60 years of doubleplusgood

Friday, June 12, 2009
Sixty years ago this week George Orwell's 1984 was released. You can read it online here. My favorite scene in it has always been the one below, when Winston meets his neighbor Parsons, as faithful a Party member as there is, in a holding room in the Ministry of Love.

This is the chapter where Room 101 is introduced. We don't know what it is at the time. We won't know until the rat cage is strapped onto Winston's head. Parsons had spent years savoring his Victory Gin, appreciating his Victory Cigarettes, and worrying about the enemy of the day. However, in the end, he ended up with his own version of the rat cage, and a bullet to the back of his head, all because he doubted in his sleep.

As sad as Winston's end is, Parson's is infinitely sadder. Sleep and its dreams as the betrayer -- the most sublime of all Thought Crime.

'Are you guilty?' said Winston.

'Of course I'm guilty!' cried Parsons with a servile glance at the telescreen. 'You don't think the Party would arrest an innocent man, do you?' His frog-like face grew calmer, and even took on a slightly sanctimonious expression. 'Thoughtcrime is a dreadful thing, old man,' he said sententiously. 'It's insidious. It can get hold of you without your even knowing it. Do you know how it got hold of me? In my sleep! Yes, that's a fact. There I was, working away, trying to do my bit -- never knew I had any bad stuff in my mind at all. And then I started talking in my sleep. Do you know what they heard me saying?'

He sank his voice, like someone who is obliged for medical reasons to utter an obscenity.

"Down with Big Brother!" Yes, I said that! Said it over and over again, it seems. Between you and me, old man, I'm glad they got me before it went any further. Do you know what I'm going to say to them when I go up before the tribunal? "Thank you," I'm going to say, "thank you for saving me before it was too late."

'Who denounced you?' said Winston.

'It was my little daughter,' said Parsons with a sort of doleful pride. 'She listened at the keyhole. Heard what I was saying, and nipped off to the patrols the very next day. Pretty smart for a nipper of seven, eh? I don't bear her any grudge for it. In fact I'm proud of her. It shows I brought her up in the right spirit, anyway.'

He made a few more jerky movements up and down, several times, casting a longing glance at the lavatory pan. Then he suddenly ripped down his shorts.

'Excuse me, old man,' he said. 'I can't help it. It's the waiting.'

He plumped his large posterior into the lavatory pan. Winston covered his face with his hands.

'Smith!' yelled the voice from the telescreen. '6079 Smith W! Uncover your face. No faces covered in the cells.'

Winston uncovered his face. Parsons used the lavatory, loudly and abundantly. It then turned out that the plug was defective and the cell stank abominably for hours afterwards.


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