The protagonist of the novel is Winston Smith, is a citizen from Oceania, which is one of three superstates in the world (alongside Eurasia or Eastasia). It’s 1984 and Winston is living in Airstrip 1, which was once known as Great Britain. Winston is a member and leader of the Party. The Party rules Oceania on the basis of Ingsoc (English Socialism). Oceania, a hierarchical oligarchy, is governed by hierarchical rule. The Party is made up of Inner Party members who are the ruling elite and regular Party members who are citizens of Oceania. The Party does not include the proles, the non-Party members, and the simple people who live in poverty but are exempt from Party regulations. The Party’s leader Big BrotherThere are many large images of him with his dark hair, thick mustache and large smile, all over London. Some even have the words “Big Brother Is Watching You.” The Party’s three slogans were “War Is Peace”, “Freedom Is Slavery” and “Ignorance IS Strength.”
Winston lost his little sister and parents during the Revolutionary period, which ended capitalism and established Ingsoc. He was adopted into a Party orphanage. He is now a worker in the Records Department of Ministry of Truth. They handle all Party publications. Sometimes, such alterations remove an individual from history or make incorrect predictions more accurate. The Ministry of Love handles all Party prisoners; the Ministry of Peace deals with war; and the Ministry of Plenty handles production of Party goods such as Victory cigarettes and Victory gin.
Winston has not accepted the principles and policies of Ingsoc nor the Party. Winston believes in an unalterable history and finds Party politics to be unacceptable. Winston desires privacy, intimacy, freedom, and love. However, Winston cannot openly express his feelings for fear of losing his life. These thoughts are “throughtcrimes,” which are extremely punishable offenses that can result in imprisonment, torture and sometimes death.
Winston is home for lunch when the book opens. He returns to his Victory Mansions apartment to fill in a diary. The diary is a remnant of his past that he purchased from an old junk store. Winston lives in a small apartment with a telescreen, which is common for every Party member. The telescreen transmits Party information as well as propaganda and allows the Thought Police watch over Party members at all hours. Oceania has no privacy. Winston is lucky to have a small corner in his apartment that is not visible from the telescreen. It is here that he starts to write his diary despite his fear of being caught. Winston will undoubtedly be arrested, imprisoned and tortured by The Thought Police. He chooses to continue his rebellion for now.
Winston writes about his memories of the Party and his personal life. Many contain violent imagery which is quite common in Oceania’s age and show anti-Party sentiments. Winston clearly rejects Party doctrine. Winston is briefly interrupted by a knock at his door. He panics initially, thinking that he has been captured, but it is actually his neighbor. Mrs. ParsonsNeeds help unclogging her sink. Winston offers to help and briefly talks with Mrs. Parsons’ children. They are both part of the Youth League and Spies, and clearly have been indoctrinated into the Party’s ways. Winston predicts these children will become the Thought Police, their simple and innocent parents. These tragedies are not uncommon, it seems.
Winston finds himself back in his diary. In one of his reveries, Winston is reflecting on his past and dream memories. Winston has to go back to work eventually because time is running out. Winston once found a newspaper clipping in his daily assignments which proved three men innocent: Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford. After examining the clipping, Winston realized it was an indication that the Party was wrong and that he had actual evidence of a true version of the past. He decided to destroy the clipping and place it in a memory hole which sucked it into his building’s furnaces.
Winston is surrounded with loyal Party members at the Ministry of Truth and is constantly vigilant to keep his true feelings from being misinterpreted by others. Winston is a regular at work and watches Two Minutes Hate every day. This exposes Oceania’s enemy Eurasia as well as the supposed leader of an opposition movement, Emmanuel Goldstein. People shout at the screen, the propaganda is strong. Winston must also join the fray to avoid suspicion.
Winston wanders among the proles and becomes more curious about the past. Winston believes that the proles are the best source of hope for a successful rebellion. Winston has a conversation with an old man in a pub about life prior to the Revolution. The man, to Winston’s dismay, focuses more on his personal memories than the generalities or conceptual differences. Winston returns to his junk shop, where he bought the diary, and purchases a glass weight with coral inside. The owner, a friendly old man named Mr. CharringtonWinston looks up at the shop from above and thinks about how it might feel to live in a place with old things and not be constantly surrounded by the telescreen.
Winston notices a dark-haired, loyal Party member at work and walks with her. He seems to have taken note of the girl. Winston fears that she may be a member the Thought Police. Winston is called to help when Winston finds out that the girl had fallen in the hallway and left him a note. The note reads “I love” Winston is shocked, but excited about the possibility of a love relationship. Because the Party is against sexual pleasure, it must be kept secret. Ingsoc is committed to sexual repression. Each marriage must be approved and it is not acceptable for a man or woman to show any physical attraction. The Party must receive all of your energy. Winston was once married to such a woman. His wife Katharine was a frigid, mindless woman who was extremely loyal to the Party, but thought sex was a vile activity. Winston was her “duty to her Party” and she made sure that they had regular times to be in love. She was told from a young age that she must have children.
Winston was unable to find the girl, so he made a lot of effort to hide his true identity. He travels to the country on a Sunday afternoon as per JuliaAccording to her instructions, they should meet in a quiet clearing in a forest area. They can finally speak. They learn that Julia is Winston’s name and begin to fall in love. Winston notices at one point that the spot she led them to matches the place he dreams about as the Golden Country.
Julia and Winston, who have a gift for finding abandoned places and for obtaining black markets goods like real coffee, bread, and sugar, continue meeting in secret. While they have limited contact and only minimal conversation, they eventually discover a common hatred of the Party. Winston believes it is possible to overthrow Party leaders, while Julia lives a double life. She is a loyalist to the extreme. She is a member the Junior Anti-Sex League, an active participant in Party activities and vocal in loyalty-testing events like the Two Minutes Hate. It’s all a game to her inside. Although she dislikes the Party, and all that it represents, she is aware that she cannot change it.
Winston eventually rents out the room above Mr. Charrington’s apartment. Winston and Julia regularly meet in this room, which is simple furnished with an old twelve hour clock (the Party uses 24-hour time). Also, there’s a picture of St. Clement’s Dane, an old London church. Mr. Charrington taught Julia the first line of an old poem about St. Clement’s, and Julia still knows some lines her grandfather taught her. A middle-aged woman in a prole dress is hanging her laundry outside their window and singing simple prole songs. Many of these songs were created specifically for proles by machines at the Ministry of Truth.
Winston is suddenly occupied by a Party member. Winston has always been observant O’Brien at the Ministry of Truth. Winston believes O’Brien is an intelligent man and he seems to be intelligent. During the Two Minutes Hate, Winston saw O’Brien and locked eyes with him once. Winston once dreamed that someone had told him that “We would meet in the place there is no darkness.” He believes this to be O’Brien. Winston sees O’Brien as a possibility for an underground movement. Perhaps the Brotherhood of Emmanuel Goldstein is real.
O’Brien approaches Winston in the workplace to discuss the Tenth edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. Newspeak, which is Oceania’s official language, aims to simplify and reduce the vocabulary. O’Brien provides Winston with his address so that he can pick up a copy of the book in advance. Winston is astonished when O’Brien gives him the slip of paper. O’Brien is aware that he has approached Winston. He is part of the underground organization. He is now on the right path to rebellion.
Julia and Winston meet O’Brien after some time. O’Brien is an Inner Party Member who has a spacious apartment, a maid, and the freedom of turning off his telescreen. Winston abandons the Party and discusses his faith with the Brotherhood. O’Brien invites Julia and Winston to the Brotherhood, and reminds them that they must work for its cause. They are open to the idea, but they say they won’t do anything that would stop them seeing each other again. O’Brien informs Winston that he will give Goldstein’s book to him, and then outlines the complicated sequence of events that will lead to the exchange. Winston leaves O’Brien after a final toast. O’Brien finishes his statement with Winston, who says that they “will meet at the place where there is no darkness.”
Hate Week is when the Party’s enemy becomes Eastasia, not Eurasia. Winston must spend a lot of time at work and sometimes stay overnight to “correct” Party publications that previously mentioned war with Eurasia. The Party is at war for Eastasia. It has been at war with Eastasia. A man brings Winston a briefcase during Hate Week. He suggests that Winston has dropped it and then leaves. Inside is the book. Winston runs away to Mr. Charrington after completing Hate Week corrections. He then begins to read. Julia arrives and Winston reads aloud about Oceania’s history, capitalism versus totalitarianism and the main goals for the Party. Winston knows most of the information, but he finds it useful to have it explained in the clear, precise words of Emmanuel Goldstein.
Julia and Winston eventually fall asleep. They awaken hours later and are now standing at the window. Winston repeats the adage “We are dead.” A voice suddenly comes from the wall and says, “You’re the dead.” Behind the image of St. Clement’s Dane, there is a telescreen. They are captured. The Thought Police storm the area. As Mr. Charrington enters, it is obvious that he is a member the Thought Police. While he looks like a nice old man, Charrington is much younger than Winston imagined. He also has different hairstyles and eyes. Winston and Julia are separated and taken to the Ministry of Love.
Winston is in a holding cell and sees men from The Ministry of Truth coming and going. Each man has been charged with thoughtcrime. Parsons arrives. It turns out his daughter turned him over, claiming that he had said “Down with Big Brother” in his sleep. Winston’s prediction was, unfortunately, accurate. Winston, who is currently held in a holding cell, sees a lot violence and observes guards repeatedly referring to “Room 101”, a phrase which seems to instill fear in some prisoners.
Eventually, O’Brien arrives. It soon becomes apparent that O’Brien was not part of the underground movement and actually works for the Ministry of Love. Winston’s interactions with O’Brien were a ruse. Winston is taken from his cell and begins to be tortured. He is initially subject to extreme torture and is forced into admitting to a multitude of crimes, including murder and spying. O’Brien finally takes control of the torture and it becomes less violent. He starts to break Winston’s spirit and tells him that his memory has been corrupted and that he is crazy. O’Brien and Winston have lengthy discussions about reality and the nature of the past. They also reveal much about how the Party views these concepts. O’Brien says that the Party seeks absolute power for its own sake. This is why the Party will always be successful, always right and ultimately will control the world. Winston can’t argue. Every time he tries, he is confronted with obstinate logic fallacies, which are completely contrary to all reason. Winston believes in a past which never existed and is haunted by false memories. Winston must defeat his insanity to be cured.
O’Brien slowly teaches Winston the Party’s way through electric shock machines, starvation and beatings. Winston must accept that, if the Party states so, two plus one equals five. Winston had written once in his diary, that freedom meant being capable of saying that two plus one equals four. O’Brien’s final argument with Winston ends in O’Brien showing Winston in the mirror. Winston is horrified to discover that O’Brien has made Winston into a sickly, disgusting, and broken sack of bones. Winston is now able to submit to his re-education. He is no longer being beaten, he is fed at regular intervals and he is allowed to sleep, though the lights will never go out, and he is beginning to recover his health. Winston still holds onto his last bit of humanity and is making some progress in accepting the Party’s reality, but he is not giving up on Julia. Winston’s love for Julia comes out in a dream where he cries out, “Julia!” Julia! Julia, my love! Julia!”
O’Brien last attempts with Winston are to make him betray Julia. Winston is taken by O’Brien to Room 101, the place containing the most horrible thing in the universe. This room has a different name for everyone. Winston considers a rat to be the “worst thing in the universe”. Winston is tied to the chair and O’Brien attaches a cage/mask containing large, hungry, carnivorous rats. Winston feels a desperate, deep, panicked fear. It is too much for Winston and he screams at O’Brien to make him feel better. O’Brien is now successful.
Winston is a broken, confused, and empty shell of man who is now free to go into the world. He meets Julia once in his new life. But they have no intention of falling in love. Both betrayed each other and prison made them both stronger. Their relationship is doomed. Winston gets a meaningless and trivial job that pays surprisingly high. He enjoys spending his time at the Chestnut tree Cafe, drinking Victory Gin, and playing chess. His life is buried under gin. The final pages of the novel show Winston at the cafe waiting for the report from Central Africa. Eurasia (Oceania has always been at war against Eurasia) invades. The report is exciting to Winston because Eurasia might be able, with Oceania’s help, to breach Oceania’s lines of defense, putting the entire nation at serious risk for takingover. Eurasian success in Central Africa could mean the end for the Party. Winston recalls an enjoyable day with his little sister and mother playing board games before the report arrives. He pushes the memory aside, realizing that it was a false memory. He resolves to let fewer of them creep up on his mind. Oceania finally defeats the Eurasian advance. There is joy both on the street and on the television screen. Winston looks into the eyes a Big Brother poster and realizes he knew that this news would arrive. Winston finally realizes that he is completing the Ministry of Love Rehabilitation. He is a big brother.