What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one.
As Winston goes into the shop in the prole district where he bought his notebook, he sees a paperweight made of glass with a piece of coral in the center. Winston immediately buys it despite the fact that he has no use for it, which—to him—is part of the paperweight’s appeal. The owner of the store explains that it was likely made more than a hundred years ago. Winston, who longs to unlock his memories of a time before the Party controlled everything and everyone, views the paperweight almost as a time capsule of sorts that might be able to help him revisit the past.
Winston wondered vaguely to what century the church belonged. It was always difficult to determine the age of a London building. Anything large and impressive, if it was reasonably new in appearance, was automatically claimed as having been built since the Revolution, while anything that was obviously of earlier date was ascribed to some dim period called the Middle Ages. The centuries of capitalism were held to have produced nothing of any value. One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books.
When Winston first visits the room above the shop, he notices a picture of a building that used to be St. Clement’s Church. He recognizes the building but doesn’t know that it was once a church before it was bombed. He reflects on the fact that the Party leaders have even controlled the architecture of the city to reflect their own version of history. However, what remains of the church gives a hint of what the past was really like.
Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clement’s, You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St. Martin’s! It was curious, but when you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of a lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten. From one ghostly steeple after another he seemed to hear them pealing forth. Yet so far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells ringing.
After Winston notices the picture of St. Clement’s Church, Mr. Charrington reminds him of a rhyme children used to say about various churches in London, including St. Clement’s. Such a rhyme would be considered frivolous among Party members in the present, but Winston finds the rhyme so powerful that he can imagine the sound of church bells despite never having heard them in real life. Church bells, like any sort of music, would also be considered frivolous in Oceania. Like the paperweight, the rhyme is able to give Winston a glimpse into the past.
“I don’t think it’s anything—I mean, I don’t think it was ever put to any use. That’s what I like about it. It’s a little chunk of history that they’ve forgotten to alter. It’s a message from a hundred years ago, if one knew how to read it.”
Here, Winston answers Julia when the two of them are in the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop and she asks him what the paperweight is. He explains that the paperweight’s apparent uselessness is what he likes about it. In Oceania, nothing exists for the sole purpose of beauty or pleasure, and so, technically, the paperweight should not exist. Winston sees having the paperweight as his own sort of rebellion, proving to himself that the Party does not have absolute control over history—or him.
The inexhaustibly interesting thing was not the fragment of coral but the interior of the glass itself. There was such a depth of it, and yet it was almost as transparent as air. It was as though the surface of the glass had been the arch of the sky, enclosing a tiny world with its atmosphere complete. He had the feeling that he could get inside it, and that in fact he was inside it, along with the mahogany bed and the gateleg table and the clock and the steel engraving and the paperweight itself. The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia’s life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.
Winston studies the paperweight after he discovers that Julia knows more of the rhyme about St. Clement’s Church, and they speculate over what oranges and lemons are as the fruits do not exist anymore. Winston pictures Julia and himself in their own world inside the paperweight, where time stands still and history is untouched by the Party members. In a way, being in the room over Mr. Charrington’s shop and sharing memories and knowledge that they should not have are as close as Winston and Julia can get to living enclosed in the glass paperweight.