On a bitter April day in London, Oceania, Winston Smith arrives at his small apartment on his lunch break. The face of Big Brother is everywhere. It is immediately obvious, through Winston's musings, that the political weather of Winston's London is grim and totalitarian. Winston pours himself a large drink and sets about to commit an act punishable by death — starting a diary. He believes he is fortunate because a small corner of his apartment is hidden from the telescreen — a device that allows him to be viewed and heard twenty-four hours a day by the authorities — or Big Brother. Here is where he begins the diary.
Winston is stuck by a pang of writer's block when he suddenly realizes that he doesn't know for whom he is writing the diary. In his panic, he begins to write a stream-of-consciousness account of a recent trip to the movies. While writing this, he has a memory of a significant happening earlier in the week, in which he was simultaneously attracted to and repelled by a young woman working in his building. He felt as though she was following him. He also remembers sharing a brief moment with O'Brien, a member of the Inner Party, an encounter in which Winston believes that O'Brien attempted to show solidarity with him against the tyranny of Big Brother. He continues writing, this time with more substantive material about his feelings on the current environment in which he lives. He is interrupted by a knock at the door.
The opening image of the work sets the foreboding tone that prevails throughout as the reader is introduced to Winston Smith, the fatalistic protagonist of the novel, on a "cold day in April," when "the clocks were striking thirteen." Immediately, the author depicts a society in decay by describing a setting of "gritty dust," "hallways [smelling] of boiled cabbage and old rag mats," elevators (the lift) not working, and electrical current that is turned off during daylight hours.
The other main characters are introduced through Winston's perception of them. Julia, the dark-haired girl from the fiction department (who, in this part, is described but, as yet, unnamed), causes him "to feel a peculiar uneasiness which had fear mixed up in it as well as hostility, whenever she was anywhere near him." Winston suspects her to be a member of the Thought Police. Initially, he sees her as a symbol of social orthodoxy, that is, she possesses "a general clean-mindedness," an enthusiastic adherent to the Party line. Conversely, Winston feels a certain comradeship with O'Brien, predicated on his secretly held belief that "O'Brien's political orthodoxy was not perfect." Winston developed this impression when he and O'Brien had once exchanged glances. Big Brother (both a person and a concept) is introduced very early on in posters that appear in Winston's building bearing the caption "Big Brother Is Watching You." Finally, Emmanuel Goldstein, also, a person and a concept, is introduced during a hate session.
The political environment is detailed through Winston's musings, as well as narrative descriptions of specific political entities. At the heart of the political orthodoxy that exists is the process of controlling human thought through the manipulation of language and information. Crucial to manipulating the language and the information individuals receive are doublethink and Newspeak. Doublethink is the act of holding, simultaneously, two opposite, individually exclusive ideas or opinions and believing in both simultaneously and absolutely. Doublethink requires using logic against logic or suspending disbelief in the contradiction. The three slogans of the party — "War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength" — are obvious examples of doublethink. The act of doublethink also occurs in more subtle details.
As Winston begins writing in the diary, he commits his first overt act of rebellion against the Party; he creates a piece of evidence that exists outside himself. He is still safe because no one else knows of his thoughts or his act, but the reader shares the ominous mood created when Winston observes, "Sooner or later they always got you." Winston, obviously, knows the significance of his act; nothing will ever be the same for him.
This first chapter introduces the reader to a host of significant issues and images that become motifs that set the mood for and recur throughout the novel. The reader is not so subtlety drawn into a world of constant duplicity, manipulation, and surveillance. The name of Winston's apartment, "Victory Mansions," for example, creates a particular mental image for the reader that is immediately contradicted by Orwell's observation that the " . . . hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rags," the lift (elevator) seldom works, and the electricity is cut off during daylight hours — hardly a description one imagines of a structure with such an exalted name.
Big Brother, whose countenance purposely mirrors Stalin, and his pseudo omnipresence are introduced to the reader in the posters and on the telescreen. Although he never appears in person, Big Brother is the dictator of record in Oceania, and the posters carry the caption "Big Brother Is Watching You," enhancing the menacing feeling of an evil environment.
Orwell alerts the reader's senses of anticipation and dread in his depiction of the bureaucracy and political structure of Oceania: "The Ministry of Truth," which rewrites history to suit the occasion; "The Ministry of Peace," which functions to wage war; "The Ministry of Love," which maintains law and order and is "the really frightening one"; and the "Ministry of Plenty" coupled with the Thought Police, two minute hate sessions, and antithetical national slogans (War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, and Ignorance Is Strength).
varicose ulcer an ulcer resulting from an abnormally and irregularly swollen or dilated vein ("varicose vein").
pig iron crude iron, as it comes from the blast furnace.
blue-bottle a bright, metallic-blue blowfly.
sanguine of the color of blood; ruddy: said especially of complexions.