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George Orwell

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1984 | Quotes


It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 1

Orwell begins his novel with a clear declaration that the world has changed. The story appears to take place in the readers' world—it is the familiar month of April—but clocks don't ever strike 13 times. Readers can assume that this world uses some version of military time and that it is likely 1:00 p.m.


Big Brother Is Watching You.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 1

This is the most-often-quoted phrase from 1984, and it is a motif that runs through the entire novel. These words appear on posters all over Oceania, and they mean that government surveillance is everywhere. This phrase has become commonplace in the English-speaking world. People use it to mean that their government has become overly intrusive (e.g., when the National Security Agency collects data by tracking private emails, texts, and phone calls).


War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.

Narrator, Book 1, Chapter 1

These statements are slogans of Ingsoc, which is the name of the Party's political ideology, and they adorn buildings throughout London. Everything in this world is paradoxical, and the citizens of Oceania must hold two contradictory ideas in mind simultaneously. The process is called doublethink. For example, the phrase preemptive war is an example of doublethink, because starting a war cannot prevent war.


We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.

O'Brien, Book 1, Chapter 2

This statement is one that Winston hears O'Brien say in a dream. Because he already imagines O'Brien as an ally, hearing him say it seems like a sign: together they and the Brotherhood will usher in an era of light, not dark. When O'Brien actually says it in Book 3, it refers to Room 101, a room flooded with constant, glaring lights, where dissidents are tortured.


Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.

Winston Smith, Book 1, Chapter 3

This is a Party slogan that Winston considers in Book 1 and later says to O'Brien in Book 3. He means that governments with authority to control the media can tell the people anything they want about the past; in doing so, they position themselves and their ideas as the only solution to all problems in the past. And because the Party is in complete control of the present, it can rewrite the past any way it wants. Both sides of the equation feed each other, and in this way the Party keeps the allegiance of the people. Orwell is cautioning readers to delve into the stories told by their own media and ask, "Is this really the way things happened?"


Until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

Winston Smith, Book 1, Chapter 7

The first part of Winston's thought ("Until they become conscious they will never rebel") is quoted more often than this part. However, this sentiment is more important. Consciousness is the goal, not a mindless rebellion. Winston is right that, before a revolution can happen, the people have to understand they are in the majority and can overcome the minority. But to do this they must become conscious of their power. Winston is pointing to a catch-22, meaning that each condition is dependent on the other, so the people are stuck with this dilemma.


Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.

Winston Smith, Book 1, Chapter 7

This is a frequently quoted statement from the novel. It represents Winston's resolve to believe what his senses, wisdom, memory, and intelligence tell him rather than to go along with the ever-changing "truth" fed to the people by the Party. His point is that people are only free if they have the freedom to acknowledge the real truth.


Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs ... and accepting both of them.

Emmanuel Goldstein, Book 2, Chapter 9

Several words and phrases from 1984 have come into common usage, and doublethink is one of them. This statement is Emmanuel Goldstein's definition of doublethink in "the book." When people evaluate two opposing viewpoints, they have to hold both ideas in their mind, but in doublethink they have to accept both ideas as true. For example, Goldstein explains that an Inner Party member may receive the information that a war is not actually happening. But by using doublethink the Inner Party member fully believes that the war is, in fact, happening. This keeps the Inner Party member in a constant state of fear and hysteria that is necessary to maintain power.


Sanity is not statistical.

Winston Smith, Book 2, Chapter 9

This statement is the last thought that Winston has after he finishes reading Goldstein's book and before he falls asleep. All of the people in Winston's life, except Julia, accept the lies that the Party tells, so Winston has no one to confirm that he's not crazy for rejecting these lies. But Goldstein's book confirms his belief that the Party changes facts to suit its needs. Winston realizes that, even if he is alone in believing the real truth, he's not insane for doing so.


Where there is equality there can be sanity.

Winston Smith, Book 2, Chapter 10

This statement reveals the truth about the Party's motives, which Winston understands after reading Goldstein's book. He now knows that the Party creates inequality through such things as artificial scarcity and information control. It is an insane world. The way to turn around the insanity would be, he believes, a revolution against the Party, led by the proles. If everyone were equal, life would be sane.


The birds sang, the proles sang, the Party did not sing.

Winston Smith, Book 2, Chapter 10

Winston is remembering the thrush that sang to him and Julia in the meadow while he listens to the prole woman singing in the yard below. He realizes there is life in both the bird and the woman, because they continue to sing no matter what. Singing is a sign of vitality and joy. The Party is spiritually dead, having crushed the human spirit in everyone it controls, so the Party can't sing.


Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.

Winston Smith, Book 3, Chapter 2

Winston loves Julia, but she doesn't understand why it's so important to him to hold onto truth. This lack of understanding makes Winston uncomfortable with Julia. Winston realizes that the most important part of a relationship, for him, is to be understood by the other person. O'Brien seems to understand Winston's grip on truth. Winston loves O'Brien because he feels understood by him and therefore connected in a way that he is not with Julia.


Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.

O'Brien, Book 3, Chapter 2

This statement expresses O'Brien's insistence that Winston accept the false reality imposed by the Party. People process in their minds what they experience through their senses, so in one way reality does only exist in the mind. However, O'Brien's goal is to retrain Winston's mind to accept whatever the Party tells him as reality, no matter what his senses tell him. In that way the reality of the Party is insulated from the reality Winston sees in front of him.


The choice ... lay between freedom and happiness, and that, for the great bulk of mankind, happiness was better.

Winston Smith, Book 3, Chapter 3

This statement is Winston's response to O'Brien regarding why he thinks the Party clings to power. Winston feels it's for the good of the majority—that, left to themselves, the people wouldn't be able to take care of one another because they are frail and cowardly and can't face the truth. Winston thinks this is why people let those stronger than them rule. He's later shocked to hear O'Brien say the Party seeks power entirely for the sake of having power.


Power is not a means; it is an end.

O'Brien, Book 3, Chapter 3

This statement sums up the main reason the Party wants power. While torturing Winston O'Brien offers all the reasons that people think leaders want power—for wealth, material goods, long life, happiness, or the benefit of others. O'Brien says none of these are the reasons—that leaders like Big Brother only want power and that they arrange things as best they can to maintain power forever. By placing this statement at the end of the book, Orwell reiterates the reason he wrote the novel: to warn people around the world to stay awake and beware of megalomaniacal leaders who are seeking power for power's sake.

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