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Book One: Chapter I

Summary Book One: Chapter I

Winston’s diary entry, his first overt act of rebellion, is the primary plot development in this chapter. It illustrates Winston’s desire, however slight, to break free of the Party’s total control. Winston’s hatred of Party oppression has been festering for some time, possibly even for most of his life. It is important to note that the novel, however, opens on the day that this hatred finds an active expression—Winston’s instinct to rebel singles him out of the sheeplike masses. Unlike the rest of the general public who do not find the Party’s contradictions problematic, Winston is aware of himself as an entity separate from the totalitarian state. He realizes that writing in the diary has altered his life irrevocably and that he is no longer simply another citizen of Oceania. In writing in the diary he becomes a thought-criminal, and he considers himself doomed from the very start: “Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever . . . Sooner or later they were bound to get you.”

One of the most important themes of 1984 is governmental use of psychological manipulation and physical control as a means of maintaining its power. This theme is present in Chapter I, as Winston’s grasping at freedom illustrates the terrifying extent to which citizens are not in control of their own minds. The telescreens in their homes blare out a constant stream of propaganda, touting the greatness of Oceania and the success of the Party in ruling it. Each day citizens are required to attend the Two Minutes Hate, an intense mass rally in which they are primed with fury and hatred for Oceania’s rival nations, venting their own pent-up emotions in the process. The government, meanwhile, expresses its role in an outlandishly dishonest fashion, as seen in the stark contradiction between the name and function of each of its ministries. The net effect of this psychological manipulation is a complete breakdown of the independence of an individual’s mind. Independence and will are replaced by a fear of, and faith in, the Party; indeed, individual thought has become so alien the population accepts that the Party has made it a crime.