voice in which he speaks to Winston alternates between the patience of a parent dealing with a difficult child to the disappointment of parent whose child has refused to obey the rules. It also contains undertones of the type of condescension used with mental patients; this is particularly true when he discussed Winston's hallucinatory tendencies. Again, O'Brien is expertly utilizing doublethink in this scene by telling Winston he is suffering from insanity that has resulted in his hallucinations regarding the photograph of Aaronson, Rutherford, and Jones. He stresses the importance of utilizing doublethink/reality control in curing this insanity. Orwell again uses irony to emphasize the absurdity of O'Brien's declarations. He claims that Winston is insane yet he and the other member of the Inner Party continuously manipulate their own minds and those of others through inhumane tactics. The worst aspects of the incongruity are that O'Brien has the gall to behave as if he is doing Winston a favor and that he really believes (as a result of doublethink) that he is doing right. The reader must allow for the interpretation that O'Brien is doing right for the Party. O'Brien is adhering strictly to Party doctrine by inflicting pain in the effort to make Winston perfect.

The reader should take note of the manner in which O'Brien demonstrates what is known as the God complex. Essentially, a person with a God-complex believes, not without reason, that (s)he controls the lives and deaths of others. This scene in the torture process is wrought with obvious references to O'Brien's God-complex. For example, Winston is strapped down in a chair and forced to look up to O'Brien. O'Brien stands over him, virtually hovering with one hand on the lever of a pain-inflicting machine. Another example is the continuous references O'Brien makes to Winston's diary. Clearly he has been reading it; however, how and when is left unanswered. The reader should recall the painstaking effort Winston to prevent someone from reading his diary without his knowledge; and yet somehow, O'Brien has read it enough times that he is able to quote it verbatim. This whole chapter makes literary references to the Book of Job from the New Testament. Similarly to Job, Winston has forsaken the Party and Big Brother through his quest for the truth beyond what the two ruling entities teach as the truth. He has also forsaken them by engaging in unorthodox activity (mainly with Julia who can be seen as the temptress who leads Winston astray in this story). Similarly to God, O'Brien must prove his omnipotence by inflicting pain and causing Winston to suffer without an end in sight.

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