1984

by: George Orwell

What Does the Ending Mean?

After Winston has been broken by the rats in Room 101 and has offered Julia up for torture in his place, the final chapter of the book follows Winston for an afternoon sometime following his release from the Ministry of Love. The reader learns that Winston now leads a life of easy, meaningless work, and that when he once spoke to Julia again, she admitted that she had also turned on Winston, and the two now feel nothing for each other. In the final moment of the novel, Winston encounters an image of Big Brother and experiences a sense of victory because he now loves Big Brother. Winston’s total acceptance of Party rule marks the completion of the trajectory he has been on since the opening of the novel. Despite Winston’s various forms of rejection and resistance toward the Party, he had always been realistic about how his choices would inevitably lead to his arrest, torture, and eventual death.

Although Winston’s fate is unhappy and the ending of the book may seem pessimistic, the ending also can be read as offering a glimpse of hope. The Party had to go to extreme measures to break Winston, employing an entire cast of characters and spending countless hours following Winston and later interrogating him. The amount of effort the Party puts into breaking down just one individual would not be possible on a massive scale: there are simply too few Party members and too many people for them to monitor. If the Party needs to expend the same amount of resources on every dissenter as it spent on Winston, it will never be able to completely stamp out dissent among the people. For every dissenter like Winston who gets caught and broken by the Party, another may go undetected. Were the Party able to invent an efficient way to squash dissent on a large scale, rather than picking off dissenters one by one, then the ending of the book would be truly hopeless. But the fact that Winston was able to resist as long as he did, and that it took the Party such extraordinary efforts to bring him down, keeps the novel from being completely hopeless.