Nineteen Eighty Four

Winston reached down and cautiously scratched his varicose
ulcer. It had begun itching again. The thing you invariably
came back to was the impossibility of knowing what life before
the Revolution had really been like. He took out of the drawer
a copy of a children's history textbook which he had borrowed
from Mrs Parsons, and began copying a passage into the diary:
In the old days (it ran), before the glorious
Revolution, London was not the beautiful city that we know
today. It was a dark, dirty, miserable place where hardly
anybody had enough to eat and where hundreds and thousands of
poor people had no boots on their feet and not even a roof to
sleep under. Children no older than you had to work twelve
hours a day for cruel masters who flogged them with whips if
they worked too slowly and fed them on nothing but stale
breadcrusts and water.
But in among all this terrible poverty there were just
a few great big beautiful houses that were lived in by rich men
who had as many as thirty servants to look after them. These
rich men were called capitalists. They were fat, ugly men with
wicked faces, like the one in the picture on the opposite page.
You can see that he is dressed in a long black coat which was
called a frock coat, and a queer, shiny hat shaped like a
stovepipe, which was called a top hat. This was the uniform of
the capitalists, and no one else was allowed to wear it.
The capitalists owned everything in the world, and everyone
else was their slave. They owned all the land, all the houses,
all the factories, and all the money. If anyone disobeyed them
they could throw them into prison, or they could take his job
away and starve him to death. When any ordinary person spoke to
a capitalist he had to cringe and bow to him, and take off his
cap and address him as 'Sir'. The chief of all the capitalists
was called the King. and
But he knew the rest of the catalogue. There would be
mention of the bishops in their lawn sleeves, the judges in
their ermine robes, the pillory, the stocks, the treadmill, the
cat-o'-nine tails, the Lord Mayor's Banquet, and the practice
of kissing the Pope's toe. There was also something called the
jus primae noctis, which would probably not be mentioned
in a textbook for children. It was the law by which every
capitalist had the right to sleep with any woman working in one
of his factories.
How could you tell how much of it was lies? It
might be true that the average human being was better
off now than he had been before the Revolution. The only
evidence to the contrary was the mute protest in your own
bones, the instinctive feeling that the conditions you lived in
were intolerable and that at some other time they must have
been different. It struck him that the truly characteristic
thing about modern life was not its cruelty and insecurity, but
simply its bareness, its dinginess, its listlessness. Life, if
you looked about you, bore no resemblance not only to the lies
that streamed out of the telescreens, but even to the ideals
that the Party was trying to achieve. Great areas of it, even
for a Party member, were neutral and non-political, a matter of
slogging through dreary jobs, fighting for a place on the Tube,
darning a worn-out sock, cadging a saccharine tablet, saving a
cigarette end. The ideal set up by the Party was something
huge, terrible, and glittering -- a world of steel and
concrete, of monstrous machines and terrifying weapons -- a
nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect
unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same
slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting
-- three hundred million people all with the same face. The
reality was decaying, dingy cities where underfed people
shuffled to and fro in leaky shoes, in patched-up
nineteenth-century houses that smelt always of cabbage and bad
lavatories. He seemed to see a vision of London, vast and
ruinous, city of a million dustbins, and mixed up with it was a
picture of Mrs Parsons, a woman with lined face and wispy hair,
fiddling helplessly with a blocked waste-pipe.
He reached down and scratched his ankle again. Day and
night the telescreens bruised your ears with statistics proving
that people today had more food, more clothes, better houses,
better recreations -- that they lived longer, worked shorter
hours, were bigger, healthier, stronger, happier, more
intelligent, better educated, than the people of fifty years
ago. Not a word of it could ever be proved or disproved. The
Party claimed, for example, that today 40 per cent of adult
proles were literate: before the Revolution, it was said, the
number had only been 15 per cent. The Party claimed that the
infant mortality rate was now only 160 per thousand, whereas
before the Revolution it had been 300 -- and so it went on. It
was like a single equation with two unknowns. It might very
well be that literally every word in the history books, even
the things that one accepted without question, was pure
fantasy. For all he knew there might never have been any such
law as the jus primae noctis, or any such creature as a
capitalist, or any such garment as a top hat.
Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the
erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth. Just once in his
life he had possessed -- after the event: that was what
counted -- concrete, unmistakable evidence of an act of
falsification. He had held it between his fingers for as long
as thirty seconds. In 1973, it must have been -- at any rate,
it was at about the time when he and Katharine had parted. But
the really relevant date was seven or eight years earlier.
The story really began in the middle sixties, the period
of the great purges in which the original leaders of the
Revolution were wiped out once and for all. By 1970 none of
them was left, except Big Brother himself. All the rest had by
that time been exposed as traitors and counter-
revolutionaries. Goldstein had fled and was hiding no one knew
where, and of the others, a few had simply disappeared, while
the majority had been executed after spectacular public trials
at which they made confession of their crimes. Among the last
survivors were three men named Jones, Aaronson, and Rutherford.
It must have been in 1965 that these three had been arrested.
As often happened, they had vanished for a year or more, so
that one did not know whether they were alive or dead, and then
had suddenly been brought forth to incriminate themselves in
the usual way. They had confessed to intelligence with the
enemy (at that date, too, the enemy was Eurasia), embezzlement
of public funds, the murder of various trusted Party members,
intrigues against the leadership of Big Brother which had
started long before the Revolution happened, and acts of
sabotage causing the death of hundreds of thousands of people.
After confessing to these things they had been pardoned,
reinstated in the Party, and given posts which were in fact
sinecures but which sounded important. All three had written
long, abject articles in The Times, analysing the
reasons for their defection and promising to make amends.
Some time after their release Winston had actually seen
all three of them in the Chestnut Tree Cafe/. He remembered the
sort of terrified fascination with which he had watched them
out of the corner of his eye. They were men far older than
himself, relics of the ancient world, almost the last great
figures left over from the heroic days of the Party. The
glamour of the underground struggle and the civil war still
faintly clung to them. He had the feeling, though already at
that time facts and dates were growing blurry, that he had
known their names years earlier than he had known that of Big
Brother. But also they were outlaws, enemies, untouchables,
doomed with absolute certainty to extinction within a year or
two. No one who had once fallen into the hands of the Thought
Police ever escaped in the end. They were corpses waiting to be
sent back to the grave.
There was no one at any of the tables nearest to them. It
was not wise even to be seen in the neighbourhood of such
people. They were sitting in silence before glasses of the gin
flavoured with cloves which was the speciality of the cafe/. Of
the three, it was Rutherford whose appearance had most
impressed Winston. Rutherford had once been a famous
caricaturist, whose brutal cartoons had helped to inflame
popular opinion before and during the Revolution. Even now, at
long intervals, his cartoons were appearing in The
Times. They were simply an imitation of his earlier manner,
and curiously lifeless and unconvincing. Always they were a
rehashing of the ancient themes -- slum tenements, starving
children, street battles, capitalists in top hats -- even on
the barricades the capitalists still seemed to cling to their
top hats an endless, hopeless effort to get back into the past.
He was a monstrous man, with a mane of greasy grey hair, his
face pouched and seamed, with thick negroid lips. At one time
he must have been immensely strong; now his great body was
sagging, sloping, bulging, falling away in every direction. He
seemed to be breaking up before one's eyes, like a mountain
It was the lonely hour of fifteen. Winston could not now
remember how he had come to be in the cafe/ at such a time. The
place was almost empty. A tinny music was trickling from the
telescreens. The three men sat in their corner almost
motionless, never speaking. Uncommanded, the waiter brought
fresh glasses of gin. There was a chessboard on the table
beside them, with the pieces set out but no game started. And
then, for perhaps half a minute in all, something happened to
the telescreens. The tune that they were playing changed, and
the tone of the music changed too. There came into it -- but it
was something hard to describe. It was a peculiar, cracked,
braying, jeering note: in his mind Winston called it a yellow
note. And then a voice from the telescreen was singing:

Under the spreading chestnut tree
I sold you and you sold me:
There lie they, and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree.

The three men never stirred. But when Winston glanced
again at Rutherford's ruinous face, he saw that his eyes were
full of tears. And for the first time he noticed, with a kind
of inward shudder, and yet not knowing at what he
shuddered, that both Aaronson and Rutherford had broken noses.
A little later all three were re-arrested. It appeared
that they had engaged in fresh conspiracies from the very
moment of their release. At their second trial they confessed
to all their old crimes over again, with a whole string of new
ones. They were executed, and their fate was recorded in the
Party histories, a warning to posterity. About five years after
this, in 1973, Winston was unrolling a wad of documents which
had just flopped out of the pneumatic tube on to his desk when
he came on a fragment of paper which had evidently been slipped
in among the others and then forgotten. The instant he had
flattened it out he saw its significance. It was a half-page
torn out of The Times of about ten years earlier -- the
top half of the page, so that it included the date -- and it
contained a photograph of the delegates at some Party function
in New York. Prominent in the middle of the group were Jones,
Aaronson, and Rutherford. There was no mistaking them, in any
case their names were in the caption at the bottom.
The point was that at both trials all three men had
confessed that on that date they had been on Eurasian soil.
They had flown from a secret airfield in Canada to a rendezvous
somewhere in Siberia, and had conferred with members of the
Eurasian General Staff, to whom they had betrayed important
military secrets. The date had stuck in Winston's memory
because it chanced to be midsummer day; but the whole story
must be on record in countless other places as well. There was
only one possible conclusion: the confessions were lies.
Of course, this was not in itself a discovery. Even at
that time Winston had not imagined that the people who were
wiped out in the purges had actually committed the crimes that
they were accused of. But this was concrete evidence; it was a
fragment of the abolished past, like a fossil bone which turns
up in the wrong stratum and destroys a geological theory. It
was enough to blow the Party to atoms, if in some way it could
have been published to the world and its significance made
He had gone straight on working. As soon as he saw what
the photograph was, and what it meant, he had covered it up
with another sheet of paper. Luckily, when he unrolled it, it
had been upside-down from the point of view of the telescreen.
He took his scribbling pad on his knee and pushed back his
chair so as to get as far away from the telescreen as possible.
To keep your face expressionless was not difficult, and even
your breathing could be controlled, with an effort: but you
could not control the beating of your heart, and the telescreen
was quite delicate enough to pick it up. He let what he judged
to be ten minutes go by, tormented all the while by the fear
that some accident -- a sudden draught blowing across his desk,
for instance -- would betray him. Then, without uncovering it
again, he dropped the photograph into the memory hole, along
with some other waste papers. Within another minute, perhaps,
it would have crumbled into ashes.