George Orwell

1984 Summary (no spoilers)

You know the phrase "Big Brother is watching?" Yeah, they're talking about 1984 by George Orwell. 1984 is about a dystopian society where a totalitarian government is in power and they've established a highly invasive police state reminiscent of the Red Terror in Stalin's Russia. The book centers around the protagonist, Winston Smith, and follows his nerve-wracking journey going against the system. This should give you enough to go off of without giving away what happens. 


What happens in the book

Winston is this 39-year-old dude working for what I'll just call the "ministry of propaganda". His primary job, no kidding, is to rewrite the past. Yes, you read that correctly. Essentially whenever the government ends up making 10,000 fewer boots or whatever in a certain quarter, his job is to go back and rewrite what the government said when the quota was originally announced. The idea being that by constantly rewriting the past they can maintain the position that the state is always right. 

Every day Winston goes to work in the ministry of propaganda and goes through his list of facts to rewrite for the day. He rewrites each fact, translating it into "newspeak", and then throws the original document down a hole in the wall. At like 9:30 am or whatever they have this thing called the "two minutes hate" where everyone gets in a room together and screams at this video of various enemies of the state.

So what's life like in Orwell's 1984? Well, here's a couple of things that stuck out to me:

  • You're constantly being monitored by these television screens that play propaganda 24/7. You can't turn them off, only turn the volume down. 
  • The only booze they have is really bad gin
  • Food is heavily rationed (specifically chocolate)
  • Everyone in "the party" wears overalls for some reason
  • Thinking bad things about the government is called "thought crime" and you can be carried away for it

Anyway so when the book starts, Winston is already sick of the party and has been writing in a private journal about how much he hates Big Brother. This might seem like a minor infraction but it's actually quite egregious and if caught, he'd certainly be hauled away. His "acting out" intensifies throughout the story through various actions, mainly that he gets a girlfriend who shares similar beliefs about the state.

The book continues with the pair continuing to outwit the surveillance state and having various close calls along the way. Eventually, though they make the fatal mistake of befriending O'Brien, a high-ranking man in the party they believe is on their side but ultimately is not. Turns out O'Brien has been working for the establishment the whole time and has them both hauled off. Both Winston and his girlfriend are locked up and tortured. 

While Winston is being tortured O'Brien reveals more about the true nature of the party. This is all part of the three-step process for reintegration into the party described in the book: 

  1. Learning
  2. Understanding
  3. Accepting

So yeah in the end after being tortured Winston is accepting of his position and is awaiting his inevitable demise, because in the world of 1984 everyone eventually disappears.