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 5-6 Summary

Chapter 5 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston recalls that each room to which he had been taken in the building had slight differences in the air pressure and size. The room he is now is bigger than the others as well as located deep underground. When O'Brien enters the room, he finally tells Winston that Room 101 contains everyone's worst nightmare. There is a cage on the farthest table from Winston. He sees that its compartments contain some sort of creature which he later discovers are rats. Winston's fear of rats gets the better of him when O'Brien threatens to release them onto Winston's face. Before passing out from sheer terror, he begs for O'Brien to let the rats tear Julia to pieces. Upon hearing that, O'Brien closes the doors of the cage.

Detailed Summary

Winston remembers the different rooms to which he was taken at each stage in his interrogation. Each one had a different atmosphere to it. Room 101 is far underground and larger than the other cells. There are two small tables in front of him that he can see from the chair in which he is strapped. O'Brien enters, reminding him of the question Winston asked about Room 101. He tells him that he already knew, as does everybody, what is in Room 101. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world (283). The worst thing in the world is different for each person depending on his worst fear. He moves aside to show Winston a wire cage sitting on the table farthest from him. There were creatures in each compartment of the cage. Winston's loses all control when he learns that the cage contains rats. He screams for O'Brien not to assault him with the rats. Winston begs to be told what it is he needs to do. O'Brien cryptically answers that he will do what is required. With that he lifts the cage and brings it closer to Winston. He reminds Winston of the rat's carnivorous and vicious nature and brings it closer to Winston's face. The rats are squealing and fighting to get at one another. O'Brien tells Winston that he has already pressed the first lever and that once he presses the second lever, the rats will leap onto his face and begin devouring it. The cage closes in on Winston's face, driving him to scream for O'Brien to do it to Julia: Do it to Julia! Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia! I don't care what you do to her. Tear her face off, strip her to the bones. Not me! Julia! Not me! (287). With that Winston falls into unconsciousness, but not without first hearing the doors of the cage snap shut.

Chapter 6 Summary

Brief Summary

Winston is sitting in the Chestnut Tree Caf drinking gin and playing chess. He is waiting to hear news about the war campaign on the African front. He has been worrying about the war for quite some time now, afraid that Oceania will lose control of Central Africa. However, his mind often wanders from thoughts about the war to Party orthodoxy and other memories. For example, he remembers seeing Julia in the Park one day in March. They confessed their mutual betrayal to each other and noncommittally promise to meet each other again. He also thinks about his life has dwindled in purpose. Sitting in the Caf, drinking gin, and doing work for a sub-sub-committee have become his main activities. Finally the telescreen announces Oceania's victory in Africa using a strategy Winston had imagined earlier. His mind brings him to the Ministry of Love where he imagines himself confessing everything and finally being vaporized. With this vision, he realizes that after forty years, he has come to love Big Brother.

Detailed Summary

Winston is sitting at his usual corner table in the nearly empty Chestnut Tree Caf at fifteen hours. His empty glass is refilled with Victory Gin without his having to ask the waiter. Winston is anxiously listening to the telescreen for news from the African front. He has been worried about the war and particularly the impending possibility that Oceania would lose Central Africa. Suddenly he stopped thinking about the war. His mind has trouble focusing on one subject for an extended period of time, a result of his torture in the Ministry of Love. He has grown fatter, his features have thickened, and he has regained his color since they released him. He has taken to frequenting the Chestnut Tree so much that he is now a regular whose habits the wait-staff and other patrons know. The Party had given him a higher-paid, more secure job though little was required of him. The music coming from the telescreen was interrupted by a bulletin from the Ministry of Plenty. Disinterested in the Tenth Three-Year Plan, he resumes working on the chess problem set before him. Another announcement is made notifying the patrons of a bulletin scheduled for fifteen-thirty. Winston worries about losing on the African front again. He envisions the Eurasian army swarming into Africa and cutting Oceania in two. His thoughts wander away from the war once again like a passing spasm. He instinctually draws 2+2=5 in the dust covering the table and remembers Julia telling him that they can't get inside him. However, he knows now that they can, have, and what they do to get inside you will last forever.

He has seen and spoken to Julia since he's been released. They met accidentally in the Park on a bitter cold day in March. Upon seeing him she walked away as if trying to dissuade him from following. Eventually she allowed him to walk beside her and place his arm around her waist which has grown thicker as well. They admitted to their mutual betrayal and the circumstances under which they committed it. Julia also admitted that after one betrays someone, he no longer feels the same way about that person because At the time that when it happens you do mean it (292). Winston agreed. Before she left to catch the Tube, Winston suggested that they meet again. She noncommittally agreed. His memory is interrupted by the telescreen, from which issues a voice singing Under the spreading chestnut tree/I sold you and you sold me- (293). Winston's eyes fill with tears and a waiter refills his glass.

He thinks about how he has become dependent on the gin as well as how his life is of so little concern to anyone. He also thinks about the trivial work he has been appointed to do on the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak dictionary. His attention is called back to the telescreen when the music stops. Realizing that the interruption is only to change the music, his attention returns to the chess board. He remembers that a month before his mother disappeared, she purchased him the Snakes and Ladders game in exchange for his good behavior. Although he was not interested in the beaten board game, his interest grew when his mother sat to play with him for the entire afternoon. Believing the memory to be false, he pushes it from his mind and returns to the chess board. A trumpet call shrilly sounds from the telescreen announcing Oceania's victory on the African front. The army had used the same strategy that Winston had imagined. His mind turns away from the announcement and back to the Ministry of Love. He sees himself confessing everything and feeling the much anticipated bullet enter the back of his brain. He realizes that it has taken him forty years to understand the meaning beneath Big Brother's menacing smile. Yet, Winston has proven victorious over himself and finally loves Big Brother.

Chapters 5-6 Analysis

Chapter 5 serves as the climax of Winston's reintegration process. Throughout his unbearable torture, he never once betrays Julia. However, once O'Brien threatens him with his worst nightmare, Winston quickly and easily give up on his love for her. Both men knew that Julia was the one person preventing Winston from loving Big Brother; yet, only O'Brien knew of Winston's limits. In betraying that love, Winston betrays the human spirit to which he referred as the one thing that can prevail over the Party.

In order to increase the dramatic tension, Orwell cleverly constructed a scene that would call attention to the horrific tactics used by the Party in reintegrating a thought-criminal. The room is large and empty save for two small tables and the chair in which Winston is strapped. The two small tables appear as though they are waiting to be used for some unimaginable torture and Winston is rendered immobile and forced to wait, thereby creating an obvious opposition to the sterility and soothing appearance of the room.

Orwell also juxtaposes the demeanors of the two men. Although O'Brien is seemingly calm, his actions and his speech imply deliberateness about them. Every word and movement is clearly calculated so that Winston is given time to reconsider his decision not to betray Julia . For example, rather than hurriedly release the rats from the cage, O'Brien takes his time inching the cage closer to Winston's face while describing their carnivorous nature. He knows that even discussing rats is enough to frighten Winston into demanding that Julia rather than he endures the punishment. Although the reader knows that O'Brien discovered Winston's fear from the telescreen in Mr. Charrington's room, he does not know how O'Brien could be certain that Winston would succumb to the threat of rats. One can only conclude that O'Brien has watched Winston long enough, and has performed this type of operation enough times that he can predict with great accuracy what a prisoner's response will be.

Chapter 6 serves to prove true O'Brien's claim that what happens in the Ministry of Love has lasting effects. Much time has passed since Winston was released and he finds himself in the same position that Aaronson, Rutherford, and Jones were in over ten years ago. He spends all of his free time in the Chestnut Tree Caf, drinking gin, and listening to the announcements issuing from the telescreen. In addition to the changes in his personal habits, Winston's work ethic has diminished. He works a menial job that requires little attention to detail and a small time commitment. However, Winston would be unable to focus on a job that required more from him. His attention span has decreased since his imprisonment in the Ministry. During the afternoon he spends in the Caf, Winston's mind wanders from thoughts about the war to memories of a board game his mother purchased for him the month before she disappeared.

Essentially these are all signs that Winston has been broken as O'Brien warned him he would. Similarly to the three leaders, hearing the Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree causes Winston to cry, though like the other three, his reason for crying is not clearly explained. The only assumption is that the lyrics remind the listener of his betrayal of a loved one. Aaronson, Rutherford, and Jones must have betrayed one another just as Winston and Julia betrayed each other. His tears can also be interpreted as his lamenting the loss of his capacity to love. Ironically, prior to entering the Ministry of Love and eventually Room 101, Winston was steadfast in his love. After months of insufferable torture, he has reverted back to the unhealthy shell of a man he was before the affair began. In addition to losing his capacity for love, Winston has also lost his capacity for rational thought. The periodic spasm he experiences at the mere thought of the war with Eurasia demonstrates his regression to the fanatical Party member discussed in Goldstein's book. This marks his complete reintegration into the Party system. He now thinks as they want him to think and feels or unfeels as they require as well. The conclusion of the chapter leaves the reader unsettled because it can be read as proving true the Party slogan Slavery is Freedom. Winston, as he imagines himself returning to the Ministry of Love for a final confession and vaporization, feels a freedom he has not felt before. In fact he notices that he finally loves Big Brother. An alternative reading is that he knows the time of his vaporization is closer; hence, he is anticipating the freedom death will provide and he loves Big Brother for facilitating his impending demise.

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