1984 Reading Notes
Updated April 8, 2021
- "The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely" (2).
- There is no way to escape the constant messaging, no way to be truly free from it.
- "You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized" (3).
- It's like a panopticon, where although they're not monitoring everybody, you constantly fear that someone is watching you.
- "All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of [Emmanuel Goldstein's] teaching" (12).
- Emmanuel Goldstein seems to be the scapegoat for everything; an oversimplified villain that everyone can latch on to.
- "...to a time when thought is free, when men are different from one another and do not live alone" (28).
- This is similar to Bokanovsky twins in Brave New World, which produce people who are all identical to each other.
- "Today there was fear, hatred, and pain, but no dignity of emotion, or deep or complex sorrows" (30).
- It seems like a theme in many dystopias that deep and true emotions are no longer common/possible/allowed.
- "The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any part or future agreement with him was impossible" (34).
- There seems to be a pattern of a clear enemy being established, so that there is no question in people's minds who the bad guy is.
- "As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead" (39).
- There's this idea that the past can be simply replaced, and since the Party controls everything, there's no way of knowing how it was before being replaced.
- "The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be" (53).
- This is a way of cutting people off from their past, so they don't know how people in the past lived and thought.
- People have alleged that the Chinese government pushed Simplified Chinese so hard because it cuts people off from their past in a similar way.
- "...nothing cheap and plentiful except synthetic gin" (59).
- This victory gin might be the equivalent of soma, since it seems to put people into a good mood and is readily available.
- "Mere debauchery did not matter very much, so long as it was furtive and joyless, and only involved the women of a submerged and despised class" (65).
- People who aren't in the Party are seen as an altogether different group of people.
- It's assumed in this paragraph that men are the ones who are sleeping around, and the women stay put obediently.
- "She had not a thought in her head that was not a slogan, and there was no imbecility, absolutely none, that she was not capable of swallowing if the Party handed it out to her" (66).
- Similar to how Lenina and many other people in Brave New World just parrot the conditioned phrases and aren't able to think for themselves.
- "Desire was thoughtcrime" (68).
- "The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth" (75).
- It's a scary idea that one can just replace the past, and that then it's hard to separate what really happened from what people claim happened.
- "For perhaps two seconds he was back in the half-forgotten world of his childhood" (81).
- Winston doesn't have a good memory of his childhood, so he is essentially cut off from it.
- However, sensory memories can take him back a little bit.
- "Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being nonexistent persons" (85-86).
- The Party runs the Lottery as a way to keep morale up, and they don't even have to pay out the larger winnings for the proles to latch on to it as a reason to keep going.
- "Her voice seemed to stick into his brain like jagged splinters of glass" (103).
- The voices on the telescreen at home make it so that you can't concentrate on anything but it. This is something else that prevents people from having their own original thoughts.
- "But with the voice from the telescreen nagging at his ears he could not follow the train of thought further" (103).
- "It consisted of falsifying a series of production reports of two years ago in such a way as to cast discredit on a prominent member of the Inner Party who was now under a cloud" (109).
- Even past mistakes need to be entirely wiped out, to make sure that the Party is not and was never wrong or associated with the wrong people.
- "At the sight of the words I love you the desire to stay alive had welled up in him, and the taking of minor risks suddenly seemed stupid" (109).
- This note has given Winston a will to live and stay out of trouble that he didn't have before.
- "Foreigners, whether from Eurasia or from Eastasia, were a kind of strange animal" (116).
- Like in Brave New World, some people are seen as non-human and treated with curiosity, not compassion.
- "Always yell with the crowd, that's what I say. It's the only way to be safe" (122).
- Although people realize that they're in an oppressive regime, the only way to ensure their own safety is to continue playing along.
- "No emotion was pure, because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred" (126).
- "Always in the stink of women! How I hate women!" (129).
- Julia saying this gives me weird vibes. Is she pandering to what she thinks Winston wants to hear?
- The pornography pamphlets were "to be bought furtively by proletarian youths who were under the impression that they were buying something illegal" (130).
- This is an interesting idea: allowing people to think that they're doing something small wrong when you don't really care, so they don't do large things that you actually object to.
- "They want you to be bursting with energy all the time" (133).
- The Party wants people to be full of energy all the time with no place to direct it, so they can direct it towards Party activities.
- "She had become a physical necessity, something that he not only wanted but felt that he had a right to" (139).
- This seems dangerous — Winston is going to go further and further so that he can see her, which could lead to him being caught.
- This is also similar to something I read about how men view potential romantic partners: they feel that they're entitled to something, even before anything's been established, so rejection feels like something's being taken away.
- "It's all Inner Party stuff. There's nothing those swine don't have, nothing" (141).
- It feels a bit like traditional failed communist states, where everyone is supposedly equal but there are some people who are a lot more equal than others.
- "For several moments he had had the feeling of being back in a nightmare which had recurred from time to time throughout his life. It was always very much the same. He was standing in front of a wall of darkness, and on the other side of it there was something unendurable, something too dreadful to be faced. In the dream his deepest feeling was always one of self-deception, because he did in fact know what was behind the wall of darkness. With a deadly effort, like wrenching a piece out of his own brain, he could even have dragged the thing into the open" (144-145).
- "The process of life had ceased to be intolerable, he had no longer any impulse to make faces at the telescreen or shout curses at the top of his voice" (150).
- The relationship with Julia has given Winston purpose, and dulled some of his previous dumb-and-suicidal tendencies.
- "Often she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her" (153).
- This brings up the interesting point that Julia doesn't find it important to dig to the bottom of every little thing. She's perfectly content going along with some things that she doesn't think are true, but where it would be laborious or dangerous to uncover the truth.
- "History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right" (155).
- "In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfuly on the people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening" (156).
- In this way, people who are indifferent to what's going on are the same as people who are not intelligent enough to figure out what's going on. You can fool both of them, since they're not willing to look very far or think very hard about what the Party's telling them.
- "By lack of understanding they remained sane" (156).
- "What was happening was only the working-out of a process that had started years ago. The first step had been a secret, involuntary thought; the second had been the opening of the diary. He had moved from thoughts to words, and now from words to actions" (159).
- This is the idea that the thoughts you have and your actions slowly guide your character and life. All Winston has been doing is slightly tipping his path towards rebellion against the Party, and now things that pull him more in that direction keep appearing.
- "...once you were in the grip of the Party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference" (165).
- Winston is making the point that the Party has made the way the entire world runs entirely separated from how people react to it. They just want to control how the people act within the world, but the Party already has the whole plan figured out.
- "The proles had stayed human" (165).
- This is contrary to the way that most people in this world, including Winston earlier, saw proles — as sub-human.
- "...he had seen a severed hand lying on the pavement and had kicked it into the gutter as though it had been a cabbage stalk" (165).
- "They could not alter your feelings; for the matter you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted them to" (167)
- This is the one thing that the Party cannot force you to change — what you truly feel and believe.
- "You will work for a while, you will be caught, you will confess, and then you will die" (176).
- There doesn't seem to be much freedom or individual choice in this way of life, either. The only thing that makes it better from their lives before is some kind of sense of purpose.
- "The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed" (181).
- It doesn't really matter who the hate is against; the Party just wants people to hate something so they're preoccupied and have an outlet for their pent-up energy.
- "The inhabitants of these areas, reduced more or less openly to the status of slaves, pass continually from conquerer to conquerer, and are expended like so much coal or oil in the race to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, to control more labor power, to turn out more armaments, to capture more territory, and so on indefinitely" (187).
- Again, we see people who are thought of and treated as sub-human. They're just pawns in the game between large powers, which is by itself fairly pointless.
- "In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance" (190).
- "War is a way of shattering to pieces... materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent" (191).
- "The best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you already know" (200).
- This seems flat-out wrong, but it's interesting how confidently Winston says it as a fact.
- "No answer. She was asleep" (217).
- This emphasizes the differences between Winston and Julia — he's so interested in this book, while she just falls asleep listening to him read it and seems entirely uninterested.
- "It occurred to Winston that for the first time in his life he was looking, with knowledge, at a member of the Thought Police" (224).
- Even though Winston has been talking about the fact that Thought Police are everywhere since the beginning of the book, he still put his trust in the wrong man and failed to be cautious enough to realize that Mr. Charrington was a member.
- "He felt no love for [Julia], and he hardly even wondered what was happening to her" (228-229).
- Julia is basically the reason why Winston rebelled so openly against the regime and ended up here. Still, he doesn't really spend any time thinking about her.
- Parsons, on his arrest: "thank you for saving me before it was too late" (233).
- Parsons is weirdly so attached to the Party that he appreciates when he's arrested for speaking in his sleep. The Party has been able to flip people's normal self-preservation instincts into an instinct to try to do the best for society, even if it involves harm to oneself.
- "He became a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed whatever was demanded of him" (242).
- This is how the Ministry of Love breaks down its prisoners. After this much torture, deprivation, and humiliation, Winston is willing to say and sign literally anything.
- "All the confessions that are uttered here are true" (254).
- Instead of simply stomping out and silencing detractors, the Party changes their detractors to believe different things. They eradicate, instead of silencing, opposition.
- "we make the brain perfect before we blow it out" (255).
- "That the choice for mankind lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better" (262).
- This is a similar sentiment to what we saw in Brave New World: sacrifice people's personal wellbeing for their happiness, however shallow or hollow their real understanding of their happiness may be.
- "The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power" (263).
- O'Brien lays out quite plainly that there are no high-and-mighty motives behind the Party's amassing of power.
- "How does one man assert his power over another, Winston? ... By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own?" (266).
- This sheds some light on why Winston is so horribly tortured. The Party needs to see him suffer before they know that he is fully "fixed".
- "The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love and justice. Ours is founded upon hatred" (267).
- This lines up with previous parts where Winston and Julia said that the Party needed them to hate something in order to keep everything going (this is what Hate Week was for).
- "The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself" (278).
- The Party is teaching its members, including Winston, that any opposing thoughts are in fact so wrong and dangerous that they need to be removed from the mind. They're teaching people to enforce the status quo onto themselves.
- "To die hating them, that was freedom" (281).
- Winston is still kind of "sentient" in his mind, and is able to think thoughts outside of what he's being forced to think and believe. He realizes that he can have a small act of rebellion by not dying as a fully "perfect" person.
- "But he suddenly understood that in the whole world there was just one person to whom he could transfer his punishment — one body that he could thrust between himself and the rats... 'Do it to Julia! Not me! Julia'" (286).
- This seems to have been the secret to getting out, and what O'Brien was trying to get out of Winston? Maybe Winston was supposed to be forced to betray Julia, since he had told O'Brien earlier that he had not yet fully betrayed Julia.
- "[Winston] knew as though instinctively that [The Party] now took almost no interest in his doings" (290).
- Since Winston's been completely "fixed", the Party doesn't really have to monitor his actions or thoughts anymore. He basically polices himself, which is the Party's goal.
- "All you care about is yourself" (292).
- I sometimes wonder whether people who say they'd give their life for someone else are actually telling the truth. They might feel like they're telling the truth in the moment, but if it actually came down to it, the human mind's instinct to try to save itself is so strong.