Summary of Book 1 Chapter 3 of Orwell’s 1984

A brief background on the chapter 3 of 1984 (Book 1)

Orwell sheds more light on Winston’s family background in this chapter and brings new realities about Oceania to his readers. Winston is dreaming or thinking of his past throughout the chapter. He is reminded of the tragic death of his mother. He also thinks how families and family relationships had changed over time. The strong emotional bond between him and his family was missing in today’s society. However, apart from these things the author also highlights how the government continuously plays with reality and alters every piece of history that does not rhyme with its present concerns. It just removes anything that does not rhyme with its version. Winston is afraid that there is nothing, no written or verbal account that could help him establish the truth that happened years ago.

Suggested Reading: Summary and analysis of George Orwell’s A Hanging.

Winston sees the dark-haired girl in his dream. Her gesture in his dream appears like she is flagging a rebellion. For the first time, the author provides evidence that people are being watched through telescreens when the exercise instructor shouts at Winston to follow the instructions from the telescreen. Winston constantly ponders over how the party has manipulated every fact to make its account seem authentic. The party even claimed that it has invented the airplane which was obviously wrong according to Winston since he knew planes existed before the party’s formation. It was difficult for him to maintain two versions of the truth in his mind without feeling its weight on his conscience.

Suggested Reading: Summary and analysis of George Orwell’s WHY I WRITE.

A detailed summary of Chapter 3 of Book 1

At the beginning of the third chapter of Book 1, Winston is reminded of his family- his parents and a younger sister. He was dreaming of his mother. His family was no more with him. It was years ago when he was just 10 or 11; he had lost his family. They were lying inside some grave or at the bottom of the sea. He remembered that it must have been one of the initial great purges of the fifties when he had lost his family. However, he also firmly believed that it was to keep him alive that they had sacrificed their lives.

Winston remembered his mother as tall and statuesque with magnificent hair. She was a rather silent woman and moved slowly. His father’s picture in his mind was rather vague. He was dark and thin and wore neat clothes. He especially remembered the thin soles of his father’s shoes and his spectacles. Winston did not have a clear picture of his sister in his mind either. He remembered her as a tiny feeble baby that remained silent and had large, watchful eyes. Winston had a terrifying picture appear in his mind of his mother at the bottom of a grave or a well with his sister in her arms. They seemed to be inside a sinking ship staring at him from there. There was no reproach on their faces because this seemed to be how things were expected to work. They had to die so Winston could live. This was in the scheme of things.

Winston felt pained to remember his mother’s death. She had died tragically. Winston remembered her love for him and how deeply she cared for him until she died. He was pained to see how families had changed, and especially after having visited the Parsons in the last chapter, his pain must have suddenly elevated. His family members stood by each other all the time without any need for a reason to do so. The devotion of that kind was no more visible in Winston’s society. The love and loyalty had been replaced by hatred and pain. There was no more the dignity of emotion or deep sorrows like his family when they were alive. Winston’s society had cheated itself of everything precious. The party slogans had annihilated the family bonds.

Suddenly, in his dream, Winston was on a springy turf on a summer evening. He had seen the landscape quite often in his dreams and felt unsure if it existed in the real world. When awake, he thought of the landscape as the Golden Country. It was a rabbit-bitten piece of land with some molehills here and there and a foot track. On the other side of the landscape, the dense masses of leaves on elm trees stirred like a woman’s thick hair. There was also a slow-moving stream nearby with dace swimming in the pools under the willow trees.

Winston saw the girl with dark hair coming from the other side of the field. Suddenly, she tore off her clothes and flung them aside. Winston did not feel aroused to see her white smooth body but felt overwhelmed with her gesture. With such grace and carelessness, she removed her clothes; it seemed to Winston that she could overthrow everything from Big Brother to the thought police and the party by a swing of her arm. The word that escaped Winston’s lips was Shakespeare because her movement reminded him of ancient times. 

Winston woke up hearing the loud ear-splitting whistle from the telescreen. It continued for thirty seconds. It was the wake-up call for the party members. It was seven-fifteen in the morning, and Winston was naked in his bed. As an outer party member, he received only three thousand clothing coupons, and a pajama cost him 600 coupons. He reached out for the vest and shorts lying on the chair. The daily morning exercise regimen called the physical jerks was about to begin in the next three minutes. Every morning as Winston woke up, a violent coughing fit followed. It happened daily. His lungs were empty, and he had to lie back on his bed to catch his breath. His veins swelled due to coughing, and his varicose ulcer started itching. A female voice called people in the thirty to forty age group in a piercing tone. Winston stood to attention before the telescreen where a female muscular figure had appeared.  She instructed her audience to do stretching and bending exercises. By now, the impression of the dream had been wiped out from Winston’s mind, and he was feeling somewhat fresh after bending and stretching a bit. However, while he mechanically followed the exercise instructions, he was also thinking of his childhood. It felt difficult since he couldn’t remember anything beyond the late fifties. There were no records kept of people’s lives, making lives lustreless. While Winston could remember a few significant events, there were long gaps that he could not fill. Everything was so different in his childhood, including the countries’ names and their shapes on the map.  Winston remembered that Airstrip One was called either England or Britain, though London always used to be London. 

Winston could not remember a time when his nation was not at war with another. However, he also remembered that during his childhood, there was a long interval of peace. He remembered an air raid during which an atomic bomb had been dropped on Colchester. Winston could remember his father carrying him in his clutches and following a long downward spiral of staircases that took them to a Tube Station. His mother had followed them at her slow pace carrying something in her arms that might have been Winston’s sister or a pair of blankets. Winston did not remember if his sister had been born by that time.

At the Tube Station, people were sitting on the stone-flagged floor and in metal bunks. Winston’s parents sat on the floor with him, and nearby an older man and woman were sitting on a bunk. The older man reeked of gin, and his eyes were full of tears. He talked to the woman on his side and repeated the same thing again and again that they should not have believed the buggers. However, Winston could not remember which buggers they had been talking about. 

Since then, Winston remembered that the country had literally been at war continuously, and it was not a single continuous war.  He remembered the street fights that took place during his childhood in London. However, he could not remember who was fighting against whom at any given moment since there were no written records of those streetfights. Right now, Oceania was an ally of Eastasia and at war with Eurasia. Nobody admitted in private or public that these three nations ever had been grouped along a different line. Winston clearly remembered that this alliance and the war were only four years old. However, people were not expected to remember such facts in Oceania, Orwell sarcastically notes. Winston remembered it clearly because he did not have his memory under control. If Oceania was now at war with Eurasia, it was always at war with Eurasia. There was no past or future agreement possible with a present enemy because it represented absolute evil for Oceania. 

Winston was following the exercise instructions from the telescreen while pondering over the past events. What frightened him the most was that the party would dig out some facts from the past and claim that it never happened. This was worse than torture or death to Winston. 

The party claimed that Eurasia was never Oceania’s ally, but Winston clearly remembered that this was just four years ago. The truth only existed in his memory. Apart from it, if the people accepted the lies the government told, and the government made all the records tell the same tale, it would be passed on in history as the truth. 

The party slogan was that the one who controls the past controls the future, and the one who controls the present controls the past. However, Winston felt that for all the government imposed lies to be the truth, one needed to be mad or control and manipulate one’s memory. It was called reality control or, in the official language of Oceania newspeak: Doublethink.

While Winston was thinking, the lady instructor shouted Stand Easy from the screen. Her voice was somewhat genial. Winston tried to be easy and slid his hands to his side. The world of Oceania and Doublethink was like a labyrinth for Winston. There were so many contradictions; his mind was baffled. One was conscious of the complete truth but needed to tell carefully constructed lies. He needed to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. While knowing the two contradicted each other, he still had to hold both the beliefs and use logic to bite logic. He had to reject morality while being moral. He could not think that the party was a guardian of democracy when democracy was impossible. The party wanted people to forget what needed to be forgotten or changed but then bringing it back to memory and forgetting it the next moment was impossible for Winston. Above all, he had to forget that he had forgotten something. This was something as complex as self-hypnosis and then becoming unconscious that you tried hypnotizing yourself to delete something from your memory. Everything was double complex in doublethink, and even to understand the world of Doublethink, one had to think twice or doublethink. 

Winston returned to reality, hearing the instructor shout from the telescreen. She was asking her audience to touch their toes. Winston hated this exercise since it made his legs from heels to waist ache and brought a coughing fit. He was still thinking of the past, and it no longer pleased him. The past had not been just changed but actually destroyed by the party. Establishing any fact was difficult because there was nothing outside your memory that could establish the truth. It made Winston doubt his own memory. He tried to remember the year when he had first heard about Big Brother. He was not certain but believed it was sometime around the sixties. While Winston had not heard the word Ingsoc before 1960, the party had altered the truth to date the party’s roots back to the thirties. The party even claimed in its history books that it had invented the airplane. It was just as easy to point out a lie. Winston had seen airplanes since his early childhood. It was for the first time that he had concrete documentary proof in his hands against the party. Suddenly, the lady instructor shouted from the screen calling Winston’s name and apartment number. She was asking him to bend lower.

She showed the audience by touching her own toes. Winston also made a plunge, and it was for the first time in many years he had been successful at touching his toes without his knees bent. Meanwhile, the instructor kept telling her comrades that she was 39 and a mother of four. Not everyone had to fight on the frontline, but still, they could try to remain fit. She talked about the boys fighting at the Malabar front and the sailors in the floating fortress.