1984 By George Orwell Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 4

Summary

In this chapter, Orwell gives a great deal of detail about Winston's job and the place in which he works, the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite history according to Party need. In this chapter, in addition to noting a few of his colleagues — among them Tillotson, a hostile co-worker in the next cubicle, and Ampleforth, a poet of sorts — Winston's task is re-write an article in which Big Brother commended a person who is now in the Party's disfavor. Winston Smith creates a war hero, Captain Ogilvy, who has led an "ideal" life and was killed in battle. Winston writes a speech that Big Brother is supposed to have given, commending this hero that never existed. It strikes Winston that he could create a dead man but not a living one. Ogilvy, now in the records, exists on the same authority as genuine, living people.

Analysis

This chapter is full of details about Winston's work life: from the speakwrite, a contraption into which Winston speaks the articles that will be later written (speaking and writing here considered opposites), to the memory holes in which "records" are thrown, not to be remembered and documented, but to be destroyed. The reader should note that Orwell consistently names items, processes, and events antithetically to their intents, results, and purposes and thereby makes Winston's world more terrible and frightening. The function of the Ministry of Truth, for example, is to create lies; the function of the Ministry of Peace is to wage war.

Here the reader gets the full detail of Winston's work and a better view into the political system of his society. He is engaged in forging the past into something palatable to the Party's ideology: Big Brother is never wrong, heroes are those who put their own lives aside for the Party's benefit, and goods are always manufactured at a quantity beyond what is expected. Of course, none of it is true, and so follows Winston's question, haunting him throughout the book: If a fact only exists in your memory, and yours alone, what proof is there that it really happened at all?

Glossary

pneumatic tube an inner tube, as in a pneumatic tire.

palimpsest a parchment, tablet, etc. that has been written upon or inscribed two or three times, the previous text or texts having been imperfectly erased and remaining, therefore, still partly visible.

Charlemagne A.D. 742-814; king of the Franks (768-814): emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (800-814), also called Charles I or Charles the Great.

Julius Caesar 00?-44 B.C.; Roman general and statesman; dictator (49-44) of the Roman Empire.

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What are the Party slogans -- War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, Ignorance Is Strength -- examples of?




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