Brief summary and analysis of Chapter 5 (Book One -1984).
Chapter five is a significant chapter in Orwell’s 1984 since it marks an important turn in the plot. The entire chapter takes place inside the canteen which is a crowded room several levels below the ground. Winston takes a look at the world around him and feels bad about how it has decayed as he has aged.
In the canteen, he comes across Syme who is also a devout follower of the party, and tries to explain to Winston how the party is planning to use language to control people and crime in Oceania. He is working on the latest edition of the Newspeak dictionary. The two are joined by Parsons whose stupidity amuses both of them. However, despite knowing that Winston and Syme both think themselves to be smarter than him he continues to boast about his foolish and mischievous kids.
Orwell highlights how controlling the press and language in Oceania gives the party an edge. It is reducing the number of words people can use which will help it define the boundaries of human consciousness and the types of thoughtcrime anyone can commit.
This chapter also marks another important turning point in Winston’s life who finds the dark-haired girl looking at him with interest in the canteen. While it shakes him from inside at first, Winston quickly regains control. Oceania is a world full of lies and Winston hears several more lies coming from the telescreen during the lunch break. He is amused but does his best to not express a thing. Orwell introduces us to a new term called Facecrime in this chapter which implies wearing an offensive expression.
Oceania has grown economically backward and there is a scarcity of nearly everything from food to clothes and other several amenities. Winston and other party workers eat filthy and tasteless food. Except for Gin, nothing comes cheap there. The party still works to make people believe that Oceania is prospering. That is against the truth, but every word the party speaks has to be swallowed as true. This is something that Winston cannot do easily, but Parsons can. So, he thinks while most other people including Parsons’ wife stand an equal chance of being vaporized, Parsons does not. Winston always tries to remain alert because he knows while he watches everyone, he is also watched all the time.
Orwell highlights that the party has forced the people to remain in the dark and uses language to manipulate citizens and their lives. It will not let anything live outside its span of control in Oceania.
Detailed Summary of 1984 Chapter Five (Book One)
Chapter five of 1984 opens in the cafeteria. Winston is standing in the queue for lunch. The canteen was located in a low ceilinged hall, somewhere deep underground (might be several floors under the ground). The room was crowded and noisy. The smell of stew was getting mixed with Gin. The large room had a small bar that appeared like an opening in the wall. People could buy Gin for ten cents a nip there. Suddenly Winston’s friend Syme, who worked at the research department, addressed him from behind. He was not really a friend but a comrade since that was precisely the word used in Oceania. Syme, a philologist, an expert in Newspeak, was part of a team that created the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak dictionary. Syme was shorter than Winston, dark-haired and with protruding eyes. His sad-looking but contemptuous eyes seemed to be searching people’s faces closely while he spoke to them. He seemed excited to see Winton and exclaimed he had been looking for him. Syme asked if Winston had any razor blades. Winston replied he had none and could not find any in the market either.
There were no blades in the market for the past several months, and Winston had saved two for such times. One or the other article like buttons, shoelaces, and razor blades, was always missing from the party shops. People could only find them in the free market, and that too with much difficulty. So, he told Syme that he had been using the same blade for the last six months. Both picked up a lunch tray from the end of the counter. Syme asked Winston if he had seen yesterday’s hangings. Winston made the excuse that he had been working and will watch it later in the cinema. However, Syme was not satisfied. Cinema was not a great substitute for the real experience. As his mocking eyes rolled over Winston’s face, it appeared they were trying to tell Winston they knew what he was hiding in his heart. Syme was poisonously orthodox. He would talk of the party’s atrocities with a great deal of personal satisfaction. From the helicopter raids on enemy villages to the trials and confessions of the thought criminals or their execution inside the cellars, he talked of the atrocities with a lot of pleasure.
The best thing was to take him away from these topics and make him talk about Newspeak, where he was authoritative and engaging. Winston did not like the inquiring gaze on his face. Syme gave a brutal description of the hangings with utter pleasure, adding that he did not like when their feet were tied since the prisoners could not kick. It gave him immense pleasure when the prisoners kicked before dying. He particularly liked when their tongues stuck out, appearing bright blue.
The lunch included a metal pannikin of pinkish-grey stew, a hunk of bread, a cube of cheese, a mug of milkless Victory Coffee, and one saccharine tablet. They spotted an empty table under the telescreen. Someone had left a pool of stew on the table that looked like vomit. Winston gulped the oil-tasting gin and wiped the tears from his eyes. Suddenly, he felt hungry. Winston started having spoonfuls of stew, and the two spoke after both had finished their lunches. Someone was talking harshly from a table on the left behind his back, whose voice was like a duck’s quacking. Winston raised his voice to overcome the noise and asked Syme how his work on the dictionary was going on? It was moving slowly. Syme was working on adjectives. He was excited when somebody asked him about Newspeak. He bent across the table so he did not have to shout. Syme was excited about the latest edition. He told Winston it was the definitive edition and will bring the dictionary in its final shape. They were not inventing new words but destroying the existing ones to create a leaner dictionary with no such words that could become obsolete by the year 2050. While Syme was talking about the dictionary, the mocking expression had vanished from his eyes. He instead spoke with passion, and his eyes were looking dreamy. He believed there was a lot of wastage of words in Oldspeak. A lot of verbs, adjectives, and nouns were being wasted. There was no need for those synonyms and antonyms either. There was no need for bad to signify the opposite of good, since ungood was sufficient to convey the same. Plus good was sufficient to mean excellent, splendid, and all the rest of the synonyms. All the good, bad, and related ideas could be covered in just six words. In the end, Syme added that it was Big Brother’s idea to include just six words as a replacement for all those synonyms and antonyms. In this word, they could get rid of a lot of dead weight from the dictionary. Winston’s face showed some eagerness at the mention of Big Brother, but Syme noted a lack of interest. He asked Winston why the mention of Newspeak did not evoke any interest in him. Syme had read Winston’s pieces in Newspeak. They were not written in Newspeak but were just translations from Oldspeak to Newspeak. According to Syme, Newspeak was the only language in the world whose vocabulary kept shrinking every year. Winston was unaware of the fact but did his best to hide his amusement and surprise.
Syme tried to explain the true intent of Newspeak. Its true aim was to narrow the range of thought and thereby reduce thoughtcrime since there will be no such words to explain it. The party intended to control people’s thoughts using Newspeak, and words would rigidly apply a boundary to what, when, and how people thought. The vocabulary will keep shrinking each year, and so will the people’s range of consciousness. He was against thoughtcrime and believed people should exercise self-discipline and reality control to avoid committing thoughtcrime. However, language was a great tool, according to Syme, to do that, and once language was complete, it will bring about a complete change leaving no scope for thoughtcrime. He stated with a lot of satisfaction that Newspeak was Ingsoc and Ingsoc was Newspeak. Syme thought that conversations were going to be very different in the future, and there would be no such conversations by 2050 as they were having right now at their lunch table.
Winston was doubtful. The next moment the word that escaped his lips was except. He wanted to speak of the proles but was unsure if that remark would not be considered unorthodox. However, Syme understood what Winston meant to say. By 2050, the proles would have disappeared, and so would have all the real knowledge from the past. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Byron will all be there but in a new form in Newspeak. The party’s literature and its slogans would also have changed with it. Since there will be no concept of freedom, ‘Freedom is Slavery’ would have no meaning. It was also going to change the entire climate of thought since thought will also lose its meaning. Orthodoxy means no need to think of being in a state of unconsciousness.
Strangely, Syme’s chat had an unexpected effect on Winston. He thought Syme was going to be vaporized someday because of his excess intelligence. It was written all across Syme’s face. He spoke too clearly and plainly. Winston turned a bit sideways in his chair and the person who quacked like a duck kept talking remorselessly in his loud voice. There was his young secretary on his side who was agreeing to everything he spoke. Winston knew that the person held some important post in the fiction department. He was around thirty, had a large muscular throat and a mobile mouth. Winson could not discern even a single word from what he was speaking. He still caught a phrase that was ‘complete and final annihilation of Goldsteinism’. All of the rest appeared like the quacking of a duck to Winston. However, Winston still understood the general nature of his whole talk. Denouncing Goldstein, thought criminals, traitors, and the Eurasian army, that was all about it, but for Winston, it made no difference even if he was praising Big Brother. Winston was sure he was talking orthodoxy and Ingsoc. The man’s jaws moved like a dummy. His words made no sense. It was no different from the quacking of a duck.
Now, it was Syme’s turn. He told Winston that there was a word in Newspeak called Duckspeak which meant quacking like a duck. It had two contradictory meanings. When used for a foe, it was an abuse, but it meant appreciation when used for a friend. Winston was now feeling sure that Syme will be vaporized. He felt sad for Syme though he knew that he did not like him and if Syme had a strong enough reason, he would denounce him as a thought criminal. In every way, Syme was devoted to Big Brother and the party, but still, there was like a pinch of unorthodoxy in him that was going to get him caught one day. His problem was that he touched on matters that were better left untouched. Worse, he visited the Chestnut tree Cafe, which was somehow ill-omened. It was where the traitors like Goldstein once used to sit. So, Winston did not have any difficulty connecting the dots. He felt certain about Syme’s future but did not utter a word out of fear that he would denounce him as a thought criminal. After reading the first few chapters in the novel, it appears that the easiest thing in Oceania to do was to denounce someone as a thought criminal.
Syme announced Parsons approaching and his tone unmistakably betrayed that he considered Parsons a fool. Parsons had a frog-like face. He looked like a little brown boy grown large. Winston could still imagine him dressed like the Spies. Parsons cheerfully said hello to each of the two and set himself on the table. He smelled of sweat and kept sweating nearly all the time. His pink forehead was full of sweat. When he played table tennis at the community center, he left bats so damp that anyone could tell it was him. Syme produced a large strip of paper with a long list of words on them. He was studying them carefully with his pencil. Parsons asked what it was in their hands and why he was working there during the lunch hours. He turned to Winston then and told him that he was waiting for the payment for the subscriptions. Winston wanted to know which subscriptions. Anyone in Oceania had to voluntarily devote a quarter of his salary to those numerous subscriptions. Winston did not keep track of subscriptions. Parsons wanted two dollars for the Hate Week, which Winston gave him instantly. Next, Parsons told him that he had severely reprimanded his guy for using his catapult on Winston. Next time he was going to seize the catapult. Winston thought the kid was upset at not being allowed to go to the executions.
Parsons kept demonstrating his foolishness. He kept talking about his kids and that they were two little mischievous beggars. They were always thinking of the spies and the war. His daughter had achieved an incredible feat last Saturday. She was with a hiking troop to Berkhamsted. She and two other girls slipped from the hiking team and started following a stranger. After having followed him for two hours, the three had handed him over to the patrol.
Winston was taken aback and asked Parsons why his daughter did that.
The girl saw the stranger wearing shoes that nobody else wore in Oceania. She suspected the man was an outsider. Parsons believed his daughter was smart for seven years old. Winston was curious and asked what had happened to the man. Parsons replied that he might have been shot; he did not know yet. Syme was pleased to hear it. Winston also felt bound to agree. He remarked that Oceania could not take chances.
Meanwhile, a voice from the telescreen was announcing that the standard of living in Oceania had risen by no less than 20 percent compared to last year. It meant that Oceania had won the battle of production. The voice also announced that workers had taken out processions to thank Big Brother for improving the standard of life in Oceania. The Ministry of Plenty’s favorite phrase, ‘our new happy life’ recurred several times during the announcement. Parsons was listening with an absurd expression on his face. He was wearing an expression of solemnity, but there was no sign of wisdom. His face showed signs of boredom, but he listened carefully to the preaching from the telescreen. He did not even understand the figures the voice on the telescreen was talking about but still knew he was expected to show his satisfaction. He brought out a large and dirty pipe that was half full with charred tobacco. The tobacco ration was fixed at 100 grams a week, which meant people needed to use it thriftily. Winston held the Victory cigarette he was smoking in his hands horizontally so it did not burn away fast.
He had only four cigarettes left and a fresh ration will begin from tomorrow. Winston was carefully listening to the news being broadcast from the telescreen. According to the announcement on the telescreen there had been demonstrations thanking Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams a week. However, Winston knew that the chocolate ration had been reduced to twenty grams a week. It was difficult for him to swallow the lie, but all around him were ready to swallow it as Parsons did immediately. Not just the stupid Parson but the other creature who had been quacking on the nearby table also swallowed it with the same ease. He seemed eager to denounce anyone who would suggest that last week the ration was thirty grams. Oceania was a world full of lies, and people swallowed and digested every lie like their daily ration. Syme also swallowed it. However, his manner was somewhat complex, involving Doublethink. Winston thought if he was the only one who was sticking to his memory.
The telescreen continued to relay fabulous statistics. There had been improvement in all areas, including food and clothing. Crime rate and diseases related statistics had declined compared to the previous year. Everything else was rapidly climbing. Meanwhile, Winston continued to eat his lunch and started thinking of life. Had life always been like this? He thought of the food before him and if it always tasted like that. He turned around and cast a look at the crowded room. He felt cheated of something valuable that rightfully belonged to him. However, turning back, he could not remember anything very different from the present. The only thing that was available for cheap and in plenty was gin. There was a deficit of everything else, including good food, clothes, and furniture. Even the lifts were not working in Oceania. Winston was feeling surprised if the standard of living had improved at all. He thought he must have seen better days in the past, and that’s why he was feeling cheated in the present.
Winston looked around himself. He could see only ugly people around him. Even if they were not wearing those blue overalls, they would have been ugly. In a distant corner, a small man with small and curious eyes cast a suspicious glance at everyone around. Winston thought that the ideal physical type that the party had set hardly existed in Oceania. There were hardly any tall and muscular men in Oceania or blonde and large-breasted women. Most of the population of Airstrip One (London) was small and dark with no physical charm. People like that small man in the corner proliferated inside the ministries.
Parsons broke his silence once the telescreen had stopped broadcasting figures. He added that the Ministry of Plenty had done a great job this year. Next, he turned to Winston to ask him if he had any extra razor blades he could share with him. Winston promptly replied he had not used a new one for the last six weeks. The person on the nearby table who had stopped his quacking during the broadcast started again. Winston was suddenly reminded of Mrs. Parsons. Her children would have denounced her to the thought police within 2 years, and she would be vaporized. So, will be Syme, Winston himself, and O’Brien, but Parsons will not be vaporized. The one with that quacking voice or that small beetle-like man in the corner (plenty others also like him that worked inside the ministries) will not be vaporized. Winston instinctively knew who was going to survive and who was not. However, it was difficult for him to say which particular trait was essential for someone to survive under the party’s rule.
Suddenly something stopped him from thinking. The girl with dark hair (the one who worked in the fiction department) was sitting at the next table. She turned towards him abruptly and was now looking straight at him. She had a curious intensity in her eyes but turned away the moment she caught Winston’s eyes. For a moment, Winston felt horrified and his back started sweating. His fear was gone the next moment but left him feeling uneasy. Questions started erupting in his mind. Why was the girl staring at him? Winston did not remember if she was there at the next table when he had come. The previous day, she was sitting right behind him during the two minutes hate. He thought she wanted to make sure he shouted loudly enough during the hate.
Winston thought she was not a member of the thought police, but if she was an amateur spy, it was even dangerous. She might have been watching him for almost five minutes. He did not know if his facial expressions had remained under control during that period. While in a public place in Oceania or near the telescreen, it was perilous to let your thoughts wander. Even the slightest look of anxiety on your face could betray you. People would believe you were hiding something. Wearing improper facial expressions was a crime in Oceania. In Newspeak, it was called Facecrime.
The girl had turned her back on him, and Winston thought everything was just a coincidence. His cigarette had extinguished, and he placed it carefully on the table’s edge. Winston wanted to smoke it later as the tobacco in the cigarette was still safe. Syme had folded the strip of paper he had been examining, and Parsons had started talking again. He was again boasting about his naughty kids. The two had set an old woman’s skirt on fire whom they saw wrapping sausages in BB’s poster. Parsons thought they were giving them first-class training at the Spies, which was even better than in Parsons’ days. Now, they had given the kids ear trumpets to listen through keyholes. The telescreen gave out a loud whistle which meant people had to return to work. The three of them left their chairs and joined the crowd around the lifts. The tobacco from Winston’s cigarettes fell.