“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” So opens George Orwell’s dystopian novel, first published in 1949.
Set in Airstrip One (once Great Britain), a province of the Oceania superstate, 1984 depicts the life of Winston Smith, a member of the middle class ‘Outer Party’ and worker at the ‘Ministry of Truth’. Winston lives in a one-room flat, watched over by telescreens on which the ‘Thought Police’ monitor everything to identify potential threats to those that form the Inner Party’s regime.
Our protagonist’s job is to to rewrite historical newspaper articles, so that they support the actions and beliefs of the party – although Winston and his colleagues are told that they are merely fixing inaccuracies and misquotations; they are never told that they are, in fact, forging and fabricating ‘spin’ pieces for the Party. The ministry also destroys any previous copies of falsified documents, so there is no proof that they have lied.
Winston is an excellent worker and appears to toe the Party line in full, but he secretly hates the Party and wishes to rebel against Big Brother – the omnipresent Party leader who no-one has ever seen. He writes his thoughts in a journal each night, in a cubbyhole in his flat, where he believes his telescreen cannot see him.
At the Ministry, Winston meets Julia, a young woman who also hates the Party and they begin an affair, meeting in secret where they feel that they are safe.
When Winston approaches O’Brien, an Inner Party member who he believes to be a member of the Brotherhood, a shadowy organisation that intends to overthrow the Party, he and Julia are captured by the Thought Police.
O’Brien tortures Winston with electroshock, in an attempt to cure him of this hatred of the Party, while explaining that the Party’s ultimate aim is power and absolute rule, rather than any dream of a socialist society. Winston is forced to confess to many crimes, some of which he did not commit, and he is forced to implicate many of his associates, whether they have done wrong or not.
As it becomes clear to O’Brien that Winston will not betray Julia, and that he still loves her, his is taken to the dreaded Room 101, the most feared room within the Ministry. A wire cage full of rats (Winston’s worst fear) is attached to his face, and he cries out for O’Brien to “Do it to Julia!” – now his re-education is complete.
Winston is reintegrated into society and he begins to view Big Brother with admiration, all thoughts of rebellion within him are stamped out. His views are so completely reversed that he now sees Big Brother as a loving benefactor, and he accepts this new view without question.