OLNEY THEATRE INSTITUTE
by George Orwell
“Big Brother is watching you"
This great modern classic of "Negative Utopia" - the nightmarish world dominated by Big Brother and his vast network of agents suffocating freedom in a totalitarian world - is timlier than ever, and its warnings more powerful.
In the Ministry of Truth, a government agency that alters records of the past to reflect the Party’s version of events, Syme, a meek and dedicated worker, listens to the morning’s news by himself. Listening to the bulletin is mandatory for every citizen of Oceania, and every morning it is broadcast into every room in the country via telescreen. As the bulletin draws to a close, Parsons, another employee of MiniTrue, rushes into the office. She is tardy and flustered, but listens attentively—as all good citizens of Oceania should. Winston then enters, the last and latest employee to arrive. Seizing an opportunity to pass the blame, Parsons threatens to report Winston’s tardiness to the Thought Police. Fortunately the Messenger arrives, doling out each comrade’s work, conspicuously ignoring a fourth empty desk. Bob Withers, its former occupant, has disappeared.
As the three comrades settle in to their work, Comrade O’Brien, a member of the elite Inner Party, interrupts. After asking the others to leave, O’Brien introduces Winston to Julia—Withers’s replacement. Winston’s assignment is to teach her how to write and read Newspeak, the official language of Oceania.
Although it is an honor to receive instructions directly from an Inner Party member, Winston does not trust Julia. Once O’Brien leaves, Winston reveals that he has seen Julia before—in Minitrue, but also outside of his apartment. He suspects her of being a member of the Thought Police, sent to spy on him. Julia contends she is a simple loyal party-member. Their discussion is interrupted by the Two Minutes Hate. On this day, the Two Minutes Hate projects the voice of Emmanuel Goldstein, known rebel, and the greatest enemy to Oceania. Goldstein’s speech advocates peace and freedom, but is barely audible over the moaning, booing, and hissing of the comrades. Julia becomes so enraged with Goldstein that she throws her Newspeak dictionary at the telescreen, cutting short the Two Minutes Hate.
As the comrades return to work, Winston asks Syme for help in teaching Julia Newspeak. Syme explains that Newspeak is not about inventing new words, but rather destroying old words and nuanced conotations so that the government can control the expressiveness of thought. When Syme leaves, Julia discloses her confusion to Winston. Still believing Julia to be a member of the Thought Police, Winston accuses her of trying to entrap him in thoughtcrime. She is so shaken by his accusations that she admits to being in love with him, and breaks down into tears. Just then, O’Brien reenters with his guards, throwing Julia’s life into danger. Winston quickly tells O’Brien that she is crying because she is incompetent, thereby saving her life. As O’Brien leaves, the two acknowledge their attraction to one another, and begin a relationship.
A few months later, Winston is going about his daily routine when Julia arrives. She has risked death by coming to his room because she cannot wait to share her good news. O’Brien has found a church where the two can be married. Winston is shocked at O’Brien’s willingness to defy Big Brother’s doctrines against love, marriage, and religion, but Julia explains that O’Brien is an old friend, and is responsible for bringing them together. Winston then shares his own good news: he has secured a safe place for them to be together—a rented room in the Proletariat district. As they are beginning to celebrate their fortune, Gladys, Parsons’s spy daughter, bursts into the room, followed closely by Parsons herself. Julia dashes out of the apartment, but Winston is caught. Thinking quickly, he tells his neighbor that Julia is a member of the Thought Police, there to interrogate Winston about Parsons. This upsets her greatly, but Winston calms her by assuring her that he convinced Julia of Parsons’s innocence. Parsons leaves without incident, vowing to never breathe a word about the encounter.
One week later, Winston carries his new wife over the threshold of their rented room in the Prole district. The room is bare and simple, but beautiful—particularly because it has no telescreen. Winston tells Julia that he’s been invited to O’Brien’s apartment, and they become convinced that he must belong to the Resistance. At that moment, their Landlady drops in to hang a pair of curtains. At their urging, she tells them about her past—about life before the revolution. Her stories, memories, and feelings inspire Winston to fight to gain his own humanity back. He and Julia agree that being human means remembering your feelings and never betraying them.
Weeks pass before Winston and Julia visit O’Brien’s apartment. His home is luxurious and filled with contraband objects such as silver cigarette boxes and crystal wine glasses. His true privilege shows when O’Brien calmly crosses to his telescreen and turns it off. Frightened, but believing they are safe from the ears of Big Brother, the couple announces their intention to join the conspiracy against Oceania. O’Brien welcomes them to the Resistance with a glass of wine and a toast, but immediately informs them of the grim reality of their work. As part of the Brotherhood, they will surrender their identities, commit atrocious crimes, and most certainly die. Once Winston and Julia accept these terms, O’Brien arranges for Winston to receive a copy of Goldstein’s book—the treatise and manual of the Brotherhood.
Weeks after their induction, Winston finally receives the Book. Eager to read it, he rushes to the rented room in the Prole district where Julia waits for him. She, in fact, has several surprises of her own—coffee, real sugar, and a dress—all purchased illegally from the Black Market. They settle into an evening resembling one that a married couple might have enjoyed before Big Brother, reading and drinking coffee. Winston barely reads a page from the Book when a loudspeaker voice suddenly pierces the room. The painting above Winston and Julia’s bed crashes to the ground, revealing a telescreen. They have been caught. Just as they begin to say their goodbyes, several guards enter to arrest them.
The guards take Winston to the Ministry of Love, where he is placed in a cell with Syme and Parsons. His former co-workers have been accused of Thought-Crime, and now face punishment. A guard comes for Syme and announces that he is to report to the mysterious Room 101. Neither Parsons nor Winston knows what waits in Room 101, but they do know that it means the worst of all fates. Their conversation is interrupted when O’Brien enters. To Winston’s horror, the Inner-Party member reveals that he was never a member of the Brotherhood, and orders Winston to Room 101.
Several months pass and Winston is still a prisoner in Miniluv. He has been tortured, starved, and deprived of sleep, but he still refuses to believe the principles of the Party. In spite of the constant torment, Winston perseveres, insisting that he is superior and hopeful because he has not betrayed Julia. O’Brien is persistent, though, and once he has driven Winston to the brink of madness, he unleashes the true terror of Room 101. For each prisoner, the terror is different, because it is each individual’s worst fear. For Winston Smith, the final and most potent weapon is rats. When his tormentor threatens to release twelve hungry rats into Winston’s cell, the prisoner succumbs to his phobia and cries out, “Do it to Julia!” By betraying his wife, Winston relinquishes his final shred of humanity and loses his battle with Big Brother.
Winston survives his time in Miniluv. One year later he sits in the Chestnut Tree Café, a loyal, brainwashed member of the Party. He is markedly changed, sipping his victory coffee and concernedly listening to the telescreen bulletin. When the newscast finishes, Syme shuffles into the café and joins Winston. As they begin their weekly game of chess, Winston realizes that Julia has entered the café. Excusing himself, he calmly approaches her. They have not spoken since before their arrest. Both have aged and lost the sparkle of hope. Instead of feeling regret or loss, both Julia and Winston are indifferent to each other. They say goodbye, half-heartedly promising to see one another. As Julia leaves the café, Winston refocuses his attention on the telescreen, expressing his admiration for Big Brother.