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1984

1984

by George Orwell

1984 Book 1, Chapter 1 Summary

  • It all starts on a cold, bright day in April 1984. At 1 p.m., Winston Smith, a small, frail man of 39 years drags himself home for lunch at his apartment on the 7th floor of the Victory Mansions.
  • The face of Big Brother, the leader of the Party and a heavily mustached and ruggedly handsome man of about 45, appears on giant, colorful posters everywhere in Airstrip One, Oceania. (This is still London, though.) "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU," runs the caption.
  • "INGSOC" (the merging of the words "English" and "Socialism") is another poster seen ubiquitously.
  • Except in undisclosed areas, two-way telescreens are installed in every public and private room in Oceania. Yes, even the bathrooms. We learn that the Party monitors its citizens through these screens (both visually and by sound), that the screens themselves spout propaganda 24/7. They cannot be turned off except in the homes of privileged Inner Party members.
  • Oceania is heavily policed and monitored by these two-way telescreens, the Police Patrol and the Thought Police.
  • Winston is employed as an editor (read: creator of propagandistic lies) in the Records Department at the Ministry of Truth, about a kilometer (.62 miles) away from his apartment.
  • From his window, Winston sees the four governing branches of the Party: the Ministry of Truth, which deals with historical records; the Ministry of Peace, which wages war; the Ministry of Love, which is basically the White House; and the Ministry of Plenty, which plans economic shortages. Seriously. They plan them.
  • The three slogans of the Party grace the façade of these buildings: War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; and Ignorance is Strength. Literary people call this "irony."
  • The Party allocates certain vices to its members: Winston drinks Victory Gin and smokes Victory Cigarettes.
  • There is one place in Winston’s apartment that is hidden from the view of the telescreen: the alcove. Winston starts writing a diary in the alcove.
  • It is amusing that Winston cites the location of the alcove and the aesthetic beauty of the diary itself as reasons for starting the illegal journal. More substantive reasons include: the intense hatred and sexual desire he has for a dark-haired female co-worker, and the irresistible intellectual attraction he feels for O’Brien, an Inner Party member he brushed shoulders with at work that morning.
  • Keeping a diary in 1984 Oceania is punishable by death, or at least by 25 years in a forced-labor camp.
  • Winston has a varicose ulcer above his right ankle that itches and gets inflamed often. This may be a sign of sexual repression.
  • The Party’s chief enemy is Emmanuel Goldstein, whose "lean, Jewish face" flashes across telescreens multiple times a day and serves as the subject of the "Two Minutes Hate" episodes.
  • Even before he ever wrote "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER," Winston knew that he was going to die a painful, painful death. Why? Thoughtcrime. Thinking about doing something wrong is not allowed.
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