Summary: Chapter I
On a cold day in April of 1984, a man named Winston Smith returns to his home, a dilapidated apartment building called Victory Mansions. Thin, frail, and thirty-nine years old, it is painful for him to trudge up the stairs because he has a varicose ulcer above his right ankle. The elevator is always out of service so he does not try to use it. As he climbs the staircase, he is greeted on each landing by a poster depicting an enormous face, underscored by the words
Winston is an insignificant official in the Party, the totalitarian political regime that rules all of Airstrip One—the land that used to be called England—as part of the larger state of Oceania. Though Winston is technically a member of the ruling class, his life is still under the Party’s oppressive political control. In his apartment, an instrument called a telescreen—which is always on, spouting propaganda, and through which the Thought Police are known to monitor the actions of citizens—shows a dreary report about pig iron. Winston keeps his back to the screen. From his window, he sees the Ministry of Truth, where he works as a propaganda officer altering historical records to match the Party’s official version of past events. Winston thinks about the other Ministries that exist as part of the Party’s governmental apparatus: the Ministry of Peace, which wages war; the Ministry of Plenty, which plans economic shortages; and the dreaded Ministry of Love, the center of the Inner Party’s loathsome activities.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
From a drawer in a little alcove hidden from the telescreen, Winston pulls out a small diary he recently purchased. He found the diary in a secondhand store in the proletarian district, where the very poor live relatively unimpeded by Party monitoring. The
Winston looks down and realizes that he has written
Analysis: Chapter I
The first few chapters of
Unlike virtually anyone else in Airstrip One, Winston seems to understand that he might be happier if he were free. Orwell emphasizes the fact that, in the world of Airstrip One, freedom is a shocking and alien notion: simply writing in a diary—an act of self-expression—is an unpardonable crime. He also highlights the extent of government control by describing how the Party watches its members through the giant telescreens in their homes. The panic that grabs hold of Winston when he realizes that he has written
Winston’s diary entry, his first overt act of rebellion, is the primary plot development in this chapter. It illustrates Winston’s desire, however slight, to break free of the Party’s total control. Winston’s hatred of Party oppression has been festering for some time, possibly even for most of his life. It is important to note that the novel, however, opens on the day that this hatred finds an active expression—Winston’s instinct to rebel singles him out of the sheeplike masses. Unlike the rest of the general public who do not find the Party’s contradictions problematic, Winston is aware of himself as an entity separate from the totalitarian state. He realizes that writing in the diary has altered his life irrevocably and that he is no longer simply another citizen of Oceania. In writing in the diary he becomes a thought-criminal, and he considers himself doomed from the very start: “Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever . . . Sooner or later they were bound to get you.”
One of the most important themes of
Take a Study Break
Every Shakespeare Play Summed Up in a Quote from The Office
Every Book on Your English Syllabus, Summed Up in Marvel Quotes
A Roundup of the Funniest Great Gatsby Memes You'll Ever See
QUIZ: How Many of These Literary Jeopardy! Questions Can You Answer Correctly?
7 "Crazy" Women in Literature Who Were Actually Being Totally Reasonable
Honest Names for All the Books on Your English Syllabus
QUIZ: Are You a Hero, a Villain, or an Anti-Hero?