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Literature Study Guides1984Book 1 Chapter 1 Summary


George Orwell

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Book 1 | Chapter 1

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 1 | Chapter 1 of George Orwell's novel 1984.

1984 | Book 1, Chapter 1 | Summary



The story begins in London in 1984. Posters of an imposing male face with a mustache, captioned with the phrase "Big Brother Is Watching You," are everywhere. England is now called Airstrip One and is part of the wider community of nations called Oceania.

The Ministry of Truth, where main character Winston Smith works, is in charge of "news, entertainment, education, and the fine arts." The Ministry's true function is revealed in subsequent chapters. The author hints at it with Party slogans displayed on the side of the building: WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. The other three divisions of government are the Ministry of Peace, in charge of war; the Ministry of Love, in charge of law and order; and the Ministry of Plenty, in charge of the economy.

On his lunch break, Winston returns to his meager flat, in an apartment building where the electricity is often cut, the elevator doesn't work, and everything smells of cabbage. The building is named Victory Mansions. The main feature of Winston's flat is a telescreen—a device like a TV, except it can be dimmed but not turned off and it transmits both ways. As long as he is within its field of vision, every sound is heard, every movement seen; everything he says and does can be scrutinized. Winston moves to an alcove out of range of the telescreen and writes: April 4th, 1984. A monologue that has been running though his head pours onto the page.

That morning at work, Winston had noticed two people during a daily ritual called Two Minutes Hate. One was a dark-haired woman whom Winston instinctively disliked. The other was O'Brien, an important member of the Inner Party. Each day the focus of Hate varies. That morning it had been Emmanuel Goldstein, an early betrayer of the Party, referred to as the "Enemy of the People." Goldstein was shown on-screen abusing Big Brother, shouting that the Party's original goals had been betrayed, and advocating freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and thought. The crowd became increasingly fearful and vindictive as the program went on. When the program ended, Winston caught O'Brien's eye and sensed that O'Brien concurred with his contempt for the Party. Winston reflects on that momentary glance exchanged with O'Brien and writes, "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER." It is thoughtcrime. He will be vaporized. As he puts down his pen, someone knocks at the door.


The novel opens with descriptions of Winston Smith's home and workplace that reveal the kind of society London has become in 1984. The people are under the control of the Party, with absolutely no privacy or room for individuality. Winston's decision to write in a diary is, on its own, a dangerous act, revealed by the fact that he has to do it out of sight of the telescreen. The words that he writes are even more dangerous, and his diary entries show the reader where he stands regarding the Party right away: Winston is a rebel.

The descriptions of the Ministries, the Party slogans, and Winston's workplace introduce the idea that in this society people are expected to be able to swallow the lies the Party feeds them. They are also encouraged to fear enemies, real or imagined, because fear generates hatred and hatred keeps people under the Party's control. By linking the Two Minutes Hate with fear, Orwell is cautioning the reader about the effect of generating fear. Whatever the original focus of the fear—real, such as the threat of an attack, or false, such as fear of a religion or race—once it manifests, fear becomes a permanent state and leads to hatred.

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