Winston writes in his diary that any hope for revolution against the Party must come from the proles. He believes that the Party cannot be destroyed from within and that even the Brotherhood, a legendary revolutionary group, lacks the wherewithal to defeat the mighty Thought Police. The proles, on the other hand, make up eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania, and could easily muster the strength and manpower to overcome the Police. However, the proles lead brutish, ignorant, animalistic lives, and lack both the energy and interest to revolt; most of them do not even understand that the Party is oppressing them.
Winston looks through a children’s history book to get a feeling for what has really happened in the world. The Party claims to have built ideal cities, but London, where Winston lives, is a wreck: the electricity seldom works, buildings decay, and people live in poverty and fear. Lacking a reliable official record, Winston does not know what to think about the past. The Party’s claims that it has increased the literacy rate, reduced the infant mortality rate, and given everyone better food and shelter could all be fantasy. Winston suspects that these claims are untrue, but he has no way to know for sure, since history has been written entirely by the Party.
In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it.
Winston remembers an occasion when he caught the Party in a lie. In the mid-1960s, a cultural backlash caused the original leaders of the Revolution to be arrested. One day, Winston saw a few of these deposed leaders sitting at the Chestnut Tree Café, a gathering place for out-of-favor Party members. A song played—“Under the spreading chestnut tree / I sold you and you sold me”—and one of the Party members, Rutherford, began to weep. Winston never forgot the incident, and one day came upon a photograph that proved that the Party members had been in New York at the time that they were allegedly committing treason in Eurasia. Terrified, Winston destroyed the photograph, but it remains embedded in his memory as a concrete example of Party dishonesty.
Winston thinks of his writing in his diary as a kind of letter to O’Brien. Though Winston knows almost nothing about O’Brien beyond his name, he is sure that he detects a strain of independence and rebellion in him, a consciousness of oppression similar to Winston’s own. Thinking about the Party’s control of every record of the truth, Winston realizes that the Party requires its members to deny the evidence of their eyes and ears. He believes that true freedom lies in the ability to interpret reality as one perceives it, to be able to say “2 + 2 = 4.”
Winston goes for a walk through the prole district and envies the simple lives of the common people. He enters a pub where he sees an old man—a possible link to the past. He talks to the old man and tries to ascertain whether, in the days before the Party, people were really exploited by bloated capitalists, as the Party records claim. The old man’s memory is too vague to provide an answer. Winston laments that the past has been left to the proles, who will inevitably forget it.
Winston walks to the secondhand store in which he bought the diary and buys a clear glass paperweight with a pink coral center from Mr. Charrington, the proprietor. Mr. Charrington takes him upstairs to a private room with no telescreen, where a print of St. Clement’s Church looks down from the wall, evoking the old rhyme: “Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s / You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s.”
On the way home, Winston sees a figure in blue Party overalls—the dark-haired girl, apparently following him. Terrified, he imagines hitting her with a cobblestone or with the paperweight in his pocket. He hurries home and decides that the best thing to do is to commit suicide before the Party catches him. He realizes that if the Thought Police catch him, they will torture him before they kill him. He tries to calm himself by thinking about O’Brien and about the place where there is no darkness that O’Brien mentioned in Winston’s dreams. Troubled, he takes a coin from his pocket and looks into the face of Big Brother. He cannot help but recall the Party slogans:
After a trio of chapters devoted largely to the work life of minor Party members, Orwell shifts the focus to the world of the very poor. The most important plot development in this section comes with Winston’s visit to Mr. Charrington’s antiques shop, which stands as a veritable museum of the past in relation to the rest of Winston’s history-deprived world. The theme of the importance of having knowledge about the past in order to understand the present is heavily emphasized here. Orwell demonstrates how the Party, by controlling history, forces its members into lives of uncertainty, ignorance, and total reliance upon the Party for all of the information necessary to function in the world.
Winston’s trip to the prole district illustrates the relationship between social class and awareness of one’s situation. Life in the prole district is animalistic, filthy, and impoverished. The proles have greater freedom than minor Party members such as Winston but lack the awareness to use or appreciate that freedom. Winston’s desire to attain a unilateral, abstract understanding of the Party’s methods and evils in order to consider and reject them epitomizes his speculative, restless nature. He obsesses about history in particular, trying to understand how the Party’s control of information about the past enhances its power in the present. In contrast, the old man in the bar whom Winston addresses is too concerned with his bladder and feet to remember the past, and he has no sense of the Party’s impact on his life. Winston knows that the Party does not “reeducate” the proles because it believes the proles to be too unintelligent to pose a threat to the government. Nevertheless, Winston believes that the proles hold the key to the past and, hence, to the future.
Like Winston’s dream phrase “the place where there is no darkness,” which reappears in Chapter VIII, the picture of St. Clement’s Church hanging in Mr. Charrington’s upstairs room functions as a symbol tied to Winston’s fruitless hope. Like the paperweight, an important symbol of Winston’s dreams of freedom, the picture represents Winston’s desire to make a connection with a past that the Party has suppressed. However, his attempt to appropriate the past as a means of exposing the Party, like his attempt to appropriate the room as a safe harbor for his disloyalty, is ultimately thwarted by the Party’s mechanisms. The phrase associated with the picture ends on an ominous note—“Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.” This rhyme foreshadows the connection between the picture (behind which a telescreen is hidden) and the termination of Winston’s private rebellion.