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Barron's Booknotes-1984 by George Orwell-Free Book Notes
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Winston is in a cell. As you read about his imprisonment you may want to compare it to current news reports about the plight of political prisoners in certain countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Winston's cell is bright and bare and monitored by four telescreens. Voices bark instructions whenever he moves even when he puts his hand in his pocket for food. He has lost track of time. He hasn't eaten. He has been moved from a filthy, crowded holding cell where a huge wreck of a woman was hurled into his lap, hoisted herself off and began vomiting. Her last name is Smith too, and in one of the strangest moments in the book she says, "I might be your mother," and Winston believes this may be the truth.

It's hard to know whether this is just a surreal touch or an attempt on Orwell's part to acknowledge how close he (and Winston) may really be to the Low order. Does he want us to believe that Party torture has reduced Winston's mother to this terrible state? He does, at least, want us to believe such things are possible in this nightmare world.

Winston can't concentrate. Beaten by his captors, he can't keep his mind on Julia. He thinks of O'Brien with a flickering hope. The Brotherhood is supposed to send a razor blade to members who are captured-this would let them escape through death. He understands that in this place the lights are never turned out. So here at last is the "place where there is no darkness!"

An officer hurls Ampleforth, a poet, into Winston's cell. He's imprisoned for leaving the word "God" in a Newspeak translation of Kipling. Soon after, Ampleforth is marched off to the dreaded room 101.

A procession of prisoners now passes through this cell, including Winston's tubby neighbor Parsons, who is grimly proud that his daughter turned him in for Thoughtcrime before he did anything worse. Parsons sits himself down on the toilet and leaves behind a disgusting smell. This is one of a procession of gross physical details Orwell uses to make us understand and sympathize with Winston's position. We see a starving man; a chinless man spitting blood, saliva and false teeth after being hit; guards breaking a man's fingers as they drag him off to Room 101.

Winston fears for Julia and believes but does not "feel" that he would double his own pain to save her. "In this place," he realizes, "you could not feel anything, except pain and the foreknowledge of pain."

The door opens and O'Brien enters. Winston assumes O'Brien has been caught, but O'Brien says ironically, "They got me a long time ago." He isn't a prisoner, he's one of the captors. "You knew this," he tells Winston. "Don't deceive yourself... you have always known it."

Winston knows this is true.

When a guard smashes Winston's elbow, he realizes he could never wish more pain, even to save Julia, because in the face of pain there are no heroes. He falls to the floor.


In these pages and the pages to come we'll see the strange fascination Winston has for O'Brien, and we'll see how he behaves under torture. Look back at the questions raised about both Winston and O'Brien in the CHARACTERS section of this guide. Does Winston have a death wish that is at work here, or does he behave like a man who would rather die than live under this kind of oppression? Either point of view can be defended, even though the fact that Winston has always known O'Brien was in the party indicates that he did bring his capture down upon himself. What do you think his motives were?

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