From somewhere at the bottom of a passage the smell of roasting
coffee – real coffee, not Victory Coffee – came floating out into the street.
Winston paused involuntarily. For perhaps two seconds he was back in the
half-forgotten world of his childhood. Then a door banged, seeming to cut
off the smell as abruptly as though it had been a sound.
He had walked several kilometres over pavements, and his varicose ulcer
was throbbing. This was the second time in three weeks that he had missed
an evening at the Community Centre: a rash act, since you could be certain
that the number of your attendances at the Centre was carefully checked.
In principle a Party member had no spare time, and was never alone except
in bed. It was assumed that when he was not working, eating, or sleeping
he would be taking part in some kind of communal recreation: to do anything
that suggested a taste for solitude, even to go for a walk by yourself,
was always slightly dangerous. There was a word for it in Newspeak:
OWNLIFE, it was called, meaning individualism and eccentricity. But this
evening as he came out of the Ministry the balminess of the April air had
tempted him. The sky was a warmer blue than he had seen it that year, and
suddenly the long, noisy evening at the Centre, the boring, exhausting
games, the lectures, the creaking camaraderie oiled by gin, had seemed
intolerable. On impulse he had turned away from the bus-stop and wandered
off into the labyrinth of London, first south, then east, then north again,
losing himself among unknown streets and hardly bothering in which
direction he was going.
'If there is hope,' he had written in the diary, 'it lies in the proles.'
The words kept coming back to him, statement of a mystical truth and a
palpable absurdity. He was somewhere in the vague, brown-coloured slums
to the north and east of what had once been Saint Pancras Station. He was
walking up a cobbled street of little two-storey houses with battered
doorways which gave straight on the pavement and which were somehow
curiously suggestive of ratholes. There were puddles of filthy water here
and there among the cobbles. In and out of the dark doorways, and down
narrow alley-ways that branched off on either side, people swarmed in
astonishing numbers – girls in full bloom, with crudely lipsticked mouths,
and youths who chased the girls, and swollen waddling women who showed you
what the girls would be like in ten years' time, and old bent creatures
shuffling along on splayed feet, and ragged barefooted children who played
in the puddles and then scattered at angry yells from their mothers.
Perhaps a quarter of the windows in the street were broken and boarded up.
Most of the people paid no attention to Winston; a few eyed him with a
sort of guarded curiosity. Two monstrous women with brick-red forearms
folded across their aprons were talking outside a doorway. Winston caught
scraps of conversation as he approached.
'"Yes," I says to 'er, "that's all very well," I says. "But if you'd of
been in my place you'd of done the same as what I done. It's easy to
criticize," I says, "but you ain't got the same problems as what I got."'
'Ah,' said the other, 'that's jest it. That's jest where it is.'
The strident voices stopped abruptly. The women studied him in hostile
silence as he went past. But it was not hostility, exactly; merely a kind
of wariness, a momentary stiffening, as at the passing of some unfamiliar
animal. The blue overalls of the Party could not be a common sight in a
street like this. Indeed, it was unwise to be seen in such places, unless
you had definite business there. The patrols might stop you if you happened
to run into them. 'May I see your papers, comrade? What are you doing here?
What time did you leave work? Is this your usual way home?' – and so on and
so forth. Not that there was any rule against walking home by an unusual
route: but it was enough to draw attention to you if the Thought Police
heard about it.
Suddenly the whole street was in commotion. There were yells of warning
from all sides. People were shooting into the doorways like rabbits. A
young woman leapt out of a doorway a little ahead of Winston, grabbed up a
tiny child playing in a puddle, whipped her apron round it, and leapt back
again, all in one movement. At the same instant a man in a concertina-like
black suit, who had emerged from a side alley, ran towards Winston,
pointing excitedly to the sky.
'Steamer!' he yelled. 'Look out, guv'nor! Bang over'ead! Lay down quick!'
'Steamer' was a nickname which, for some reason, the proles applied to
rocket bombs. Winston promptly flung himself on his face. The proles were
nearly always right when they gave you a warning of this kind. They seemed
to possess some kind of instinct which told them several seconds in advance
when a rocket was coming, although the rockets supposedly travelled faster
than sound. Winston clasped his forearms above his head. There was a roar
that seemed to make the pavement heave; a shower of light objects pattered
on to his back. When he stood up he found that he was covered with
fragments of glass from the nearest window.
He walked on. The bomb had demolished a group of houses 200 metres up the
street. A black plume of smoke hung in the sky, and below it a cloud of
plaster dust in which a crowd was already forming around the ruins. There
was a little pile of plaster lying on the pavement ahead of him, and in
the middle of it he could see a bright red streak. When he got up to it he
saw that it was a human hand severed at the wrist. Apart from the bloody
stump, the hand was so completely whitened as to resemble a plaster cast.
He kicked the thing into the gutter, and then, to avoid the crowd, turned
down a side-street to the right. Within three or four minutes he was out
of the area which the bomb had affected, and the sordid swarming life of
the streets was going on as though nothing had happened. It was nearly
twenty hours, and the drinking-shops which the proles frequented ('pubs',
they called them) were choked with customers. From their grimy swing doors,
endlessly opening and shutting, there came forth a smell of urine, sawdust,
and sour beer. In an angle formed by a projecting house-front three men
were standing very close together, the middle one of them holding a
folded-up newspaper which the other two were studying over his shoulder.
Even before he was near enough to make out the expression on their faces,
Winston could see absorption in every line of their bodies. It was
obviously some serious piece of news that they were reading. He was a few
paces away from them when suddenly the group broke up and two of the men
were in violent altercation. For a moment they seemed almost on the point
'Can't you bleeding well listen to what I say? I tell you no number ending
in seven ain't won for over fourteen months!'
'Yes, it 'as, then!'
'No, it 'as not! Back 'ome I got the 'ole lot of 'em for over two years
wrote down on a piece of paper. I takes 'em down reg'lar as the clock. An'
I tell you, no number ending in seven – – '
'Yes, a seven 'AS won! I could pretty near tell you the bleeding number.
Four oh seven, it ended in. It were in February – second week in February.'
'February your grandmother! I got it all down in black and white. An' I
tell you, no number – – '
'Oh, pack it in!' said the third man.
They were talking about the Lottery. Winston looked back when he had gone
thirty metres. They were still arguing, with vivid, passionate faces.
The Lottery, with its weekly pay-out of enormous prizes, was the one public
event to which the proles paid serious attention. It was probable that
there were some millions of proles for whom the Lottery was the principal
if not the only reason for remaining alive. It was their delight, their
folly, their anodyne, their intellectual stimulant. Where the Lottery was
concerned, even people who could barely read and write seemed capable of
intricate calculations and staggering feats of memory. There was a whole
tribe of men who made a living simply by selling systems, forecasts, and
lucky amulets. Winston had nothing to do with the running of the Lottery,
which was managed by the Ministry of Plenty, but he was aware (indeed
everyone in the party was aware) that the prizes were largely imaginary.
Only small sums were actually paid out, the winners of the big prizes being
non-existent persons. In the absence of any real intercommunication between
one part of Oceania and another, this was not difficult to arrange.
But if there was hope, it lay in the proles. You had to cling on to that.
When you put it in words it sounded reasonable: it was when you looked at
the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of
faith. The street into which he had turned ran downhill. He had a feeling
that he had been in this neighbourhood before, and that there was a main
thoroughfare not far away. From somewhere ahead there came a din of
shouting voices. The street took a sharp turn and then ended in a flight
of steps which led down into a sunken alley where a few stall-keepers
were selling tired-looking vegetables. At this moment Winston remembered
where he was. The alley led out into the main street, and down the next
turning, not five minutes away, was the junk-shop where he had bought the
blank book which was now his diary. And in a small stationer's shop not
far away he had bought his penholder and his bottle of ink.
He paused for a moment at the top of the steps. On the opposite side of
the alley there was a dingy little pub whose windows appeared to be frosted
over but in reality were merely coated with dust. A very old man, bent but
active, with white moustaches that bristled forward like those of a prawn,
pushed open the swing door and went in. As Winston stood watching, it
occurred to him that the old man, who must be eighty at the least, had
already been middle-aged when the Revolution happened. He and a few others
like him were the last links that now existed with the vanished world of
capitalism. In the Party itself there were not many people left whose ideas
had been formed before the Revolution. The older generation had mostly
been wiped out in the great purges of the fifties and sixties, and the few
who survived had long ago been terrified into complete intellectual
surrender. If there was any one still alive who could give you a truthful
account of conditions in the early part of the century, it could only be a
prole. Suddenly the passage from the history book that he had copied into
his diary came back into Winston's mind, and a lunatic impulse took hold
of him. He would go into the pub, he would scrape acquaintance with that
old man and question him. He would say to him: 'Tell me about your life
when you were a boy. What was it like in those days? Were things better
than they are now, or were they worse?'
Hurriedly, lest he should have time to become frightened, he descended the
steps and crossed the narrow street. It was madness of course. As usual,
there was no definite rule against talking to proles and frequenting their
pubs, but it was far too unusual an action to pass unnoticed. If the
patrols appeared he might plead an attack of faintness, but it was not
likely that they would believe him. He pushed open the door, and a hideous
cheesy smell of sour beer hit him in the face. As he entered the din of
voices dropped to about half its volume. Behind his back he could feel
everyone eyeing his blue overalls. A game of darts which was going on at
the other end of the room interrupted itself for perhaps as much as thirty
seconds. The old man whom he had followed was standing at the bar, having
some kind of altercation with the barman, a large, stout, hook-nosed young
man with enormous forearms. A knot of others, standing round with glasses
in their hands, were watching the scene.
'I arst you civil enough, didn't I?' said the old man, straightening his
shoulders pugnaciously. 'You telling me you ain't got a pint mug in the
'ole bleeding boozer?'
'And what in hell's name IS a pint?' said the barman, leaning forward with
the tips of his fingers on the counter.
''Ark at 'im! Calls 'isself a barman and don't know what a pint is! Why,
a pint's the 'alf of a quart, and there's four quarts to the gallon.
'Ave to teach you the A, B, C next.'
'Never heard of 'em,' said the barman shortly. 'Litre and half
litre – that's all we serve. There's the glasses on the shelf in front
'I likes a pint,' persisted the old man. 'You could 'a drawed me off a pint
easy enough. We didn't 'ave these bleeding litres when I was a young man.'
'When you were a young man we were all living in the treetops,' said the
barman, with a glance at the other customers.
There was a shout of laughter, and the uneasiness caused by Winston's entry
seemed to disappear. The old man's white-stubbled face had flushed pink. He
turned away, muttering to himself, and bumped into Winston. Winston caught
him gently by the arm.
'May I offer you a drink?' he said.
'You're a gent,' said the other, straightening his shoulders again. He
appeared not to have noticed Winston's blue overalls. 'Pint!' he added
aggressively to the barman. 'Pint of wallop.'
The barman swished two half-litres of dark-brown beer into thick glasses
which he had rinsed in a bucket under the counter. Beer was the only drink
you could get in prole pubs. The proles were supposed not to drink gin,
though in practice they could get hold of it easily enough. The game of
darts was in full swing again, and the knot of men at the bar had begun
talking about lottery tickets. Winston's presence was forgotten for a
moment. There was a deal table under the window where he and the old man
could talk without fear of being overheard. It was horribly dangerous, but
at any rate there was no telescreen in the room, a point he had made sure
of as soon as he came in.
''E could 'a drawed me off a pint,' grumbled the old man as he settled down
behind a glass. 'A 'alf litre ain't enough. It don't satisfy. And a 'ole
litre's too much. It starts my bladder running. Let alone the price.'
'You must have seen great changes since you were a young man,' said
The old man's pale blue eyes moved from the darts board to the bar, and
from the bar to the door of the Gents, as though it were in the bar-room
that he expected the changes to have occurred.
'The beer was better,' he said finally. 'And cheaper! When I was a young
man, mild beer – wallop we used to call it – was fourpence a pint. That was
before the war, of course.'
'Which war was that?' said Winston.
'It's all wars,' said the old man vaguely. He took up his glass, and his
shoulders straightened again. ''Ere's wishing you the very best of 'ealth!'
In his lean throat the sharp-pointed Adam's apple made a surprisingly rapid
up-and-down movement, and the beer vanished. Winston went to the bar and
came back with two more half-litres. The old man appeared to have forgotten
his prejudice against drinking a full litre.
'You are very much older than I am,' said Winston. 'You must have been a
grown man before I was born. You can remember what it was like in the old
days, before the Revolution. People of my age don't really know anything
about those times. We can only read about them in books, and what it says
in the books may not be true. I should like your opinion on that. The
history books say that life before the Revolution was completely different
from what it is now. There was the most terrible oppression, injustice,
poverty worse than anything we can imagine. Here in London, the great mass
of the people never had enough to eat from birth to death. Half of them
hadn't even boots on their feet. They worked twelve hours a day, they left
school at nine, they slept ten in a room. And at the same time there were
a very few people, only a few thousands – the capitalists, they were
called – who were rich and powerful. They owned everything that there was
to own. They lived in great gorgeous houses with thirty servants, they
rode about in motor-cars and four-horse carriages, they drank champagne,
they wore top hats – – '
The old man brightened suddenly.
'Top 'ats!' he said. 'Funny you should mention 'em. The same thing come
into my 'ead only yesterday, I dono why. I was jest thinking, I ain't seen
a top 'at in years. Gorn right out, they 'ave. The last time I wore one
was at my sister-in-law's funeral. And that was – well, I couldn't give you
the date, but it must'a been fifty years ago. Of course it was only 'ired
for the occasion, you understand.'
'It isn't very important about the top hats,' said Winston patiently.
'The point is, these capitalists – they and a few lawyers and priests and
so forth who lived on them – were the lords of the earth. Everything existed
for their benefit. You – the ordinary people, the workers – were their
slaves. They could do what they liked with you. They could ship you off to
Canada like cattle. They could sleep with your daughters if they chose.
They could order you to be flogged with something called a cat-o'-nine
tails. You had to take your cap off when you passed them. Every capitalist
went about with a gang of lackeys who – – '
The old man brightened again.
'Lackeys!' he said. 'Now there's a word I ain't 'eard since ever so long.
Lackeys! That reg'lar takes me back, that does. I recollect – oh, donkey's
years ago – I used to sometimes go to 'Yde Park of a Sunday afternoon to
'ear the blokes making speeches. Salvation Army, Roman Catholics, Jews,
Indians – all sorts there was. And there was one bloke – well, I couldn't
give you 'is name, but a real powerful speaker 'e was. 'E didn't 'alf
give it 'em! "Lackeys!" 'e says, "lackeys of the bourgeoisie! Flunkies of
the ruling class!" Parasites – that was another of them. And 'yenas – 'e
definitely called 'em 'yenas. Of course 'e was referring to the Labour
Party, you understand.'
Winston had the feeling that they were talking at cross-purposes.
'What I really wanted to know was this,' he said. 'Do you feel that you
have more freedom now than you had in those days? Are you treated more
like a human being? In the old days, the rich people, the people at the
top – – '
'The 'Ouse of Lords,' put in the old man reminiscently.
'The House of Lords, if you like. What I am asking is, were these people
able to treat you as an inferior, simply because they were rich and you
were poor? Is it a fact, for instance, that you had to call them "Sir" and
take off your cap when you passed them?'
The old man appeared to think deeply. He drank off about a quarter of his
beer before answering.
'Yes,' he said. 'They liked you to touch your cap to 'em. It showed
respect, like. I didn't agree with it, myself, but I done it often enough.
Had to, as you might say.'
'And was it usual – I'm only quoting what I've read in history books – was
it usual for these people and their servants to push you off the pavement
into the gutter?'
'One of 'em pushed me once,' said the old man. 'I recollect it as if it
was yesterday. It was Boat Race night – terribly rowdy they used to get on
Boat Race night – and I bumps into a young bloke on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Quite a gent, 'e was – dress shirt, top 'at, black overcoat. 'E was kind
of zig-zagging across the pavement, and I bumps into 'im accidental-like.
'E says, "Why can't you look where you're going?" 'e says. I say, "Ju think
you've bought the bleeding pavement?" 'E says, "I'll twist your bloody 'ead
off if you get fresh with me." I says, "You're drunk. I'll give you in
charge in 'alf a minute," I says. An' if you'll believe me, 'e puts 'is
'and on my chest and gives me a shove as pretty near sent me under the
wheels of a bus. Well, I was young in them days, and I was going to 'ave
fetched 'im one, only – – '
A sense of helplessness took hold of Winston. The old man's memory was
nothing but a rubbish-heap of details. One could question him all day
without getting any real information. The party histories might still be
true, after a fashion: they might even be completely true. He made a last
'Perhaps I have not made myself clear,' he said. 'What I'm trying to say
is this. You have been alive a very long time; you lived half your life
before the Revolution. In 1925, for instance, you were already grown up.
Would you say from what you can remember, that life in 1925 was better
than it is now, or worse? If you could choose, would you prefer to live
then or now?'
The old man looked meditatively at the darts board. He finished up his
beer, more slowly than before. When he spoke it was with a tolerant
philosophical air, as though the beer had mellowed him.
'I know what you expect me to say,' he said. 'You expect me to say as I'd
sooner be young again. Most people'd say they'd sooner be young, if you
arst 'em. You got your 'ealth and strength when you're young. When you
get to my time of life you ain't never well. I suffer something wicked
from my feet, and my bladder's jest terrible. Six and seven times a night
it 'as me out of bed. On the other 'and, there's great advantages in being
a old man. You ain't got the same worries. No truck with women, and that's
a great thing. I ain't 'ad a woman for near on thirty year, if you'd
credit it. Nor wanted to, what's more.'
Winston sat back against the window-sill. It was no use going on. He was
about to buy some more beer when the old man suddenly got up and shuffled
rapidly into the stinking urinal at the side of the room. The extra
half-litre was already working on him. Winston sat for a minute or two
gazing at his empty glass, and hardly noticed when his feet carried him out
into the street again. Within twenty years at the most, he reflected, the
huge and simple question, 'Was life better before the Revolution than it
is now?' would have ceased once and for all to be answerable. But in effect
it was unanswerable even now, since the few scattered survivors from the
ancient world were incapable of comparing one age with another. They
remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for
a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister's face, the
swirls of dust on a windy morning seventy years ago: but all the relevant
facts were outside the range of their vision. They were like the ant,
which can see small objects but not large ones. And when memory failed and
written records were falsified – when that happened, the claim of the Party
to have improved the conditions of human life had got to be accepted,
because there did not exist, and never again could exist, any standard
against which it could be tested.
At this moment his train of thought stopped abruptly. He halted and looked
up. He was in a narrow street, with a few dark little shops, interspersed
among dwelling-houses. Immediately above his head there hung three
discoloured metal balls which looked as if they had once been gilded. He
seemed to know the place. Of course! He was standing outside the junk-shop
where he had bought the diary.
A twinge of fear went through him. It had been a sufficiently rash act to
buy the book in the beginning, and he had sworn never to come near the
place again. And yet the instant that he allowed his thoughts to wander,
his feet had brought him back here of their own accord. It was precisely
against suicidal impulses of this kind that he had hoped to guard himself
by opening the diary. At the same time he noticed that although it was
nearly twenty-one hours the shop was still open. With the feeling that he
would be less conspicuous inside than hanging about on the pavement, he
stepped through the doorway. If questioned, he could plausibly say that
he was trying to buy razor blades.
The proprietor had just lighted a hanging oil lamp which gave off an
unclean but friendly smell. He was a man of perhaps sixty, frail and
bowed, with a long, benevolent nose, and mild eyes distorted by thick
spectacles. His hair was almost white, but his eyebrows were bushy and
still black. His spectacles, his gentle, fussy movements, and the fact
that he was wearing an aged jacket of black velvet, gave him a vague air
of intellectuality, as though he had been some kind of literary man, or
perhaps a musician. His voice was soft, as though faded, and his accent
less debased than that of the majority of proles.
'I recognized you on the pavement,' he said immediately. 'You're the
gentleman that bought the young lady's keepsake album. That was a beautiful
bit of paper, that was. Cream-laid, it used to be called. There's been no
paper like that made for – oh, I dare say fifty years.' He peered at Winston
over the top of his spectacles. 'Is there anything special I can do for
you? Or did you just want to look round?'
'I was passing,' said Winston vaguely. 'I just looked in. I don't want
anything in particular.'
'It's just as well,' said the other, 'because I don't suppose I could have
satisfied you.' He made an apologetic gesture with his softpalmed hand.
'You see how it is; an empty shop, you might say. Between you and me, the
antique trade's just about finished. No demand any longer, and no stock
either. Furniture, china, glass it's all been broken up by degrees. And
of course the metal stuff's mostly been melted down. I haven't seen a brass
candlestick in years.'
The tiny interior of the shop was in fact uncomfortably full, but there
was almost nothing in it of the slightest value. The floorspace was very
restricted, because all round the walls were stacked innumerable dusty
picture-frames. In the window there were trays of nuts and bolts, worn-out
chisels, penknives with broken blades, tarnished watches that did not even
pretend to be in going order, and other miscellaneous rubbish. Only on a
small table in the corner was there a litter of odds and ends – lacquered
snuffboxes, agate brooches, and the like – which looked as though they might
include something interesting. As Winston wandered towards the table his
eye was caught by a round, smooth thing that gleamed softly in the
lamplight, and he picked it up.
It was a heavy lump of glass, curved on one side, flat on the other, making
almost a hemisphere. There was a peculiar softness, as of rainwater, in
both the colour and the texture of the glass. At the heart of it, magnified
by the curved surface, there was a strange, pink, convoluted object that
recalled a rose or a sea anemone.
'What is it?' said Winston, fascinated.
'That's coral, that is,' said the old man. 'It must have come from the
Indian Ocean. They used to kind of embed it in the glass. That wasn't made
less than a hundred years ago. More, by the look of it.'
'It's a beautiful thing,' said Winston.
'It is a beautiful thing,' said the other appreciatively. 'But there's not
many that'd say so nowadays.' He coughed. 'Now, if it so happened that you
wanted to buy it, that'd cost you four dollars. I can remember when a thing
like that would have fetched eight pounds, and eight pounds was – well, I
can't work it out, but it was a lot of money. But who cares about genuine
antiques nowadays – even the few that's left?'
Winston immediately paid over the four dollars and slid the coveted thing
into his pocket. What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty
as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different
from the present one. The soft, rainwatery glass was not like any glass
that he had ever seen. The thing was doubly attractive because of its
apparent uselessness, though he could guess that it must once have been
intended as a paperweight. It was very heavy in his pocket, but fortunately
it did not make much of a bulge. It was a queer thing, even a compromising
thing, for a Party member to have in his possession. Anything old, and for
that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect. The old man had
grown noticeably more cheerful after receiving the four dollars. Winston
realized that he would have accepted three or even two.
'There's another room upstairs that you might care to take a look at,' he
said. 'There's not much in it. Just a few pieces. We'll do with a light if
we're going upstairs.'
He lit another lamp, and, with bowed back, led the way slowly up the
steep and worn stairs and along a tiny passage, into a room which did
not give on the street but looked out on a cobbled yard and a forest of
chimney-pots. Winston noticed that the furniture was still arranged as
though the room were meant to be lived in. There was a strip of carpet on
the floor, a picture or two on the walls, and a deep, slatternly arm-chair
drawn up to the fireplace. An old-fashioned glass clock with a twelve-hour
face was ticking away on the mantelpiece. Under the window, and occupying
nearly a quarter of the room, was an enormous bed with the mattress still
'We lived here till my wife died,' said the old man half apologetically.
'I'm selling the furniture off by little and little. Now that's a beautiful
mahogany bed, or at least it would be if you could get the bugs out of it.
But I dare say you'd find it a little bit cumbersome.'
He was holding the lamp high up, so as to illuminate the whole room, and
in the warm dim light the place looked curiously inviting. The thought
flitted through Winston's mind that it would probably be quite easy to
rent the room for a few dollars a week, if he dared to take the risk. It
was a wild, impossible notion, to be abandoned as soon as thought of; but
the room had awakened in him a sort of nostalgia, a sort of ancestral
memory. It seemed to him that he knew exactly what it felt like to sit in
a room like this, in an arm-chair beside an open fire with your feet in
the fender and a kettle on the hob; utterly alone, utterly secure, with
nobody watching you, no voice pursuing you, no sound except the singing
of the kettle and the friendly ticking of the clock.
'There's no telescreen!' he could not help murmuring.
'Ah,' said the old man, 'I never had one of those things. Too expensive.
And I never seemed to feel the need of it, somehow. Now that's a nice
gateleg table in the corner there. Though of course you'd have to put new
hinges on it if you wanted to use the flaps.'
There was a small bookcase in the other corner, and Winston had already
gravitated towards it. It contained nothing but rubbish. The hunting-down
and destruction of books had been done with the same thoroughness in the
prole quarters as everywhere else. It was very unlikely that there existed
anywhere in Oceania a copy of a book printed earlier than 1960. The old
man, still carrying the lamp, was standing in front of a picture in a
rosewood frame which hung on the other side of the fireplace, opposite
'Now, if you happen to be interested in old prints at all – – ' he began
Winston came across to examine the picture. It was a steel engraving of an
oval building with rectangular windows, and a small tower in front. There
was a railing running round the building, and at the rear end there was
what appeared to be a statue. Winston gazed at it for some moments. It
seemed vaguely familiar, though he did not remember the statue.
'The frame's fixed to the wall,' said the old man, 'but I could unscrew it
for you, I dare say.'
'I know that building,' said Winston finally. 'It's a ruin now. It's in
the middle of the street outside the Palace of Justice.'
'That's right. Outside the Law Courts. It was bombed in – oh, many years
ago. It was a church at one time, St Clement Danes, its name was.' He
smiled apologetically, as though conscious of saying something slightly
ridiculous, and added: 'Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's!'
'What's that?' said Winston.
'Oh – "Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's." That was a rhyme
we had when I was a little boy. How it goes on I don't remember, but I do
know it ended up, "Here comes a candle to light you to bed, Here comes a
chopper to chop off your head." It was a kind of a dance. They held out
their arms for you to pass under, and when they came to "Here comes a
chopper to chop off your head" they brought their arms down and caught you.
It was just names of churches. All the London churches were in it – all the
principal ones, that is.'
Winston wondered vaguely to what century the church belonged. It was always
difficult to determine the age of a London building. Anything large and
impressive, if it was reasonably new in appearance, was automatically
claimed as having been built since the Revolution, while anything that was
obviously of earlier date was ascribed to some dim period called the Middle
Ages. The centuries of capitalism were held to have produced nothing of any
value. One could not learn history from architecture any more than one
could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the
names of streets – anything that might throw light upon the past had been
'I never knew it had been a church,' he said.
'There's a lot of them left, really,' said the old man, 'though they've
been put to other uses. Now, how did that rhyme go? Ah! I've got it!
"Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's,
You owe me three farthings, say the bells of St Martin's – – "
there, now, that's as far as I can get. A farthing, that was a small copper
coin, looked something like a cent.'
'Where was St Martin's?' said Winston.
'St Martin's? That's still standing. It's in Victory Square, alongside the
picture gallery. A building with a kind of a triangular porch and pillars
in front, and a big flight of steps.'
Winston knew the place well. It was a museum used for propaganda displays
of various kinds – scale models of rocket bombs and Floating Fortresses,
waxwork tableaux illustrating enemy atrocities, and the like.
'St Martin's-in-the-Fields it used to be called,' supplemented the old man,
'though I don't recollect any fields anywhere in those parts.'
Winston did not buy the picture. It would have been an even more
incongruous possession than the glass paperweight, and impossible to carry
home, unless it were taken out of its frame. But he lingered for some
minutes more, talking to the old man, whose name, he discovered, was not
Weeks – as one might have gathered from the inscription over the
shop-front – but Charrington. Mr Charrington, it seemed, was a widower aged
sixty-three and had inhabited this shop for thirty years. Throughout that
time he had been intending to alter the name over the window, but had never
quite got to the point of doing it. All the while that they were talking
the half-remembered rhyme kept running through Winston's head. Oranges and
lemons say the bells of St Clement's, You owe me three farthings, say
the bells of St Martin's! It was curious, but when you said it to yourself
you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of a lost London
that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten. From one
ghostly steeple after another he seemed to hear them pealing forth. Yet so
far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells
He got away from Mr Charrington and went down the stairs alone, so as not
to let the old man see him reconnoitring the street before stepping out of
the door. He had already made up his mind that after a suitable
interval – a month, say – he would take the risk of visiting the shop again.
It was perhaps not more dangerous than shirking an evening at the Centre.
The serious piece of folly had been to come back here in the first place,
after buying the diary and without knowing whether the proprietor of the
shop could be trusted. However – – !
Yes, he thought again, he would come back. He would buy further scraps of
beautiful rubbish. He would buy the engraving of St Clement Danes, take
it out of its frame, and carry it home concealed under the jacket of his
overalls. He would drag the rest of that poem out of Mr Charrington's
memory. Even the lunatic project of renting the room upstairs flashed
momentarily through his mind again. For perhaps five seconds exaltation
made him careless, and he stepped out on to the pavement without so much
as a preliminary glance through the window. He had even started humming
to an improvised tune
Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's,
You owe me three farthings, say the – –
Suddenly his heart seemed to turn to ice and his bowels to water. A figure
in blue overalls was coming down the pavement, not ten metres away. It was
the girl from the Fiction Department, the girl with dark hair. The light
was failing, but there was no difficulty in recognizing her. She looked
him straight in the face, then walked quickly on as though she had not
For a few seconds Winston was too paralysed to move. Then he turned to the
right and walked heavily away, not noticing for the moment that he was
going in the wrong direction. At any rate, one question was settled. There
was no doubting any longer that the girl was spying on him. She must have
followed him here, because it was not credible that by pure chance she
should have happened to be walking on the same evening up the same obscure
backstreet, kilometres distant from any quarter where Party members lived.
It was too great a coincidence. Whether she was really an agent of the
Thought Police, or simply an amateur spy actuated by officiousness, hardly
mattered. It was enough that she was watching him. Probably she had seen
him go into the pub as well.
It was an effort to walk. The lump of glass in his pocket banged against
his thigh at each step, and he was half minded to take it out and throw it
away. The worst thing was the pain in his belly. For a couple of minutes
he had the feeling that he would die if he did not reach a lavatory soon.
But there would be no public lavatories in a quarter like this. Then the
spasm passed, leaving a dull ache behind.
The street was a blind alley. Winston halted, stood for several seconds
wondering vaguely what to do, then turned round and began to retrace his
steps. As he turned it occurred to him that the girl had only passed him
three minutes ago and that by running he could probably catch up with her.
He could keep on her track till they were in some quiet place, and then
smash her skull in with a cobblestone. The piece of glass in his pocket
would be heavy enough for the job. But he abandoned the idea immediately,
because even the thought of making any physical effort was unbearable. He
could not run, he could not strike a blow. Besides, she was young and lusty
and would defend herself. He thought also of hurrying to the Community
Centre and staying there till the place closed, so as to establish a
partial alibi for the evening. But that too was impossible. A deadly
lassitude had taken hold of him. All he wanted was to get home quickly and
then sit down and be quiet.
It was after twenty-two hours when he got back to the flat. The lights
would be switched off at the main at twenty-three thirty. He went into the
kitchen and swallowed nearly a teacupful of Victory Gin. Then he went to
the table in the alcove, sat down, and took the diary out of the drawer.
But he did not open it at once. From the telescreen a brassy female voice
was squalling a patriotic song. He sat staring at the marbled cover of the
book, trying without success to shut the voice out of his consciousness.
It was at night that they came for you, always at night. The proper thing
was to kill yourself before they got you. Undoubtedly some people did so.
Many of the disappearances were actually suicides. But it needed desperate
courage to kill yourself in a world where firearms, or any quick and
certain poison, were completely unprocurable. He thought with a kind of
astonishment of the biological uselessness of pain and fear, the treachery
of the human body which always freezes into inertia at exactly the moment
when a special effort is needed. He might have silenced the dark-haired
girl if only he had acted quickly enough: but precisely because of the
extremity of his danger he had lost the power to act. It struck him that
in moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy, but
always against one's own body. Even now, in spite of the gin, the dull
ache in his belly made consecutive thought impossible. And it is the same,
he perceived, in all seemingly heroic or tragic situations. On the
battlefield, in the torture chamber, on a sinking ship, the issues that
you are fighting for are always forgotten, because the body swells up until
it fills the universe, and even when you are not paralysed by fright or
screaming with pain, life is a moment-to-moment struggle against hunger or
cold or sleeplessness, against a sour stomach or an aching tooth.
He opened the diary. It was important to write something down. The woman
on the telescreen had started a new song. Her voice seemed to stick into
his brain like jagged splinters of glass. He tried to think of O'Brien,
for whom, or to whom, the diary was written, but instead he began thinking
of the things that would happen to him after the Thought Police took him
away. It would not matter if they killed you at once. To be killed was
what you expected. But before death (nobody spoke of such things, yet
everybody knew of them) there was the routine of confession that had to
be gone through: the grovelling on the floor and screaming for mercy, the
crack of broken bones, the smashed teeth and bloody clots of hair.
Why did you have to endure it, since the end was always the same? Why was
it not possible to cut a few days or weeks out of your life? Nobody ever
escaped detection, and nobody ever failed to confess. When once you had
succumbed to thoughtcrime it was certain that by a given date you would be
dead. Why then did that horror, which altered nothing, have to lie embedded
in future time?
He tried with a little more success than before to summon up the image of
O'Brien. 'We shall meet in the place where there is no darkness,' O'Brien
had said to him. He knew what it meant, or thought he knew. The place where
there is no darkness was the imagined future, which one would never see,
but which, by foreknowledge, one could mystically share in. But with the
voice from the telescreen nagging at his ears he could not follow the train
of thought further. He put a cigarette in his mouth. Half the tobacco
promptly fell out on to his tongue, a bitter dust which was difficult to
spit out again. The face of Big Brother swam into his mind, displacing that
of O'Brien. Just as he had done a few days earlier, he slid a coin out of
his pocket and looked at it. The face gazed up at him, heavy, calm,
protecting: but what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache?
Like a leaden knell the words came back at him:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH