Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Sat 14 Jun 2008
The clocks were striking 13 as Winston Smith entered his seventh-floor flat in Victory Mansions. The voice on the telescreen babbled away about the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan as he gazed out of the window at the bleak landscape dominated by posters of a black-moustached face, with the caption "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU". This was London, chief city of Airstrip One, itself a province of Oceania.
He sat down in the alcove, hidden from the Thought Police. He picked up the book he had bought from a slummy shop that Party members were not supposed to frequent and felt a tremor pass through his bowels. The thing that he was about to start was a diary, an offence punishable by death or at least by 25 years of forced labour.
I am a real 39-year-old man with real feelings. I am not just a cog in a heavy-handed political satire on Soviet totalitarianism.
Winston stopped writing. What's the point? he thought. I am just a cipher. He drank a tumbler of Victory Gin and headed back to work at the Ministry of Truth. The face of Emmanuel Goldstein, Enemy of the People, flashed on to the telescreen during the Two Minutes Hate followed by the familiar declaration "WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH."
As the telescreen went blank, Winston looked up and spotted O'Brien, an Inner Party member whom he had seen perhaps a dozen times in as many years. Something about the man's face suggested that, like himself, his political orthodoxy was not perfect.
A feeling of imminence overwhelmed him. Not much may have happened up till now, as his every action had so far served only to illustrate a not altogether convincing dystopian world divided into three superpowers - Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia - that were perpetually at war with one another. But as he took a ruminative stroll among the coarse, yet heavily sentimentalised, Proles, he realised a young woman from the Ministry of Truth had placed a note in his pocket.
Winston unwrapped the slip of paper. "I LOVE YOU". Why would an attractive young woman risk everything in a world where love and sex were forbidden to Party members for a nondescript middle-aged man with varicose ulcers to whom she had never spoken before? Such inconsistencies did not detain him long. Or at all. His heart raced. At last the action had really started.
"I've done this hundreds of times before with lots of different men, you know," said Julia affectionately, as they lay together in an Oxfordshire meadow enjoying the secret thrill of a post-coital Victory Cigarette.
"You do know that we are bound to get caught eventually," Winston replied, anxious that no one should forget the determinist realities of a repressive regime. "And that when we are, we shall both be vaporised."
"I do and I don't care," she murmured defiantly, apparently unaware that she had just said she'd got away with it loads of times before.
Their meetings were infrequent over the following weeks, furtively arranged half-hours between work and Party commitments. Yet even the terrifying scuttering of a rat in the church belfry could not unsettle Winston for long. His heart and mind were now free.
"We must go to O'Brien," he announced one day. "I am sure he's a powerful figure in the Brotherhood and we can enlist in the resistance movement."
"That sounds like an extremely rash assumption," Julia didn't reply.
"I'm very glad you both could come," O'Brien said, sipping a glass of wine. "I'm going to give you a copy of Goldstein's forbidden book to read."
The war with Eurasia was over and Winston found himself working long into the night rewriting the Party history to portray Eastasia as the enemy. Julia and I need a bolthole among the Proles, he later thought. Somewhere we can make love to the sound of Cockneys saying "Gor bless yer, guv'nor".
Winston found a room above the slummy shop where he had bought the diary. "It's perfect, darling," Julia sighed, untidily applying some contraband make-up. "You look so much more attractive when you are defying the conventions of Stalinist brutalism," he cooed romantically. "Now let me read you page after page of extremely dull extracts from Goldstein's book that repeats everything about the regime you already know."
"Put your hands in the air and come slowly," said a voice from behind the telescreen. "You have been caught just as you always knew you would be."
"You are going to have to learn DoubleThink," O'Brien observed kindly, as electrodes were fitted to Winston's body. "The art of holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time."
"OK, OK. I believe this is both a ponderous and didactic political allegory and the most brilliant critique of Soviet Russia. But I still love Julia."
"Then it's Room 101 and the rats for you."
Winston sat out in the square enjoying Big Brother's latest magnificent victory. Why had he struggled so hard against the Party? How great it was to be a cog in the wheels of satire!