Summary: Chapter I

Winston sits in a bright, bare cell in which the lights are always on—he has, at last, arrived at the place where there is no darkness. Four telescreens monitor him. He has been transferred here from a holding cell in which a huge prole woman who shares the last name Smith wonders if she is Winston’s mother. In his solitary cell, Winston envisions his captors beating him, and he worries that sheer physical pain will force him to betray Julia.

Ampleforth, a poet whose crime was leaving the word “God” in a Rudyard Kipling translation, is tossed into the cell. He is soon dragged away to the dreaded Room 101, a place of mysterious and unspeakable horror. Winston shares his cell with a variety of fellow prisoners, including his flatulent neighbor Parsons, who was turned in by his own children for committing thoughtcrime.

Seeing starvation, beating, and mangling, Winston hopes dearly that the Brotherhood will send him a razorblade with which he might commit suicide. His dreams of the Brotherhood are wrecked when O’Brien, his hoped-for link to the rebellion, enters his cell. Winston cries out, “They’ve got you too!” To which O’Brien replies, “They got me long ago,” and identifies himself as an operative of the Ministry of Love. O’Brien asserts that Winston has known O’Brien was an operative all along, and Winston admits that this is true. A guard smashes Winston’s elbow, and Winston thinks that no one can become a hero in the face of physical pain because it is too much to endure.

Summary: Chapter II

O’Brien oversees Winston’s prolonged torture sessions. O’Brien tells Winston that his crime was refusing to accept the Party’s control of history and his memory. As O’Brien increases the pain, Winston agrees to accept that O’Brien is holding up five fingers, though he knows that O’Brien is actually holding up only four—he agrees that anything O’Brien wants him to believe is true. He begins to love O’Brien, because O’Brien stops the pain; he even convinces himself that O’Brien isn’t the source of the pain. O’Brien tells Winston that Winston’s current outlook is insane, but that torture will cure him.

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

See Important Quotes Explained

O’Brien tells Winston that the Party has perfected the system practiced by the Inquisition, the Nazis, and the Soviets—it has learned how to eliminate its enemies without making martyrs of them. It converts them, and then ensures that, in the eyes of the people, they cease to exist. Slowly, Winston begins to accept O’Brien’s version of events. He begins to understand how to practice doublethink, refusing to believe memories he knows are real. O’Brien offers to answer his questions, and Winston asks about Julia. O’Brien tells him that Julia betrayed him immediately. Winston asks if Big Brother exists in the same way that he himself does, and O’Brien replies that Winston does not exist. Winston asks about the Brotherhood, and O’Brien responds that Winston will never know the answer to that question. Winston asks what waits in Room 101, and O’Brien states that everyone knows what waits in Room 101.

Summary: Chapter III

After weeks of interrogation and torture, O’Brien tells Winston about the Party’s motives. Winston speculates that the Party rules the proles for their own good. O’Brien tortures him for this answer, saying that the Party’s only goal is absolute, endless, and limitless power. Winston argues that the Party cannot alter the stars or the universe; O’Brien answers that it could if it needed to because the only reality that matters is in the human mind, which the Party controls.

O’Brien forces Winston to look in a mirror; he has completely deteriorated and looks gray and skeletal. Winston begins to weep and blames O’Brien for his condition. O’Brien replies that Winston knew what would happen the moment he began his diary. O’Brien acknowledges that Winston has held out by not betraying Julia, and Winston feels overwhelmed with love and gratitude toward O’Brien for recognizing his strength. However, O’Brien tells Winston not to worry, as he will soon be cured. O’Brien then notes that it doesn’t matter, since, in the end, everyone is shot anyhow.

Analysis: Chapters I–III

Book Two saw Winston’s love affair with Julia begin and end. Book Three begins his punishment and “correction.” Winston’s torture reemphasizes the book’s theme of the fundamental horror of physical pain—Winston cannot stop the torture or prevent the psychological control O’Brien gains from torturing him, and when the guard smashes his elbow, he thinks that nothing in the world is worse than physical pain. Though the Party’s ability to manipulate the minds of its subjects is the key to the breadth of its power, its ability to control their bodies is what makes it finally impossible to resist.

Read an important quote from Julia about how pain overrides moral conviction.

Up to this point, O’Brien has remained an enigma to the reader, but his arrival toward the beginning of Winston’s prison term places him firmly on the side of the Party. O’Brien seems to have been a rebel like Winston at one point—when Winston asks if he too has been taken prisoner, O’Brien replies, “They got me a long time ago.” O’Brien adds insult to Winston’s imprisonment by claiming that Winston knew all along that he was affiliated with the Party—and Winston knows he is right. This section seems to imply that Winston’s fatalism stems as much from his understanding of his own fatalistic motives as from his belief in the power of the Party. In other words, Winston’s belief that he would ultimately be caught no matter what he did enabled him to convince himself to trust O’Brien. He knew that he would be caught whether he trusted O’Brien or not, and so he let himself trust O’Brien simply because he deeply wanted to do so.

Read important quotes by O’Brien to learn more about his character.

Winston’s obsession with O’Brien, which began with the dream about the place where there is no darkness, was the source of his undoing, and it undoes him now as well. Orwell explores the theme of how physical pain affects the human mind and arrives at the conclusion that it grants extraordinary emotional power to the person capable of inflicting the pain. Because O’Brien tortures him, Winston perversely comes to love O’Brien. Throughout the torture sessions, Winston becomes increasingly eager to believe anything O’Brien tells him—even Party slogans and rhetoric. In the next section of the novel, Winston even begins to dream about O’Brien in the same way that he now dreams about his mother and Julia.

Read more about psychological and physical torture as means of exerting control.