1984: the story

Act I

Winston Smith finds himself in a junk shop in the slums of London where he buys a blank book with the idea of keeping a diary; a punishable offence in the eyes of his country’s omniscient leader, Big Brother. As he leaves he notices a woman watching him.

In an alcove of his flat, unseen by the Party’s surveillance system, Winston records his rebellious thoughts towards Big Brother. Each day, he returns to his joyless work at the Ministry of Truth, where he falsifies historical records of events in accordance with current Party Policy, and erases all trace of members who have been obliterated. He participates in the obligatory daily ‘Two Minutes Hate’, designed to provoke hostility towards the enemies of the Party.

One day after work Winston wanders into the outskirts of the city, inhabited by the ‘proles’ – the impoverished, uneducated and disorganised masses considered incapable of challenging the Party and therefore not worthy of rigorous surveillance. He finds himself in the junk shop where he bought the diary and there he buys a distinctive coral paperweight that reminds him of a time before Big Brother, and a world where beauty is possible. The shop owner, Mr Charrington, shows Winston a spare room with no surveillance system. As he leaves, Winston sees the mysterious woman again and recognises her as a co-worker. He hurries away, convinced she is a spy.

A few days later the woman, Julia, encounters Winston at work and passes him a note in which she reveals her love for him. They arrange to meet in a busy square where Party members are celebrating a victory in Big Brother’s endless war against its current enemy. There they plan a secret meeting. They travel to the countryside, away from the watchful eyes of Big Brother and begin an affair; a dangerous and rebellious act.

Act II

Winston rents the spare room in Mr Charrington’s shop to continue his affair with Julia. Hate Week begins. This compulsory annual event is intended to focus extreme hostility on the Party’s current enemy. O’Brien, a senior Inner Party member, invites Winston and Julia to his flat where he reveals himself to be a member of the Brotherhood. At the public climax of Hate Week it is suddenly announced that the enemy has now changed, resulting in a frantic revision of all documents, slogans and speeches. After the chaos has died down, Winston and Julia return to the junk shop. Winston reads the secret manifesto given to him by O’Brien and begins to imagine a life free of oppression and mind control. At that moment Mr Charrington bursts into the room with a troop of Thought Police who take the couple prisoner.

In the cells of the Ministry of Love, O’Brien reveals that he is a member of the Thought Police. With a combination of mental and physical torture he tries to force Winston to accept that truth is what the Party claims it to be. For a time Winston resists, but when he dreams of Julia, O’Brien sends him to Room 101 where the worst nightmares of the prisoners are realised. Confronted with the torment of having his face eaten by rats, Winston turns against Julia and accepts the will of the Party. With this final act of betrayal, Winston is neutralised as a threat and released to wait for the day when he too will be erased from the records. With this knowledge, at last, he surrenders to his love for Big Brother.