The novel's protagonist, Winston Smith, is a citizen of Oceania, one of the world's three superstates (along with Eurasia and Eastasia). It is the year 1984, and Winston lives in Airstrip One, which used to be known as Great Britain. Winston is a member of the Party, which rules Oceania under the principles of Ingsoc (English Socialism). Oceania is an oligarchy, under hierarchical rule. The Party consists of Inner Party members, who are the ruling elite, and regular Party members, who are citizens of Oceania. Outside of the Party are the proles, non-Party members and simple people who live in poverty and are free from Party regulations. The Party's leader is Big Brother, and there are massive images of his kind visage, complete with dark hair and a substantial mustache, displayed throughout London, some accompanied by the words "Big Brother is Watching You." The Party's three slogans are: "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery," and "Ignorance is Strength."
Winston lost his parents and little sister during the Revolutionary period that destroyed capitalism and instituted Ingsoc in Oceania. He was placed in a Party orphanage and integrated into the Party system. Now he works in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, which handles all Party publications and propaganda, altering previously published Party publications to ensure that the Party's version of the Past is never questioned. Such alterations often remove a person from history, or make previously flawed predictions accurate. The other three ministries are the Ministry of Love, which handles all Party prisoners, the Ministry of Peace, which handles war, and the Ministry of Plenty, which manages the production of Party goods, including Victory cigarettes, Victory gin, and Victory coffee, all of which are of extremely poor quality.
Winston has never quite accepted the principles of Ingsoc and the Party. He believes in an unalterable past, and finds Party politics reprehensible. Winston wishes for privacy, intimacy, freedom and love, but cannot express any of this in the open for fear of death. Such thoughts constitute "throughtcrimes," which are highly punishable offenses resulting in arrest, imprisonment, torture, and often death.
When the book opens, Winston is at home during his lunch break. He has returned to his apartment in the Victory Mansions, a dilapidated Party housing building, to write in a diary, a relic of the past he obtained from an old junk shop. Winston's apartment is meager, and like every other Party member's home, contains a telescreen. The telescreen transmits Party information and propaganda, and also allows the Thought Police to watch and listen to Party members at all times. In Oceania, there is no such thing as privacy. Winston is fortunate to have a small nook in his apartment out of the view of the telescreen, and it is in this nook that he begins to write in his diary, despite his overwhelming fear of being caught. Undoubtedly, Winston will eventually be caught, imprisoned, and tortured by the Thought Police. For now, however, he chooses to forge ahead with his rebellion.
Winston writes of various memories, all related to the Party and his life. Many include violent imagery, which is quite common in the age of Oceania, and reveal anti-Party feelings. Winston clearly does not subscribe to Party doctrine. Winston is briefly interrupted at one point by a knock on his door. At first he panics, thinking he has already been caught, but it is only his neighbor, Mrs. Parsons, who needs help unclogging her sink. Winston obliges, and interacts briefly with Mrs. Parsons' two hellish children who are members of the Spies and Youth League, and clearly powerfully indoctrinated in the ways of the Party. Winston predicts that eventually these children will turn their loyal, simple, innocent parents into the Thought Police. Such tragedies, it seems, are quite common.
Winston returns to his diary, and in one of his reveries reflecting on...
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