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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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SECTION IV

Winston is at work in the Records section of the Ministry of Truth, engaged in the kind of revision that keeps the Party going. In his cubicle is a "speakwrite" (today it would be a computer terminal); a tube for written messages and one for newspapers; and a "memory hole," in which he destroys obsolete documents. Today Winston would probably complete his entire operation on his handy word processor. As messages came up on the screen, he could note the necessary changes and record over them, erasing history with the touch of a button.

It's probably safe to guess that for Winston's feelings, at least, Orwell draws on his own World War II days with the BBC, when he wrote newscasts for broadcast in India. For morale purposes, then, certain facts would have to be withheld, and even defeats had to be described in an upbeat manner.

Winston's job is to update Big Brother's old speeches, in which the leader might have guessed wrong about where a skirmish with the enemy would take place, or how badly the chocolate ration is going to be cut. In the latter case Winston also has to make the cut in rations look like an increase. Later he's going to have to make this kind of change on a massive scale-watch for it.

Daily, Winston destroys the old documents and creates new ones to cover policy changes. All these changes have to be incorporated into new editions of back newspapers, books, and all written records; these are destroyed and replaced to keep up with "history." Could people really do this in Winston's day (Orwell's, rather), or even today? Perhaps Orwell was making his point by exaggeration.

Elsewhere in the Ministry of Truth, thousands of workers are creating cheap novels and daily horoscopes, all the trappings of the popular culture. The clever trash is designed to keep the proles so happy that they won't notice how many hardships and shortages the Party has caused. There is even a pornosec with a product so racy that Party members aren't allowed to peek. Remember this later when Winston reflects on the Party line on sex.


Today Winston is faced with a challenge. In Newspeak his order reads: "times e.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplus ungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling." Orwell translates for us: "The reporting of Big Brother's Order for the Day in the Times of December 3rd 1983 is extremely unsatisfactory and makes references to nonexistent persons. Rewrite it in full and submit your draft to higher authority before filing."

The author is about to introduce a central concept. A former high Inner Party hero, praised in one of Big Brother's speeches, has mysteriously fallen out of favor and, we must guess, has been liquidated, or as Orwell has it, "vaporized." It is not enough that Big Brother has made him disappear. He must be expunged from the record. Not only does Comrade Withers cease to exist; he never did exist. Comrade Withers is now an unperson. This thinking is central to Party survival as we see in Two, IX, in Emmanuel Goldstein's book.

Winston revises the records brilliantly, by the simple expedient of invention.

Winston settles for a simple invention that calls for the fewest changes in records: he makes up Comrade Ogilvy. With tongue in cheek, Orwell, through Winston, presents a Party paragon who from infancy refuses all but military toys, turns in his uncle to the Thought Police at eleven, organizes the junior Anti-Sex League, and at age seventeen designs a grenade that blows up thirty-one prisoners at one pop. He dies gallantly, and, according to this revised speech by Big Brother,

He was a total abstainer and a non-smoker, had no recreations except a daily hour in the gymnasium, and had taken a vow of celibacy, believing marriage... to be incompatible with a twenty-four-hours-a-day devotion to duty. He had no subjects of conversation except the principles of Ingsoc, and no aim in life except the defeat of the Eurasian enemy and the hunting- down of spies, saboteurs, thought-criminals, and traitors generally.

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