1984 Part 1, Chapters 1-4
The setting is London in April of 1984. The novel, first published in 1949, imagines a post World War II future in which conflict has led to mass warfare and the formation of super-states. The governments of these super states control every aspect of life. The story opens with the central character, Winston Smith, returning to his flat in Victory Mansions. He is on lunch break from his job at the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth. To reach his post, Winston has to climb seven flights of stairs; on each landing he reads a huge poster of Big Brother with the caption:
"BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU" Part 1, Section 1, pg. 3
Inside his flat, Winston dims his telescreen and peers out his window at the streets of London. The landscape is grimy and bleak, full of rubble and nineteenth-century houses that are falling apart. Twenty to thirty rocket-bombs are launched at the city each week. It is the chief city of Airstrip One, the third most populous province of Oceania. He can see the Ministry of Truth towering over the landscape, and the three engraved Party slogans:
"WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH." Part 1, Section 1, pg. 6
Winston goes to his tiny kitchen and downs some Victory Gin. He sits in the alcove, where he can avoid detection by the telescreen, and takes out a pen and book he has bought in a junk-shop. He has decided to keep a Diary. Should the authorities discover this, he would likely be killed or sent to a forced-labor camp. He writes the date, and then goes blank. He feels helpless and panicked. Winston doesn't know to whom or for what he is writing. Perhaps for the future? He starts writing about a film he saw the previous night.
Winston, realizing why he decided to begin the diary today, stops writing. That morning, just before the Two Minute Hate, two unexpected people visited the Records Department. One was a dark-haired girl from the Fiction Department, (in part 2 we discover her name is Julia). The other was O'Brien, a member of the Inner Party. Winston hates the dark-haired girl and suspects she is an agent of the Thought Police. During the Two Minute Hate, Winston realized why he hates Julia; he is sexually attracted to her, but can never have her. After the Hate everyone began to hypnotically chant "B-B" (short for Big Brother). Winston felt both disgust and horror. He caught O'Brien's eye during the chants, and for a moment knew that O'Brien felt the same way. This incident shook him and renewed his hope that others might be enemies of the Party and that the Brotherhood, a rebel movement, might actually exist.
Winston, his thoughts returning to the blank page of his diary, suddenly writes "DOWN WITH BIG BROTHER," over and over until he fills half a page. Realizing he has committed thoughtcrime, Winston knows he could sooner or later be vaporized. Through this act of rebellion, he is already a dead man; the only question is when they will catch him. He decides to keep writing. There is a knock at the door. Winston is terrified, but it is only Mrs. Parsons, his neighbor and wife of Mr. Parsons. Her kitchen sink is blocked. Winston follows her to the Parsons' flat and removes the clot of hair that is blocking the sink. The Parsons children, a boy, nine, and girl, seven, pretend he is a traitor and they are arresting him. They wear the uniform of the Spies. The children become upset that they can't go to the public hanging of prisoners from Eurasia. As Winston is leaving, the boy shoots him in the back of the neck with a catapult.
Winston picks up his pen and recalls a dream he had seven years ago. He was in a dark room and heard a voice say:
"We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness." Part 1, Chapter 2, pg. 27
The voice was O'Brien's, although Winston cannot recall if he had the dream before or after meeting O'Brien. Winston feels completely alone,
"The past was dead, the future was unimaginable." Part 1, Chapter 2, pg. 28
The telescreen strikes fourteen and Winston knows he must leave soon to get back to work. He finishes his diary entry, washes the telltale ink off his hands, and puts an unusual speck of white dust on the diary cover, so that he will know if someone has moved it.
Later that night, Winston has a dream about his mother, who disappeared when he was ten or eleven. He is standing watching her and his baby sister being sucked down into dark waters. He has the feeling that their lives have been sacrificed for his own. Suddenly, the dream changes; he is standing in the Golden Country. The dark-haired girl approaches from across the field, and with one fluid movement, she flings off her clothes. The gesture overwhelms him:
"With its grace and carelessness it seemed to annihilate a whole culture, a whole system of thought, as though Big Brother and the Party and the Thought Police could all be swept into nothingness by a single splendid movement of the arm." Part 1, Chapter 3, pg. 33
The telescreen thrusts Winston out of his dream state with a loud whistle; it's time to get up. An instructor on the telescreen leads everyone through their morning exercises, known as the Physical Jerks. As he exercises, Winston tries to remember his childhood. He remembers hiding in a subway station with his mother and father during an air raid, early in the 1950's. Since then, the country has continually been at war and everything has changed. The telescreen instructor yells at him to exercise harder and he stops daydreaming.
After his exercises, Winston goes to work. He enjoys the intellectual challenges of his job, namely, to change the facts of old newspaper articles for the purpose of government propaganda. He deals with some routine tasks, first aligning the text of a speech by Big Brother to sound as if he accurately predicted events in the manner they occurred, and second, changing initial production estimates for the year to ensure the actual production figures exceed the estimates. Once completed, Winston faces a more tricky job. A previous order given by Big Brother in 1983, dealt with someone who had been vaporized and is now considered an 'unperson'. To get rid of this reference to an 'unperson', Winston makes up an order in which Big Brother praises a (fake) dead war hero called Comrade Ogilvy. Winston becomes somewhat disturbed by the Party's power to change the past:
"'Who controls the past', ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'" Part 1, Chapter 3, pg. 37