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Literature Study Guides1984Book 1 Chapter 4 Summary


George Orwell

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Book 1 | Chapter 4

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of Book 1 | Chapter 4 of George Orwell's novel 1984.

1984 | Book 1, Chapter 4 | Summary



Chapter 4 begins with a description of Winston's work at the Ministry of Truth. His job is to change what was written in previous editions of periodicals, films, and photographs. If, for example, Big Brother predicted an attack in one corner of the world and it occurs in another place, Winston "corrects" the newspaper article that reported the prediction so that whatever Big Brother predicted matches what eventually happened. Any reference to people killed by the Party has to be removed because vaporized people are now "unpersons." The original publication is sent down the "memory hole," a chute that leads to an incinerator, to be burned, and it is replaced by the revised edition as if the revision is the original.

The ministry employs "swarms of workers" to delete unpersons from texts, rewrite poems that have become "ideologically offensive," recall and burn books, and fake photographs. Sometimes facts, statistics, or a person have to be created to fill a hole in a story. Winston likes this work because it allows for some creativity.

The Ministry of Truth also creates entertainment for the proles, "almost nothing except sport, crime ... films oozing with sex." The proles are not a threat to the Party, but there are many of them, so they are distracted with entertainment such as alcohol, pornography, and gambling.


In the Ministry of Truth, workers are actually changing the truth. This is part of Orwell's warning about totalitarian regimes and about society's vulnerability to them: people should always question what they read, because it may be slanted to portray a particular truth that isn't altogether true. Even a subtle difference in word choice can change the perception of truth. In 1984 a word that portrays people as happily working rather than being enslaved is an example of how word choice can change the perception of truth. In truth, the people who work for the Party don't have a choice in what they're doing. They're enslaved to the truth of the Party, and they are forced to destroy any evidence that contradicts that party line.

Orwell also uses the term unpersons to symbolize the power the Party holds, not just over the lives of human beings but over the fact of their existence. A person can be born, live, and then be completely erased by the Party, as if they never even existed. This erasure goes beyond changing the words in a news story. In the real world, if a person dies or disappears, even in a totalitarian regime, family members or the community still remembers that person and may still talk privately about them. In the world of 1984, the Party has the right to take away the fact that a person lived at all, and anyone connected with that person just has to accept that sudden hole in their reality. The Party has the power to totally control everyone's reality, and the consequences for remembering the past as it really was are dire. When people hand over all of their power to the state, according to Orwell, they lose the ability to live their own lives, quite literally.

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