1984 Book Summary

December 27, 2023

1984 book summary orwell

Even if you’re currently reading Orwell’s classic 1984, it can be helpful to have a summary of the novel. I’ve gone ahead and written a chapter-by-chapter summary of Orwell’s text to keep you focused. If you’re looking for important quotes from the text, check out this 1984 book summary.

1984 Book Summary

Part One: Chapter One 

London, April 4, 1984. Writing these words, Winston Smith begins the sequence of events that will eventually destroy everything he loves. Winston Smith is a low-level employee in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth. Against the omnipresent ideology of Big Brother (WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH), Winston has made the calamitous choice to begin to keep a diary, an act which he is certain will result in his imprisonment (and perhaps death) by the Thought Police.

Having come home on his lunch break, Wilson drinks a teacup-size shot of VICTORY GIN and tries to set his thoughts to paper. After some hesitation, Wilson writes out a description of the propaganda film he saw the previous night. While unimpressed with what he has written, Wilson lets his mind wander to something that had happened that morning at the Ministry. During the “Two Minutes of Hate” (during which ministry employees watch a brief film to focus their hate on Emmanuel Goldstein, supposed leader of anti-government “Brotherhood”), Winston feels a connection with O’Brien, an upper-level Party member, and sexual attraction to the unnamed dark-haired girl behind him.

Coming out of his reverie, Winston sees that he has filled almost half a page of his diary with the words, “DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER.” He considers ripping out the pages of his diary, but he knows that he has already committed the thought crime for which he will be punished. He writes a few more sentences and is then startled by a knock on the door.

Part One: Chapter Two 

The knock on the door is only his neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, whose husband Tom works at the Ministry with Winston. Mrs. Parson asks Winston to help fix her sink drain. While fixing her drain, Winston meets the Parsons’ two children, who surround Winston, playfully accusing him of treason against the Party. Winston is disconcerted because he knows that parents live in fear of being denounced by their own children.

Winston returns to his apartment and tries to continue writing. He thinks of a dream he had seven years before, during which a man (who he is sure is O’Brien) said to him, “We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness.” By now, Winston has accepted that he will be killed by the Thought Police. This acceptance heartens him – he comes to the realization that even if no one ever reads what he has written in his journal, “It was not by making yourself heard but by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage.” Winston writes a few more lines, washes his hands to remove any ink stains, and returns to work.

Part One: Chapter Three

This chapter begins with Winston dreaming of his mother. He thinks they must have been eliminated in one of the early purges in the fifties. Winston’s dream is unclear, but he is sure that his mother and sister had sacrificed themselves for him. His dream then shifts – the dark-haired girl is coming toward him. She takes off her clothes and Winston thinks that her gesture has the power to change the world. He wakes with the word “Shakespeare” on his lips.

Winston is woken by the telescreen calling him to daily calisthenics. As he exercises, he tries to remember the past. Because the Party controls all media, it’s difficult to know what really happened. At the same time, because of his job, Winston knows for a fact that the Party lies about history – though he is expected to deny knowing this. This knowing while not knowing is called “doublethink” and is crucial to the Party’s control of society.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part One: Chapter Four

Winston works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth rectifying “errors” in past media. Most of his work is banal – e.g., changing figures to align with Party predictions. However, today he has been tasked with rewriting Big Brother’s Order of the Day from the previous year. The offending article contained reference to a person – Comrade Withers – who had since been vaporized (an “Unperson” in Newspeak). In the place of the offending article, Winston invents the story of Comrade Ogilvy, a model soldier who died in the service of the Party. This chapter ends with Winston thinking that Comrade Ogilvy now exists as much as Charlemagne and Caesar.

Part One: Chapter Five 

In chapter five Winston goes to the canteen, gets lunch, and chats with his friend Syme. Syme is a specialist in Newspeak. While Syme is fanatical in his support of the Party, Winston cannot help but think that Syme will eventually be vaporized – there is something too intelligent about him. They are then joined by Parsons (Winston’s neighbor). An announcement comes on over the intercom about the Party’s latest victories. While listening, Winston realizes that the dark-haired girl is watching him from the next table. Winston is terrified that she might turn him in to the Thought Police. Lastly, a whistle blows and they all return to work.

Part One: Chapter Six

In chapter six, we see Wilson trying to write in his diary about his experience with a prostitute three years before. We find out that in the eyes of the Party, sex is solely for the production of new party members. While Winston had been married to a woman named Katherine about ten years ago, he grew to detest her for her unthinking allegiance to the Party. Childless after fifteen months, they separated. Winston returns to writing about the prostitute. Having turned up the lamp, Winston saw that she was an old woman and that she had no teeth.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part One: Chapter Seven

Chapter seven consists of two main parts. In the first part Winston thinks about the revolutionary potential of the proles. Winston wonders how the proles might ever become conscious of their potential given the ignorance in which they live.

Winston copies text from a children’s history textbook he has borrowed from Mrs. Parsons into his diary. The textbook details the awfulness of London before the revolution. Winston thinks that there is no way of knowing what is true. He writes, “The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.” 

Winston thinks about how, years before, he had inadvertently seen concrete evidence that some of the founding members of the Party had been purged based on false confessions. While Winston understands the immediate benefits of changing the past, he cannot understand the ultimate aim. This chapter ends with Winston affirming the validity of his own perceptions.

Part One: Chapter Eight

Winston makes the rash decision to walk through the prole neighborhoods of London. After nearly being killed by a rocket attack, he sees an elderly man entering a pub. Winston follows him into the pub hoping that this old man can tell him something about what London was like before the revolution. To his dismay, the man remembers only random details that mean nothing to Winston.

Winston wanders until he finds himself outside the same store where he purchased the diary. After Winston buys a beautiful piece of coral embedded in glass, the owner, Mr. Charrington, shows him some pieces of furniture in a room upstairs. Winston wanders out of the shop and resolves to return. Just then, Winston is terrified to see the dark-haired girl pass him on the street. He return to his apartment and thinks of how the Thought Police will torture him when they finally take him. Winston thinks of what O’Brien said in his dream, and hopes for a better future.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part Two: Chapter One

Four days later, Winston sees the dark-haired girl at work. He’s been terrified that she is a member of the thought police, but when he sees her trip in the hallway, he still goes to help her up. As he does, she slips a scrap of paper into his hand. Later, at his desk, Winston opens the note, which says, “I love you.” A week later he manages to sit next to her in the canteen. They arrange to meet in the center of London. Their meeting corresponds with a progression of captured prisoners. In the din, they manage to set up a meeting in the countryside for the following Sunday.

Part Two: Chapter Two 

Winston travels to the country and meets the dark-haired woman. She leads them to a secluded clearing. They try to have sex but Winston is unable to perform. He learns her name is Julia and that she has had dozens of sexual affairs with other Party members. They walk a bit, listen to the song of a thrush, and then return to the clearing to have sex. The chapter ends with Winston thinking, “Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.”

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part Two: Chapter Three

Winston continues to meet Julia whenever they can. During one of their meetings (in an abandoned belfry), they have an extended conversation about how the Party represses sexual desire and redirects it to Party aims. Winston tells Julia about a time eleven years ago when he thought about (and failed) to push his wife Katharine off a cliff at a quarry. Winston admires Julia’s optimism but believes that ultimately the Party will find them and kill them.

Part Two: Chapter Four

After months of meeting Julia in out-of-the way, inconvenient locations, Winston decides to rent the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop. As Winton waits for Julia to arrive, he hears a prole woman singing the latest Party-endorsed ditty. Julia arrives with real coffee, real sugar, makeup, and perfume. She declares that “In this room I’m going to be a woman, not a Party comrade.” After they have sex, Julia sees a rat. Additionally, we find out (foreshadowing!) that Winston hates rats. At the end of the chapter, Winston thinks about how their lives are like the coral in glass he bought from Mr. Charrington.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part Two: Chapter Five

We find out that Winston’s friend Syme has been “vaporized.” It’s June and everyone is preparing for “Hate Week.” Rocket bombs are falling more frequently and the Party whips up proletariat fervor for the war. When Julia and Winston meet in the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop, they talk about the possibility of resisting the Party. Julia has no interest and is apathetic about the Party’s manipulation of the present. Winston is appalled at “an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

Part Two: Chapter Six

In this chapter, O’Brien invites Winston to stop by his house under the auspices of providing him with the newest edition of the Newspeak dictionary. Though Winston is unsure what O’Brien wants exactly, he understands that when he calls on O’Brien, he is one step closer to torture and death.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part Two: Chapter Seven

Chapter seven begins with Winston remembering a dream – the whole world was contained in the glass paperweight. Winston remembers the last time he saw his mother. He remembers the hunger that defined his youth and how he took chocolate from his baby sister. In contrast to the present, he reflects on the genuine feelings of individuals in the past. He and Julia agree that what you confess to the Party means nothing – it’s what you feel inside that keeps you human. This is something that the Party can’t change. (Winston’s subsequent torture at the hands of the Party will prove this incorrect.)

Part Two: Chapter Eight 

Winston and Julia go to O’Brien’s house. He reveals himself to be a member of “The Brotherhood” – a shadowy organization dedicated to the destruction of the Party. (Spoiler alert – it’s a trap!) Next, he explains the structure of The Brotherhood and the conditions that Julia and Winston will be working under. Lastly, he tells Winston that he will provide him with a copy of Goldstein’s book in the near future. Julia and Winston leave O’Brien’s house separately.

Part Two: Chapter Nine

On the sixth day of “Hate Week,” the Party suddenly informs the populace that Oceania is now (and always has been) at war with Eastasia. This change (which is not a change at all) necessitates a massive amount of work at the Records Department. Though Winston was given a copy of “The Book” six days previous, he finally gets time to read Goldstein’s infamous The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. The book asserts that the Party’s explicit aim is the maintenance of inequality. The Party maintains this inequality by keeping the vast majority of its citizens ignorant and on the edge of poverty (it is implied that the other major powers do the same thing). The Party uses constant war to use up the excess goods that might improve people’s lives.

Having read for a while, Winston sleeps. When he wakes, he and Julia go to the window to watch the prole woman singing below. Winston remarks on her beauty and thinks again that the future must belong to the proles. Suddenly a voice comes from behind the painting on the wall – a telescreen has been listening to them the whole time! Police swarm the apartment. Julia is hit and taken away. “Mr. Charrington” enters the room looking different than before. Winston realizes that he is a member of the Thought Police.

Part Three: Chapter One

Winston has been arrested. He is being held in what he believes to be the Ministry of Love. Prisoners come and go, among them Ampleforth the poet and Parsons, Winston’s neighbor. Winston thinks constantly of the pain that is sure to come when the guards take him to “Room 101.” A prisoner arrives in the room who is clearly starving to death. One of the other prisoners offers him a crust of bread and is beaten severely for his kindness. Winston is shocked when O’Brien enters the room. Winston then realizes that O’Brien is a member of the Thought Police. A guard hits Winston and he thinks there is nothing worse than physical pain.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part Three: Chapter Two

Winston is tortured for an unknown length of time by O’Brien. Talking to O’Brien, Winston asks why they torture him if they plan on vaporizing him anyway. O’Brien responds that the point is not to martyr him, but rather to “fix” him. The goal is to make Winston genuinely love Big Brother. At the end of the torture, Winston asks what is in Room 101, to which O’Brien responds, “‘You know what is in Room 101, Winston. Everyone knows what is in Room 101.’”

Part Three: Chapter Three

As he continues to torture Winston, O’Brien emphasizes the impossibility of revolution and that the Party will last forever. He also declares that in contrast to authoritarian regimes of the past, the Party is interested only in power as an end. Lastly, in the face of this sustained torture, Winston reaffirms to O’Brien that he has not betrayed Julia.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part Three: Chapter Four

Winston has been moved to a slightly better cell where his captors allow him to recover. They give Winston a pencil and slate where he practices writing Party slogans. Winson tries to discipline his mind into accepting the Party’s ideology. He seems to be succeeding until he has a dream about Julia. His mind revolts against the Party and he thinks that to die hating them is freedom. O’Brien enters and tells Winston that it is time for the final step – Room 101.

Part Three: Chapter Five

They take Winston to Room 101 and strap him down. On the table in front of Winston is a sort of mask that holds starving rats. Winston realizes that they are going to place the mask over his head and let the rats eat his face. Next, as they approach with the mask, Winston struggles to understand what they want from him. At last he realizes – he begs them to torture Julia instead.

1984 Book Summary (Continued)

Part Three: Chapter Six

Winston has been released. He spends most of his time in the Chestnut Cafe, drinking gin. He has talked to Julia since his release. Like him, she has been tortured. One day, at the Chestnut Cafe, he hears about an Oceania victory in Africa. Gazing at a poster of Big Brother, he regrets his disobedience. For the first time in his life, he feels love for Big Brother.

Appendix: The Principles of Newspeak

The appendix details the ideological purpose of Newspeak. Contrary to Oldspeak, Newspeak aims to strip away the possibility of independent thought by reducing and simplifying language.

1984 Book Summary – Additional Resources

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