Brief Summary and Analysis of Chapter 7
In chapter 7, Winston is thinking of the proles and how easily they could shake the party’s roots if they wanted. Being 85% of Oceania’s population, they could shake the party without even thinking. However, he also laments that these proles are just so occupied with petty issues that they cannot think about the major problems. So, while he wanted the proles to revolt, he knew that its possibility was very low. He recalls in this chapter how he had come against concrete evidence of falsification years ago. He remembered the three last remaining of the original party members, who after the great purges were arrested by thought police and released after their confessions. Winston had seen them at the chestnut cafe later and after having faced a second trial these people were executed. A string of accusations were levelled against them and they had confessed to all those crimes. However, later Winston came across a news article with their pictures in it which proved that the confessions were lies. It clearly meant that Big Brother and the party had carried it out to ensure that no original party member remained who could think or go against Big Brother. None of it added up. Winston was again feeling cheated of truth and freedom. He felt more certain than ever that O’Brien was on his side. He started writing his diary as if it was addressed to O’Brien.
Orwell shows that there is no way out for Winston. He sees hope in the proles but they are a very different class and not at all concerned for their liberty. The party has been manipulating the truth since after the revolution. Winston is afraid that the party will someday prove that two and two is five and he will not be able to do anything about it. Winston is feeling helpless that he cannot prevent the party from deceiving everyone as it does. Both proles and the evidence Winston came against are important symbols which prove that the party is not infallible. At the end, truth will win, but how it could be made possible was impossible to know for Winston.
Detailed summary of Chapter 7
In chapter 7 of 1984, Winston is again writing his diary. He is again feeling rebellious and thinking of methods that will work against the party and might bring it down. He wrote in his diary that hope lay in the proles. Nothing else in Oceania was mighty enough to stand against the party – not its enemies or the nonexistent brotherhood. These proles constituted 85 percent of the nation’s population and only they might together generate enough force to break the party and its rule. These swarming, disregarded and insignificant masses could overthrow the party if they wanted. The party could not be broken from within and its enemies could never assemble in large numbers against it in Oceania. Until now an act of rebellion in Oceania meant nothing else but bearing a disobedient look, a change in tone of voice betraying disloyalty or a word whispered against the party. However, if the proles could anyhow become aware of their strength, they would not even need to plan. The sheer strength of their numbers was enough to bring down the party. All they needed to do was to rise with determination and shake themselves like a horse shakes off the flies. They would not need even 24 hours to accomplish their mission. If they started at the time Winston was writing in his diary, they could have brought the party down the next morning. Winston felt that sooner or later, they would rise against the party and its rule. However, there were various questions regarding the proles in his mind that contradicted his faith in them.
Winston remembered a scene he had once come up against when walking in the streets. While walking through the crowded street, he suddenly heard hundreds of women shouting. The sound had come from a side street a little ahead where he stood. For a moment it occurred to him that riots had begun. The proles had rebelled against the party. However, the real scene turned out to be vastly different from his expectations. There were two to three hundred women standing at the stalls in the side street. One of the stalls was selling tin saucepans. There was always a shortage of cooking utensils in Oceania. A large crowd was fighting for a small number of saucepans. Some women were particularly harsh to the shopkeeper and accused him of favoritism and hiding more saucepans to create a shortage. At last, there was just one saucepan remaining and two women were fighting for the last piece trying to snatch it from each other’s hands. The handle came off. Winston watched them with disgust. For a moment their loud yelling had satisfied and relieved him but Winston was worried why they never raised their voices about the things that mattered.
Winston further wrote in his diary that the proles were not going to be conscious until they had rebelled and they were going to be conscious only after they had rebelled. In the party textbooks, it was claimed that the party had liberated the proles from slavery. Before the revolution happened the proles were slaves to their capitalist masters who abused them as bonded labor and sent women to work in the coal mines. At that time, the children were sold at the age of six. However, the party also preached treating the proles as inferiors and controlling them through the application of a few simple laws. In reality, not much was known about the proles. People did not need to know much either. As long as they could work and breed, because that was all that mattered, the party and the society were not concerned about their other affairs. They lived a cattle-like life generation after generation. They were born in gutters and spent their lives there.
At twelve, the proles went to work and had a brief period of blossoming desires, and youth. Marriage usually happened at around twenty and by thirty they were middle aged. Most of them did not live beyond sixty. Their lives were characterized by heavy manual labor, caring for wives and children and petty quarrels with neighbors among other things. The rest things that filled their minds were football, beer, and films. The party had no difficulty controlling them. A few members of the thought police always moved among them. Their job was to spread rumors and find out and eliminate the proles that could become dangerous for the party. However, the party ideology was not mandatory for the proles. They were not required to have strong political awareness or feelings just like they did not have any political identity or stature. They were required to have some sense of patriotism that could be used to make them work longer hours when required and manage with lower ration. After all the party needed them to be dumb, blind and primitive with some sense of patriotism to run its business. Proles did not have education or any important ideas to focus their minds on. So, most of the time their discontent was related to petty grievances. They did not attend to any bigger issues. There were no telescreens in most of the proles’ homes. While the level of crime in London was very high, the civil police did not interfere with the proles mostly. There were thieves, prostitutes, drug peddlers, bandits and racketers of various types among the proles. However, the police did not find it all of any importance since it concerned only the proles. The proles were allowed to follow their ancestral moral code. The rules that applied to the civil society or people like Winston and Parsons did not apply to the proles in terms of marriage and sexuality. The party did not impose its laws of sex on the proles either. Sexual relationships outside marriage among proles were not punished and in divorce was allowed for prole couples. If proles wanted the government would have freed them to worship Gods. They were not above the law but they were too small to be suspected. A party slogan compared proles with animals and cited that only these two were free.
The timeline in Oceania was divided into two stages. One was the time before the party rule and the other was the time since the party rule started. However, it was impossible to know how life had been before the party rule or the revolution. Winston always felt stuck at this point. He pulled out a children’s history textbook he borrowed from Mrs. Parsons and started copying a passage into his diary. The passage painted a very poor picture of London before the glorious revolution. The party portrayed itself as the savior of the poor. Life in the city was full of poverty, misery, and deprivation. Little children had to work 12 hours a day and were flogged by their rich but terrible masters. The wretched capitalists owned everything and made everyone who was poor their slaves. People who disobeyed them were thrown into prison or starved to death. There used to be a king who was the richest man in Oceania and who was the master of all capitalists. The slaves had to treat the capitalists and the king with respect and bow to them. Winston stopped there as he already knew about the other things that the textbook mentioned including the bishops, the judges and Lord Mayor’s Banquet. He knew of a practice called JUS PRIMAE NOCTIS which was omitted from children’s textbooks and which was a law allowing the capitalists to sleep with just any woman working in their factories.
Winston found it difficult to swallow all that since there was nothing that could help him tell the truth from the lie. It could be true that the average man led a better life under the party rule. However, it could be equally true that life was worse now compared to what it might have been before the revolution. The only evidence to prove it was the strong protest that came from within Winston. Something inside him cried that it was all a lie and that life was never more wretched than now. He clearly felt that modern life in London lacked energy, excitement and color. The telescreen shouted out lies that never resembled the life Winston led or even the ideals the party claimed it strove to achieve. The ideal that the party had set up was that of a huge, exciting and shinier world but on the contrary, the world any party member lived in was full of severe scarcity where one had to save every few cigarettes. People lived in stinky homes and did not get enough food or clothes. He imagined London as a city full of dustbins and garbage and Mrs. Parsons stood amidst it with her blocked waste pipe. Round the clock, the telescreen shouted out statistics that tried to prove that life in London was now a lot better compared to fifty years ago. People were happier now with better food and dressing and superior education compared to five decades ago (at least the party claimed so).
The party even claimed that forty percent of adult proles were now literate compared to 15 percent before the revolution. As per the party’s claim infant mortality rate now stood at 160 per thousand compared to 300 before the revolution. It was just like a single equation with two unknowns or something like 4x + 2y = 8. He believed that every word in the textbook could be pure fantasy and that there were no capitalists before the revolution or no laws like Jus Primae Noctis ever existed.
While the party had always successfully turned lies into truth, Winston had once come across a concrete proof of falsification in his life. It was in 1973 when he and Katherine parted. However, the relevant date in this case was seven or eight years earlier. It happened during the sixties when all the original leaders of the revolution were wiped out during the great purges. Orwell hints that Big Brother had strategically eliminated all the obstacles in his path to total supremacy in Oceania. Big Brother was the only remaining leader of the party by 1970 as all the remaining leaders had been exposed as traitors and counter-revolutionaries. Goldstein had managed to flee and his whereabouts were unknown. Majority of the original leaders faced public trials and confessed their crimes before execution. Winston knew of three last survivors named Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford. They were arrested in 1965. Having been kept away from public sight for a year, they returned to confess their crimes, which included spying for the enemy, embezzlement of funds, planning against Big Brother, murdering various trusted party members, and having undertaken acts of sabotage that caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
They were pardoned after their confessions and reinstated in the party at senior but unimportant posts. Later the three wrote articles of confession in which they analyzed the reasons behind their defection and promised to amend. All of this smacked of manipulation and blackmail and it all indicated that the party was using the trio to cement its own position. They might be vaporized in the coming years. Everyone who landed in the hands of the thought police had an expiry date no longer than a few years. Some days later Winston spotted the three of them at the Chestnut Tree Cafe (the bad omened cafe). He watched them with excitement and fear from the corner of his eyes. They were much older than him. Orwell calls them relics of the ancient world and the last great figures from the heroic days of the party. They still carried the scent of the civil war and while with the rise of Big Brother, dates and years had blurred, Winston was sure he knew them from earlier than he started knowing Big Brother. However, these three were now outcasts and doomed. Their fate was sealed once they landed in the hands of the thought police. Now, they were corpses and once their expiry date came, they would be lying inside unmarked graves.
Inside the cafe, no one sat on the tables near the three. No one wanted to be found in the vicinity of the trio. However, Winston had felt most impressed with the personality of Rutherford. He was a caricaturist and his cartoons still appeared in the Times at long intervals. He was a popular figure during the revolution and his cartoons had helped drive popular opinion at that time. His cartoons still looked like an imitation of his early style. However, they were no more convincing and looked lifeless. The old themes were still visible in his works – slum tenements, starving children, street battles, capitalists in top hats. He was a large man with thick grey hair and thick lips. However, he was no longer strong and appeared to be crumbling like a mountain.
At three in the afternoon, the cafe bore a deserted look. Winston was himself surprised at what he was doing there at such a time. The trio was sitting in the corner almost motionless. The waiter brought them glasses of gin.
The tune on the telescreen suddenly changed and then a voice started 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 did not move. However, Wisnton stole a closer look and saw that there were tears in Rutherford’s eyes. He also noticed that both Aaronson and Rutherford had broken noses.
A little later the trio was arrested again and it came to Winston’s knowledge that they had again been conspiring against the party and Big Brother. Apart from their older crimes, they confessed to a whole new series of crimes committed since their previous arrest. They were executed and their fates got recorded in the party history for the future generations to know. Five years after this event, while Winston was going through a wad of documents that had landed on his table through the pneumatic tube, that he came across an important piece of paper. Apparently, someone had kept it among those documents and then forgotten it. He flattened the paper when he recognized its importance. It was a half torn page from the Times of ten years ago and had a photograph of some party delegates at a party function in New York. It was the top half of the page which also included the date and year of publication.
At the center of the group, Winston could clearly recognize Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford. Winston was not mistaken since their names were also included in the caption below the photograph. Winston clearly remembered that at both the trials, the trio had confessed that they were on Eurasian soil on the given date. However, now he had a clear proof in his hands that they were not speaking the truth. They had confessed during the trials that they had flown from a secret airfield in Canada to a rendezvous somewhere in Siberia, and met some members of Eurasian military to whom they had betrayed important military secrets of Oceania. Winston had remembered the date as it happened to be Midsummer’s day. The story was also recorded in several other places. However, Winston reached the only possible conclusion which was that these confessions were all lies. Big Brother, the party and the thought police must have forced them to make these confessions.
It was not a major discovery because Winston never believed the truth of the purges. People who had confessed during those trials could not be believed to have actually committed the crimes. However, he was still holding a piece of concrete evidence. It was like a fossil that ended up in the wrong stratum and destroyed a pre-existing geological theory. In the same way, if somehow the evidence was published or made known to the world the party would be blown to atoms. Soon as he recognized what that piece of paper meant, he had covered it with another. He was lucky that he was holding it upside down when he unrolled it so no one watching it from the telescreen could have recognized it.
Winston took his scribbling pad on his knees and pushed his chair behind to get as far from the telescreen as possible. He could keep his face expressionless and control his breathing but to control his heartbeat was difficult. However, the telescreen could pick even delicate signs. Winston thought that ten minutes must have passed. He was afraid that he could accidentally betray himself. The next moment he dropped the photograph with some other pieces of paper without uncovering it into the memory hole. It must have been turned into ashes the next minute. It happened some ten or eleven years ago. Now, if he had come across the same photograph, he would have kept it. However, even if the photograph could be brought back from the ashes, it would not have been called evidence anymore. By the time he had made the discovery, Oceania was no more at war with Eurasia. Many changes had taken place since then. The past had been rewritten several times. Even the confessions had been altered many times. The original facts and dates did not hold any significance anymore. It really terrified him to think of why such deception was taking place. He understood the importance of immediate falsification of the past but the ultimate motive behind the act was a mystery to him.
Winston picked up his pen again and started writing.
I understand How: I do not understand why.
Winston had many times wondered if he himself was a lunatic. Once it was madness to believe that the sun went around the sun. Now to believe that the past is inalterable was madness. If he was the only one who held that belief he was a lunatic. However, being a lunatic did not trouble him really. He was troubled by the thought that he might be wrong in his belief.
Winston looked at the children’s history textbook cover. There was a picture of Big Brother on it and his hypnotic eyes were gazing at Winston. He felt like being pressed down by some huge force which was forcing him to think against his beliefs and even against his senses. Someday the party might decide that two and two make five and people will have to believe it. Winston thought that sooner or later they were going to announce it since their position demanded it. Even the most outrageous lies needed to be believed and swallowed as fact. The problem was not that they might kill you if you thought otherwise. The real problem was that they might be correct. So many questions erupted in Winston’s mind. After all, how did he know that two and two made four or that gravity really pulled everything or that the past could not be changed. What if both the past and the external world were just states of mind and mind itself could be controlled?
However, while Winston was about to succumb to all these questions suddenly he felt more courage running through his veins. The face of O’Brien suddenly appeared in his mind. Now he was more certain than ever that O’Brien favored him. He was writing it for O’Brien. It was like a long never ending letter written to O’Brien that no one will ever read. It was going to be written in that style like it was addressed to O’Brien.
The party wanted people’ to disbelieve their eyes and ears and instead believe only what the party told them. He felt bad when he thought about the enormous power the party wielded. It was not difficult for any party intellectual to overthrow him at a debate. He would not be able to understand those subtle arguments, leave alone answer them. Yet he knew that the external world existed and that gravity was true. With the feeling that he was writing to O’Brien, he wrote:
Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.
Winston feels sickened at the way the party has been falsifying facts.