Discussion Questions from Orwell’s 1984 Chapter One.
- Winston’s primary character traits and supporting quotes.
- Significance of Winston’s Journal and writing in Oceania.
- Purpose of the telescreen
- Two minutes hate
- O’Brien’s character and Winston’s feelings for him
Three primary character traits to describe Winston and a quote to support each.
Winston, the central character in 1984 by George Orwell is an interesting and engaging character that is rebellious, fearful, curious, and agitated. From a reading of the first chapter, it appears he is deeply dissatisfied with his life in Oceania. He finds the party’s control of his life unbearable but he cannot do much about it and his fear is evident in the first chapter. There are several things around him that terrify Winston including the thought police and the telescreen. Their obnoxious presence in his life is unbearable for him but he is afraid these things are beyond his control.
Here are the three primary character traits that define Winston’s character in the first chapter.
Winston is always afraid of getting caught. He fears the thought police will find out his crime and his fate will be like the others who had been evaporated. He cannot bear how other people in his society have sacrificed their personal liberty and loathes their way of life. Like a poor lamb, he quietly does what is expected or asked of him without any protest or complaint. However, his fear is evident at several points throughout the first chapter. He keeps shying from the telescreen and quietly tries to steal a view of the outside world from his window.
He is afraid of several things and nearly everything he hates makes him feel afraid including the dark-haired girl working at the ministry.
Winston hides from the telescreen out of fear. His fear and hatred make him imagine himself butchering the dark-haired girl during the Two Minutes Hate. He hates Big Brother because he is afraid of the dictator. So, there are plenty of things in Oceania Winston is afraid of. At first, he is fearful of writing the journal but then his rebellious heart overcomes the fear and he pours his heart out.
Winston tries hard to fight his fear. He feels like hope is dying inside him. However, his biggest fear is that he will have lost his ability to think and become one of the animals around him, who have surrendered their freedom and control to the party and the dictatorship. The obnoxious environment in Oceania makes him feel suffocated, and Winston is afraid he is on the verge of losing self-control. He exerts all his will to fight his fear and expects it might change things a bit. He does not believe he can make it possible alone, and his fear stops him from being his normal self.
Suggested Reading: Summary and analysis of George Orwell’s A Hanging.
Quotes that show Winston is afraid.
“He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him. To begin with, he did not know with any certainty that this was 1984.”
“Suddenly he began writing in sheer panic, only imperfectly aware of what he was setting down. His small but childish handwriting straggled up and down the page, shedding first its capital letters and finally even its full stops”.1984 by George Orwell. Book one Chapter One.
Winston cannot help panicking when he starts writing because it is a thoughtcrime. However, he is able to overcome his panic and begins writing. Yet, his fear and nervousness show while he is writing.
Winston was feeling afraid and helpless when trying to begin his journal. Throughout the chapter, he is afraid and uncertain at various points. His fear makes him feel unsure if he should believe what he is seeing or what he thinks.
Readers can see Winston trying to suppress the rebellious thoughts in his mind at various points in the first chapter. Many times he has to dig deep to understand why his mind is behaving the way that day. However, despite everything, he cannot suppress the thought of writing the journal. His writing is not without purpose. He is writing to beat the horrible vacuum in his life. Strangely, things are not as quiet in Oceania as they appear.
The thought police take people away at midnight and evaporate them. Winston wants to break free fears the thought police. They will find out and crush his protest. He cannot stop his mind from thinking against the party and its wicked control mechanisms. There are no laws in Oceania, but there are no principles either. People do not live by principles but instead, follow the party propaganda blindfolded.
So, Winston is afraid that his life would have lost all its meaning and importance and the party would force him to surrender all his self-control just like the other citizens. He begins his journal in the first chapter and fills the pages with his rebellious thoughts and everything he can recount.
Suggested Reading: Summary and Analysis of George Orwell’s WHY I Write.
Quotes that prove Winston is rebellious:
“His pen had slid voluptuously over the smooth paper, printing in large neat capitals—DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER”.
“For a moment he was seized by a kind of hysteria. He began writing in a hurried untidy scrawl: they’ll shoot me i don’t care”1984 by George Orwell. Book one Chapter One.
Winston is curious, and it is evident at several points throughout the first chapter. While inside his flat, he is curious about the future and how his journal will impact the future – significant or significant. He is curious about O’Brien, a senior party member. Winston believes O’Brien hates the party’s propaganda and the dictatorship like himself. However, despite his curiosity for O’Brien, he feels afraid to talk to him. O’Brien’s appearance suggests that he is someone Winston can confide in, but Winston is not sure if it is worth taking the risk.
Winston is curious about many more things, and it is out of curiosity and fear, apart from anger, that he starts writing his journal. He is curious about the party, its inner working structure, the thought police, and Goldstein. He is not expected to be curious about most things in Oceania as an outer party member. His fear overcomes his curiosity, but his courage helps him seek more answers. Many questions arise in his mind that prove his curiosity. He thinks about why things are the way they are in Oceania and if anyone can change them.
Quotes to show Winston is curious:
“He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been quite like this. Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with baulks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy…”
Winston stresses his mind thinking if he should believe everything before him. He tries to dig inside his own memories to find proof. It emphasizes his curiosity to learn about reality.
“It was impossible, in spite of the endless arrests and confessions and executions, to be sure that the Brotherhood was not simply a myth. Some days he believed in it, some days not. There was no evidence, only fleeting glimpses that might mean anything or nothing: snatches of overheard conversation, faint scribbles on lavatory walls—once, even, when two strangers met, a small movement of the hand which had looked as though it might be a signal of recognition.”
Winston was curious about the Brotherhood even if there was no concrete evidence to prove that it really existed. However, there were also a few things that suggested the Brotherhood was not just a myth. His curiosity makes him disbelieve, and simultaneously it makes him look for evidence that could lead him towards reality.
The importance of Winston’s Journal and the significance of writing in the society of Oceania.
Winston’s Journal holds a special significance in the context of the novel’s plot. It stands as a symbol of Winston’s rebellion in the novel. The point at which Winston starts writing the Journal marks the beginning of his protest against the dictatorship. Writing a journal is against the norm in Oceania and even if no law explicitly states so, writing itself is a crime. Journal writing can be considered a thought crime. If the thought police knew about the journal content, it will arrest Winston and evaporate him.
Winston’s Journal also marks the beginning of a new chapter in his life where Winston starts seeking freedom and peace more actively.
Winston’s journal is at the center of the plot in the first chapter. It is his only solace when he is feeling suffocated by the party’s extreme control over his life. Journal writing helps him overcome the negativity filling Winston’s life. He feels both afraid and ashamed of writing a journal but then his courage overtakes other emotions and he pours out everything in his heart into the diary.
The significance of the journal can also be understood from the details the author has added regarding the journal. Its smooth and creamy paper attracted Winston as if it was waiting for him. He had spent two and a half dollars to acquire the journal and now desperately wanted to write something on it. All of it happens as if Winston is doing it subconsciously. Even while writing his journal, he is sometimes in a state of panic and sometimes frenzied writing everything fast fearing he could forget all the important things he had to write about. Winston’s psychological condition is slightly unstable because the fear of getting caught constantly shakes him.
No one writes in the country of Oceania. It is not prohibited as no law dictates so, but then it is not the norm in Oceania and so everyone needs to understand what is against the laws. Oceania does not offer its citizens the freedom to express themselves, leave alone to write. In such a case, Winston’s journal writing appears peculiar. However, it still provides us a clear idea of life in his society. The government does not encourage writing since it can become a tool of protest against the government and weaken its control over people’s lives. It can also be used to provide the government’s enemies the information they need to bring it down. Writing is seen as an anti-government activity in Oceania.
The government has tried to eliminate every method people can use to gain freedom and self-control. Journals, newspapers, and other mechanisms of information dissemination can become weapons to fight against a dictatorship. In a dictatorship, the government either fully controls or heavily censors the press. The case of Oceania is even worse, where most of the work, including government work, is carried out without writing. Either the government is too clever or too afraid to use pens. People do not use pens except for signing.
Winston is a party worker, but his status inside the party is insignificant. However, the significance of everyday events in his life grows with the journal. The journal seems to bring him back from a state of numbness and makes him rethink his world and his memories. His memory of several things is hazy. His life is insignificant but gains significance when he thinks he could write things that can be useful for the coming generations. Suddenly, his life starts looking more meaningful once he starts writing the journal. While the journal will not end his pain, Winston is sure it will help him feel more in control.
Winston’s biggest fear is that he is already a nobody and everything in his life is inconsequential. Nothing about him really matters. His job and his life have become insignificant and so if he does not value himself, nothing would remain in the future to prove he even existed. He is afraid of living a useless life like everyone around him who lives for the party and according to its mandate. He feels like he has already evaporated and apart from the pain of ignominy and his varicose ulcer, there is nothing to make him aware of his existence and physical condition.
The purpose of Telescreen in the novel 1984.
The dictatorship in Oceania is afraid of losing its control over its people and their lives. Dictatorships are based on fear and if people do not fear them, the party and Big Brother would lose control over the people of Oceania. The dictatorship uses the thought police and the telescreen in the novel to maintain control over people’s lives and to strike fear in their hearts. The telescreen is a television-like device the thought-police uses to watch the party members and what they are doing when not at the party office.
The telescreen is a symbol like Winston’s journal and symbolizes the party’s oppression of its people and its censorship of their lives. Winston’s life is like living cramped in a hole where he has to be alert every second so he does not ring any alarm bells which could alert the thought police. There is always the fear of raising an alarm through his behavior. He keeps his back towards the telescreen to avoid rousing any suspicion. He has to wear a fake expression on his face when facing the telescreen.
“He had set his features into the expression of quiet optimism which it was advisable to wear when facing the telescreen.”1984. Chapter One.
The telescreen can receive anything above a whisper from Winston’s room. All the time while he is before the device he is being watched. The telescreens only relay party propaganda and the news that the party and big brother want to reach the people. The telescreen is the eyes and the ears of the dictatorship. Another similar symbol in the novel is the poster of Big Brother. These posters are everywhere in the town including each floor of Victory Mansion. The telescreen however is something even terrible. One cannot completely shut it off but just minimize its volume. While the lift in Victory Mansions is not working, the telescreen keeps relating party propaganda, which shows the device’s significance.
Another thing that the presence of the telescreen highlights is that the government cannot bear any dissent and therefore watches everything to pick up signs of dissent early. The telescreen is also its own method of exerting control. Even if it feels like an unwanted intrusion, people have to accept their caged lives as the telescreen observes them all the time they are before it. Any kind of dissent or conspiracy behind the party’s back cannot go unobserved.
annot go unobserved.
Explain the “two minutes hate.” Who is Goldstein? How do the Party Members react to him?
The Two Minutes Hate is observed daily at the Ministry where Winston works. It is like a daily ritual where the party lets the party members vent their hidden emotions before a telescreen. The main motive of observing the two minutes hate is to denounce traitors and rival nations. The Hate meeting holds a special significance in the context of the novel and the first chapter. Winston gets to meet O’Brien and the girl he has seen several times earlier in the ministry. The event also helps readers understand the extent to which the citizens of Oceania have lost their ability to think independently and have become blind adherents to the party’s propaganda and its slogans.
The two minutes hate is organized inside a hall where chairs are set to seat the party members. The telescreen shows a special program containing the speech of Emmanuel Goldstein. Goldstein was one of the earliest party members who held a status on par with Big Brother. However, he later turned against the party and became a traitor. Once it was discovered he was a traitor, he managed to escape and lived overseas under the protection of rival nations and his wealthy protectors.
Goldstein was turned into a villain, and the party members were trained to hate him. The main purpose of the hate was to solidify the party’s control over its members. While Winston recounts the Hate minutes, he remembers how people were shouting once Goldstein’s face appeared on the screen. Despite trying his best, he could not help joining the others. The noises were maddening, but they pulled him fiercely. He experienced the same emotions overwhelming him and became a part of the crowd shouting at Goldstein. However, he was soon back to his senses. Winston felt afraid that the party could use these methods to make him lose his self-control too, like the other party members he had seen at the hate meeting.
Every party member reacts madly to see Goldstein’s face on the screen. One of them hurls a book at the telescreen, and several others curse at him. Winston thinks he is different from the others since he is still clinging to his sanity. He has not yet surrendered his mind and his thoughts fully to the party and its propaganda. He hallucinates during the two minutes of hate and imagines himself butchering the girl he thinks is a spy working for the thought police. However, he also starts experiencing erotic impulses for the girl.
Winston appreciates Goldstein in the beginning who appears like a messiah or savior to him. Goldstein speaks of things like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He also speaks of bringing down the dictatorship and several more things that are against the party propaganda. The party presents him as an evil sorcerer trying to influence people’s minds. The citizens of Oceania react to Goldstein as if he is trying to corrupt their minds and turn them against their own country. They chant B-B, B-B when they see Big Brother’s face appear on the large screen. Winston sees how his society has been corrupted through the use of fear and other control mechanisms and he too would someday become one like them. The two minutes hate is a pivotal point marking a significant shift in Winston’s life. The desire to write and work against the dictatorship has grown stronger in him. O’Brien’s appearance during the hate also plays a significant role in bringing about this shift. Later, Winston observes while writing his diary that it was after seeing O’Brien his will to write his journal had grown stronger.
Who is O’Brien? What does Winston feel about him?
O’Brien is a senior party member. Winston feels impressed with him. Despite his being a senior party member, there is something quite unorthodox in his face that relieves Winston. He thinks that O’Brien also holds a strong grudge against the party but hides it cleverly under his expressions.
O’Brien being an inner party member wore a black overall to the two minutes hate meeting. Compared to him, Winston held a very insignificant post. As Orwell notes about O’Brien in chapter one :
O’Brien was a large, burly man with a thick neck and a coarse, humorous, brutal face. In spite of his formidable appearance he had a certain charm of manner.1984. Chapter One.
His manners and civilized behavior impressed Winston the most, who admired him as if he were an eighteenth-century nobleman. O’Brien would frequently resettle his spectacles on his nose. For an inner party member, his style and speech were curiously civilized. Orwell presents him as a rather interesting but mysterious figure who never betrayed his emotions or the reality he hid under his facial expressions. Winston found him remarkably balanced because O’Brien did not make any visible efforts that he was here to push the orthodox line the party had decreed. His appearance in the first chapter establishes that he is an important character. O’Brien’s attitude offers Winston some hope.
Winston felt deeply drawn to O’Brien because of the remarkable contrast in his prize fighter’s physique and charming manners. However, rather than the unorthodoxy his face suggested, it was the light of intelligence on O’Brien’s face that drew Winston towards him. O’Brien’s appearance in the first chapter deepens the suspense. Winston feels relieved to see O’Brien on the one hand, and on the other, he feels more agitated and anxious than before. The idea of rebellion grows all the more irresistible for him.
However, deep inside Winston also harbors the fear of the dictatorship and it stops him from approaching O’Brien. If O’Brien is not swayed, it could mean the end of line for Winston. So, despite what he feels about O’Brien, Winston cannot yet reveal his true emotions before him. To some extent, he is sure that O’Brien is different from the other leading party members, but whether he can be relied upon is yet not clear to Winston.