Brief summary and analysis of Chapter four
In the fourth chapter of his legendary book 1984, Orwell introduces readers to the inner working structure of the Ministry of Truth where Winston worked. He also provides a detailed glimpse of Winston’s job and how he is turning nonsense into news inside his cubicle. Winston mainly rectifies past speeches and news items to make them agree with the present. However, of all the things in his life he loves his job the most since it is the only challenging and exciting thing in his life. He is also quite good at his job and that is why the Ministry entrusts him with the tougher jobs frequently. There are thousands more like him working inside the ministry. This chapter primarily explains how the party manipulates information to keep the citizens misinformed.
Even Winston’s task involves creating fake characters and recreating previously published news items that included something which did not turn out to be true. Winston is not in a rebellious mood in this chapter though he often contemplates what he is doing. The irony is that despite hating the party and its actions, he likes his job. At the end of the chapter, while rewriting a previous speech by Big Brother which mentioned a person who did not exist anymore (was vaporized probably), he creates a character called Comrade Ogilvy. Winston knows once his version has been accepted for publication no one will doubt the existence of Ogilvy. No more evidence will be needed to establish his identity and prove he really existed than history offers to support the existence of Julius Caesar or Charlemagne. Orwell has presented Winston in this chapter as smart and intelligent who enjoys his job, which involves some complexity like that in mathematical riddles.
The party has established an entire system that constantly works to prove that every word Big Brother eve spoke was true even if it needed rewriting past news articles, journals, and books or recreating history with the help of fake photographs. Internal communication, mainly written, is carried out using Newspeak vocabulary mainly. There is a pneumatic tube system to send and receive written messages inside the ministry. However, every care is taken that no evidence remains that can prove that anything but what the party publishes is true. The recalled versions are sent to furnaces hidden within the recesses of the ministry building and destroyed. Winston worked with dedication and his behavior inside the ministry cannot give rise to any suspicion. The chapter shows how totalitarian regimes use the press and all other sources of information (rather misinformation in this case) to control the citizens’ lives. Comrades like Ogilvy are eulogized so people know which line they must follow in their lives.
Orwell sarcastically attacks the party’s manipulative techniques and its use of fear to control people’s lives in Oceania. It does not even worry that someday skeletons might start poring out of the closet. The fear of losing control is just so big it dwarfs every other concern before the party and Big Brother. The party has executed so many people only for the sake of maintaining control. It fears that someday people will start asking questions and therefore silences every dissenting voice and destroys every evidence that could give rise to questions in the future. On the inside, the party is afraid that people could take back everything it has taken from them. It wants people to not ask questions or it would have to surrender the control it has acquired. The multiplicity of questions people can raise in itself is something overwhelming for the party. The party and Big Brother do not leave any space for dissent. Once the party has forsaken control it will be vaporized. It will stop existing because it’s the party’s control that gives meaning to the party and Big Brother. Every feeling that the party has been able to suppress inside Oceania’s people might again start raising its hood and it’s when the party will start crumbling. Orwell thus shows that things are not as easy for the party either. It is also making sacrifices to retain its position. As Forster highlighted in ‘A Passage to India‘ that the English looked like caricatures whenever they tried to play Gods in the eyes of the Indians. The situation is perhaps worse or even more ironic in Orwell’s book. Orwell is perhaps more direct and effective at addressing the excesses of a totalitarian regime. While party’s methods gve rise to strong distaste, Orwell lays everything bare in his own bold style.
Every effort the party makes to falsify facts exposes its weakness. Orwell proves it through the character of Winston. He can see everything even if he cannot talk about them. He also tries to attach meaning to everything happening around him but he knows he has been deprived of the fundamental right to use his intelligence (as in chapter 3) and express his feelings. There are more questions in his mind than his mind can answer. He is clever but yet he does not let himself loose. Winston knows that many people around him have sacrificed more than he has. The lady that worked in a cubicle near his, made lists of people who had been vaporized. Ironically, she had lost her own husband a few years ago to the same thought police. Winston writes against Big Brother in his journal when he is alone. Ironically, he writes a great speech for Big Brother when working at the Ministry. However, Orwell does not highlight the weaknesses of these two characters – Winston and the lady whose husband was vaporized. The real irony is that these people are not as blind or helpless as they appear. Reconciling with their true state is just as difficult for them as the readers.
One cannot expect consistency in Oceania and perhaps both the characters know it too well. Winston lost his parents and the lady has lost her husband. They don’t even know what other costs they might have to pay for being under a totalitarian regime. Even the people who have been vaporized appear luckier than the ones who are alive and forced to worship Big Brother and the party. Orwell highlights the party’s toxicity and its tendency to acquire every inch of space in people’s hearts and minds. Winston does not want the party to extort more from him than he can happily offer. So, he works for the party and tries to do everything honestly while being aware that it will not change his situation even a bit. He is just as likely to be vaporized as Comrade Withers and his associates and can become an unperson the next day. So, despite the weight on his conscience, he tries to make his way through the mess. You cannot call a spade a spade in Oceania because you are not yourself. The party and Big Brother are everything in Oceania. However, understanding Orwell’s sarcasm takes a bit of efforts. In his own words, “Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.” The lines between true and untrue are being constantly blurred in Oceania and Winston is afraid he too might not be able to tell the truth since none exists. Everything is utter nonsense and one nonsense replaces another. Winston tries to draw a clear line but always finds that the shadow of the party is just too large to draw a clear line around it. The party’s shadow has enveloped everything in Oceania.
There are two main themes in the chapter four of 1984. The first is true versus untrue. The party does not want people to know the truth and since every version of truth has been worked upon several times, it is difficult to tell if any truth has prevailed. Winston cannot see anything but nonsense being published in the newspapers. So, he does not expect to find the truth as he already knows that none exists. Another major theme in this chapter is that of inconsistency. There is no consistency in Oceania. The first second the party is too big and the next it is smaller than a bee. The party operates at both macro and micro levels. It never does what it says and never says what it does. In his book, Orwell has painted a caricature of totalitarian regime. Except the face of Big Brother, the party does not have a clear form either. Big Brother himself is the party and he is all that matters. Even the inner party members are not immune because their increased popularity can lead to their evaporation. Big Brother’s self-righteousness is the reason that everything that has true meaning is crumbling. People have the ability to think, speak, see and hear, but they are living in an era of darkness. Big Brother and the party have strangled the motivation to seek light so people are forced to blindly follow.
Detailed Summary of Chapter Four
After the telescreen, Orwell introduces readers to the Speakwrite in this chapter. It is some kind of a dictation machine with a microphone. Winston and his colleagues use it to take notes, and the words they speak are automatically printed using this machine. Winston took a deep sigh before starting his day’s work and after blowing the dust from the microphone, put on his spectacles.
The Ministry used pneumatic tubes which worked like a telegraph system and transported messages within the building. This system of transporting messages had gained popularity during the late 19th and early twentieth centuries. There was a pneumatic tube on the right-hand side of Winston’s desk, and four small cylinders had popped out from it. He unrolled the pieces of paper from the cylinders and clipped them together.
There were three openings in the walls of his cubicle. Two were pneumatic tubes for messages and newspapers, and the third hole was protected by wire grating, through which Winston could dispose of paper. These disposal slits existed throughout the building within the rooms and throughout the corridor at short intervals. They were nicknamed memory holes. When someone knew a piece of paper was to be destroyed or saw a waste piece of paper lying around, he would automatically lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and slide the piece of paper in. These memory holes led to furnaces that were hidden deep inside the recesses of the Ministry building.
The Ministry used Newspeak for internal messaging instead of Oldspeak (Standard English). Each of the papers Winston had unrolled carried messages of one or two lines only, written using Newspeak words mainly. The content was as follows:
times 17.3.84 bb speech malreported africa rectify
times 19.12.83 forecasts 3 yp 4th quarter 83 misprints verify current issue
times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify
times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling1984 by George Orwell.
Winston kept the fourth paper aside since it was the most intricate of the four jobs, and he would deal with it last. However, the second task also involved tediously going through several lists of figures. These tasks were related to previous issues of The Times (as noted at the beginning of each of the four messages). So, Winston dialed back numbers on the telescreen and asked for the relevant issues of The Times, which came to him in two minutes through the pneumatic tube. The four messages he had received referred to articles or news items published in the previous issues to be altered. Officially, they called it rectification.
In a news item published in The Times of 17th March, Big Brother in his speech on the previous day had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but the Eurasians would launch an offensive in North Africa. However, the opposite happened and the Eurasian high command launched an offensive in South India, whereas North Africa remained quiet. So, the article had to be rewritten to state that Big Brother had predicted what had really happened.
In another message, The Times had published an article on 19th December which included the official forecasts of the output of the various types of consumption goods in the fourth quarter of 1983 (also the sixth quarter of the three-year plan). The latest issue of The Times ran an article that included the actual output. The latest figures proved the previous grossly wrong. Winston needed to rectify the figures from the early issues so they agreed with the latest.
The third message contained a simple task where Winston just needed to rectify an item (published in February) with a promise made by the Ministry of Plenty that the chocolate ration will not be reduced. However, as per Winston’s knowledge, the chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grams a week to twenty grams by the end of the current week. He needed to replace the promise with a warning that the chocolate ration might need to be reduced by April.
Having made the rectifications, Winston clipped the speak-written corrections to the proper copies of The Times and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Following that, he dropped the original messages into the memory holes so they would be devoured by fire. He did not know what kind of work was carried out in the corners where these pneumatic tubes led. However, he understood it in general. He knew that soon after the necessary rectifications had been made to any particular issue of the Times, the old issues were destroyed, and the rectified issues were placed in the files. This did not apply only to the newspapers but to all types of literature that held any political or ideological significance. Books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, soundtracks, cartoons, and photographs were continuously altered or rectified ase needed. It was how every piece of a prediction made by the party was proved to be true. Any news item or piece of opinion that conflicted with the need of the moment was destroyed and replaced with a different one. History was being rewritten as necessary and in no case, it was possible to prove that any falsification had taken place. In the largest section of the Records Department where Winston worked, people collected all newspapers, books, and documents that had been rectified and replaced and had to be destroyed. Several such issues of The Times had been altered a dozen times or more and there were no more issues that could contradict their version. Several such books had also been revised and then republished without any admission that any revisions were made to the book’s content. The written instructions Winston received through the pneumatic tube did not expressly state that he had to commit any forgery but that he had to fix slips, errors, misprints, and misquotations.
Winston neither believed that it was any forgery because he knew it was just one piece of nonsense being replaced with another. Most of the material he came across was not even a lie, because a lie can have some connection with the real world. It was pure and utter nonsense that did not bear any connection with reality. Whether in the original version or the rectified version, statistics were always a fantasy because no one knew how much of a particular item was produced. All the production took place only on paper, otherwise, half of Oceania’s population would not be walking barefoot (shoes were produced only in the papers). The Ministry of Plenty had forecast the output of boots at 145 million pairs. However, it needed to be rectified and replaced with something close to 62 million. Winston decided to make it 57 million to prove that they produced more than the target. Every fact they quoted was not a fact but pure fantasy or just nonsense. Everything remained hidden in the shadows. Even knowing the right date was impossible.
There was another man, dark chinned and small, working in Winston’s corresponding cubicle. His name was Tillotson, and he maintained an air of secrecy while he worked. He kept a folded newspaper on his knees and had his mouth very close to the microphone.
It was impossible to know others well in his department. People did not talk about the tasks they performed at the Ministry in the records department. The large hall had two rows of cubicles. There was a constant rustle of papers and voices murmuring into the mouthpieces, but Winston did not know even the names of many people who worked there despite seeing them daily. A woman working in another cubicle next to Winston’s tracked and deleted the names of people who had been vaporized. These people had ceased existing, and so she deleted their names from the press. An interesting irony was that her own husband had been vaporized two years ago.
There was another person with hairy ears sitting a few cubicles away, known for his talent in rhymes and meters. He produced distorted poems that had become ideologically offensive but needed to be retained in the anthologies for some reason. However, that large hall with fifty or so people working in it represented only a subsection of the entire records department.
Many more people were working in several jobs in the various sections above, below, and beyond the records department. The large printing shops had sub-editors and typography experts. The large and well-equipped photography studios were known for faking photographs and the tele programs section had engineers, producers, and actors skilled in imitating voices. An army of reference clerks worked on creating large lists of books and periodicals due for recall. The corrected documents were kept in vast repositories and their original copies were destroyed in the hidden furnaces. The anonymous policymakers coordinated the entire work and drew policies that guided the Ministry staff about which documents need to be kept, which ones were corrected, and which ones were to be destroyed. The records department was just a branch of the Ministry of Truth. The Ministry’s main job was not to reconstruct the past but to supply the citizens of Oceania with all types of entertainment, information, and instructions. From a child’s spelling book to a novel, newspapers, telescreen programmes, slogans, textbooks and plays, the ministry provided the citizens with everything. It provided the party with all it needed, but the Ministry of Truth also worked to serve the working class people’ and fulfill their information needs. An entire chain of various departments dealt with proletariat literature, music, drama, and other forms of entertainment. They produced nonsense papers, movies oozing with sex, and songs composed mechanically with the help of a Kaleidoscope called a versificator. A separate segment was dedicated to producing the lowest kind of porn. This segment was called Pornosec in Newspeak. Only the party members who worked on these movies were allowed to look at them.
Meanwhile, three more messages had slid out of the pneumatic tube. These were simple jobs that Winston completed before the Two Minutes Hate began. Once he returned to his cubicle after the Hate, Winston pushed the Speakwrite aside, cleaned his spectacles, and got to his main job of the morning.
Everything else in his life was uninteresting, but Winston loved his job because it offered challenges Winston loved. Some of the challenges were as interesting as complex mathematical riddles and Winston could lose himself in them for hours. They required him to exercise his intelligence and the knowledge of the Principles of Ingsoc and what the party expected of him. Winston was very good at his job and therefore the party entrusted him sometimes with the task of rectifying the leading articles published in The Times, which were written entirely in Newspeak.
Winston opened the message he had set aside earlier. It read:
times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling
Its English translation was as follows:
The reporting of Big Brother’s Order for the Day in ‘The Times’ of December 3rd 1983 is extremely unsatisfactory and makes references to non-existent persons. Rewrite it in full and submit your draft to higher authority before filing.1984 Chapter 4 (Book One).
Winston turned to the nonsense article and read it. It contained Big Brother’s speech, in which he had mainly heaped praises on FFCC, an organization that supplied cigarettes and other comforts to sellers inside the floating fortresses. A prominent member of the inner-Party, comrade Withers had been particularly mentioned. He had been awarded the Order of Conspicuous Merit, Second Class. Three months later, the FFCC was dissolved without any reasons given.
Withers and his associates were now disgraced but the matter was never reported in the press or made public using any other means. The political offenders were not tried or denounced publicly. The great purges happened once in a couple of years. Thousands of traitors and thought criminals were tried as a part of these purges. They made abject confessions before being executed. The people who had made the mistake of disappointing the party just vanished and were never heard of again. People never knew what happened to them as in some cases these people were not even dead. In Winston’s knowledge, there were around thirty such people, excluding his parents, who had vanished at one point or another.
Tillotson was still bent over the Speakwrite secretively. He gave Winston a second hostile flash from behind his spectacles. Winston wondered if Tillotson’s job was the same as his. It might be possible. Sometimes, the party could assign the same job to more than one person, as it could not trust just one person with the task. These tasks could not be entrusted to a committee since that would mean openly admitting to the forgery. It was likely that more people like him were working on Big Brother’s speech and preparing rival versions. At last, an inner party member would select one from the several versions and then re-edit it and start the process of cross-referencing.
After that, the selected piece of lie found its way to the permanent records and became the truth. Withers might have been disgraced for corruption or incompetence. Winston did not clearly know. Chances were strong that Big Brother got rid of a highly popular subordinate. There were other likely causes too. Withers or someone close to him might have been found to be in disagreement with the party and its propaganda. Or Withers might have been vaporized for just no reason or just any type of odd deviation from the party’s lines. However, Winston still found a strong clue. The Newspeak term ‘refs unpersons’ meant that Withers was already dead.
However, people who were arrested were not always executed. Some of them were released and remained free for one to two years before execution. Sometimes, a person people believed to be dead appeared at one of the public trials and implicated hundreds of others with his testimony before he vanished forever. Wither was an unperson already and it meant he never existed. So, Winston could not just remove the content related to Withers but he needed to give it a totally different twist. He could not fill the speech with the denunciation of traitors since that would make the falsification evident or with the over fulfillment of the Ninth three-year plan since that might complicate the records too much. He needed to add something that was born of pure fantasy. Suddenly, Winston had an idea. His mind had invented something. The picture of a valiant Oceanian emerged in his mind; a certain Comrade Ogilvy who was martyred. Many times Big Brother devoted his speech to commemorating an ordinary member of the party whose life and death was worth following. There was no real Comrade Ogilvy, but he could be brought into existence using a few lines of text and a few fake photographs. Winston had the entire plot in his mind through which Comrade Ogilvy could be made to exist and his death be made memorable.
He pulled the Speakwrite and started dictating. Winston used Big Brother’s well-known military and unscrupulous style. He would ask questions in his speech and then promptly answer them. Ogilvy’s story was like this. The only toys that Comrade Ogilvy played with once he was three years old were a drum, a sub-machine gun, and a model helicopter. He had joined the Spies at six, a year early because of a special relaxation of rules, and then a year later he was a troop leader. At the age of 11, he had handed over his uncle to the thought police when he overheard a conversation proving his uncle’s criminal tendencies. Ogilvy became a district organiser of the junior anti-sex league when seventeen. At the age of nineteen, he made a hand grenade that the Ministry of Peace adopted. The bomb killed 31 Eurasians in its first trial. Winston was doing his best to make the speech as perfect as any other by Big Brother. There was more about Ogilvy. He had died in battle when he was just twenty-three. His helicopter carrying important documents was being pursued by enemy jets over the Indian Ocean. Ogilvy jumped from the helicopter taking those documents down with him where enemy soldiers could never lay their hands on them. The speech included more about Ogilvy’s purity and single-mindedness. He was a total abstainer and nonsmoker and decided to remain unmarried since it was against his plans of devoting his life to his nation and the party’s service. Ogilvy never talked of anything else but about the principles of Ingsoc. Apart from the defeat of the Eurasian army, his aim in life was the hunting-down of spies, saboteurs, thought criminals, and traitors generally. However, Winston could not award Ogilvy the Order of Conspicuous Merit because that would require unnecessary cross-referencing.
Winston had completed Ogilvy’s story. He cast a glance on his rival working in the next cubicle. Something made him feel certain that Tillotson was working on the same job as him. However, he was not sure whose version would be finally adopted. Something inside him told him his version would win. No Ogilvy existed an hour ago but Winston had turned him into the truth. He was surprised by how easy it was to create dead men compared to creating alive ones. Comrade Ogilvy had never existed before, but now he existed in the past. Once those who held its knowledge forgot this act of forgery, no one would doubt Ogilvy’s authenticity. He will become historical like Charlemagne and Julius Caesar; historical in that people will not seek any evidence to support his existence than the few lines of text about him. Winston has eulogized him just so much that he is already worthy of being worshipped.