Quotes

London, Oceania

Quotes London, Oceania

Book 1, Chapter I

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. . . . Even at the best of times [the lift] was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. . . . On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran. 

In this passage, the narrator describes the squalid conditions at the ironically named Victory Mansions, where Winston and other members of Oceania’s Outer Party live. When Winston enters the building, he is greeted by unpleasant smells, signs of poverty, and reminders of the constant surveillance under which the citizens of Oceania live. The lift (elevator) rarely functions, and the building’s electricity is routinely shut off during daytime hours. The large poster introduces the watchful eyes of Big Brother, which seem to follow citizens everywhere, even when they are at home.

Were there always these vistas of rotting nineteenth-century houses, their sides shored up with baulks of timber, their windows patched with cardboard and their roofs with corrugated iron, their crazy garden walls sagging in all directions? And the bombed sites where the plaster dust swirled in the air and the willow-herb straggled over the heaps of rubble; and the places where the bombs had cleared a larger patch and there had sprung up sordid colonies of wooden dwellings like chicken-houses? But it was no use, he could not remember: nothing remained of his childhood except a series of bright-lit tableaux occurring against no background and mostly unintelligible. 

In this passage, Winston looks at the ruins of London but cannot remember whether the city used to be any different when he was a child. The damaged, shoddily repaired houses and piles of rubble make it clear that London survived a bombing at some point in the past, but Winston can’t seem to remember when, how, or why. For Orwell’s original audience, this fictional revolution would have occurred sometime in their future, a pivotal yet mysterious event that would explain the novel’s vision of London as a shell of its former self. Winston’s inability to remember anything meaningful about the Revolution leaves the reader to imagine how the world became this way. 

The Ministry of Truth—Minitrue, in Newspeak—was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:

  WAR IS PEACE
  FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
  IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

In this passage, the narrator describes the building of The Ministry of Truth, one of the four ministries that make up the government. Minitrue, unlike Victory Mansions and other run-down buildings in London, is huge, sparkling, and modern. The three Party slogans, written in all capital letters on the side of the building, exemplify how the Ministry of Truth wields its power to distort information. Each slogan is a demonstrably false statement, illustrating how the Party perverts truth for its own ends. 

Book 2, Chapter II

Winston picked his way up the lane through dappled light and shade, stepping out into pools of gold wherever the boughs parted. . . .

The girl hopped over and forced apart the bushes, in which there did not seem to be an opening. When Winston followed her, he found that they were in a natural clearing, a tiny grassy knoll surrounded by tall saplings that shut it in completely. . . . 

"Here we are," she said. . . .

"I didn’t want to say anything in the lane," she went on, "in case there’s a mike hidden there. . ."

In this passage, Winston travels out of London to the country to meet a girl. The narrator's poetic description of the countryside contrasts sharply with the grim conditions of the city. Using vivid sensory imagery, the narrator recounts Winston’s sense of wonder as he encounters the natural beauty of a country lane on a spring day. However, the girl has brought Winston to this place not for its natural beauty, but because it is safe from the Party’s surveillance. Even in the country, the characters must worry about hidden microphones that the Party might be using to spy on them. 

Book 2, Chapter VIII

The telescreen was dimmed to a low murmur; the richness of the dark-blue carpet gave one the impression of treading on velvet. . . . It was only on very rare occasions that one saw inside the dwelling-places of the Inner Party, or even penetrated into the quarter of the town where they lived. The whole atmosphere of the huge block of flats, the richness and spaciousness of everything, the unfamiliar smells of good food and good tobacco, the silent and incredibly rapid lifts sliding up and down, the white-jacketed servants hurrying to and fro—everything was intimidating.

In this passage, the narrator contrasts the living conditions of the Outer and Inner Parties. Instead of boiled cabbage and old rag mats, the Inner Party’s dwellings smell of expensive food and tobacco. Instead of broken elevators and electrical blackouts, the Inner Party enjoys state-of-the-art lifts, rich carpets, spacious apartments, and well-dressed servants. Winston finds these trappings of luxury intimidating because they are so different from his own experience, underscoring how much power the Inner Party holds over him and other members of Oceania’s lower classes.